Spearfishing: Domestic Tourism Experience
Before we get into spear-fishing and why you need to make it apart of your domestic experience bucket list, I want to drop a new word I came up with that I am hoping will stick.
Hear me out – Bahami’aint. Bah-Hay-Me-Aint. Instead of explaining, I will drop it somewhere in the blog and you’ll hopefully have an “ah-ha! I get it!” moment, and if not then fuck it, I tried.
Ha it go though? What’s up? Bonjour?
If you don’t like crawfish, that’s fine. That’s not the only thing you can spear around our reefs and cays. But, if you have a love for lobster, are a decent swimmer, have a modest budget and a good group of 4 – 6 friends then a seasonal spear-fishing experience is a great domestic travel add-on to break the cycle of curfew life. It is also easier to spear crawfish than fish.
Before I get into the meat of this, I must first say some specific things about crawfish that anyone embarking on this experience ought to be aware of. The Bahamas has laws which regulate the fisheries industry (yet, no conch season somehow?). Crawfish can only be caught from 1st August – 31st March. You cannot take any crawfish that has eggs, or has a tail which is under 6 inches in length. There are penalties, and/or a fine if you are caught, and they’re probably worse if you’re Bahamian #NoTeaNoShade. Coming here to break our laws is real Bahami’aint behavior and we don’t play that shit here. I for one take these laws very seriously and encourage you to do so as well.
It is also illegal to use spear-guns or engage in spear-fishing with underwater breathing apparatus. You’ll be well equipped with a Hawaiian sling and spear, or a pole spear. This really adds to the fun because unless you’re some tribal underwater spear master, you’re probably going to miss a few times until you get the sling of it. See what I did there?
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about preparing for, and enjoying a spearfishing experience.
First you’re going to need to need to charter a boat, be sure to ask whether or not they have gear for spear-fishing. If they don’t, it’s not hard to find at local dive shops and most places will rent you the necessary gear as a kit once you’re prepared to pay a deposit, usually of about 50%.
If you’re able to, try and take a few practice shots with the Hawaiian sling and spear on the beach or something. Aim for the sand, avoid your feet. You can also go and watch some spear-fishing tutorials on YouTube to acquaint yourself with your new weapon.
If you are visiting the Family Islands, I’ve heard that depending on where you are you can walk out to the rocks on some beaches and just pull them out with a trusty “hook ‘n’ jook” – a metal stick fashioned for hooking crawfish by the under belly to pull them out of holes. No idea what the real name of it is and I don’t care, the colloquialism works just fine.
The experience is all about the hunt but don’t forget to take in your surroundings. You’re going to be able to see the underwater showcase of our shallow seas and colorful reefs, you may also see a shark cruise past, or the occasional barracuda. It’s a showcase fit for King Triton. Bring a GoPro if you have one, and make sure you can use it better than I can so all of your pictures don’t look like an underwater horror story.
Crawfish like to live in holes within the reefs and so usually going a short distance offshore is necessary. You’ll probably be looking at a depth of 12ft – 20ft depending on where you go. Another advantage of hiring a captain is that they will likely know a spot (because everyone claims to know a damn spot) they can take you which will (presumably) increase your chances of finding your spiny prey.
Next, you’re going to want to make sure you have a hell of a lot of sunblock, water, ice, some light snacks – after all you’re about to eat fresh crawfish, bey – and some beer. I hear people with the “BlAcK pEoPlE cAn’T gEt SuNbUrNeD” rhetoric, but my shoulders and I assure you that that is bullshit. Take the sunblock, trust me. I'm here in the shade on Captain duty while my friends were in the water.
When your boat is getting up to speed as you rush by the coast of any island in The Bahamas it is a magical rite of passage into the lesser known world beneath our mystifying Lucayan seas. You feel a release when you let yourself feel vulnerable to buoyancy and just float in the omni-blue water. Feeling the current generates electrisea-ty in your spirit. Now, that you’ve taken it all in it’s time to hunt some stuff.
