Spearfishing In The East Region With Capt. Mike Holliday


Late July and early August are prime time for spearfishing in my region, particularly since it’s the time of the year when the seas are calm and the ocean waters crystal clear. Unlike other types of fishing done with rod and reel or nets, spearfishing is more of a selected harvest in that you choose only the fish you want to shoot or keep. 

In my region the best spearfishing takes place on the northern end, mostly because smaller populations in those areas make for less fishing and harvest pressure on the natural and artificial reefs. Along the East Coast of Florida there are several natural reef lines—one in 18-25 feet of water, one in 63-75 feet of water, one in 90 feet and one in 120 feet, just to name a few. These natural reefs create the habitat that draws the finfish spearfishermen often target. 

Along with the natural reef lines are county-run Artificial reef programs which deposit ships, barges and other materials on the bottom as reef structure. These Artificial reefs (like the Hawlsey, David T, Bull Shark Barge and Gulf Pride, to name a few) hold a lot of gamefish as well. So the options for spearfishing are pretty wide open. 

Grouper, snapper and cobia are the mainstays for spearfishermen in the East Region, but kingfish, dolphin and wahoo are also regularly targeted, particularly around any floating structure like weedlines, large trees or logs. Flotsam also attracts tripletail, which are easy targets. 

While the deeper reefs and wrecks are usually going to hold the larger fish, spearfishermen care score big on the shallow reefs. Cobia to 50 pounds or more roam these wrecks or hitchhike on the backs of stingrays that frequent those areas, and some of the largest mangrove snapper come into the shallows in late July and early August to spawn. The best searfishing takes place on the reefs in 60 to 90 feet of water, so whether free diving or scuba diving, expect the majority of spearfishing competition to be in those areas. 

Usually by mid-July the constant offshore winds will blow the surface water out to sea and pull colder water out of the canyons. Known locally as a “cold water upwelling,” the denser cold water collects along the bottom creating a thermocline or “cool zone” where the fish will be extremely lethargic and easy to approach. During cold water upwellings it’s easy for spearfishermen to get their limits of reef fish species, as the fish struggle to move and have no defense against approaching spearfishermen. 

Keep in mind that the Lobster Mini-Season is always the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, with the regular lobster season opening the first Wednesday in August. The reefs along the coast, particularly off Pecks Lake and North and South Beaches in Fort Pierce are known for their jumbo lobster often exceeding 10 pounds. Expect to see big crowds during the Mini-Season and first two weeks of the regular season, but as summer rolls into fall, those crowds dissipate yet the lobster diving is still very good. 

Always have a diver down flag displayed when anyone is in the water and be sure to put the flag down whenever all the divers come out of the water as a courtesy to other boaters in the area.

Captain’s Tip of the Week #17 Spearfishing and Dive - 2015
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