Saturday, February 27, 2016

Spearfishing Ascension Island - Ascending Expectations

Original article written for the Ultimate Spearfishing Magazine. - Words & Pictures by Chris Coates
Ascension Spearing Information
MJK Spearfishing Ascension Island
Spearfishing Ascension Island. If there’s one thing I have learned from all the spearfishing trips I’ve been on, it’s to prepare for the best, but to lower your expectations. This way, you’re physically and mentally ready, with all the gear to get the job done well… while not expecting to shoot a world record in the first hour. High expectations are a killer on trips, especially when things don’t go according to plan. There’s nothing worse than missing out on enjoying and amazing holiday by getting bummed out because the trip was not exactly what you had hoped for.

Where am I going with this you might ask? Well, it was just past 7:30am and MJK and I had just landed on the tarmac at Ascension Island, and were waiting for Colin Chester to pick us up. Up until now we’d had months, weeks and now hours of talking about what we hoped to achieve on the trip. Knowing full well not to have unrealistic expectations, MJK turned to me and said, “So what’s the goal then?”

Trying my hardest not play it too safe, but at the same time have some sort of definite objective, I offered up, “a 100kg Tuna by the third day would be good.”

I honestly thought this would be a stretch but after a moment of contemplation we agreed that a 100kg fish by the third day would be a good, and possibly achievable, goal. If not by the third day, surely by the end of the trip we’d have a fish of that size. 

Colin arrived and we ran through the pleasantries while piling our gear onto the van. We jumped in, and Colin piped up, “You boys ready?” In retrospect I don’t think we quite understood what he meant. Not “are you ready to go?” but rather, “are you ready to dive?”

Totally oblivious to his plan, we trundled down the road to the Obsidian Hotel  in George Town. We’d barely checked in, when Colin turned to us with a big cheesy smile and said, “So, I’ll pick you up in about an hour then. Is that enough time to get your gear together?”
Obsidian Hotel  chalet accommodation Ascension Island
Obsidian Hotel the only hotel on the island.
Rather dumbstruck, I looked at MJK for approval before replying, “Uhh… sure, I think so…”

Colin smiled, gave us a thumbs up and chirped, “You boys better be ready, there are some good fish out there.”

We quickly headed off to our rooms to unpack the gear and set everything up. We hadn’t thought we’d be diving right away, let alone on the day we arrived. So out came the guns, cameras, suits and spears… all of which needed to be reassembled after the long trip to the island.

Surprisingly, it only took us about 30 minutes to get all our gear together and out of the my hotel room door. This was our first opportunity to really take in what would be our home for the next two weeks. The room opened out onto black volcanic gravel. Across the pathway was an old boat that had been repurposed as a flowerbed,but with no flowers. There were some plants but they looked seriously thirsty. The place was fairly sparse with only the occasional tree here and there. In the distance behind the hotel rose a red volcanic mound, with not a single sign of life other than the old WW2 canon buttresses about halfway up. We had been told that arriving at Ascension was like landing on Mars, but you really have to see it to believe it.
Obsidian self catering accommodation Ascension Island
My chalet in George Town with flowerless flower bed.
Before the hour was up an old Toyota bakkie rattled to a halt in front of us. Colin’s son Blaine jumped out telling us that the boat was ready and waiting. We loaded our gear and headed off between the buildings towards the sea. 

Arriving at the pier, the first thing you notice is how clean the water is. It is the most awesome blue you have ever seen and there are just loads of fish everywhere. Blaine walked up to the railing, said, “Check this,” and threw a piece of old fish carcass into the water. The water erupted in a feeding frenzy with Black Triggerfish all trying to get a piece of the action. It was not unlike what you would imagine a scene in a low budget Piranha movie to look like. 
george town ascension
George Town pier on Ascension
We left the Triggers to their business, and carried our gear down the stairs to a small landing on the side of the pier. There was a whole armada of boats moored out front, ranging from little dinghies and battered old fishing boats to a classy Marlin complete with outriggers and shiny stainless steel finishes.

“Which one is our boat?”, I piped up, as there was no boat even near the landing. Blaine, pulling his shirt off, pointed to a light grey and white inflatable rib in the distance, “We will use this one today, but then from tomorrow we have a different boat for you.” 
Mooring boats on Ascension Island
The mooring at Monkey Rock
Blaine dived in and swam the 100 metres out to the boat and brought it along the quayside. To cut a long story short, Blaine stopped the boat about 1.5km from the pier and said, “This should be good.” 

I peered around at the sounder to check out the structure. All I could see was a sounder reading of 68m. I looked across at the plotter and the nearest marked point must have been 200m away. 

My first thought was, “Does this lighty even know what’s cutting?” Not wanting to sound like a know it all or like a complete idiot, I asked, “So this is a good spot?”

Blaine, now up to his elbows in fish blood from stuffing sardines in the burley net, answered, “This whole area is good.” 

I must admit that at this point my confidence level was pretty low. I figured we would try this drift, get our gear wet and wash out all the cobwebs, and if we did not see a fish it would not be a big deal.

As we were about to jump in I could not help myself and had to ask Blaine how the drift was going to work. With a smirk he shrugged his shoulders half pointing out to sea saying that it should go out to sea, but that we would only know after the first drift. Not at all confidence boosting… I mean, we did not just travel all this way to do random drifts in the middle of nowhere.

MJK beat me getting into the water and by the time I reached him he had almost finished loading up his gun. It was fairly overcast and although the water looked really clean it did not have that ‘blue’ look I had seen in the pictures. I dropped the flasher and started to mush up a few sardines to get the burley trail going.
To the side I could see MJK dropping down to stretch his lungs. I dropped down to join him, check my weighting and flush out the haze from the past few days of travelling.

We both hit the surface, MJK checking out his gun while I headed back to the flasher and burley bag. I reached for some sards and broke them up in a cloud around me. When the cloud cleared, there was a Wahoo swimming below the flasher. I am not sure if it was because it was so surreal or if I was half asleep after not catching a wink during the flight out (despite having dropped a few sleeping tabs), but I just watched the fish swim past with out even moving a muscle.

When I came to, I turned to MJK, who was obviously feeling a whole lot sharper than I was. His arm was pointing in the direction that the fish had gone and he was nodding his head, making sure that I had seen it. He dropped down and hung mid water for a while. I thought, “What are the chances this fish comes back in again?” Sure enough the stupid fish turned around and swam right in front of MJK. Thwack! Aand the spear went in right behind the head. The Wahoo sped off, but gave up after only a few metres.

It wasn’t a big fish, but it’s always good to get the first fish on the boat and test that all the gear is working well. So the drift could not have been too bad if we saw and shot a Wahoo not long after jumping in. Blaine took us back to the area where we’d started, and I took some land marks so I could start getting an idea of what the drift was doing and where we were diving.

