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Free-shafting is a Florida West Coast spearfishing style that started in the 1960s. It is our most popular method of spearfishing, although not practiced in many other places.

The first comment from a new spearfishing enthusiast about free-spearing is usually, "You must lose a lot of spears. Right?" Adding a heavy line to a spear helps retain fish like amberjacks or cobia, but the added security handicaps the diver. Line spears are slow and add entanglement factors, making the sport hard for novices and possibly dangerous.

So, how do you keep from losing free-spears? First, always aim your gun at an angle of 30 degrees or more to the bottom. Second, know what fish you're shooting. Avoid all but the bottom species like grouper, snapper and hogfish. When shot, they hole up instead of swim away. We have few holes that stop you from retrieving a spear. Also, shoot the fish from behind and above.

The old rule for line guns is they shoot three times the length of the spear. The most popular size gun has a 48-inch shaft and a range of 12 feet. Throw away the rule for free-shaft spear guns _ 48-inch to 54-inch guns can shoot a 60-inch free-shaft 30 feet or more.

One of the best ways to learn is to shoot targets like cans before trying to shoot fish. Shoot from far away and from different angles. Shoot often. You will learn the mechanics of cocking, shooting, securing your gun (many free-shaft guns are buoyant when empty and will float away), spear removal and reloading.

Avoid shooting marginal-sized fish and remember everything looks 25 percent larger underwater.

Free-shaft spearfishing will make it possible to go after smart black groupers and fast mutton snappers.

_ Chad Caney teaches spearfishing, scuba and free diving. Contact him at (727) 423-7775, or