Lionfish hunting. My top 15 hunting tips

Top 15 lionfish hunting tips

I have been catching lionfish since 2009. I do this from dive boats and some shore diving. The majority of the time I use air (sometimes Enriched Air) and I mainly only dive to approximately 60 feet where the mini wall is here in Cayman. Having caught over 10,000 lionfish, these are my top 15 tips for catching lionfish with a pole spear.

Lionfish hunting. My top 15 hunting tips

  1. SAFETY FIRST.  Go with a buddy who preferably does NOT hunt. Your buddy can help spot the next lionfish (saving you time and air), keep an eye out for predators like sharks or moray eels and they can also concentrate on navigation. They can also remind you regarding your depth, remind you about NDLs and remind you to check your air. Otherwise if you both want to hunt, take it in turns throughout the dive, or if you are doing two dives that day then each of you hunt on one of the dives. I have been on a few dives, without my wife, where all the divers are hunting and the buddy system just goes out of the window, which becomes an accident waiting to happen.
  2. While diving don’t charge around like a demented idiot, trying to cover as much ground as possible. Take your time, move slowly and look closely. Lionfish are not always out and about fluttering away so you can see them. Sometimes they are in stealth mode and they stick themselves to walls in shaded areas.  Moving slowly and looking closely will usually result in more fish seen than simply covering a lot of ground.
  3. When you find a target take your time, approach slowly, stay calm and measure your shot.  Get your breathing under control, and please protect your surroundings by having good buoyancy. If your buoyancy is not very good find a dive instructor and take a “Peak Performance Buoyancy” course.
  4. If you are able – shoot them in the head. A brain shot will turn them instantly white-ish and most of them will die immediately, so no matter how big they are they are easy to bag. There is very little thrashing about, or trying to escape, with a head shot.
  5. Sometimes a lionfish will look at you and swim slightly towards you. These seem to be the ones who, I assume, have never seen a diver before and so they are inquisitive. I suggest at this stage you swim quicker towards them and shoot them straight in the face. They will never be able to escape off of your spear no matter how much they thrash about.
  6. I usually take two spears with me, so if you can, do the same. Not every shot ends up as a head shot. Regularly the fish is lined up with its butt facing you, so your shot in those circumstances can leave the fish alive on the end of your spear ready to thrash itself off your pole spear. I have stopped quite a number of lionfish escaping off the end of my spear by pinning them up against a rock or sand and thrusting the second spear into their head.Top 15 lionfish hunting tips
  7. Carry a spare pole spear rubber band with you. If your band breaks during the dive, it is an easy job to replace it. As I take two spears with me I just take the rubber band off my second pole spear and put it on my main pole spear that way saving my lionfish hunt.  Or you can just keep a spare in your BCD pocket.
  8. Have barbs on your pole spear, but not to many and definitely don’t have them too long. They help to make sure the lionfish stays on the end of your pole spear but you have to be able to get the lionfish off into your container without destroying the funnel part of your container. Three prongs on your pole spear are also usually enough.
  9. Overall I like to use a 4 foot pole spear, it is just about the perfect length. A 6 foot long pole spear is great but can be a real hindrance in tighter rock formations. I believe a 2 foot pole spear is just too short for safety, as your hand just gets too close to the lionfish as you are about to shoot it. This seems to spook them and having your hand that close to the lionfish cannot be a good idea. I do sometimes use a 2 foot pole spear but I like to reduce the length of the rubber band by 50% so that full power has my hand half way down the length of the spear, not right down where the prongs start.
  10. Make sure your container is a good size and sturdy. A friend of mine, who left the island, gave me his own container that he had designed and built himself . It is 11 inches in diameter and the storage length is 20 inches. I have only ever filled it up 3 times with 49, 50 and 54 fish in one dive. (See my containers here and my tips on how to make your own.) If you don’t want to make your own then the Zookeeper is awesome and you can get it in 3 sizes. They are all 7 inches in diameter and come in lengths of 19, 24 and 28 inches. They also now have the Zookeeper max which is three times the size of the standard one. The Zookeeper product range below is courtesy of their official facebook page. Top 15 lionfish hunting tips
  11. If you see a shark then move away from that area and STOP hunting. Right now. Seriously. On our work dives where we lionfish hunt the staff attach an SMB and reel to the container and if a shark comes towards any of the divers with a container they send it up to the surface to be collected from the boat.
    Top 15 lionfish hunting tips
  12. Try and hunt lionfish on a regular basis. Like most things in life, if you do them a lot, practice makes perfect.
  13. Make sure you regularly sharpen your spear tips, as over time they do become blunt. I actually sharpen my own spear after every outing. This is especially important for the head shots of the big lionfish especially if they are just a little further away than you would wish. That way their big thick skulls don’t bounce the spear off it if your spear tips are very blunt.
  14. After each dive outing put your pole spear rubber band in the refrigerator, or some people put theirs in the freezer. It prolongs the life of the rubber, so it’s said. I have put mine in the refrigerator ever since I was told this fact by our Department Of Environment lionfish team.
  15. Catching lionfish at dusk (and dawn) is a great way of really clearing a reef of lionfish as that is when they come out to hunt. They appear from their daytime hiding places and move around the reef making them easy targets and this is where a 6 foot pole spear is awesome. This is a tip that I have heard from quite a number of other hunters, but I don’t hunt at dusk. I’m always afraid that my engine won’t start when we are ready to go home and then I get to spend all night out at sea!  My wife (buddy) would freak out. Also the mosquitoes here would eat me alive when I got back to the dock. I can see, however, how dusk diving is a great tip as when I do my normal daytime diving and conditions are really overcast we do see more lionfish just out and about.

I hope these tips help you to catch more fish and thereby improve your kill ratio.

And finally, if you can improve your air consumption on each dive then you’ll get better value for money AND have more time to catch more lionfish. So why not buy my pdf ebook Save Your Breath which highlights dozens of ways to improve your air consumption – click on the link here for Save Your Breath and read all about it.

About Nigel Coles

Hi my name is Nigel Coles. I used to live in Bristol, England but after a change in direction we moved overseas to work in the scuba diving industry. After a time in Thailand, for the last 8 years I have been living with my wife Deby, in the East End of Grand Cayman, The Cayman Islands. I’m a dive instructor, working for Tortuga Divers, part of the Red Sail group. I spend my day on dive boats, training students and taking our guests on dive trips. It’s a hard life but someone has to do it
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