Growing up in southern California, Roy Ferreira was always in the water — swimming, surfing, diving, playing water polo, you name it. While serving in the U.S. Navy in 2003 Ferreira ended up in Miami and dove right back in.
Ferreira continued swimming and surfing through his early 20s, but it wasn’t until he met a group of older fishermen that he found his current passion: spearfishing.
“I was into running back then and … every day I would see these guys sitting and drinking beer,” he said.
One day he got the courage to stop and talk with them. After a few weeks of chatting, they finally invited him out on their boat to go diving.
“Spearfishers are picky on who they dive with because there are a lot of things that can happen and you want to make sure you’re diving with safe people,” Ferreira explained.
On the first trip, they took him lobstering just off of Key Biscayne.
“They said here you go. There’s some rocks and lobsters down there. Just go, hold your breath, grab them and see how you do,” he said.
From then on, he was hooked.
Lobstering is actually how a lot of people get into spearfishing, because you don’t need much. You dive down in a rocky area with a tickle stick and a net.
A tickle stick is basically a long piece of aluminum that you use to tickle the lobsters out of holes in the rock. Then they swim out and into the net which you’re holding. (Fun fact: In Florida, these are spiny lobsters. There are no claws on a Florida lobster)
Finally, after watching his friends a few times, Ferreira gave spearfishing a shot. He held his breath, dove down, saw the fish he wanted, and shot…and missed. But by the third or fourth shot, he’d nailed one with his spear, and that was his very first trip. “Most people are able to get a fish on their first trip,” he said.
Now, he goes hunting in the Atlantic two to three times month, and even teaches spearfishing and freediving classes with his company, Freedive 305. (This is his side hustle – for his day job, he’s a business analyst for Miami-Dade County.)
While he says the Bahamas is the absolute best place to go spearfishing, these are some of his favorite spots to spearfish and freedive in Miami.
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with eating fresh fish he’s caught with his hands, he explained.
“I shoot with the intent of eating that fish. Spearfishermen are the most selective hunters out there because you’re going down there and you know know what fish you want … there’s no throwing the fish back. That doesn’t happen,” he said.
For Ferreria’s friend and spearfishing partner, Stuart Kennedy, it’s also about finding a way to exercise in nature.
While living in Wyoming and Colorado, Kennedy enjoyed backcountry hiking and snowboarding, but when he moved to Miami he struggled with the lack of big, open spaces to exercise in nature. Turns out there are, he just wasn’t looking in the right place.
“It’s about as close as you can get to true hunting and you’re not using a gun. It’s you against a fish and you’re not in your element, you’re in their element. You have to hold your breath and swim and you’re fighting the ocean,” Kennedy said. “You’re out there in the elements in nature … it’s a satisfying exercise.”
While both Ferreira and Kennedy went out with friends for the first time, they strongly recommend anyone who is interested seek out proper training with a certified official (Roy is one!) because a lot of things can go wrong.
“When properly trained and with enough practice, anyone can bring their food directly from the sea to table,” Ferreira said.
Here’s what you’ll need (sometimes you don’t even need a boat!)
For freediving off the beach: a mask, a snorkel, fins, a dive float with a dive flag, and a trained buddy (never, ever go out without a buddy.)
For spearfishing and lobstering off the beach: a mask, a snorkel, fins, a dive float with a dive flag, a trained buddy, a Florida Saltwater fishing license (it should have a lobster stamp during the lobstering season which runs from Aug. 6 to March 31), a net, a tickle stick, and a catch bag, if lobstering, and a spear if you’re spearfishing.
You also need to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations here and you must be more than 100 yards from a swimming beach.
You can get more information on freediving and spearfishing locally at:
Freedive 305 at Grove Scuba or Shaft Abuse Freediving. (These are part of the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI))
Nautilus Spearfishing. (This is part of Freediving Instructors International (FII))
Vortex Freediving or Immersion Freediving. (This is part of Performance Freediving International (PFI)