A couple weeks ago I caught my very first fish on my new JBL three-prong pole spear.

I’ve been wanting to learn how to spearfish for a while now because I’m literally surrounded by ocean, and yet I’ve only ever bought fish at the store—sometimes locally caught fish, but most times imported fish because they don’t always have local/fresh fish in stores—or when I’m lucky, my husband or friends will catch fish and share their bounty.

I’d like to be less reliant on pre-packaged food full of who knows what kinds of ingredients that I can’t even pronounce… and more reliant on fresh foods harvested straight from the source in a sustainable way.

Enter: fishing… specifically, spearfishing.

My neighbors have been doing a lot more spearfishing lately, and while I was out snorkeling a few times, they lent me their pole spear to get a feel for it. I’ve only ever tried using a three-prong pole spear once when I was in Hawaii with a friend of a friend… and two things: 1) I was not good at it because at the time I was uncomfortable in the water, and 2) there were basically no fish there, just lots of urchins. I haven’t been interested in spearfishing at all since then.

However, since watching Seaspiracy and learning about how bad the commercial seafood industry really is… I wanted to integrate more sustainable living practices.

My husband surprised me with my very first pole spear for our 7-year relationship anniversary (which is also exactly our 6-month wedding anniversary). It’s an aluminum JBL travel three-prong travel spear. It can be broken apart into three pieces so it’s great for travel and camping, and fully extended, it gets up to 6ft tall, or I can opt to only use two pieces for a shorter ~4ft pole spear.

I took it out for a spin a few weeks ago at our beach out front. I didn’t try to shoot anything, I just tested out my aim on some algae and tried to stretch out the band. I made a valiant effort though when we went camping a couple weekends ago and I was so close, but so far away to actually catching anything.

Last week, Ian and I went snorkeling out front and I brought my three-prong. I was in the water for about an hour and after many attempts at some manini (convict tang), and poge (striated surgeonfish), I was about to give up. I turned and saw from the corner of my eye a fish staring straight at me. I reloaded the band and turned to face it and let my pole spear fly without really even aiming, thinking I was going to miss again… but as my pole hit the sand I saw at the tip of the three-prong, a red fish… I got it!

It was unfortunately a little guy – a bloodspot squirrelfish (Neoniphon sammara). It looked so much bigger underwater! I splashed around and squealed for Ian to come over, and when he raised the pole out of the water to “brain it” (literally, bite the brains… ew), I got very sad as I understood I had taken a life. I said thank you to the fish, and we went home and prepped it for dinner.

And with that I wanted to share some initial lessons learned…

1. Be patient – spearfishing is not a speed sport

Don’t chase the fish – Let the fish come to you. I chased after a few fish thinking I could catch up to them but I actually ended up scaring them away with my thrashing. Plus, all the fish in the area could hear me coming and were like ‘peace out’.

2. Look where you’re spearing – Don’t spear onto living reef

It’s very uncool to kill a fish and their fish habitat, so pay attention to where you’re aiming to shoot, and avoid spearing onto living reef. If you break off a piece of living reef, that section may die and not grow back. And as you know, reefs are super important and we need them, so let’s take care of them.

3. Pay attention to what fish are on your reef – be selective of what you catch

This is a specific example, but I’ve known for a while now that parrotfish are extremely important fish species for reef health, and they are unfortunately overfished in my area. I’d suggest looking up size guides and fish stocks beforehand to get a better sense of different species’ reproductive sizes and what fish are abundant or rare in your area so you can make better fishing decisions.

4. Learn which fish are good to eat – and which are bad

Some fish are extra bony and may not be pleasant to eat, while others may have very little meat to begin with. I’m also learning which fish are likely to cause ciguatera toxin poisoning so I can avoid those completely.

5. Gut the fish right away – otherwise, it’ll spoil

This is something I just learned – The guts and innards will start to rot as soon as the fish dies and because they contain nasty bile and worms (ew), those will permeate onto the rest of the fish meat, making it unsafe to eat.

6. Fish sustainably – don’t catch more than you can consume

I’ve noticed many people fishing everyday or every other day for sport and catching way more fish than they need so they can store in their freezers or give away or sell for profit, but I’m learning that can easily become unsustainable.

7. Respect the circle of life – be grateful

This goes hand in hand with the previous lesson learned, but worth mentioning on its own. Fish, like humans, are part of the circle of life. Be grateful for what it means to take a life.