Gearing up for the World Spearfishing Champs in Portugal

Preparation is key for spearfishing competition such as the World Spearfishing Champs as knowledge of the area and species is extremely important. So our New Zealand team of three headed to Sagres, Portugal where this year’s competition was to be held several weeks early to spend much time out scouting familiarizing ourselves with the resident fish; we needed to learn about their behavior, tidal movements and changing conditions.

Diving the Atlantic Ocean poses many variables: water temperature between 13-22 degrees; an exposed coastline which is sometimes pounded by swells big enough to push over the surrounding cliffs more than 60 metres high.

The bigger the swell, the more prolific the fish were in the shallows. The local divers along this coastline are comfortable in big swells; they hunt fish right into the turbulent white water. I did not have the skill set or local experience to target fish there when the swells were big, so I spent time in the 10 -30metre zone where there were still fish but not in such big numbers.

Young Coby Herbert holding up a big crab his dad caught. We got plenty of these when diving.

Species on the list

Most of the scouting was spent with a torch looking in a lot of holes and crevasses. In this competition Moray and Conger eels, Red cod and Scorpion fish were all on the list and they like specific holes, and can often be found together.

But a check in on these holes later would sometimes find the fish gone. As a team we all had the new Garmin MK1 watches allowing us to mark spots while diving. These were great. We could mark a hole from above and the watch could put us directly on the spot later when the competition was on.

Competitors all out scouting

Every day other boats were scouting the same areas as us, finding the exact same holes and the fish in them. This is the challenge of these competitions; in the end there are no secrets. It’s just important to educate yourself on the area and give yourself as many options as possible.

We were lucky enough to make friends with a local guy who was extremely helpful. He provided us with invaluable local knowledge including sunken wrecks and hidden rocks. The shipwrecks were useful to know as they are great hiding places for many different species of fish and eels.

In the competition you are allowed three Moray eels and three Conger eels; we spent a lot of time marking them hoping they would be there on competition day and also lucky enough to be the first one to get to them. It might seem strange that eels would be on the list, but they are a delicacy in Portugal. People love to eat them.

Jackson with a nice Dentex that can be found both in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, a difficult fish to spear

Nervous fish

During the competition lead up it was important to spend some time actually learning how to spear the different species. The fish are more difficult to spear than in New Zealand; they are very active, constantly on the move. The only time they seem to be still is when they are in a hole, but even then they spook easily. We spent time too, spearing north of the competition areas where we found some great fish and nice diving. We ate fish every second or third night to try out all the different species. But it was soon apparent that scouting the fish was easy part. Once shot at they would disappear or become extremely timid, behaviours heightened when 70 divers and boats were in the water on competition day!

As the opening ceremony approached, we started developing our strategy for the competition.

Bearing in mind there were 70 boats blasting around the area scaring fish away, and the likelihood that other divers will be diving on top of you. Then we narrowed our scouting to those areas we figured were the best points of the tide to dive at each spot.

Just a few of the Snapper species found in Portugal.

Two days out from the competition and no further scouting was allowed. It was time to rest up, prepare the gear, and spend hours running over plans. Including a backup plan, and a back up to our back up plan.

We were about to find out how hectic the competition was going to get…

Next issue: How the competition played out.

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