At one time or another, I think every spearfisherman has looked at his gun and wondered how he could get more power, range or shoot bigger fish with the same gun. This has led to almost everyone I know experimenting with their guns to some degree. The problem is that not all experiments work and there is nothing more frustrating than missing a fish because an experiment has gone wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, I think one needs to experiment to find the magic setup that works best for them. The reality is that everyone is different and no one gun is the perfect gun for everyone. I do think that there needs to be a fair bit of understanding before going and changing gun setups. There are also the tried and tested setups, and I think that it is best to start with gun setups that generally work for most people. From there, you can then make small tweaks to suit your style of diving or individual needs.
A week does not go by without someone asking me if a certain gun setup will work. Generally, it is a guy that wants to make his gun do way more than it is supposed to. Typically it is the idea of adding more rubber to power up the gun, giving it more range and hitting power. Unfortunately, every gun has its limit and there is a fine balance between power and the practical effectiveness of the gun.
It is very easy to overpower a speargun which will render the gun useless. With every gun, you need to consider the recoil, muzzle flip, spear wobble and general feel of the gun when fired.
If you overpower a gun, the recoil, muzzle flip and spear wobble ultimately result in a massive energy loss and it also makes the gun very inaccurate. The only real way to get more power is to go longer on the gun. So, if you want more power, it is better to go for a longer gun and keep it nicely balanced, rather than trying to power up a smaller gun.
Practical guns are also important. For instance, I just don’t see the point of diving with a massive multi-rubber gun when a small light railgun will more than do the job. First and foremost you are a freediver, then a hunter. Big, overpowered guns only hinder your freediving and compromise your hunting ability. For that reason, I prefer to use a gun that is as light and compact as possible, but that is still up to the task. At the same time, you can’t take a penknife to a gunfight. Your gear needs to be up to the task.
Not all situations are the same and for this reason there is no one perfect gun. Much like golf where you need different golf clubs, in spearfishing, you need different guns for different situations. You simply are not going to have a gun that works well for shooting small reef fish which is also a great gun for shooting massive Yellowfin Tuna.
There are, however, some basic principles that make guns work well. Understanding these principles and the relationship between rubbers, rubber length, spear thickness and spear length will help you tweak your guns and help you customise them to suit your individual needs.
Rubber & Rubber Length
Not all rubber is created equal. Only use natural dipped latex rubber, also try find out how old the rubber it is. Rubber has a shelf life and it gets hard and stiff over time, making it less effective. Aside from how much load in kg’s a rubber has at the notch, the most important thing is how far the rubber will drive the spear. This not only affects how much power a gun has, it also affects how the gun feels and how accurate it is.
For example, if you had two 1100 spearguns, one with a 20mm rubber and one with a 16mm rubber (both rubbers have roughly the same amount of load at the notch). The thicker 20mm will have a longer rubber than the 16mm rubber because it is harder to stretch. This means that the 16mm rubber will have a longer pull or drive on the spear. Ultimately, you will get more energy transferred and therefore better performance.
So, basically, it is better to have thinner, shorter rubbers than thicker, longer ones. This is where double rubbers can be effective as you can have the thinner rubbers cut shorter, making them easier to load. This also means they are easy to overpower if you are not careful.
Spear Length and Thickness
When it comes to spears there are two main principles that will affect the way a gun performs. These are: how long the spear is and how thick it is.
Long spears are more flexible and more likely to be effected by whip or wobble due to recoil. Basically, the longer the spear is, the easier it is to bend. This will be accentuated if the spear is not only long, but also thin. A shorter thicker spear is stiffer and less likely to be effected by whip or wobble.
So, guns with long overhung spears are not ideal. I always try to keep the spear between 20cm30cm from the muzzle.
Spear thickness mainly affects three things: weight, stiffness and resistance. Weight is an important one as this greatly determines how fast your spear will travel or how much velocity (hitting power) you will have. The thicker your spear, the heavier it is which increases its hitting power. This, however, slows the spear down and you will need more power to drive it.
Typically you would move over to a thicker spear if you need to go through a big thick fish. But, unless you have the power, you lose range and speed.
Conversely, a thinner spear is lighter and faster as it needs less to drive it. The thinner the spear is, the lower the surface drag on the spear will be, adding to the speed and ultimately the range as well. This sounds great but you do lose out on hitting power. So a thinner spear is better for fast fish at distance that don’t have heavy armor plated scales or are overly big. Some guys like the speed of thin spears so they increase the spears weight by making the spear longer. This does work, but you have to be very careful not to overpower the spear. This will cause the spear to wobble which will make it inaccurate and also reduce its speed and power.
