As usual I’m sitting around the house thinking about freediving. I think about planning dives in the near future, I research new possible spots using Google Earth, the California Coastal Records Project as well as the California Coastal Access Guide. I think about apnea training and taking further skills development courses, like the Performance Freediving International Advanced Course. I think about new dive gear I might like to buy, carbon fiber fins, underwater cameras, etc. I also think about minimizing the gear I do have so I can enjoy more streamlined and less burdened diving. Anyway, I thought I would put together a checklist for the things I take Spearfishing/Abalone Diving, this checklist isn’t so much for me but rather to help out newer divers by giving them an idea about what to bring, of course I also do enjoy writing on the subject of diving.
Northern California Diving Checklist
For Every Dive :
Wetsuit 7mm w/hood
I wear a Yazbeck Kelp Stalker freedive suit with a built in hood, it’s open cell, flexible and warm.
I have a plastic bottle of watered down hair conditioner I use to lubricate my open cell suit before I slip it on. Lubricating your suit prevents tearing your suit and struggling to get it on.
I use 5mm Kevlar lined dive gloves by pro mate. I don’t love the way they fit or their durability. I’m still looking for a pair of gloves I can truly love.
You can get by with 3mm, but 5mm are definitely warmer. I really like the fit and durability of my Argos and the warmest they come is 4mm, my feet don’t really get very cold in general.
Weight Belt, Belt Stringer* and Knife
I wear 15 pounds of wedge weights clipped into place (they are more streamlined and more comfortable), I also keep a small stringer designed specifically to be worn on the belt, finally I have a small dive knife I use to slit the gills of bigger fish and to cut myself free should I ever become entangled on braided line. A brief note on dive knives, they don’t need to be big they should also be kept somewhere accessible and streamlined like the front of your weight belt or towards your inner thigh.
I dive with a pair of Cressi Gara 3000s, they are lower cost composite plastic freedive fins. I have had mine for a few years and I have beaten the hell out of them. I would like to upgrade to either carbon fiber or fiberglass but I will likely still keep these guys for when I go shore diving (you don’t want to crack a fragile carbon fiber blade while trying to exit a tide pool). If you’re freediving with scuba fins, great, that’s what I started with.
Update: I now have a pair of Salvimar foot pockets with soft fiberglass Leaderfin blades, I like the pockets but I’m still undecided on the blades I think they may be too soft and when kicking up from deeper depths I find my cadence is much faster than I would like.
These little pieces of rubber are not critical to a dive, but if your fins are at all loose they help keep them in place.
Mask and Snorkel
With a mask small is better, obviously it has got to fit your face, but less air volume means less wasted air from your lungs equalizing that volume at depth. Aqualung makes a $50 mask (the Sphera) that has a wide range of view and is very popular with freedivers, it’s less popular with spearfishers because it has plastic lenses that distort visual perception more significantly than tempered glass. I prefer glass. As for the snorkel I have some cheap and short Cressi snorkel I bought on Amazon. Their is nothing fancy or complex about my snorkel and I love it. When diving it is advised that one spit the snorkel from their mouth for potential safety reasons. A smaller snorkel has less drag and is less likely to be an inconvenience. Personally, I prefer to to tape my snorkel to my mask’s strap in the position I like, I have lost too many snorkels when the drag from water or a stalk of kelp ripped it free from the clip, electrical tape is cheap and your snorkel is always where you need it.
This isn’t really a necessity for diving but it definitely has enriched by diving experience. I like knowing how deep, how long, and how frequent my drops are during a day of diving.
Clearly you need an Ab Iron when you dive for abalone, they are also quite handy to have in case you come across a rock scallop. I always have an iron with me when I’m diving because scallops are rare and very very tasty.
I hunt with a polespear and I don’t know much about spearguns so I won’t give advice about them. I predominantly use a 6′ or 7′ Gat-Ku aluminum/carbon fiber polespear with a flopper tip when I hunt for bigger fish and a paralyzer tip when I hunt smaller fish. 6′ is a good size for working holes on the ocean floor and pulling fish out. 7′ or 8′ is nice for fish beneath the canopy in the water column. 9′ or 10′ is needed for longer shots on larger pelagic fish, something I don’t have much experience with and generally more commonly hunted in Southern California. I find a flopper tip to be the most reliable in securing a speared fish, it also produces the greatest damage to the fish and often tears up the flesh. The paralyzer tip, or 3 prong, tends to stun fish and also does the least damage to the meat. The slip tip also does little damage to the meat but it occasionally fails to engage and it is also time consuming to remove and replace, but it is the only tip that can be rigged with a breakaway setup that can be used to target big pelagic fish. Polespears also come in a variety of materials usually either fiberglass, aluminum, or part aluminum part carbon fiber. Fiberglass polespears are cheap, inaccurate, and not a good value.
Looking in deep dark little holes beneath boulders is essential to finding big fish, you need a flashlight.
It’s good to have a solid stringer to secure big fish to your kayak or float.
Mono Line Stringer*
I no longer use a metal stringer, after an unfortunate event where my metal stringer opened up and large lingcod was lost I now only use a more traditional mono line stringer. The mono line stringer is a little less convenient for carrying your fish out after a dive, but it does a much better job securing fish and you don’t risk fish falling free from your stringer when you add fish to the stinger. One important point is that with larger fish such as big lings running the stringer through the gills may not be a secure enough placement, on the biggest fish I go through the eyes.
A hawg trough is not absolutely necessary but some form of measuring device is (even if its just a piece of string with carefully spaced knots). Lingcod, Cabezon, and Greenling all have minimum sizes 22″, 15″, and 12″ if you should shoot something questionable you need to know that its of legal size, at the same time since a speared fish often times has its fate written its important not to waste a legal sized fish you’ve likely killed, for the shorts trust that something else will eat it.