Back in the water I filmed MJK loading up and we started the burley process all over again. By now the cobwebs were gone and after the Wahoo my confidence levels were a lot better. We alternated diving down to the bottom of the flasher, which was at about 15 metres. Just some nice and easy diving to get the body working. Next thing, I saw MJK pointing into the blue and he started to head for the surface. As he came closer and he opened his arms out with a big gesture. His eyes were like saucers.

It does not matter what language you speak or where you are from, this means only one thing: BIG FISH! A massive Yellowfin Tuna had swam past out in the distance. Now, normally if the fish does not come in on the flasher your chance is lost and you have to wait for the next fish. We were happy we had at least seen a good fish and with the goal of getting one by day three, this was a good sign.

Then, I spotted a white line moving way down below. I couldn’t make out if it was a fish or even what part of the fish it was, but it was snaking along and had to be something. We both turned and looked at each other… something was there! I continued throwing out burley, this time with a couple whole sards, in the hope that whatever ‘it’ was would come back. 

Then there it was right below the flasher, a bulbous torpedo with a gunmetal blue-grey back, and massive long yellow sickles with long white tips. I remember the Cape Town boys explaining to me that when a Yellowfin gets real big its sickles get super long and start going white at the tips. The massive fish glided through, slowly picking out the chunks from bottom of the burley trail. Piece by piece the trail grew shorter and shorter and the fish was almost at the bottom of the flasher.

MJK and I were locked in the dilemma of what to do… when to dive and shoot the fish? I had seen how the Yellowfin in the Cape get very comfortable and come right up to the surface, so we decided to hold our nerve and wait for the fish to come in close. MJK turned to me as the fish took a whole sard right at the flasher level and gave me a thumbs up, the GO signal. I started my final breathe up and I was about to dive when the thumbs up was followed by a full flat hand. Ok what now?

What’s the problem? MJK pointed at another Tuna that had joined in feeding on the burley trail. Now there were two massive Tuna swimming around, but which was bigger? Each massive fish took turns to glide through and take some burley. And every time, the fish in front of us looked incredible, and had to be the one. Then the next fish would come in making it impossible to decide. For a good few minutes there was lots of pointing, gesturing and waving of hands, canceling the decision. 

The problem was that the two fish never came past side-by-side, so it was hard to pick which was bigger. Eventually MJK made the call to dive and I followed him down the burley line as he picked out a chunk that was most likely to be taken by the Tuna that was in range. I could see the two Tuna in the distance. One broke away and came right in for the burley. MJK set up his strike like a chameleon stalking a wary insect, his gun calmly and slowly extending as the Tuna came in range. Then thwack! The spear shot out and the Tuna fell like a WW2 bomber being shot out the sky.
Spearfishing Ascension Island Yellowfin Tuna
MJK and his first Ascension Island Giant Tuna
Now the game was on! The new 9mm blue water bungee from Rob Allen, which we were testing for the first time, went taught as the first 35l Remora float went tail up on the surface. This is the position the float would stay for the next hour as MJK battled the beast bit by bit back to the surface. Eventually, we reached the soft bungee, but with the bungee stretched all the way out plus the double wrap from the gun, the massive fish was still 25 metres away. Worried that the soft bungee might shear if we shortened it and tied it off in the clip, MJK decided that he would dive down with MAMBA roller gun and put in the final coupe de grace.

I follow him down, but I realised as I passed about halfway that I was bushed. Chasing after MJK being pulled around the ocean by a big fat Tuna had taken its toll. I decide to tap off and capture the action from above.  MJK powered down and finished the job. I could see he was labouring as he swam past me on his way to the surface. 

Now you would think that once a fish was dead, that it would be easy to bring to the surface, right? Well, as we were about to find out, Yellowfin are just solid dead weight! Eventually we got the fish up and tied the dynema shooting line off on the float so we could get some pics and landing shots. MJK went down and tried to swim the incredibly big fish up and his calf muscle cramped up. He aborted the dive and hit the surface, in obvious pain but laughing. 

We eventually took all the photos and decided to call it a day. Back on the boat there was a bit of back and forth estimating the Tuna’s weight, so we were all keen to see what the scales said. We were greeted back at the pier by Colin, who took one look at the fish and called it over 100kg. Now, knowing that our goal was to get a 100kg fish by the third day, he looked at his watch and said with a big smile, “And it only took you 4 hours… not 3 days! What do you think about that boys?” Truth be told, we did not know what to think. It was crazy. Beyond what we had ever hoped or imagined. 

Now Steve Ellis, who was also there guiding some guys from South Africa, saw us coming in and came strolling along the pier to see what we had got. This was Steve’s third trip to the island and he had been instrumental in helping me put the trip together with Colin, so you can imagine his joy to see us with a great fish.

It was all hands on deck man-handling the giant fish up the 20 metres of steps to the top of the pier and to the fish cleaning station. We hoisted the fish up and the scale read out 118kg, which was followed by much cheering and back slapping.

This was the first of 14 dive days and the first of many 100kg plus Yellowfin.  If you can imagine that standing next to a Tuna of over 100kg is a surreal feeling, then I have no idea how to explain the days that followed.

Ascension is probably one of the most remote places in the world, and fairly challenging to get to. By that I mean it’s not just down the road. You need to fly via the UK and hop on the RAF plane that flies weekly to the island. You also need security clearance, as it is essentially a military base. It does seem like a mission but it’s not like ‘Africa’ and first word logic makes the organising fairly painless.
Steve Ellis, Myself, Dennis Vreet & MJK up on Green Mountain
But now that the cat’s out the bag as to what a Tuna hot spot ‘The Rock’ is, it was no surprise that besides ourselves and Steve’s South African group, more guys would be there. Cameron Kirkconnell and Perrin James arrived in the second week with two groups of guys, including Eric Allard and Nigel Spencer from Tanzania, and Hamad Al Fouzan and his friends from Kuwait. It was like a mini ‘who’s who’ of spearfishing, and although there was no formal competition, everyone was trying to beat the 147kg beast shot by Paul Shannon, who was part of Steve’s crew.
Ascension Island Yellowfin Spearfishing Record
Paul Shannon's 147kg Ascension Island Yellowfin Record with Steve Ellis
With the bar now raised, 100kg fish weren’t going to cut it anymore and the decision was to take only bigger fish. The problem was how to tell the difference between a 110kg and a 140kg fish? With so many divers, MJK and I decided stick with the small cat called ‘Swamp Dog’ and Blaine as our guide. This turned out to be a really good move as Blaine had us on the fish every single day without fail.

