IMPORTANT LAND NOTES
If you live close to or just above sea level and you get a significant amount of rainfall in a short amount of time, like in the instance of hurricanes and tropical storms, try to get out to some wooded or wildlife management areas as soon as the weather lets up. Explore lowland areas that have limited high areas. The deer, hogs, rabbits, and many other animals will be on high ground, like roads and dikes. They will be in herds, as the water will be too deep for them to move in the lower areas without swimming. Situations such as these are known to us natives as “the prime time”; this is when our foods of choice present themselves in groups. Finding food under these circumstances becomes considerably less complicated and much less of a challenge.
The last bit of information I will leave you with pertains to fat supplementation. Fat is necessary for our bodies to function properly. To keep healthy you must consume a certain amount of fat if you aren’t eating carbohydrates. One way to insure you maintain a proper fat intake is to collect all of the tendons and connective tissues off any animal that you catch and boil them in a pot of water. These tissues are loaded with fats and will help keep your energy level up. You can consume it as a warm broth, or you can wait until it cools and forms a gelatin. I prefer it hot myself, as it tastes like any other broth. Either way, it will keep your body healthy.
The ocean is vast with endless amounts of food. There is protein everywhere, and it is yours for the taking. If you can swim, it is possible for you to apply the same techniques that I have learned in my life to enable you to get food every time you go in the water. I want to instill confidence in you first by sharing with you some common misconceptions about freediving. The first one being that you need to dive in deep water to find fish. This is completely false. Believe it or not, some of the biggest fish that I have caught have been in 8-10 feet of water. Some of my friends cannot believe the size of some of my fish I have shot at shallow depths. The truth of the matter is that you just need to know what to look for to find the fish. Another misconception is that you need to be experienced in order to catch fish. This is not the case at all. In fact, some fish are so curious that they will swim right up to you with intrigue. Now in a case like that when there is no food readily available, you have just hit the jackpot. I’m sure there are plenty of other common misconceptions out there, but the one I would like to focus on is the danger aspect. Freediving is just like anything else and requires common sense; be smart, use good judgement, and breathe when you need to breathe. The last thing I will leave you with, before we get to it is this. Everybody has their own opinion and advice about what they think is safe and what is not, but it is up to you to make it safe, be your own supervisor, and embrace your independence. I have spent my entire life in the outdoors, and it has enabled me to become successful at providing slabs of fish, crab, lobster, sea urchin, octopus, and shark on my table week in and week out for years. If you listen to me and execute these practices, I promise you can too.
- MASK- There is a lot of overpriced stuff out there. Don’t break the bank. You need a mask that functions properly and doesn’t leak. The way to check if a mask fits is by putting it to your face without putting the strap around head and breathe in with your nose. If the mask stays on your face and you feel the suction taking place, then the mask fits good. However, if the mask doesn’t stick and you can’t feel any suction, put it back and choose another one. It will for sure leak on your face and you have just wasted valuable time. Ideally, you want a mask that doesn’t allow leakage, even when the mask is just snug (tight) on your face. Take your time and select what feels comfortable.
- SNORKEL- This is a very important piece of equipment that allows you to breathe while your face is immersed in the water. I recommend a snorkel that has the least amount of pieces. Snorkels that have several connecting pieces are more susceptible to leakage in the joints. Most of the time they are glued together, and over time the glue breaks down allowing water to seep in. Once this occurs, the snorkel must be re glued or discarded. One very important part of the snorkel is the attachment ring that connects the snorkel to the mask strap. Make sure that the attachment ring is integrated enough that it will last for a while and stand up to dry rot. In most cases they are made out of rubber, which will work fine as long as it isn’t stored in direct sunlight or in areas over 90 degrees for long periods of time. (Having a spare attachment is highly recommended, and they are less than three dollars a piece.)
- FINS- Be economical and purchase something that fits your needs. If you are not planning on diving in water depths greater than 25 feet, then don’t purchase really long fins. Medium length fins will be sufficient for what you are doing. Try not to buy the most inexpensive pair you can find, but make sure that they have a certain firmness to them and won’t be too giving. (The stiffer the fin, the more thrusting power you will generate.)
- WEIGHT BELT- You will need to weight your belt according to your body weight. The trick is to have a specific amount of weight on your belt to maintain a neutral buoyancy, not too much and not too little. You don’t want to sink to the bottom, but you don’t want to be stuck on top fighting to get down either. Weight belts are inexpensive. I recommend the rubber ones that you can undo very quickly if you need.
- SPEAR GUN- This is one item I would not be too stingy on, if you can help it. The Robb Allen 900 is a great gun at an affordable price. It will last forever if you keep it lubed up after use and change the rubber bands on it every year. The best thing to do is buy ten extra bands and rub Vaseline on them and store them in a cool place. (The heat tends to make them crack.)
- KNIFE- You should keep a dive knife on you at all times. You do not need a large knife. It should be easy to maneuver with a sharp point. I also recommend keeping it strapped around your upper arm so that it is easy to access when you need to draw it.
- CHASE LINE/STRINGER– A chase line is a rope that a diver pulls with them while they dive. It holds their fresh catch. I recommend a chase line attached to a 4ft x 2ft mesh bag that can be sealed shut using a zipper or a locking pin. The line should be approximately 30 feet long. I keep the line at this length so that if a shark or barracuda happens to be swimming by it will go for the mesh bag before coming at me. A stringer with a mesh bag is recommended as it can hold other items like lobster, crab, and sea urchin along with fish; whereas as stringer alone can only hold fish.
