Spearfishing and Freediving in Florida is a favorite of many apneist. With great weather and warm water what is not to like.
Our Florida Freediving guide will take you from wishing you where there to in the safely in the water.
About Freediving in Florida
Though not as popular as other water activities like surfing or boating, spearfishing and especially freediving is quickly catching on. As interest in diving continues to grow, more and more people are participating in diving excursions.
Various classes have been set up around the state to teach different aspects of freediving, including safety, breath-hold techniques and even underwater hunting tactics.
Freediving has become a significant source of attraction for many residents and holidaymakers to the sunshine state. It allows them to see an aspect of their natural habitat typically unobserved by most swimmers and sun bathers who are content with what lies above the surface.
A trained freediver can observe fish behavior closely without scaring away schools with, bubbles, splashing or waves from paddles or oars.
Best places to go Freediving in Florida
Many popular freediving sites in Florida are ideal locations for freediving. You can swim with manatees, turtles, and even sharks at some of these dive sites!
The presence of underwater caves and wrecks offers a different challenge from open water diving for experienced freedivers.
With the numerous diving sites scattered all over, there is no scarcity of challenging locations with varying depth levels to engage in this thrilling sport.
Some examples include DeSoto National Park just south of Tampa, Rainbow River, or Blue Grotto and Sanibel, just off the coast of Fort Myers. These are all open water sites with depths varying from 5 to 40 meters deep.
Although there are no artificial structures to pose a challenge or obstructions, divers will have to be aware of their surroundings, which can prove difficult due to limited visibility.
One needs to be familiar with the site and determine whether it is appropriate for diving since some areas get frequented by swimmers or boaters who are not part of this sport.
The coastline offers interesting locations that divers could explore, such as Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park located near Key Largo, which is rich with marine life that attracts scuba divers worldwide.
The state’s waters are clear and calm most of the time, which is ideal for water sports, especially freediving and spearfishing.
The Palm Beach County area on the east coast has an array of areas popular for diving since one can choose from shallow reef sites to deep blue holes. Even though some locations have currents that can prove challenging to deal with during cold seasons, it makes up for this with countless dive sites available. You can explore wrecks from World War I and II, along with sunken powerboats and planes in these sites.
Below are some select locations that are particularly impressive if you are setting out to freedive along Florida’s expansive coast.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park has clear, shallow water that is great for beginners. You can typically see 15 feet into the water on a sunny day. The shallower depth of this site makes it ideal for freediving because you won't need to hold your breath as long when descending to see exciting wildlife at the bottom of the spring. The park is excellent for snorkeling over the spring as well. You can see fish species like bluegill, bass, trout, and gar just by floating on your back in shallow water.
Foundation Island Blue Hole is located off the coast of Marathon Key near Pigeon Key in the Florida Keys. This site is a great place to freedive because you can see coral formations and marine life at a depth of 34 feet, but an even deeper ledge descends another 400 feet if you want to go back further. There are also two shipwrecks on the reef surrounding this deep blue hole.
The Fathom Five National Marine Sanctuary is located off the coast of Port Austin and has a depth of about 100 feet at some points. This particular site is great for diving because it is an easily accessible reef that's very educational. You can see crab, lobster, sea stars, and sturgeon just by floating above the reef.
The Pigeon Key Shipwreck is located off the coast of Marathon and has a depth of about 25 feet. This site is great for diving because you'll be able to hold your breath longer since the depth of this dive site isn't too deep. It's an easily accessible site to see large fish species like tarpon, barracuda, sharks, and even rays.
The Grove Key Shipwreck is located off the coast of Marathon and has a depth of about 25 feet. This site is excellent for diving because you'll be able to hold your breath longer since the depth of this dive site isn't too deep. You can also see large species like tarpon, barracuda, sharks, and stingrays around or on top of the shipwreck.
The best way to find out about the best freediving locations here is to contact one of the numerous companies or organizations where you can sign up for a diving site tour along with the necessary equipment. They can also provide advice based on their experience and training sessions which they conduct regularly.
Spearfishing is a risk-reward activity. It takes time to learn how to be safe, fast enough to catch fish, and smart about where you are fishing. However, with all this effort and planning, the reward is a unique and exciting experience that you will find nowhere else.
The sport can be done year-round if one knows where to go and what to do.
The periods with warmer weather (spring and summer) are when most of the sport takes place in South Florida, but it's also possible to fish through the colder months (fall and winter).
It is legal to spearfish in the state waters open to the public with no license or permits required.
There are several locations where spearfishing is permitted. These are most popular at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville, southwest coast of the state around Boca Grande, Stuart area.
Best places to spearfish Florida
There are many places to go diving in the state’s water bodies. Some of the best and easiest places for a beginning spearfisher include:
Scrub island - this is great for beginners as the water is normally very clear and depths you can see your target clearly, and it doesn't move much.
Key Largo (tons of fish and an easy place to get a permit).
The mangroves near Vero Beach (best time is when the tide is going out and at night).
Spearfishing in the Florida Keys is easily one of the best experiences that the state has to provide. Unfortunately, due to its popularity, it can get tricky because there is a lot of traffic, and it's hard to get away from the boat traffic.
Luckily this is less of a problem if you are on a spearfishing charter in Florida.
Spearfishing Target Fish species in Florida
Here's a list of fish species that are popular for spearfishing. The list is not exhaustive, but these are the most common.
One of the fish species to hunt when diving is the king mackerel. These fish are a bit harder to track down, but they're large and plentiful in the waters surrounding the coastline.
A third option is the skipjack tuna, which has a bluish-gray color with dark stripes along its body. It's slightly smaller than the other two fish but still an excellent choice for meat and sport.
Fourth on this list is the wahoo. It's easy to spot because it has a dark blue color with white stripes along its side.
The goliath grouper is a popular choice for eating, which is easy to find due to its large size and can be found off the coastline color. This fish has a brownish-gray color with dark vertical stripes on it. It also has black speckles and a largemouth.
Blackfin tuna is another popular choice for fishing. It's often found near the shore and has a distinctive black stripe along its back that leads to a yellow upper side on its body. These fish are usually smaller than other options on this list, but they're still worth hunting.
And the last fish on the list is the wreckfish, also known as an angelfish. It has a greenish-blue body with silver stripes and is found near the shallow waters of the coastline.
Florida Spearfishing regulations
Having learned the species available for hunting around the state, you now need to know the different rules to observe.
When it comes to recreational saltwater fishing, there are specific rules that all recreational divers must follow to stay within the law. These include the following guidelines:
- All fish taken with a spear gun must be caught in the area between the shore and three miles off the coastline.
- Any fishing gear may not exceed five feet in length. This includes spears, poles and shafts, bandito sticks, and pneumatic spearguns. These items will also need to meet specific requirements including having a barrel-shaped gunstock between 18 and 24 inches long, a weight of at least 20 ounces, and a minimum width of three-fourths of an inch.
- Recreational anglers must have their name, address, date of birth, and fishing license number on all spears with aluminum or graphite shafts at least as long as their height.
- Recreational spearfishing in state waters is only legal from a vessel, kayak, or shore. There are also specific gear restrictions for going spearfishing from a kayak: men and women must use only one single shaft pole/spear gun with not more than three barbed tips (pointed projectiles).
This list of regulations is of course not exhaustive and it is advisable to contact the local government representatives and wildlife officials to ensure compliance.
Now that you know where to go and what to do, it's time for you to get out there and enjoy some freediving and spearfishing!