Big Eye Tuna Record MJK 94kg Ascension Island
MJK 94kg Big Eye Tuna
There were so many fish, and so many opportunities, but we just could not break that elusive 140kg mark. We did get a massive 94,3kg Big Eye Tuna, which at the time doubled the world record… only to get broken again a week or so later by Paulo Afonso in the Azores with a massive 110kg fish. We had also decided to only take one fish a day and by halfway through the trip MJK stopped shooting altogether. We just spent the last few days watching 100kg fish swim past. 
ascension yellowfin tuna spearfishing trips and charters
MJK and another 100+ Yellowfin
This meant for the first time that we were able to put away the guns and video cameras and just take photos, something I very seldom get a chance to do. We had some great encounters with Whale Sharks and even a massive Black Marlin that came in to have a look at a Tuna we had speared. We did not see as many Wahoo as we had hoped, but did not spend much time on the spot where Wahoo are normally seen. We were focused on the Tuna.
 Ascension Island Whale Shark swims and tours
Whale Shark having fun with MJK.
ascension island best free swimming tuna photography
No gun just having fun swimming with Giant Yellowfin Tuna
Eventually, the days counted down and our time in the water was almost up. We had a couple of good size Tuna coming in and out of the burley trail but nothing in the 140kg range. This was possibly going to be our last opportunity and MJK handed over the MAMBA roller gun I had put together for him and said, “Best you take one before it’s too late.” 
Coatesmans Spearfishing Charters
Me taking a selfie while pretending to shoot a tuna.
So I handed him the camera and switched into hunting mode. You have to understand that by now I had practiced this shot in my head a hundred times during the last two weeks, so when the fish came in I knew exactly where I wanted to be and exactly how I wanted to place the shot.
Spearfishing Yellowfin Tuna Chris Coates
My PB Yellowfin last day last dive at Ascension
The MAMBA roller gun did not fail and switched off the 98kg tuna. The spear went right through the fish and the double barb got stuck in the thick cheek plate on the other side. Put it this way: that fish was going nowhere. What an epic way to end possibly the most insane two weeks of spearfishing I have ever experienced. 
More  Giant Free Swimming Tuna
Our time on the island had come to an end. It seemed so short and somehow all the days blurred into one another. We sat in the hotel on the last night swapping fish stories with all the guys and it was difficult to discern on which day we shot which fish. I guess this is a sign of a truly crazy awesome trip, and a sign that maybe Ascension is that one place where you can have great expectations that don’t let you down.
ascension island spearfishing dreams
Every Spear Fisherman's dream is to have 100kg+ Tuna like this swimming around them.

Book your own Trip of a Lifetime go to:
Ascension Island Spearfishing Trips

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Ascension & the Birth of The MAMBA Speargun

WORDS BY STEVE ELLIS founder of MAMBA SpeargunsAscension Island Spearfishing Trips 

I was almost speechless, seeing that crystal sparkling blue water and white sand shining below. I looked straight down from the pier head and saw hundreds of Black Triggerfish with the odd Black Jack swimming through them.
USM Article on Spearfishing Ascension

Our group had just arrived, made up of guys from KZN in South Africa. Tony Doult (An ex navy diver), Miles Stead and Piet Du Toit (who both farm in Middleburg). Karl Maingard (local entrepreneur) and myself. I have known Colin Chester, (owner of the spearfishing charter in Ascension) a small island in the middle of the Atlantic, for some years. The stories and pictures of crystal clean water and massive Yellowfin Tuna eventually got us to commit to a trip last year. With almost 5 months ahead of us, we started planning. Tony was on the ball with organising the frozen sardines for chumming and the loads of gear that went ahead on the RMS St Helena and he applied for the permit visas that the RAF require. Karl got the medical supplies, and some Race food mini-bars, a type of nougat made by Wedgewood for mountain bikers, spearos etc, which were excellent on the boat. Miles and Piet handled all the air tickets. I arranged all the spears and new Mamba guns.

Visitors that get permit visas for Ascension Island, or “The Rock” as the locals call it, are screened by MI5 to make sure there are no dodgy characters. It’s a military refuelling base for the RAF halfway to the Falklands, and a US space shuttle emergency landing strip and refuel ops base for the US military, so it’s an extra long runway. The French Arianne space program has facilities to track their satellites and NASA tested their Moon rover years ago on the old lava flows and very rough terrain.

Getting to the Rock is an adventure in its own. You can only get there via Brize Norten RAF base in Oxford UK on a military charter plane (Airbus 320). If you’re flying from South Africa and landing at Heathrow early in the morning, arrange a taxi to Oxford. The RAF plane only leaves at 11 o’clock that night, and you have to be there 4hrs in advance. Being a military flight there is a dress code. You won’t be allowed on the plane in board shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. So arrive looking presentable.

There are two flights a week to the Rock and Falklands and the Marines are back and forth. About 10/15 seats are available for civilians. The flight is about nine hours long and you get to Ascension at about 06:30am. The first thing Colin did was to take us to the pier head to show us the visibility and this is where it all began.
Ascension island diving
Not many places in the world have water like this.

Our group was staying with Colin and we got all the gear unpacked and settled in at his house. Colin suggested a shore dive to start. Karl and myself had very little sleep on the plane, so we thought a shore dive would be a great cure for jet lag. We drove to a point that had no surf, you just leopard crawled out, over these flat smooth rocks. Visibility was 50 metres, and there are Rock Cod all over the place, called a Rock Hind. The water temperature was about 26/27 degrees Celsius, so a rash vest and board shorts were fine to shore dive in. On the boat, you need a 3mm suit, as you get wind chill and the wind is strong on most days.
We were told that the Black Triggerfish are like Piranhas. At the pier head where all the fish cleaning takes place, the carcasses are thrown into the water and it just erupts into a feeding frenzy as they strip them clean. When you’re spearing, you have a shoal of Black Triggers, like a cloud around your float, eating the fish on your stringer. They even beach themselves in the shore break when you’re getting out.

The next day, Colin had errands to run, so Craig (one of the guys who helps with the Marlin charters) was our skipper for the day. He suggested we head West of the island, to the Golfball were they have good results on Wahoo and big Tuna in about 50 metres. As we got in, Craig immediately started getting a chum trail going. Visibility here was easily 50/60 metres. About 10 minutes in, a Wahoo swam up the chum line and I dived in straight away, lined up, fired, hit it mid body at about a 5 metre range and had it on the boat in about 15 minutes. I was stoked!

Ascension Wahoo shot with Mamba's
It was the first shot at a fish with the new Mamba gun and it had struck its first victim. Later that day, my second shot was another Wahoo of about 25kg. Karl, not to be outdone, also ended up with two good size Wahoo’s of 25 kgs each. Four shots and four Wahoo gave us lots of confidence with the new Mamba guns and the range they have. On weighing my 1st Wahoo it was 27.2 kg and later Craig turned it into a delicious curry.

