Hunting for the trophy fish, we all have our favourite routine. Some prefer juicy burleys with flashers, some dig deep into the holes, some rely on waiting at the bottom silently and some prefer to execute stalking towards the fish. Obviously, there are some species which we cannot land without the necessary technique but in a regular day of fishing, no technique is superior than the other to bring a nice fish to dinner table. Some spear fishermen are better suited to one style than other and they are more adept to it.
There is one thing for sure that the more challenging the hunt and technique is the more fun we get while using it. Stalking (widely known as “aguatto”) is one of those methods where you can both feel the challenge of athletic side and the knowledge of hunting. Stalking is basically the technique of silently covering a distance under the water and creating the position to place a shot on the target. Evidently, there are many parameters including the bottom terrain, depth, target specie, equipment, current which can affect the execution of this technique dramatically. Mastering this style lies in patience and paying attention to details.
We’ve all read about the hunting caveman or saw historic pictures showing ancient hunters chasing the prey or at least saw some movies showing Indian hunters stalking on the prey. Most probably Aguatto is one of the oldest hunting techniques that men have mastered in the hunting history. Stalking has always brought its ritual to hunters and it is no different in spearfishing. Preparation for the hunt, actual hunting phase and the admiration of the catch follows each other in a close bond for a stalker.
Unfortunately, in today’s conditions approaching the target fish has never been this difficult before. The current situation puts the equipment and preparing those pieces for the technique at an essential place.
The smoothness of the technique and relaxation during apnea depends on what you are wearing. The wetsuit you are using must keep you warm and comfortable at your dives. It should let you glide down at a speed and more importantly it should carry its buoyancy. In a well planned freedive, we put appropriate ballast on our belt in relation with the depth we are planning to dive. In stalking though, there is a strong chance that one can start stalking at the planned depth but finish deeper than that. In these cases, a softer wetsuit will become negatively buoyant and will both jeopardize the technique and put us under a risk. Medium to Medium-Hard density neoprene with smaller micro air bubbles in the composition will always give us the opportunity to stay neutrally buoyant at a wider depth range.
Smooth skin wetsuits generally lets us glide down faster thus lessens the time that our preys watch us. Camouflage is always handy and at the times we become still, breaking our image at the seabed is important.
Tip: Silence is the primary objective in this technique. Using petroleum based lubricants (e.g. Vaseline) at the joints like elbows, neck, armpits and knees will cut down the noise you produce dramatically. It is usually enough to apply a thin coat of this material once at the beginning of session and it will not make any damage.
Trick: If you have the option to select camouflage on your suit, you should concentrate on putting more patterns on the parts which are directly visible to target fish. Head, shoulders, arms and upper part of back is more important than the rest of the suit which will not be visible most of the times.
As described before, stalking is a demanding technique. Situation may force the diver to go a little deeper than planned. Although we rarely use our fins to move at the bottom, the route up is always a big challenge. Strong propulsion is essential and today’s carbon fibre fin blades helps us best. Every little drop of energy we save returns as an extra second at the bottom. Soft to Medium stiffness fins usually perform best with a smooth technique and they really suit the purpose.
Once we’ve reached the bottom and started to move, vision becomes everything. An underwater fisherman is only good as his eye sight. If you miss to spot the grouper right besides its cave; depth, technique, equipment and all preparation becomes meaningless. To maximize our chance, a mask which enables a wide vision with low inner volume is perfect for this technique. Some of the best aguatto hunters rely on peripheral vision and barely move their head sideways to spot their prey, it is unnecessary to say that they use masks with maximum view angle. Just keep in mind that higher inner volume in a facial mask means more air to compensate it.
Tip 1: Crawling at the bottom sometimes means passing over underwater structures. Hard edges at the joining section of blade-footpocket and high fin rails can touch these structures or can catch an old fishing line. It would be wise to soften the edges on the fin both for our safety and to be more silent.
Tip 2: We can always decrease the volume of a diving mask with some silicone or putty carefully applied to nose section.
Trick: Controlling the fins while stalking is the hardest part. They can easily touch a rock and create unwanted noises. You should always keep them under control without contracting your legs too much..
As long as it is easy to move, any speargun with decent power and accuracy will be enough for aguatto. Most of the shots in this technique are spontaneous and it is crucial to be familiar with the piece you are using. During descend; holding the speargun along your body will minimize your image. On the other hand, as soon as you reach the bottom, the position of the gun has to be moved forward with a bent elbow. This way, we can easily keep our stance to move the gun fast enough to place a sudden shot. You may never know when you’ll meet the fish and staying alert might give us the only chance for a day. Generally speaking the average length of a stalking gun should be around 100-110cm. In case the gun is very manoeuvrable, longer weapons can be used to gain more power. There should always be a reel or a float system attached to your gun to be on the safe side during ascends.
Tip: The buoyancy of a speargun is important during aguatto. An over negatively or positively buoyant gun will make you tired faster than usual and also will hinder your movement.
If our goal is to approach our prey without getting noticed, we should focus on details as much as we can. In case we are diving at a place where we can observe bottom, diver should take his time to plan his moves at the bottom. If there is not an opportunity like that, the game plan has to be spontaneous and we should use our environment. Big boulders, rocks, cracks, seaweeds always have a shady side which lets us sneak through with less attention. Likewise, underwater cliffs are excellent to hide our body on descend. If you spot the fish in your sneaky approach, hiding your body behind a structure helps to cover the crucial distances with ease. Stalking is a dynamic approach. There is not a rule saying that we have to catch the fish on the move and we can always change the style to an ambush wherever necessary. Ledges of underwater cliffs, big openings at rocky bottoms or any place dense with bait fish definitely worth to wait for an ambush. Don’t worry; it will take much less for fish to approach as they have not seen you coming. Currents carry the sound away like wind does for the scent. If possible an approach towards the current should be made to have an edge.
If all the things we have listed are details, there is only one thing crucial for stalking technique which is the speed of approach. A fast pace will frighten the prey by all odds. Sometimes we should build an approach fast enough to build confidence on the fish and sometimes fast enough to cover the necessary distance without getting blue at the face. Unfortunately, there is no formula to tell which one is good for which occasion and only practice will tell you the right one.
Besides being extremely good apnea training, stalking is definitely the most morally rewarding technique that a spear fisherman can succeed. It takes practice and time to master this technique but once done properly it is highly efficient. Tricking a fish in its own place, staying below the radars of fish town and playing the invisible in deep blue are extremely satisfying.
It does not matter, you are on open ocean, or at shallows with the roaring surf on top of you, or close to abyss on a ship wreck aguatto will always be your best friend to bring food to the table.