Spear Fishing for Survival

Fish-spear_4WHY A FISH SPEAR?

Grrrrroonk, grrrroooonk is a sound I hear quite frequently near lakes and ponds where I live in Western Washington. It is the telltale sound of a bullfrog. This species is highly invasive to Washington state and they will wipe out any smaller animal in their path so it is legal to hunt bullfrogs here (frog legs are also quite tasty!) This article is about one way of hunting this frog with a fish spear!


When constructing a fish spear, ask yourself what you plan to hunt. Then, consider any legal implications of spear fishing. Most of the time it is not legal to hunt with a fish spear, even if you have a fishing license. For example in Washington: “Bullfrogs can be taken by angling,hand dip netting, spearing (frog gigging), or with bow and arrow only (WAC 232-12-619). No license is required to hunt bullfrogs, there are no bag limits, and the season is open year round (WAC 220-12-090).” Check the laws in your state before you consider hunting with a fish spear. Whenever you are spear fishing make sure you are aware of people around you. Keep in mind that hunting and fishing require a high degree of awareness and alertness at all times.


If you are hunting for bullfrogs, you will want to look for shallow water. This will allow you to see your prey. The size of the fish you are hunting will determine the size of your spear and spearhead. Two 6-inch tips that are double-pronged are great for smaller fish such as perch. For bigger quarry such as carp or bullfrogs, your spear will need to be much larger.


Once you address the legality of the tool you are going to make and potentially use,
consider the physical characteristics of the fish you plan to hunt. How thick is this fish’s skin? The process I am describing may not work for every fish, but the idea relates to all fish hunting. A fish spear is a stick with one or more barbs on it. They are easily made with a knife or sharp edge.

Go out and harvest a 6- to 10-foot piece of wood about 1 inch in diameter. This stick
is used to make a stave, which is the part of the fish spear that is held in your hand.
Vine maple, alder, bitter cherry, or big leaf maple works well in the Pacific Northwest. I am not a big fan of using conifer wood for this. Bamboo is also a great option, and I recommend it for beginners making a fish spear.

Take your 6- to 10-foot piece of bamboo and cut off a node. Cut on either side of the
node to make a ring, and hollow out the pith of the ring with your knife. This ring will be used to keep your spear open.



The fish spear will have four sharp prongs. Tie a piece of rope, cordage, twine or sinew tightly around the stave at 8 to 12 inches from the top of your stave. This will stop your wood from splitting the entire length of the stave. You will then want to split the stave symmetrically in an X pattern. You will want all four pieces of the pie to be as even as possible. Then, take your knife and billet half of the stave. The rope will stop the split of the stave. You should now have four even pieces that jut out off of your stave. Take the ring you created and position it 4 inches from where your rope is tied to stop the split. In this photo, I used several clove hitch knots to tie the ring in place, one over each prong. This will keep your prongs in place.


Next, draw four inward-facing barbs on each of the spear prongs. Carve these out
carefully. I added tips on mine to keep critters from coming off once they are speared. Be safe with your knife, as this could create an awkward carving angle. Always cut away from yourself and never cut on yourself when carving. To make your prong points harder, singe them over a fire or coals. This process is called fire hardening. Heat the wood to near burning. This should only be done with green wood. Be careful not to light your fishing spear on fire!



No one should expect to be a master spearman or woman the first time they attempt this. Practice can make perfect; begin by throwing your spear at submerged logs or sticks. Target practice is useful to get better at anything.

In summary, remember that the laws vary from state to state for all types of fishing.
Before you decide to try spear fishing, read your local laws. This is just one of many
designs that can be made for spear fishing. Keep in mind that fishing is a game of
patience. The calorific payoff from harvesting a fish is very high if you have the patience to do it. Finally, think about the effects you will have on the local environment if you decide to spear fish, and consider thanking the animal for giving its life to you.



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