How to hand-fish while snorkeling

Since I started snorkeling, I’ve been fascinated with the intricacies of hand-fishing. I’m an amateur- an amateur frustrated with the apparent lack of how-to information on the topic online. So here’s my little contribution to like-minded people who want to catch some dinner.


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A breathtaking view. Or, as the Japanese would say, “Ee keshki, desu ne?/It’s a great view, right?”.

This morning, the Shimizu family and I went hiking to Buta Beach, toting along fishing and snorkeling gear. With bentos wrapped tightly in colorful clothes and tucked deep into our backpacks, we set out over mountains and down straw-covered stairs.

While I was snorkeling, Ryo, who had been fishing, got his lure caught in some coral and waved me over to dive for it. A little while later, after having caught a couple fish myself, I found a rainbow colored lure someone had left behind on the ocean floor. I was excited to have caught three fish: two real and one fake.

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Mr. Fat Fish Lips glares at me dolefully. He has two white dots near his tail, one on each side.

To hand-fish, you just need a piece of wood or styrofoam (anything that floats, really) attached securely to a very long piece of fishing line. At the end, tie a weight and after an arm’s length of line, tie a hook (and make sure your knots are in order). Then, you need to equip yourself with a snorkel and some fins, some bait (bits of squid work to attract tasty and invasive groupers) and a net if you want to catch and stow away several fish in one trip.

After that, you need to seek out an area teeming with fish or, if you don’t see any, find a sizable chunk of coral that seems like it might be sheltering shy fish.

At this point, it is really important not to touch coral with your fins AT ALL.

Coral is incredibly delicate and plays a critical role in maintaining the health of an underwater ecosystem. Standing on coral or even scraping it is the equivalent of running a car over a kitten. Even a light touch is toxic to coral and the aftereffects can take weeks or months to manifest, sometimes killing coral entirely. No coral, no fish. No coral, no beach sand. So I implore you, do be careful! If you need to rest in the water, float on your back or tuck your knees close to your chest and gently paddle above the reef.

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A large school of fish swarms underneath.

Oftentimes, under coral plateaus, there will be a lot of bigger fish lurking in the shadows that the snorkeler has a hard time seeing.

It’s pretty important to not make too many abrupt motions or noises once you’ve dropped the bait, although, depending on how hungry the fish are, it might not matter so much. If the fish is smaller than your forearm, let it go so it can grow up some. It is pretty difficult to get a hook out of a struggling fish’s mouth- some fisherwomen use pliers but its definitely possible to do it by hand. You can either poke and prod or plausibly hook a finger in the fish’s gills for some leverage while you ease the hook out.

Once the fish were out of water, Ryo let them drown in air, which I thought was a bit inhumane. I need to figure out how to kill them quickly so as to end their misery in a quicker fashion. Lay the fish on a log, take a knife, and slip the tip behind the gills, into the head cavity. Then, drive the knife’s tip down with considerable force, to sever the spine and quicken the fish’s death. Use the blade to descale both sides of the fish and then cut the gills out and cut the underside of the head from the body.

If you’ve done it correctly, then the head should flop back and forth if you hold the fish upright and shake it from side to side, like some zombie fish monster doing the Thriller.

Then slit the belly from the small hole, the cloaca, located near the tail and tug the guts out.

Return to the ocean, fish in hand, and rinse away any remaining entrails and debris. Place your fish in the cooler you prepared, or store it in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

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After Ryo and Manzo taught me how to gut the fish, Manzo hung them up in the half-shade on a tree besides our picnic spot.

Apparently, groupers are most delicious if stored in a fridge for a couple days to dry out a little and then they are great fried or baked, albeit bony.

Later, my neighbor Sanae told me, “Call your mom and tell her not to worry: you can catch your own fish and eat them too. You can take care of yourself just fine.” That reminded me of the proverb: Give a woman a fish and you feed her for a day; teach a woman to fish and you feed her for a lifetime.


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Manzo, wiped out and candy in mouth, pretends to be dead on the forest floor. Shy Umi gazes at me, clutching her walking stick.
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Sometimes, you can find little bleached bones in the sand. These delicate vertebrae belong to some mysterious animal.
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Manzo looks out at the ocean, while the waves lap at the sand at Kominato Beach.
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Goro pants. He is an odd hybrid between a corgi and a Lab.
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Chika and Goro climb up from Buta Beach, to join us at the peak of the nearby mountain. They look pretty tired.
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Manzo had a ton of fun leaping off of wooden posts and taking mid-air photographs. He suffers from seasickness and imagines himself to be like FairyTail’s Natsu (a popular Japanese manga).
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