Spearfishing is an exciting and demanding activity which is becoming increasingly popular in the UK.
To give you a little insight into the sport, we caught up with world record breaking ‘spearo’ Tony Eynon to find out about Ascension Island, yellow fin tuna and his most exciting aquatic adventures…
Hi Tony, how are you? Can you start by telling us a little bit about the art of spearfishing and what it involves?
Hi RLD, I’m doing well thanks. It’s been a crazy summer but I’ve loved every minute of it. Spearfishing is the sport of hunting underwater by swimming to the bottom of the ocean and catching yourself something tasty to eat. We don’t use air tanks like the scuba guys, just a single lungful of air, and then we submerge…
It ranges massively, but we tend to hunt between 8 – 20 meters down and stalk amongst the ocean reefs. Equipment wise, we have powerful free diving fins which help us to dive while conserving energy and hunt with a speargun.
Prime targets are sea bass, Pollock, shellfish like lobster, scallops and crabs. It’s the freshest seafood you can get and it’s often out of the ocean and on the BBQ within an hour.
Spearfishing sounds like some elitist sport undertaken by crazy dare devil athletes, but the reality is completely different. It’s 100% assessable to everyone regardless of fitness level, age and experience. At its heart, it’s about being relaxed and a bit adventurous.
Also, while shooting a fish initially sounds a bit heavy, it’s actually the most selective form of fishing on the planet, which makes it the most sustainable. There is no wastage or bycatch, like you get with long lining or the trawling with giant indiscriminate nets.
What initially got you into spearfishing – have you always liked being in the open water?
Growing up I always enjoyed sea fishing, but I went through a dry spell which drove me crazy. I think I spent two full weeks fishing for about eight hours a day and didn’t get one bite! Incensed, I went to a dive shop to buy a snorkel. I was convinced there were no fish in the ocean and I was going in to check…
As I queued up with my £10 mask and fins set, I saw a speargun on the wall behind the counter like a scene out of an old Western. I asked if I needed a license, the shop assistant said no and off I went. Four hours later I had caught myself two bass, and that was that. My rods were retired and I’ve been donning the speargun ever since.
You’ve been spearfishing for the past decade and have made a pretty impressive name for yourself in the process. What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
It was probably the IUSA world record I achieved two years ago for shooting the world’s largest rock hind grouper. Generally, it’s not a particularly big fish, but this specimen was massive so I was completely stoked!
I’d seen several the year before that I thought were close to the record, so I went on a real mission at my secret spot to try and track one down. I was a couple days into the quest and using every trick in the book to find it. I even hunted its favourite food, then stuffed it between the rocks to try and tempt them into the open.
Towards the end of the last day, I swam down about 15 metres to check a bit of chum I had left, only to be greeted by a couple of moray eels who were having a bit of a fight over it. I was about to give up when I saw a big beady eye staring at my from between some rocks. It was the fattest pig of grouper I’d ever seen…as soon as it was out of the water, I could tell I had smashed the record – and two hours later, it was on the BBQ.
Where is your favourite place to spearfish?
While most of the UK coastline is beautiful, I don’t think anywhere is nicer than the Cornish coastline. It’s stunning above and below the waterline, plus we get huge amounts of basking sharks visiting each year which is just a phenomenal sight. If they’re in the neighbourhood, we always try and bump into them during the courses.
Abroad it has to be Ascension Island – it’s the land that time forgot. It’s a tiny island in the heart of the South Atlantic Ocean and it’s frequented by nothing but monsters. It’s a military run island that you need to use the RAF to get to. As it’s so remote, there’s no commercial fishing which means every species out there is left to grow and grow. Unfortunately that is also true for the sharks. On my first ever dive on the island, our group were greeted by an 18 foot tiger shark which proceeded to destroy a part of our boat. It was like the island was giving us a little warning not take anything for granted or get too comfortable.
Can you tell us about your biggest ever catch – did you have to wrestle it?
Sure. It was a yellow fin tuna I caught on Ascension that weighed just short of 250 pounds (about 17.5 stone). The fight lasted around two hours and largely consisted of being towed around the ocean. These things look like buffalos under the water and pound for pound, they’re probably the most powerful fish on the planet – let’s just say it’s a constant battle!
After an hour or two, a fish like this will start to tire and once you can pull it above 25 odd metres, it’s possible to swim down and administer the last rites – it’s the freshest sushi you could ever dream to eat.
You offer two exciting spearfishing experiences with Red Letter Days. Is teaching people how to spearfish a particular passion of yours?
Absolutely, nothing brings me more pleasure than this part of the business. Plus, I get to meet people from all walks of life. Although it helps, you don’t need to be massively fit to be a good spearo, in fact, most of the best spearo’s I know are pretty damn portly – the sign of a good hunter!
It’s more to do with your frame of mind and your ability to feel relaxed underwater in this completely alien environment. Once you get your head around the strange notion of not being able to breathe for a short while, the beauty and excitement of the sport opens itself up to you.
I really enjoy taking people on this journey, where they seem to start wide eyed and then transform into a competent underwater hunter. Also, something funny or adventurous always seems to happen, so everyone leaves with their own stories to tell in the pub later on.
If you could choose to do any of our Red Letter Days experiences, what would it be and why?
It would have to be one of those water jet pack machine things! I’m not sure what they are called (Jetlevs), but they look like great fun! Probably best to leave the speargun at home that day though!
Last but certainly not least, what does the future hold for Tony Eynon – any big adventures on the horizon?
Yeah, I have some unfinished business with the Atlantic Sailfish world record. I smashed it a few years back, but we ate it before we realised it was world record fish. I caught it on Ascension, and by the time the penny dropped, half of it was on the BBQ. It wasn’t exactly a case of the one that got away, but more the one that got eaten!
I’m spending a month spearfishing on Ascension at the beginning 2015, and tracking down that sailfish’s big brother is firmly on my agenda.
Thanks for your time Tony, it’s been a pleasure!