To simplify things I thought it would be easiest to list and explain the guns that have become go-to guns with the majority of guys that I have worked with over the years. These are pretty much my personal preference for each gun length. These setups are specific to the South African East Coast, but this does not mean that they will not work as well anywhere else in the world.
The thing that will probably change these setups slightly will be water temperature. Here the average water temperature is between 19 and 25 degrees Celsius. If you are in a colder climate, you might need to shorten the rubbers slightly. But, do this at very small increments, as overpowering the gun will effect the subtle balance that makes each setup work.
Also please take into consideration that the rubber you have available might vary to what I use. I only use natural dipped latex rubber that is as close to manufacture date as possible. Older or stiffer rubber will have to be cut longer than what is recommended.
Gun length: 900cm
Rubber thickness: 16mm
Rubber length: 47-49cm
Spear thickness: 6,6mm – 7mm
Spear length: 1,3m
Ideal uses: The 900 is ideal for hunting small reef fish in low vis, and hunting in the surf zone where there is lots of wash. Although it is not really classified as a cave gun, many guys use it as one. With the short 16mm rubbers it is not impossible to take bigger fish like Queen Mackerel, but you will need to get close to the fish.
In the Eastern Cape, where the water is cooler and the guys are shooting thick and heavy scaled White Muscle Cracker well over 10kg, they tend to lean toward using an 18mm rubber (59-61cm). This will give the gun greater hitting power close up in the cold water. I found that the gun with the 18mm rubbers had a lot of unnecessary recoil, which would affect the accuracy and range.
Gun length: 1000cm
Rubber thickness: 16mm
Rubber length: 51-53cm
Spear thickness: 6,6mm – 7mm
Spear length: 1,4m
Ideal uses: The 1000 is very similar to the 900. The difference being that it has slightly more range, so it is a step up of sorts. The 1000 is not a common choice as most guys tend to go with either the 900 or 1100 for shooting reefies.
I have found that some guys, who specialise in hunting White Muscle Cracker and Garrick in the backline, often step up to 1000cm gun for the extra power. In my opinion, this is a better move than trying to overpower a 900. 1000 is still short enough to be handled in the surf zone, but does start to get a little too long for caves.
Gun length: 1100cm
Rubber thickness: 16mm
Rubber length: 56-60cm
Spear thickness: 6,6mm – 7mm
Spear length: 1,5m
Ideal uses: The 1100 is one of those great allrounders and is the go-to gun for many of the guys on the coast when shooting reefies. It is short enough to be mobile and quick to handle, but at the same time has enough power for that lucky bigger fish that comes past. Many guys have taken some really big fish with the 1100 and, when setup correctly, it is amazingly fast and accurate. As always, some guys (especially in cooler water) like to power the gun up. 18mm rubber (65-70cm) does work better than on the smaller guns. The 2 x 14mm rubbers are becoming more and more popular, but as with any double rubber gun, you have to be careful not to overpower the gun.
My personal preference is the single 16mm as it is well-balanced and accurate. It’s also quick and easy to load which makes it great for competitive diving. The 1100 is also the gun I would recommend to new divers. It is a great buy as a first gun. It is not big and bulky, but it can still take fish a fair distance while a diver is still learning to get close.
Gun length: 1200cm
Rubber thickness: 18mm
Rubber length: 70cm
Spear thickness: 7mm
Spear length: 1,6m
Ideal uses: The 1200 is another great all-rounder and has been the go-to gun for many of the shore divers on the South African East Coast for decades. This is a very versatile gun, capable of shooting Spanish Mackerel and Salmon, while at the same time allowing you to still shoot smaller reefies. Some guys actually prefer the 1200 for reefies when the visibility is good and the fish are bigger. Personally, I think the 18mm rubber and 7mm shaft setup is brilliant. It is just one of those great setups and has taken crazy fish in the past, including large Marlin.
A setup that is gaining popularity is the 2 x 14mm (65cm) with the 7mm shaft. This is a great step up on the traditional 1200 with the 18mm rubber converting the gun into more of a game fish type gun. I am not a big fan of trying to power up guns in an effort to get more out of the gun; it’s not practical. I would rather go up one size and have a well-balanced gun than a shorter canon that fires horribly. With the 2 x 14mm this is not the case, because the gun is well-balanced.