Mamba Spearguns
Custom Mamba Spearguns Ondeck 
We knew on a trip like this that standard guns would not cut it in that super clean visibility. I decided to make up some long, stronger carbon barrels, of 1 to 5 metres, winged on the sides, tapering from narrow in the front to wider at the rear of the barrel. You need the extra volume and weight in the water to help stop the recoil and muzzle lift of long guns. To get range and penetration you need a minimum of two rubbers. With the 2x14mm rubbers and no shooting line, the gun shot the spear to a distance of 18 metres in the pool tests. Chris Coates of USM filmed slow motion footage, so we could analyse the recoil etc. Chris and Karl helped me out in the pool testing, with lots of target shooting to determine the accuracy, we could hit an area the size of a small cereal box at almost 7 metres. I managed to finish the last 5th gun two weeks before we left, so now each of us had a Mamba barrel with Rob Allen components. I called it the Mamba, because with the carbon fibre weave finish, it looked like a Black Mamba skin and it certainly struck like one, and being African built it was an apt name for the tasks ahead. .... and so the Mamba Speargun was born.
On Friday, we tried to repeat the previous day’s catch. Visibility was about 40/50 metres, with a hazy and overcast sky. We spotted the odd big Yellowfin Tuna a couple times, sometimes two together, but never going in the same direction. We were never down or in the right position and did not get close to any Wahoos that day. There were Black Kingfish around us, but in that environment it was big fish or nothing.

Saturday was Ascension Day on the Rock, which was also a public holiday and the official raising of the Island’s newly designed flag in the Georgetown Square. A whole day was planned with a festive atmosphere and all the locals were in full force. We spent a couple hours there, and with still no wind the flat oily ocean was calling. Colin and Craig were needed to help out with the day’s festivities. So Karl and myself took the Power Cat and went to Groupers. It takes 5 minutes to get there and it’s about 25 metres deep, with big boulders and ledges with caves, spread out over the brilliant white sand. Insane visibility again, maybe better than 50/60 metres. A shoal of about 100 big Horse Eye Kingfish circle you for about 10 minutes before they move off. Giant 25kg Barracudas stare at you with their large mechanical eyes.
The Crystal Clear Water of Ascesion Island

I manned the boat first, hanging onto the side taking pictures of the fish. A giant Yellowfin Tuna slowly swam up to me on the surface. I could have placed a shot anywhere, but I had no gun in my hand, only the camera. As he turned and swam away, I managed to get a picture of him. Karl had also seen the same fish, but was too far away for a shot. We now knew those big fish were lurking in the shallows. The reef had loads of Black Triggerfish, which are the staple diet of Tuna and Wahoo. We saw some Wahoo over the sand after the reef, keeping their distance. When we were back at Colin’s place going through the pictures, he told us that was a big Yellowfin Tuna that easily weighed over 100kg, with the long pectoral fin going back almost to its tail. But, the top pectoral fin was unusually short…

On Sunday morning Colin and myself were up early to meet Tony, Piet and Miles at the hotel Obsidian. A Hemmingway’s style place, with loads of fish pictures on the walls and a very laid back vibe. They were staying in the outside hotel rooms. The average temperature was about 32/34 degrees Celsius in the day, so air conditioned rooms at night were a pleasure. Once they were settled in, we took them to the pier head to see the incredible visibility, then to Colin’s house to check their gear that the RMS St Helena had delivered a few weeks previously. Colin suggested a shore dive, so the five of us drove to Panam point where the Americans had a roofed camp. It’s situated on a rocky point where you can normally jump in, but there was quite a surge with the swell that was pushing through and we swam off the beach to the West. Once in, it was warm, crystal clear and full of the local Rock Cod. Just being in that water was such a pleasure. Tony had a Gopro mounted on his gun and shot some awesome footage. Everyone shot Rock Cod and we saw small Amberjack, but no big stuff. Just Black Jacks and no crayfish. The guys couldn’t believe how the Black Triggers beach themselves, following you out.
accommodation george town ascension island
George Town Ascension Island
On Monday, the guys were at Colin’s house early after a good sleep. We got busy setting up our Mamba guns with the 2x14mm rubbers and the double wrap dyneema for the extra range needed. There were three guys with Craig on the Power Cat and Colin, Karl and myself on the semi rigid. Both boats could go in different directions to find the fish, and it helped many times being able to cover more ground. Tony, Piet and Miles came back raving about the visibility, having shot Wahoos and Piet put a spear into a huge Tuna that took off like an express train, snapping the 200kg Dyneema shooting line!

Colin told us when we were assembling the Mamba guns what the best local set-up was:
A) 30- metre RA Wahoo bungy
B) 35- litre RA Remora inflatable float.
C) No breakaway, shooting line connected to the gun.
D) Fixed barb on the spear, no drop heads, basic, basic.

They have lost plenty of rigs here.

Piet was using a 10mm shock cord that was connected to a boogie board on a cleat pulling system a third back of the board. Great if you’re using a big wooden gun, with a 2,5mm shooting line, an 8mm spear, and a drop head with 3mm stainless cable. The board puts tremendous pressure on your gear tiring the fish out. That definitely works in Cape Town. It would work in Ascension too. You need practice shooting with that type of big gun set up. With us being there for less than two weeks, we did not have the time to spare. The Mamba guns are just a longer version of what we use.

Twenty minutes after Piet lost his spear to the huge Tuna, it was back in the chum line again like nothing was wrong. It still had Piet’s spear in it, mid-body sticking out either side. Miles managed to get another spear into the same fish, and it roared off again, past Tony who saw two spears in it, unfortunately Miles’ spear got torn off too. Whilst he was frantically reloading, it was still hanging around, slowly circling below his fins. Finally reloaded, he started diving down as it was spiralling into the deep. Eventually out of range and sight, was a giant. The same size we saw on the first couple of days, around 120/130kg.
Tuesday, was our boats turn in the same area. Colin was chumming up a storm and we could see small Tuna coming up the chum line. I was down when a good fish swam up to me, eating the chum and when the time was right I fired, getting a good mid body shot. I could see the spear easily on the other side when he took off at speed, bending it backwards like a loaded bow. What a strong fish! I had that fish in my hands 3 times and he just took off again to the bottom. The fourth time I had it in my hands properly, I managed to slip one hand into its gills and it went crazy. The tail gave me a smack on my arm that I felt for days. I was stoked the Mamba had struck again. It was a great feeling of achievement for me with a gun that I had built, tested and was using. It was my biggest fish landed, a 60kg Yellowfin Tuna. This is what we had come to spear and I had landed the first Wahoo and now, the first Tuna with the Mamba gun. I was ecstatic!

