Hunting the deep

spearjumpRichard Justice had hunted, fished and scuba dived all of his life.

When the 32-year-old League City resident began thinking about combining his passions, he looked offshore.

“I combined all of them together and went spearfishing,” he said. “It’s like spot and stalk bow hunting in the water.”

His first trip into the blue water was last July 4, and he has been going monthly ever since.

“The first two trips I went scuba diving,” Justice said. “I decided that was too much stuff to take, so I tried free diving and I haven’t touched a tank since.”

Justice said he consistently dives down 50 feet to search for the fish near rigs that spear fishermen covet — wahoo, amberjack, snapper, jacks, mahi-mahi and ling.

“When you are free diving, the fish are a little more curious then with a tank,” he said. “But you don’t have to be able to dive really deep. I’ve shot multiple 40-pound ling while still breathing through my snorkel.”

When Justice was first getting into the sport, he hooked up with one of the best spearfishing guides in Texas — Keith Love of Texas Bluewater Safaris.

“It’s definitely a growing sport,” Love said. “On a calm day, you will now see guys at the marina with rigs.”

The 27-year-old from Angleton said the maximum range he shoots fish is 15 feet.

“If you have to aim, you are too far,” he said. “We hunt the rigs but a lot of the bluewater fish won’t come right into the rigs. They hang 50-100 yards off the rigs, but there is still plenty to shoot on the rigs — sheepshead and red snapper.

“Cobia will swim right up to you.”

Love’s biggest fish is a 245-pound yellowfin tuna. Once a fish is shot, the spear is connected to a buoy on top of the water that detaches from the gun.

“Once you let the shot go, it detaches from you,” Love said.

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COVERThe primetime to go depends on the spearfisherman’s goal.

“The calmest, clearest days are in June and July,” Love said. “When we are hunting big fish, the winter is the best. But you have to deal with the weather and the sharks. In summer they are there, but they aren’t as aggressive. If you see them, they won’t attack. It’s the ones you don’t see that will get you.

“I know a few people who have been bitten.”

One person who has had several close calls with aggressive sharks is Steven Harris. Harris began spearfishing about four years ago.

“I finally figured out how to turn hunting and fishing into the same sport,” Harris said. “A lot of people don’t understand how good we have it (in Texas). In places like California or Hawaii, they have been doing this for centuries, so spearfishing is tough. Here, there are so many species out there in the Gulf, we are usually limited out by 1 or 2 p.m.”

Harris said he has had run-ins with lots of big sharks.

“Last year, I missed the world record blackfin tuna (held by Love) by five pounds. When I shot the fish, I had more than 300 sharks swimming around,” Harris said. “The weather is more of a concern then the sharks.

“You have a spear gun, so you are a predator also.”

Startup spearfishing guns start at about $400, but could run into the thousands for heavy-duty offshore rigs. And participants don’t have to be accomplished scuba divers to have success.

“Free divers can still have a lot of success on clear days,” Love said. “On a good day, a free diver can outhunt a scuba diver.”

Harris and Love both see the sport taking off in Texas.

“Four years ago, nobody wanted to go,” Harris said. “It’s definitely blown up now. If they leave the wells along in the Gulf, there will always be plenty of fish.”

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