Spearfishing with a float line vs reel gun

Spearfishing Reel Gun Vs Float Line: Which Should You Choose?

If you’re getting ready to buy your first speargun, you’re probably thinking about whether or not you should get a reel. This guide gives a quick explanation of the differences between using a gun with a reel, and using a float line, and it weighs up the pros and cons of each method. The short answer is that you should buy a gun with a reel that easily detaches, but leave it at home your first few times out. Read on for the longer answer.

The difference

This is the quick and dirty difference, but for a full explanation, see my post on How a Speargun Works.

In most speargun setups, the spear stays attached to the gun so that the fish can’t swim away with it. With a standard setup, the spear is attached by a shooting line roughly three times the length of the gun barrel. With a reel gun, the shooting line attaches to the reel line which can spool out extra slack.

If you shoot a big fish with a reel gun, if the fish or spear gets stuck under some rock or coral, you can let out slack and return with the gun to the surface to breathe. With no reel, this is not possible, so spearos usually attach a rope (called a float line) from their gun to a bouy (called a float) at the surface. In this way, if the spear is stuck or a big fish takes it for a ride, the spearo can drop the gun, swim to the surface, and still have a rope attached to the gun and spear.

Which is better for newbies?

While everyone’s situation is different, I can say pretty broadly that a new spearo should be using a float line. I’ll go over the reasons why below. That doesn’t mean though, that you shouldn’t buy a reel gun. If you’re on the fence between the two, and you can afford to pick up a reel along with your gun, you should do so.

A reel can be added to and removed from the gun pretty easily. Your first few times out though, it’s best to leave the reel at home and just use a float line. Also, once you do start trying out the reel, you should continue using the float line with it, at least for a few more diving days.

Advantages of using a float line

Spearfishing with a float line instead of a reel is safer, and it makes it much less likely that you’ll lose your gun. Here are some more benefits of spearfishing with a float line. Note that all of these are disadvantages of a reel gun setup only if you’re relying solely on a reel. If you combine a reel with a float line, you will enjoy most of these advantages as well.

  • A float line doesn’t tangle as easily. Reel line is quite thin and trying to manage it while you fight a fish and it’s tangling up all around you can get dangerous quickly. One loop around your leg and a strong dive from a big fish can turn deadly in an instant. This can happen with a float line as well, but it’s generally easier to manage a thicker rope.
  • You can drop your gun as a marker. Let’s say you see a nice grouper or lobster hiding under a rock, but you’re at the end of your dive and need to get up to the surface to breathe. It can often be damn near impossible to find the same spot again, even in clear or shallow water. If you’re using a float line, you can leave your gun on the bottom as a marker and easily follow the line back down once you’ve had a breathe up.
  • No lost guns. It’s common enough to be a cliche, but it’s practically gospel among spearos that you should never use a reel gun without a float line unless you are prepared to lose that gun. Whether it’s a jammed reel, a fish that takes the full line out, a moment of panic, or anything else, not letting go of a gun when you need to can be deadly. If that situation comes up, you should immediately drop the gun. It’s never worth weighing the cost of your life against a replaceable tool. A float line and float mostly solves this issue as you can usually drop your gun without any issue.
  • A float gives you a place to keep your fish. Most of the time when you’re spearfishing, you aren’t immediately putting your fish into a cooler. You want to be able to spear one, put it on a stringer, reload, and keep going. It’s true you can keep them on your belt, but that can be annoying and has its own dangers. The best place to keep your fish is attached to your float.
  • A float is cheap. Like anything else, you can drop a lot of cash on a float and float line, but you don’t need to when you’re starting out. Just about any old rope will do as long as it floats, and unless you’re hunting huge game fish, most plastic bottles are fine for your float.

Disadvantages of using a float

Spearfishing with a float and line does have its own drawbacks. Here are the disadvantages of using a float line. You could also call these the advantages of a reel-only setup.

  • Drawing extra attention. The rope from your gun back to the surface is another foreign object in the water. You’re trying to not act suspiciously during your dive, and a float line is just one more foreign object underwater to potentially scare fish. This is fairly minor, but it’s not nothing.
  • Swimthroughs and structure. You can’t take a gun with a float line through a swim through, unless you plan to swim back through the way you came. With a float line, you are tethered and this means less freedom than you have using a reel gun. This is also the case when spearfishing around bridges, wrecks, jetties, kelp forests, and especially, oil rigs.
  • Less drag in strong current. When diving in areas of strong current, the extra drag of your line and float makes the water pull even harder. In situations like this, a reel gun setup is usually better. Note that this and the point above aren’t really settings appropriate for beginner spearos anyway.

Conclusions

So yeah, if you’re new to spearfishing, you should be going out with a float line attached to a float at the surface. It’s absolutely fine to buy a reel gun though. Go out your first few times without the reel on, and when you do start trying it out, continue using the float line along with it. Once you have some experience with both, you can decide which setup is best for you for any situation, and you can start experimenting with other rigging methods like breakaway setups.

If I missed anything or you have something to add, please drop a comment and let me know!

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