Karl and Colin each landed a Wahoo. Colin used my Mamba gun and was impressed, as he had taken a very long shot and already wanted us to leave the Mamba guns behind with him. The other guys with Craig all got Wahoos, so it was a great day in the ocean.

On Wednesday, we started off at the Golfball area where we didn’t have much luck and then we heard that Miles had landed a 50/60 kg Tuna and was seeing more. Colin made the decision to head to their area, where we got onto the line the other guys were on. I saw some Tuna deep down, but we couldn’t get them close onto the chum line. After trying that area for several hours we went inshore and speared some Rock Cod and Moray Eels, which was harder than it seemed. For every two Morays you shoot, you only land one as they wind themselves off the spear. They were needed for a local Charity braai and regarded as a delicacy.

On Thursday, Colin was planning to take us on Harmattan, his Marlin boat to Boatswain Island that was about 45 minutes around the front of the main island. In the lee of that island there is a calm area, where they see lots of big Tuna that feed on the Black Triggerfish. The morning arrived and so did the wind, blowing stronger than ever and getting there was really bumpy even in a 38ft Rampage sport fisher. It took over an hour and a half, but the scenery was spectacular. It was like something out of Jurassic Park where you almost expect a dinosaur to make an appearance. There were black lava flow ledges, big cliffs going straight down into the sea and no sand beaches, just flat areas full of boulders.

At the island’s leeside, Colin skillfully maneuvered Harmattan onto a mooring buoy. What a fantastic place this was, calm with super clean visibility and all the usual suspects in full force. Black Jacks, Horse Eye Kingfish, masses of Black and deep-sea Silver Triggers, a good feeding area for the Tuna. It wasn’t long until Tony saw the Black Triggers suddenly bolt for the bottom and a big Tuna glided into view. He managed to get a spear into the fish and it took off towing the boogie board and stretching his shock cord. Colin, up in Harmattans Tuna tower, saw the board get pulled under a couple times, but the spear did not hold so another big fish was lost. 2-0 to the big Tuna.

Colin decided to head back home, stopping on some of his marks. The next place was also pretty deep at 50 metres. We saw shoals of Rainbow Runners that weighed around 5kg. Even with them hanging off the spear to try and attract some bigger fish, there were still no takers. Determined, we tried another spot. But still, no Wahoo or Tuna…

That same night, we were all invited to dinner at the Governors residence on Green Mountain. About ten of us went on a small bus, driving high into the mountains, about 5 km out of Georgetown. The road goes back and fourth like the Alps, with the bus stalling many times because of the tight turns. Once we arrived, the views from the front lawns of the Residence were spectacular. It was still just about light and the whole of Georgetown was in our view, with the sunrise in the distance.
How to get to Ascension
Some of the views at Ascesion are just surreal.

Friday morning arrived with a late start and a couple of thick heads after the evening we had. Diving close by was the call for today. We only had two days left of our trip, so we decided to start at Groupers and then drift out to the deeper marks in the offshore wind and get a good chum line going. Both boats drifted together and we were so close, almost in a line. I was next to Tony on his right side, having just drifted off the reef onto a sandy, pebble shale area, when this giant Tuna swam up to us on the surface. Tony was closer than me and took a early shot, unfortunately his spear pulled up 1 metre short. He thought he was in range, but it was a huge Tuna further away. The super clean visibility really messes up your distance perception.

As we all drifted out, the two boats got further apart and the offshore wind was pushing the semi rigid faster. We still had loads of Sardines, so the chumming was turned up a notch. Eventually we started seeing some small Tuna eating the chum, maybe 5kg -10kg in size. Karl managed to land another Wahoo that appeared at the same time. I speared one of the slightly larger Tuna that came into my range very fast and I fired as he went past, getting the spear in mid body and facing back, I horsed him in not giving him much line and had him on the boat in about 10 minutes. He was about 25 kg and I still had a straight spear. Back home I would have nursed him carefully, but here with the giants, that’s a small one. Colin gave Craig (who was on the Power Cat) a call and they had some Wahoo on board. Tony had two and Piet had a 50/60kg Tuna after a hard fight.

We went night fishing on Harmattan one late afternoon, to fish for Tuna. Colin had a buoy 4 km offshore anchored in about 90/95 metres deep, which he calls We tied up on it and started chumming straight away and put out some drift baits on short rods with Shimano Stella’s. Tony and Craig were fishing on the bottom and were catching Bulls Eyes, a type of redfish about 2kg in weight with very large eyes. The night was quiet with no Tuna around. Only their 3rd miss since they had been fishing A week earlier, Karl and myself had been out there with Colin and some UK clients where it had been action almost immediately, they landed 3 fish of 45/65 kg on light tackle.

On Saturday, Craig went off to get ice and Sardines for another day, while we got all the gear ready. It was a relatively quiet day. We were still seeing Tuna, but far down and out of range. They were not coming up to the chum line much. Karl and Colin managed to get a Wahoo each and I missed one. Tony got a 50/60kg Tuna on the Power Cat with Piet and Miles, a Wahoo and some Kingys between them. We went into the inside of Groupers were there are some big old chassis and wheels on the white sand, where I managed to spear a 12 kg Amberjack.

On Sunday, we had a dive on the end of the Fuel transfer buoy with lots of small Amberjacks of about 4/5 kg there. I was diving with my reel gun and was trying for Dorados that frequent the buoy. Pulling myself down the mooring chain to a flat reef on the bottom, I spotted some debris, which looked like bits of a plate, bottles, etc. One piece was Blue Willow pattern china and an old ceramic jar in perfect condition. I left behind an old Coca Cola bottle with raised writing that Colin later mentioned was quite rare. Back in the days of the sailing ships, lots of vessels moored here getting water and supplies and probably chucked all their rubbish overboard, so there is lots of stuff on the bottom. After doing some research on the Internet about the ceramic jar, I discovered it’s over 100 yrs old and worth approx 100 US dollars for one in good condition. A local Saints scuba diver has found complete Blue Willow pattern china teapots. It looked about 12/15 metres deep, but on the Aeris free dive watch I was using, it was 19.2 metres, and spending loads of time on the bottom, we were all diving pretty deep and with long bottom times towards the end of the trip. A good free dive watch is essential when diving out in the deep on the chum line, you want to hover at about 10 metres near the chum while waiting for the Tuna to appear.