The sunlight is not only beautiful, but it’s your flashlight into the reef. Sometimes crawfish may just be commuting across the sea floor if you get lucky, but usually you have to put in some work and look for them.
What you are looking for are a couple of spiny looking antennae – the crawfish whips. Something that looks frankly a little alien if you aren’t used to seeing them. You may even confuse it with a piece of coral but after the first one you spot you’ll know the difference. A good rule of thumb is that a thicker, longer whip usually means a bigger crawfish. Remember, you can’t kill them if they are under-sized so make sure you can see what you’re taking aim at.
Sometimes it can take hours to find them. On the most recent trip, it took us nearly 2 hours to find a spot that had a couple lobsters but that is also probably because we were near to New Providence. Have a beer to pass the time.
Positioning yourself for the shot is a little tricky at times; the biggest difficulty is often the current which may pull you away at a critical moment. There’s something else I guess it would be useful to know; a crawfish that is trying to escape swims backwards, so you gain an advantage if you can swim up behind the unsuspecting crustacean that’s mugglin’ across the sea floor.
Now that you’ve seen one neatly tucked into a hole, probably minding it’s business it’s time to go in for the kill. This will probably be the most exciting part of the experience for someone doing it for the first time and honestly it’s still the most exciting part for me years later.
Once you’ve taken aim, and drawn your sling back, let it fly. There’ll be a split second where time seems to slow down like you’re in the Matrix or something. Your mind has already said “GOT IT” but you don’t actually know yet. Your body is telling you that you are exhausting your oxygen. Your heart rate is increasing from the adrenaline with all this excitement that you may have just shot your first crawfish. You see some fluttering, and the spear almost twitching in position – you’ve hit it, now you can go and claim your prize.
I’m literally laughing as I am writing this because the opposite is so much worse. You let that motherf*cking spear fly and then hear an abrupt “PING” and the disappointment surges immediately. No joke. You will likely say an expletive out loud not even realizing you’re under water and ya can’t cuss out a fish LOL.
Let’s just assume you hit one.
You’ve got to go and fetch your spear immediately. You’re not the only thing down there that likes to eat crawfish and you certainly have the disadvantage in detecting an injured fish underwater. This heightens the experience for me because you’re really just with nature. You needn’t be afraid of sharks and barracudas as they aren’t likely looking to eat you they want what’s on your spear. If you can’t get out of the water, just extend you spear between you and the ‘cuda and it will snatch the lobster and swim off. What a thrill, right?
No shark, no barracuda; you’ve got your crawfish and now it’s back to the boat! That little lobster is going to do some thrashing. The best thing to do is plop him on ice immediately being very careful not to put fingers under its tail or you will get a nasty pinch, and what watch out for the whips – they hurt. Next step, get back in the water and get another, and another, and another.
Cracked crawfish, crawfish salad, crawfish ceviche; you can mince it, steam it, boil it and butter and it is delicious no matter how you make it. Everyone know how to cook ‘em, few have ever been to catch ‘em, have you? I hope after reading this you’ll head out and give it a try.
I’d recommend booking a 4 hour trip. The sun will really drain you and you won’t notice how much you’re actually exerting yourself until later in the day when the fatigue catches up with you. Make sure you stay hydrated; 1-beer, 1-water is a good rule (or don’t drink at all, but I mean, no). Even if you don't catch anything, you'll have a good day out on the boat.
Exploring The Bahamas doesn’t only mean hopping on a flight to stay on another island it means exploring any and all experiences you can possibly find. It doesn’t always have to be expensive. A 4 hour spear-fishing excursion will start out around $600, which if you find 6 friends is $100.00 per person.
A day out spear-fishing is always a memorable excursion, and who doesn’t want to go back to shore with bragging rights for having shot the biggest, or most crawfish. I’ll level with you, on the last trip that person wasn’t me but I’m not going to glorify him by calling his name – I’ll never hear the end of it.
Go try spear-fishing (responsibly, and sustainably) as you explore The Bahamas!