Now that you have your gear situated, there are a few basic tips that you need to know to be a successful hunter underwater. First, you need to locate an area in the water that has rocks or some type of structure. Fish are drawn to structure; metal, concrete, wood, or anything that could create a hiding place for a fish will provide a good habitat. You can also make your own. Car hoods work well, as do big tires, pipes, concrete blocks, and motor parts. If you decide to create your own reef, I recommend an area where no one else can find it. If you do it right, there will be fish hanging out around it in a week. Just don’t get caught making your own, because it is illegal. Be smart and take calculated risks.
The next tip for being a successful underwater hunter is to try and relax. Fish sense an accelerated heart beat under water, especially sharks; they have little openings on their noses called the Ampule of Lorenzini, which pick up electrical impulses that living things give off. This allows them to focus on an animal or fish in distress. If you are breathing fast and trying to swim after a fish, you will rarely be successful in catching it. Swim slowly, relax, and take your time. If a fish doesn’t let you get close, don’t stress about it. Keep swimming, and find another target, but try to stay relaxed. You can slow your heart rate down by taking long, deep breaths in and slow exhales out. Your heart rate increases when you are taking air in, but decreases as you exhale. The secret here is count to three when inhaling, making sure you reach your lung capacity, and then try to take 10 seconds to exhale out every bit of air. Do this for about three minutes; when you feel relaxed, take a big breath in and go down. I encourage you to practice this before you take it to the water. DO NOT HYPERVENTILATE! (This is breathing all your air in and all out rapidly.) Instead, breath slow and take your time, and you will be fine.
One valuable tip is not to look the fish in the eyes. If a fish knows you are looking at him, you have a greater chance of him swimming off and never coming back. Obviously, you will have to spot the fish at first, but try and act uninterested and swim on a diagonal in a parallel motion toward the fish rather than directly at it. You must move slowly, and when you think you have a shot make sure that you raise your gun very slowly to take aim. Do not make any sudden movements. You will need to squeeze the trigger and follow through if the fish is moving. Try to pretend you can only move in slow motion; this will help you remain calm.
Another way you can get a shot on a fish if he takes off is by reaching down and grabbing handfuls of sand. Throw the sand up and create a fog. Many times snapper, along with other fish, will turn right around and come right back to the fog in hopes of finding something they can munch on. So be patient, and you will get an opportunity. Just make sure you seize it. Once you have managed to shoot a fish, try and get a good grip on it so that it does not rip off your spear tip. If it is a large fish, you will need to be patient for the right opportunity to grab it. You must always remember safety comes first. Do not sacrifice safety for a fish. Be smart, and calculate your movements. After you have successfully removed your fish from your spear, make sure to put your fish on the stringer, and reload your gun. There will be more fish coming your way. (They will be attracted to the distress your injured fish has put out in the water.)
You should always aim an inch behind the eye on the lateral line of the fish. This will instantly paralyze the fish and render it incapacitated. In the scenario that you happen to shoot a nice fish in a non-lethal spot, the fish will be thrashing around vigorously on the end of your spear. In this situation, remove your knife and stick the fish in the head. You can also cut the fish’s throat. Stick the knife under the throat and cut from the gills in a downward motion toward the chest plate. If you are swimming in an area where sharks are present, you must use good judgement. If sharks are moving in very quick and sporadic movements, then I would suggest relocating to another area. If a shark swims at you in an aggressive manner, it is very important that you be aggressive towards it and stand your ground. In this case, try to strike the shark in the eye. If a shark gets poked in the eye, it will usually retreat immediately. Do not swim away fast; rather try and keep your heart rate down and keep your eyes peeled. If you stay calm and keep your eyes out, you will see the shark coming at you before he tries to attack and you will be able to react appropriately to defend yourself.
Another way to attract fish is by shooting other small fish or picking up various types of sea creatures you see to use as bait. (You can use tropical bait, conch, crab, and lobster heads, which is the best.) Take the fish off the tip of your shaft and rip it into pieces, and set it on the bottom. If it is a shellfish, then try and break the shell and dig the meat out to lay on the ocean floor. Kick some sand up to create a fog, and be ready. This is basically chumming underwater. Remember that you can use anything for chum– sea urchins, small fish, crabs, and many others; so be creative. Sometimes it takes a while, but it works. (The best time to chum is at incoming or outgoing tides. You can tell by looking at water lines on docks. Compare the water level to the water line on the dock or seawall or a jetty, and you will know if the tide is high or low. Try and locate a rock or something underwater that you can hide behind and be stealthy. You can try wearing camouflage or anything else long sleeve that will help you blend in and break up the shape of your body lines. Long sleeves will also protect your arms from reef rash if you brush up on the rocks.
If times are real bad and you don’t feel comfortable being seen in the daylight, then you can also try and locate a dock or other area that has a bright light that shines out into the water. In the area where the light is shining there will be bait fish on top of the water there. The bigger fish will be on the bottom watching the smaller ones. Even if you don’t see them take my word for it, they are there; they are waiting for their dinner. Be stealthy, move slowly, and take care of business.