Another Yellowfin Landed
Monday was our last day on the island and we went for a really short morning dive, as we had lots of packing to do. We headed straight to the deep marks of Groupers and kitted up. Karl was first in, I was in soon afterwards and started loading up when a lone Wahoo appeared out of the gloom heading for the flashers. Karl dived and let off a long shot, spooking the fish, but it kept on going. Colin was swimming around the boat and getting the Sardines spread out, while some small Tuna were eating the chum way down. We wouldn’t have to wait long with all those Sardines. The smaller Tuna were near the surface with a larger Tuna deep down. Karl decided to dive on him (he had not shot and landed a Tuna yet, so being the last day this was his final chance.) He went past the chum to about 20 metres and then fired. It was a big fish and Karl had taken a  long shot in deep water. It pulled the 30 metre bungy to max immediately. I clipped my 30 metre bungy onto Karl’s 30 metre bungy to give the fish more stretch. It took all the bungys stretching them to about 3mm in diameter. We got Karl’s weight belt off and onto the boat. He was lying over the RA remora 35-litre float with it underneath him and getting towed. I could not keep up and Colin dropped me twice. Eventually I was also holding onto the line that Karl was retrieving and getting towed behind him. Slowly he got the line in and lost it all again. This was a big fish!

After almost two hours, we could see the fish deep down and another 15 minutes later, it was close enough for me to dive on it and fire another shot. Karl’s spear’s barb was right on the skin and he had shot it near the tail. I put a killing holding shot into the fish and it was finished. You could not hold that fish up, the dead weight of it pulled you down. What an epic fight!

Miles had also shot and landed a Tuna of 50/60 kg, and had a close call getting tangled in the line, but luckily the other guys freed him. Tony had seen a small Dorado deep down, chased and speared it and it turned out to be 15kg. The other boat was now right next to us and we got some pictures. We had landed a giant Yellowfin Tuna. At the weigh-in, Karl’s Tuna topped the scales at 125kg that’s the 3rd largest Tuna landed on Ascension.
Now rewind 8 days to last Saturday, when that Tuna of approx 100kg plus swam up to me with that short top pec fin, this fish had the same short top pec fin, less than 1km from where I took that picture and it was probably the same fish. What a strange coincidence!

I would like to thank Colin and Craig for all their hospitality, and getting us on the fish. And to Miles, Piet, Tony and Karl for the opportunity to be on the trip, thank you very much.
Karl with the fish of the trip and his MAMBA Speargun

To sum it up, it was a hardcore spearing trip. You will need to plan yours well in advance. Make sure you have good long-range guns, Rob Allen equipment, all the usual gear with spare spears, thin wetsuits, rash suits, etc. You need to organise frozen sardines from South Africa and Race food energy bars. Logistically, it’s very far away with all the long connecting flights, so you will need lots of time.    

We were so lucky to get Tuna. But the more we practice, the luckier we get.

Giant Yellowfin is what we all dream about.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Unrolling the Roller - Roller Gun Test and Setup Comparison

Original article written for the Ultimate Spearfishing Magazine. - Words by Chris Coates
rollergun speargun comparison and review article
Chris Coates's indepth Roller Gun Article published in the Ultimate Spearfishing Magazine

About 18 months ago I was introduced to the crazy and ‘complicated’ concept of the roller gun. Fueled by numerous online videos and chatter over the web, my curiosity got the better of me and with the help from MJK in Qatar, we dived head first into this latest fad. We made up a whole bunch of guns and after a bit of a learning curve, we did a whole batch of tests. (see USM vol 14)

This early testing proved that the roller guns had potential for greater speed and power than conventional spear guns in a shorter gun.  Setting the guns up was not nearly as simple as what we were accustomed to. The more we used the guns and tried different setups, from different muzzles to complete built roller guns from different manufactures, the more we understood and became comfortable with the whole concept.

Back home, I started to sell the Power Roller Head kits as the interest in the roller concept grew. The kits were great in that they came with a full set of step-by-step instructions and all the bits and pieces you needed to convert your conventional railgun into a roller gun. The problem was that I landed up having super long discussions with each of the guys about how to set the guns up. Just like I had with Emanuel, the manufacturer of the Power Roller Head kits in the very beginning.

early roller gun setup
Early roller gun success, notice the long pretensioned rubbers.
Despite the step-by-step instructions (which most guys glossed over at best) and all the phone calls, there were many who did not get the guns set up quite right, and so they did not perform as expected. I also noticed that for the most part, the online videos that you would see of guys using roller guns, the guns were not set up properly. They would have very little pre-tension on the rubber, and sometimes none at all.

This lead to me rather building up the guns for the guys so that at least their first gun would be setup correctly and they would have better chance at understanding the whole concept. I hoped that in doing this, I would also reduce the learning curve and the guys would start to see the full benefits of the concept right away.

I landed up making up a number of different setups as each guy had different needs. The feedback I got made me realise that there were many ways to rig the guns and sometimes what I initially thought was the right setup did not work as well as expected. Some setups totally surprised me and way out performed my expectations. This lead me on a quest to try fathom out, or at least try quantify to some degree, the difference between the setups and guns with something more than just presumptions. 

The three main variables that you have are the rubber being used, the length and pre-tension of those rubbers, and the difference in rollers ie, bearings, bushes etc.

The first step was to better understand the rubber being used. Rubber is a fairly complicated subject and actually deserves a whole article on its own. The reality is that not all rubber is created equal. Much of what is marketed as “the best” is only worth using as spear stop ends. The things to look for when choosing rubber are as follows: It should be pure natural dipped latex with a thin UV stable layer.  Chemically cured and extruded rubber does not have the same elastic properties of naturally cured pure latex. The UV coating should also not be thick as this hinders elasticity.

Another factor is age, rubber does not age well as it is a natural product and hardens with time. This is also where the rubber with thick UV layers can be misleading. The rubbers look fine but inside they are old, hard and for the lack of a better word, have lost their ‘zing’.

I bench tested the load capacities of various rubbers and thicknesses. The idea was to establish the kilograms a rubber was pulling at specific percentages of being stretched. I had been given stats by one of the manufacturers, but wanted to do my own tests to verify what they were claiming. My findings were not that far off, but I realised that because of aging and so many different types of rubber, that I needed to stick to just one type for the tests. After all I was testing the gun setups and not different rubber performance. I choose to use Rob Allen latex rubber, mainly because of accessibility and the fact that I was able to find out how old from date of manufacture the rubber was. This way I was not testing old against new, which would skew the results.

Next was to create a theoretical model using the information I had gathered from the rubber tests and, using the potential energy equation, work out the kilogram force centimeters potential energy.  [Kilogram force x distance] This can also be converted to Newton’s (Nm). This gets fairly complicated, but simply, I was able to work out in a rudimentary way what potential energy each of the different rubber lengths and pre-tensions of rubbers were capable of producing.

