Spearfish are members of the Istiophoridae family of billfish and there are three varieties found in different parts of the world. The Shortbill Spearfish inhabits the Pacific and Indian Oceans. These fish are found throughout the year off the coast of Kona and are consistently caught in this area. They have been reported in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the southern tip of Africa. The Longbill Spearfish prefers the western Atlantic Ocean and ranges from New Jersey to Venezuela. This encompasses the Gulf of Mexico and is the spearfish we catch in Florida. They have been recorded in the north-central and south Atlantic as well, including off South Africa. Then there is the Mediterranean Spearfish which is exclusively found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Not as well known as their billfish cousins, Spearfish are pelagic ocean dwellers that are found in very deep waters, far offshore. These mysterious fish are available throughout the year but are usually too far out of range for most anglers. Preferring to feed at or near the surface, their common diet consists of squid and smaller fish such as pilot fish, needlefish, flying fish, tuna and dorado. Spearfish are short-lived. They reach maturity at two years and seldom exceed five years of age. These fish are big. The largest recorded Shortbill Spearfish weighed in at 74,12lbs, while a Longbill Spearfish weighed 94,12lbs and the Mediterranean Spearfish record stands at 90,13lbs.
Prepare to travel very far offshore if you wish to catch an Atlantic Spearfish in Florida. These fish are extremely rare due to low numbers and there are very infrequent catches. This is why they are not considered game fish because finding and catching them is not a reliable sport. Those specifically targeting Spearfish are usually attempting to gain the coveted title of a Royal Grand Slam, which requires an angler to catch all the billfish species on the planet. Most Spearfish are caught by anglers targeting other billfish, particularly marlin. However, these fish are phenomenally exciting when they take your line and worth every second of the awesome fight they give. So how do you catch a Longbill Spearfish in Florida?
Tackle for Spearfish
You can use lighter tackle than you would for other billfish species. Small bullet lures on a 20lb or 30lb test works fantastically. Scale down in size to make the hook-up easier and discourage nibbling. A monofilament or braid leader, with quality deep saltwater rods and spinning reels is adequate.
Bait for Spearfish
The same bait that you use to catch other billfish is highly effective for Spearfish. It must fit your target though. Live bait, cut bait and lures will all work. Often protecting them with a skirt helps to attract Spearfish. The best bait to use is definitely live bait, particularly small tuna and skipjacks.
Techniques for Spearfish
There are a few techniques that you can use to catch Spearfish. Generally they are the same as with other billfish, but you should use lighter tackle. Usually we troll but they can be caught from fly fishing as well. These fish are really fun to tease. Using bait-and-switch methods is a great way to interact with them and offers an excellent hook-up ratio. Here are some tips to help you catch a Spearfish in Florida:
- Although Spearfish will attack bigger lures, it is advisable to keep them smaller if you are specifically targeting them. If the lure is too big, you may end up chasing these fish away by attracting their predators. A small 7in lure such as the AP can be used effectively in the stinger position or on a far-back long rigger. These fish are not particular as blue marlins are. If there are many squid in the area, you can use purple, silver or blue lures. Otherwise standard colors will work well, being blue, silver, pink and even bright pink.
- Spearfish are the slowest in the billfish family. Their tails are not a prominent feature and do not propel them at alarming speeds. When trolling lures, slow down to around eight knots. You will enjoy a great deal more action if you heed this advice.
- Their prey seeks protection in ledges, shelves and other underwater structure. You can often find Spearfish hunting there.
- Tease them for the ultimate excitement. It is a great deal of fun to bait-and-switch a Spearfish. The hook-up ratio is very high because these fish are aggressive predators. Have a light 20lb outfit ready with live bait already rigged. Tempt them with a small lure and draw them in with a few jet heads before throwing them the live bait. They take the switch extremely well.
- In order to get a solid hook-up on a lure, you need to play with a Spearfish. They are notorious nibblers and pacers. They will grab the lure and hold on before spitting it out at you, and will repeat this several times before getting bored and moving on. The trick is to use the lure to get them to turn and swim the other way in order to snag them properly. A good way to do this is to implement a short drop-back. When you see the fish coming, grab the line and pull back about two feet behind the reel. When the fish comes in for it, you can drop the line back. It will stop just as they grab it, forcing them to turn their heads and allowing the hook to come tight. This method relies heavily on good timing.
- If you are fly fishing, troll enticing teasers and then cast your flies to them. This is the most productive way to catch them on flies.
- The ‘shotgun’ method works supremely well for lures too. These tail biters are often lost because they usually come in, the rod bends and then they let go. The shotgun method cuts out the rod bend. When you see the one coming, take the rod out of the holder and point it at the fish. This relaxes the tension in the line and prevents the bait from being jerked out of their mouths, giving them the time needed to take the bait properly.
- Using live bait produces the best hook-up ratio and the most overall success. Rig a single circle hook through the mouth of your fish and a treble hook in the tail. The treble hook has two functions. The first being that these fish love to bite off the tail ends of your bait and having a hook there is obviously advantageous. The second is that the balance created by the single hook and the treble hook in the correct locations help the fish to swim naturally in the water.