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Spearfish 1By Danny Ritz

Simply put, late summer is prime time for spearfishing in South Orange County. As summer winds to a close, the world below the waves comes to life, and Picket Fence Media wanted to highlight a few of the most important things you should remember when entering the water in order to remain safe and to ensure you get the most out of your spearfishing experience this season.

Tis’ the season

With coastal water temperatures hovering around 70 degrees and off-shore surface temperatures regularly reaching 80 degrees, August and September are an ideal time to begin your spearfishing journey. These warm currents have brought recognizable pelagic fish such as the bluefin and yellowtail tuna, dorado and wahoo to offshore environments.

Meanwhile, resident species such as sheepshead, rockfish and halibut can be seen just offshore.

“This time of year is the best. The water is warm enough to just hop out there in trunks, some fins, a snorkel, a mask and your gun,” said Eric Martin, owner of Lost Winds Dive Shop on El Camino Real in San Clemente and a spearfisherman with 15 years of experience. “Between the biodiversity, access to beaches and fishing spaces, Southern California is one of the best environments to learn to spear in the whole world.”

Leave the gear at home

With the abundance of fish and the beautiful climate necessitating minimum gear requirement, spearfishing has never been more accessible. With that said, there are still a few key fundamental pieces of equipment every spearfisher should have when entering the water.

Fins: The longer, more flexible shape of dive-specific fins allows for more fluid, long-distance movement. However, especially when near-shore spearing, the molded body board fins found in most garages will do just fine.

Mask: A mask should fit flush with the face. Although there is a gauntlet of options, Martin says, “Fit is everything.” The mask should be comfortable. “Every face is different. Polarized, glass, plastic, whatever it is. Fit is the key,” Martin added.

Snorkel: Relatively self-explanatory, a snorkel well-fitted to the user’s head and mask allows you to skim the surface and evaluate the depths below before diving for a possible kill.

Gun: The best gun for a spearfisher is dictated by their desired catch, size and skill. Made of metal, or wood, spear guns are as personal of a choice as any surfboard or vehicle. A large variety of quality guns are on the market, and Martin suggests you come into your local dive shop to speak with a professional that can outfit you with the best gun for your physical size and desired experience.

Fish with friends

Although quickly gaining popularity, finding a partner to accompany you on a dive can often be a problem. Diving with a partner is an essential safety practice, as well as way to enjoy your fishing as a social activity. It is suggested that there is always at least one dive partner on the surface to keep an eye out for possible encroaching dangers, as well as oversee the diver’s safety during a dive.

Fernando Gutierrez is the Founder of OC Spearos, Orange County’s largest spearfishing and freediving club, and a Dana Point native. Formed in 2010, Gutierrez and the OC Spearos can proudly claim that they have not had a single death, and promote education as well as best practices when they go on large group dives once a month.

“You should always spearfish with a partner, with proper safety equipment and with respect to the permitted guidelines,” Gutierrez said.

For more information on the OC Spearos and their group dives, visit

Jay Riffe displays an original Riffe International spearfishing gun from 1978 at his company’s headquarters in San Clemente. Photo: Danny Ritz
Jay Riffe displays an original Riffe International spearfishing gun from 1978 at his company’s headquarters in San Clemente. Photo: Danny Ritz

Respect the kill

Riffe International is a San Clemente-based spearfishing equipment company that produces over 6,000 spear-guns worldwide. Jay Riffe is the founder and president of the company, and has been spearfishing for over 60 years.

Although he holds multiple world records in the discipline, spearfishing represents much more than a sport to the veteran diver.

“All divers should protect the waters they swim and hunt in, ensuring future divers the experience and excitement of freediving that I’ve had for the past 68 years. Be selective, and fish for the future,” Riffe, 80, said.

Riffe attributed the spearfishing communities continued growth with its alignment with sustainable hunting practices as well as its comprehensive, holistic, sea-to-table appeal.

“Remember, it’s so much more than just the kill,” Riffe said. “It’s the thrill of the hunt. It’s the bleeding of the fish, the storage of the fish and supplying it for dinner to your family and loved ones. It’s the whole process.”

Being deliberate in your fishing, and catching, allows the allure of spearfishing to continue for future generations.

Adhere to regulations

A number of state and federal regulations are in place to ensure that coastal ecosystems remain stable. These rules allow fish stock to remain at healthy levels, and obedience to these regulations encourages future resources for all to enjoy.

Information on fishing permits and regulations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife can be found here.

Information on Southern California marine protected areas within Orange County can also be found from the California Department of Fish and Game here.

Whether you are entering the water as a first-time spearfisher or are still searching for the catch of your life, there is plenty of time left to enjoy the abundance, and thrills, of the sea this summer.

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