I basically had to calculate every possible variation for roller guns ranging from 800 – 1300 for rubber thicknesses of 14mm-18mm. There were so many variations on each of the guns that I needed to have a separate spreadsheet page for each length of gun and rubber thickness. A month and 18 spreadsheet pages later, I moved onto conventional guns as a comparison. This is where things became very clear to me. Firstly, all the conventional guns calculations for all the models fitted onto a single spreadsheet page, smaller than one of the roller gun calculations!
Chris Coates testing a pile of rollerguns
Chris Coates putting a pile of roller guns through their paces

This is why roller guns are confusing. There are just too many different ways to ‘skin the cat’ so to speak. And which way is best?? The ‘potential energy model’ I had built, although not perfectly accurate, gave me a fairly accurate idea of what each different setup could produce.

The next step was to distill the information into something practical that we could test. I split the different setups into two groups - guns you can load by hand, and guns you need to use a load assist with. The first group is simply the guns that an average person can load by pulling on the extended bridle hoop. These guns had a maximum of 20kg (less than 15kg is comfortable) tension on the bridle at the muzzle. The second group is where you use a load assist to load the gun becomes almost limitless. I say ‘almost’ as the gun is still limited by what (kg) you can physically load at the notch. (Some other factors also apply which we will discuss later on)

roller speargun
Hand loadable Roller with loading Loop
Hand Loadable Roller Guns
With the hand loadable guns, there are a few ways to set the guns up. Logically, the idea is to have the least amount of tension at the muzzle (so you can pull the bridle off the muzzle) and still have the rubber stretched to its optimum, which is between 350% and 400%.  Basically the concept works as follows: the shorter the rubber the least amount of load / pre-tension is needed to have the rubber at 400% when loaded at the notch. So, less pre-tension means lighter load on the bridle at the muzzle, and therefore it will be easier to load. The longer the rubber, the more pre-tension you need to stretch the rubber to 400% when loaded on the notch, and hence more load on the bridle at the muzzle.

This means that with a shorter rubber with a short pre-tension, you can easily pull the bridle off the muzzle but it very quickly becomes harder to pull and pretty hard at the notch.  The magic ratio that I came up with was to have the rubber 38% of the barrel length with 140% pretension. This would give you the least amount of load at the roller and maximum at the notch. IE. On 100cm gun you have a 38cm 16mm rubber with +40% (15cm) pre-tension you will have a gun with only 9kg load on the roller muzzle and a whopping 60kg (400%) at the notch. [Potential energy kg/cm = 3908]

As you can see, the 60kg is fairly hard to load and not everyone will be able to load a gun like this. (Approximately the same as loading a conventional 130cm gun with a very short 20mm rubber)

rollergun setup
Roller rubbers tensioned all the way to the luggs.
On the other extreme, you can make the rubbers longer and stretch them all the way to the lugs on the handle. But, in order for you to be able to load the gun by hand, the rubbers need to be long enough to reduce the load to below 20kg (Note: In practice 20kg was the limit I was able to pull the bridle off the muzzle by hand but 15kg is more practical) This means that the load at the notch will be lower. IE. On 100cm gun if you have a 70cm 16mm rubber pretension all the way to the handle, you will have a gun with 18,6kg load on the roller muzzle and only (285%) 42,6kg load at the notch. [Potential energy kg/cm = 3987]

Theoretically, this should perform similar to the previous setup, but it would be a lot harder to pull the bridle off the muzzle.

Then there is the middle ground, somewhere between the two extremes. This is where you find a happy medium between rubber length and the pre-tension so that the gun is comfortable to load. IE. On 100cm gun you have a 55cm 16mm rubber with +40% (22cm) pre-tension, you will have a gun with 15,6kg load on the roller muzzle and (321%) 46kg load at the notch. [Potential energy kg/cm = 3853]

This setup is similar to the setup recommended by Manny Sub, the manufactures of the Power Roller Head, and has already been proven to be very effective.

Now all three setups all produce similar kg/cm potential energy and theoretically should all perform equally as well.  Each setup had its pro’s and con’s, from loading to performance. This was the first aspect I wanted to test in the pool. I chose to use a 110cm gun to test, as it would fit in with other tests I wanted to do and it is also one of the most popular length guns being used. The lengths of rubber were calculated by what should be loadable by hand.

spearguns pool test
Thick EVA foam used for roller gun experiment.
The tests were done in a pool using a 26cm thick solid EVA block at a distance of 4m from the end of the spear. (Approx.  6m diver) Each setup was tested 2-4 times, taking an average of the 2 most consistent results of how deep the spear penetrated the foam block.  

16mm @ 60cm + 18cm pretension (12,5kg -43,5kg = 3765 kg/cm)
16mm @ 80cm full pretension (15,3kg -37,9kg = 3772 kg/cm)
16mm @ 42cm + 6cm pretension (6,9kg -55,7kg = 3820 kg/cm)

The shorter rubbers performed better than the longer fully stretched rubber; possibly due to two factors. The first is that the 80cm rubber is not working at its optimum 300-400%. Secondly is the fact that it does not have as high notch load as the others. This is all even though a similar amount of total potential energy is being used.

Theoretically, in perfect situations, if you drive a spear with the same amount of kg/cm, regardless of where the energy is released, they should all have the same velocity. This test showed that there are other dynamics at play, and so the results were vastly different.

The gun that felt the best however was the 80cm full tensioned gun. The 42cm short setup had noticeable recoil, not as much as a conventional gun but more than what I am used to. It was also the hardest to load, even though the bridle came off the muzzle the easiest. The 60cm std. setup in this scenario worked best, with good performance and no recoil.

14mm Vs 16mm
Next was to test a 14mm and 16mm fully stretched rubber scenarios that should be loadable by hand. Working on the 20kg muzzle load limit, the rubbers were calculated to a similar kg/cm potential energy. This would be a good comparison to the previous test and also compare the 14mm and 16mm in a similar power setup.

14mm Vs 16mm
14mm @ 55cm full pretension (20.9kg -45,8kg = 4818 kg/cm)
16mm @ 70cm full pretension (18,9kg -43,8kg = 4482 kg/cm)

The 16mm full tensioned rubber performed very well, by reducing the length of the rubber by 10cm it had a massive improvement in performance. Unfortunately the gun was almost impossible to load by hand, and after the first shot I used the load assist to load the gun.

The 14mm worked very well if you consider that it was not that difficult to load by hand. Although it did not compare to the 16mm in penetration, it did fairly well against the previous 16mm tests. If you consider that 14mm rubbers are easier to load than the other 16mm rubber setups tested, then the 14mm rubbers to me was the most practical. The gun also just felt really good and was very accurate.

Load Assisted 18mm Setup
The next step was to test an 18mm rubber powered to 366% on a full pretension. Theoretically you could get better performance by going to 400% stretch or adding an additional rubber. This was the length rubbers that I had been using and found to be well balanced.