In saying this we have to ask the question: What about 2 x 16mm? I know many guys like this setup, but personally I don’t. I think if you need more than what the 18mm rubber can produce, go 2 x 14mm or move up to a 1300 gun.
The pool tests I have done with the 2 x 16mm were never great. The gun has lots of recoil and the 7.5mm shaft is a bit heavy and sluggish. Note that a 7mm shaft gets easily overpowered with 2 x 16mm rubbers. If you make the 16mm rubbers long enough so that the gun does not have a crazy recoil, then they are so long that they become inefficient and you might as well just have 18mm rubbers.
Gun length: 1300cm
Rubber thickness: 2 x 14mm
Rubber length: 72cm
Spear thickness: 7mm
Spear length: 1,7m
Ideal uses: When it comes to game fish, the gun I think of first is a 1300 railgun. I know that many guys around the world are reaching for their big multi-rubber guns, but I personally think that is just because they have never used a standard rail gun that has been set up well. Outside of specifically targeting massive Dog Tooth, Yellowfin and other big trophy fish, the 1300 with 2 x 14mm rubbers is a fantastic gun. It is still fairly light and manoeuvrable and does not hinder your diving at depth, while still packing enough punch to take down really big fish.
For years, a single 20mm rubber of 75cm-78cm (high power length) was the standard and my favourite at the time. It was hard to load but extremely accurate and well balanced, and it just felt good to shoot. Then I started using 14mm rubbers and I cut them, initially, to the same length that I was cutting the 20mm rubbers. The gun was amazing, low recoil and easy to load. Over time, with a number of guys changing over to the 14mm rubbers, the rubbers got shorter. The guys shooting Yellowtail in the cool Cape waters tend to go for 70cm while here on the East Coast 72cm seems to be the right length. You can go shorter, but then you start to feel considerable recoil.
The big question which guys always ask: Is it stronger than the 20mm? In all of our pool tests, the 2 x 14mm way outperformed the single 20mm. And if you consider the amount of big Tuna and Marlin that have been speared with the standard 20mm, your chances only improve when using 2 x 14mm rubbers.
Lots of guys use 2 x 16mm rubbers because they feel that they need more power. The 2 x 16mm setup can work well if you use a 7.5mm shaft and don’t shorten the rubber too much. The rubbers works well.
Gun length: 1400cm
Rubber thickness: 2 x 16mm
Rubber length: 78-80cm
Spear thickness: 7.5mm
Spear length: 1,8m
Ideal uses: On blue water trips, this is the standard gun setup that I recommend. Again, some guys have the mentality that the bigger the gun is, the better the gun. I have always subscribed to the theory of ease of diving and accuracy before power. It’s a lot harder to get up to a fish than to just pull the trigger. In blue water environments you can sometimes be diving very deep and you don’t need any extra handicaps, like a heavy gun.
From big Dog Tooth to Yellowfin, there are loads of guys the world over who rate this gun and the list of massive fish it has taken is endless. I know I have said this before, but the Achilles Heel is that if you cut the rubbers even slightly too short, the recoil starts to make the gun inaccurate. However, you can compensate with lead weights to ballast the gun and give it greater inertia. I just use a standard aluminium barrel because it has enough weight and works really well. I often make this suggestion for these types of guns because this is not a gun that you use in everyday diving. It is necessary to spend some time in a pool before a trip to make sure it is well-balanced and accurate.
The only time I have varied from the above setup is for hunting Wahoo. I found that the 7.5mm shaft is a little slow over distance and with Wahoo you are often taking long shots. They are particularly skittish and start to move the moment you pull the trigger. It took watching through loads of duffed shots on video to work this out. They start to move with the shock wave of the rubbers contracting, which is way faster than the flight of the spear. If it is a long shot the fish could have moved a metre or more by the time the spear reaches it. Hence my habit of shooting Wahoo far back in the tail despite aiming further up the fish.
The solution was to go to a 7mm shaft and extend the length to 1.9m. The rubber lengths became critical, but if you find the sweet spot just before the rubbers overpower the spear, it is a great gun and is much faster than the 7.5mm shaft.
I’m willing to bet that there are guys out there that are going, “But I use something totally different and it works well”. I would not recommend changing just for the sake of changing, but if there is something in this article that makes sense or that you feel could improve your current setup then try it out. They have been tried, tested and proven by countless spearfisherman for years, if not decades. Perhaps this will just guide you in selecting your next speargun for your arsenal. Either way, I hope this serves as a good plumb line to help guide you to set up simply effective spearguns.