The sharks knew what we were after, and they wanted some, too. Minutes after I hit the water, my JBL Woody Sawed-Off Magnum speargun in hand, with Liza, my Fijian guide, a pair of whitetip reef sharks began shadowing us. They were small, maybe three feet, and of no real threat to a pair of grown men, but they weren't exactly interested in us. Casual swimmers were of no concern to these predators, but snorkelers spearing fish might mean an easy lunch.
We swam down the reef for 20 minutes, gun loaded, safety off, past dozens of fish well within range of becoming dinner, but still the sharks followed. These waters had been fished before; a speargun to these sharks might as well have been a bell for one of Pavlov's dogs. They trailed us with as much discretion as vultures over a kill, until finally we swam back to the boat, without having fired a shot. We could have speared enough fish to feed a family that morning, but they wouldn't have ended up in our stomachs, and I wasn't about to be the catalyst for a feeding frenzy. Besides, it was my first dive with my Sawed-Off, and I didn't schlep my newest piece of gear thousands of miles across the South Pacific so some runt shark could steal dinner.
For the next three weeks the 53-inch Sawed-Off became my favorite toy. Beautifully carved out of a purple mahoganya denser wood that won't float away from you if you lay it on the reef but will sink if you drop itthe gun is a happy marriage of form and function. It's a fantastic all-arounder, great for traveling or when you're hoping to spear a variety of fish. While it's not built for a blue-water tuna hunt, it's also not six feet long, which means it's more maneuverable in a tight reef environment. And it's still big enough turn a 50-pound grouper into a village banquet.
Though spearfishing can be challenging, using the Sawed-Off isn't. The safety is conveniently located on the left side of the gun, so it was easy to disengage with a flick of my thumb just before shooting, and the triple-band tension system, which provides around 40 pounds of resistance, allowed me to choose how fast the spear would go once I pulled the trigger. When I hit a fish within the gun's 18-foot range, the removable tip of the gun rotated on a spin bushing; once the tip's barbs flared through the opposite end of my quarry, the fish could roll and thrash and the tip would rotate with it without spinning off the shaft. I don't have a single complaint about the Sawed-Off; it's a fantastic general-use speargun.
I found a little more luck on my last afternoon spearfishing in Fiji than my first. Though the tide was draining out of the lagoon, creating a riverine current I had to swim against, there were no sharks (at least in sight), and I got a grouper. A fresh fish dinner lay ahead. When we arrived back at the beach, the resort owner told me and the captain to turn around; a skiff had smashed onto the reef near where Liza and I had speared that first day, and a surfer and the captain were lost at sea. We threw my fish onto the sand, fired up the boat, and headed back out, at sunset, into a 20-foot swell to look for the two missing men. Again, the feast would have to wait, but that's another story. $243; www.jblspearguns.com