Like most fishing, timing is everything when spearfishing from the shore…
Shore diving offers a convenience factor that simply cannot be beaten. And given most of us live within 20 minutes’ drive of a potential shore diving spot, it’s also one the cheapest and most reliable ways to put a top notch feed on the table.
As shore diving typically involves longer swims to get to your site and because you don’t have the option of moving very far if your spot isn’t working the key to success is knowing your area well and understanding how different tides, currents and sea conditions are going to affect it.
Plan for the conditions
When it comes to sea conditions we can break them up into two categories: those above the water and those below. Above water sea-state conditions are very easy to judge. The most important thing to understand is the site’s aspect, that is the direction it faces into the sea.
Check the aspect
When researching a new dive site look at a chart and figure out what conditions would effect it from an on-shore perspective and in what conditions is it likely to be more sheltered, or offshore.
Ground-swell and chop
The swell can be easily predicted and there are plenty of accurate sources for the latest conditions. As a general rule, if the swell is more than about half a metre onshore, you’ll have real trouble snapper-snooping, while anything over a metre is pretty much a write-off.
As well as ground swell you may experience wind-driven chop on the surface. Chop is less of a problem as it doesn’t greatly affect the sub surface conditions.
Onshore or offshore
For the land-based diver, basically any onshore wind over ten knots is going to start causing problems. One of the primary benefits of shore diving is that almost any dive site accessible from the shore is going to be flat and sheltered whenever the weather is going offshore.
Predicting the sub-surface conditions can be a bit trickier. Bad visibility is caused by particles suspended in the water; onshore swell and heavy rain being the biggest culprits.
A big swell stirs up the bottom transporting sand throughout the water column while rain runoff carries soil with it muddying the water. You can forget about diving anywhere near a river-mouth after heavy rain.
Poor visibility can also be caused by algae or phytoplankton. Winter tends to offer the cleanest conditions as the cool temperatures keep the algae at bay. Late Spring’s rise in temperature usually triggers an algal bloom causing the worst visibility of the year. There is no reliable way to judge how green the water is going to be without going and looking.
One of my favourite shore dives is Ti Point near Omaha. The Omaha estuary is full of cockle beds that filter the water. This means that dirty water comes in during the incoming tide and is cleaned before going out again. Because of this, the outgoing tide is the time to be at Ti Point but other estuaries might do the opposite and fill your site up with silt.
Developing the skill to sit patiently and hidden on the bottom is key to a speoro's success.
The final piece of the puzzle is the current. As a shore diver judging the current right can mean the difference between getting a free ride where you want to go and swimming on a treadmill for hours fighting your way up current.
The most common current encountered by divers is simple tidal flow and every successful spearo bases their dive plan around it. Tides are predictable but you need to make sure you always check them and get in at the right time for your dive site. The tide also dictates where the fish are going to be concentrated.
Reef structure will almost always have one side that is more vertical and holds fish better than the other but the current must be running into the steep side for it to work. I’ve got a couple of reasonably handy spots that I regularly dive and they work on opposing tides so the tidal direction dictates which spot to hit at any given time.
Working the weedline waiting for the opportunity to shoot. The author points out that Jack mackerel schools like these are not always the best indicator.
Timed perfectly at Ti Point
The best shore dive I’ve had this winter was at Ti Point. As I’ve already mentioned, its works best on an outgoing tide. It is also on an outgoing tide that the weed line running parallel to shore will be catching the current.
My mate Blair heard a whisper there was clean water around and with the tides perfect for a leisurely 11am start, we were off. As we were pulling into the car park we saw another couple of divers gearing up and were a little disappointed not to get the place to ourselves. About the time we were starting to climb into our suits the other pair started walking up the track towards the point.
Now, I’m all for taking a short cut if there is one and it is understandable to want to cut your swim to the minimum distance possible but I’ve never understood why guys carry their heavy dive gear on a long walk when they can just jump in and start swimming. Ti Point is a classic for this. If you know your tides you can jump in the water, spitting distance from your car and get a virtually effort-free ride all the way out to the point. There is also a good chance of getting John dory or big trevally under the jetty on the way.
Anyway, on this particular day the current was absolutely humming and we were out at the weed edge around about the same time the other pair were just getting in the water. Like all weed lines, the key at Ti Point is to swim right along the edge, where the weed meets the sand and keep moving until you start finding concentrations of bait fish.
Blair and I worked our way along diving one up and one down searching for the sweet spot. One of us would dive down to about a metre or so off the bottom looking for a John dory while the other would follow along on top ready to dive as soon as the first guy surfaced.
This is a very efficient way of covering large distances quickly and means the whole weedline gets dived. You’ll pick up easy fish like JDs this way but it is too aggressive for flightier species. Once you start bumping into lots of small fish like demoiselles, or even better baitfish like koheru or trevally, you need to dive much more carefully.
Now, rather than swimming along off the bottom you need to go all the way down and lie still for as long as you can. You should get right up close to the weed to hide your size and scratch around clicking stones together and throwing handfuls of sand up to mimic feeding fish. This will hopefully entice any target species to come in and check you out.
You can move around to better vantage points if you feel you need to but it is important to stay put in each spot long enough for fish to find you without being spooked. As you hit the bottom all the little bait fish will move off but once you have settled and stop wriggling around they’ll come back again.
The trick is to stop kicking a couple of metres off the bottom and just glide the rest of the way so the little fish don’t get too alarmed and come back in sooner. You also use the reactions of the bait fish to judge how fast you can move along the bottom. If you move too quickly they’ll spook and dart off whereas if you creep along carefully the schools will just open up as you pass without becoming frightened.
On this day we started to see much greater concentrations of goatfish on the bottom and then we bumped into huge schools of Jack mackerel. I’ve found Jack mackerel aren’t always much of an indication of anything and will just as often be found as often in the dead areas as the fishy ones. However, this school was hanging around the highest current area with lots of other fish so we knew something would be chasing them.
We slowed right down and continued to work one up, one down but now we would lie still while we were on the bottom.
Almost straight away Blair found a big John dory parked up on the weed edge stalking the goatfish and minutes later found another one. While he was reloading after his second JD I saw some big shapes coming in and dived.
No sooner had I hit the bottom than I was swarmed by a mob of good kingies. I picked what I thought was the best and squeezed the trigger. After stowing my kingy in our plat (a type of tow boat used to transport our catch) I dived again and nearly crashed into another John dory. As I was swimming to put him in the plat I saw Blair give the coup de grace to another solid kingy.
In no more than about fifteen minutes we’d landed two good kingies and three John dory so with more than enough fish to keep us going for a while we decided to swim back.
Now I’m not going to pretend to have that sort of success every dive, days like that are the exception, but by applying a bit of knowledge and good technique we were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of some exceptionally good mid winter conditions. A few hours either side and we would have found totally different conditions and probably come home with very little. We’re both going to remember this day for a very long time.
So don’t let the lack of a boat ride put you off getting out there. Instead, get to know your local shore diving sites really well and learn how to judge the conditions to maximise your time in the right spots. Remember, the further you swim to shoot a fish the better its going to taste.