I also wanted to compare the difference between the 7mm and 7,5mm spears.
Rob Allen spearguns converted to rollerguns
Some of the roller guns made up for the test. In total 10 guns were made up for the experiment.

18mm Rubber Load Assist - 7,5mm Vs 7mm
18mm @ 60cm Full T (32kg -68,4kg =  7281 kg/cm)

Although this is a very tight rubber, it is not that difficult to load using a load assist. When you pull the trigger, you definitely know that you are shooting a much more powerful gun. The 7,5mm spear performed well as expected and went through the 53cm block of foam. The spear had dropped a few cm but from previous tests, I had expected this. Bear in mind that at 4m from spear point (6m from diver), there are not many situations where you will take a shot at a fish over this distance.

The 7mm spear on the other hand was a bit disappointing as far as penetration goes and only went through 45cm, only 5cm more than the 16mm rubbers. It was however accurate and fast, so it is an effective setup.

Just as a comparison I took shots with a 1300 Rob Allen with 2 x 14mm rubbers at 70cm and a 1,8m 7mm shaft. The 1300 conventional gun performed as expected and penetrated the target 45cm.
This was not a surprise as we had done this side by side comparison before (see USM Vol 14). What was interesting, was the fact that the gun had noticeable recoil in comparison to the roller guns. The recoil was probably more noticeable because I have not used a conventional spear gun in while and was no longer used to the way the gun fired.

ceramic vs acetyl bearings
1100 Roller Gun with std plastic bearings doing the job.
Ceramic Vs Standard Bearings
The last thing I wanted to test was the difference between the standard bearings made of acetyl nylon with encapsulated glass balls and full ceramic bearings. There have been a few guys that have already tested and proven that the standard bearings outperform rollers with bushes, so logic suggested that by improving the bearings you would improve performance.

The reason why the bearings effect performance is that there is a certain amount of inefficiency and slowing of the rubber contracting as it changes direction around the roller. Improve this and you should improve performance. While researching this on the web there, I found so many different theories on this point alone (some even saying that it would make no difference at all) that a test was needed to get a conclusive answer.

The test was done using the exact same rubbers and spears on an identical gun, just with ceramic bearings. The test was done as before at 4m spear tip, and the rubbers were alternated between guns so that there was no advantage or disadvantage by being used first or last.

Bearing: Standard  Vs Ceramic at 4m
Std. Bearing
14mm @ 55cm full pretension (20.9kg -45,8kg = 4818 kg/cm)
18mm @ 60cm full pretension (32kg -68,4kg =  7281 kg/cm)

The comparative tests were conclusive that the ceramic bearings did improve performance. Albeit only a marginal improvement, there is enough of an improvement to make it a worthwhile upgrade if you have the money. Take for instance that the 14mm with the ceramic rollers outperformed the 16mm std. setups with the standard bearings.

This does however raise the question of how well are other rollers with inferior bearings or just plain bushes performing?

Can You Over Power A Roller Gun?
Overpowering a roller gun has always been something in the back of my head. But because of the low recoil and the fact that even with high powered guns, the shaft leaves the muzzle before the muzzle lifts, I did not consider overpowering a problem. This however came into question when I moved the target to 5m from the spear tip when comparing the bearings. (NB 5m from spear tip is approx. 7m from divers mask, this is an extreme distance and not a practical hunting distance. Most divers will never take a shot at this distance, especially with a 1100)

Bearing: Standard  Vs Ceramic at 5m
Std. Bearing

14mm 55cm full
14mm @ 55cm full pretension (20.9kg -45,8kg = 4818 kg/cm)

16mm 63cm full
16mm @ 60cm full pretension (25,2kg -52kg = 5634 kg/cm)

18mm 62cm full
18mm @ 60cm full pretension (32kg -68,4kg =  7281 kg/cm)

I first tested the 14mm rubbers against the 18mm rubbers and when the results came out so close together, I added in the 16mm rubber bands. Shockingly, the ceramic bearings that had been better at 4m had now performed worse than the std. bearings. The 14mm however had improved with the ceramic bearings, and had even beaten the 18mm rubbers. The results got worse with the more power that was going into the spear.

I took this conundrum to Jeremy Williams from the Dive Factory who is a qualified engineer and in my opinion, is one the best minds in the industry. He said it is probably increased friction caused by the shaft vibrating or wobbling with increased velocity. The ceramic bearings being more efficient, drive the shaft a greater velocity and overpower the shaft. This is something that also occurs with bow hunters when they don’t match the arrow shaft with strength of their bow. There are also other factors like increased drag resistance the faster the shaft travels. Basically, a shaft leaving the gun at twice the velocity of another shaft will not travel twice as far, as the faster shaft will have an increased amount of drag which becomes exponential the faster you go.

The way to overcome this, is by increasing the stiffness of the shaft. This can be achieved by either shortening the shaft or going thicker. On roller guns, the shafts are already shorter than conventional guns and one could surmise that the roller gun in this instance should be better.

A 7.5mm shaft is the other option, but then there is greater drag and weight which will need to be taken into consideration.

Before I can come to a conclusion on these theories, they will need to be tested. The things I need to test are the difference between shaft lengths and thicknesses with guns that are at full or maximum load. I think for now it is safe to make the assumption that if you are going to go for a high powered roller gun, that you should keep the shaft shorter and go up to 7.5mm thickness. 

It is also good to bear in mind that you need to keep this example in context of the size of the gun (1100) and what it is already achieving. As in previous test, the 1100 roller out performed all the conventional 1300 guns at 5m from the spear tip (see USM Vol 14). What is interesting, is how well the 14mm gun performed, especially with the ceramic bearings. This has really given me even greater confidence in this setup.

protype rollergun
A Rob Allen Prototype Roller Gun with Ceramic Bearing
It is still difficult to come to a decisive conclusion on what the ultimate setup for roller gun is. Each person reading this will have come away with a different perspective according to what their spearfishing environment is like, and what their needs are.  With some scenarios, certain setups are more apparent, like if you want as much power as you can get, then 18mm rubber full pretension to over 360% is going to give you what you need.

If that’s not enough, then just like with any other spear gun, there is a time when you have to go longer to get more. I think in many cases, a slightly longer well balanced gun is better than trying to get too much out of a short speargun.

With other set ups it is going to be up to personal preference, and what each person can practically load. It is finding the balance between ease of loading and how much power you need. I think that many guys, myself included, underestimate the roller guns at first and go for more power than they really need.

Since doing this exercise and rubber test I have come to certain conclusions based on what I have found out. They might not be what some guys would recommend, but based on my needs, this is what I have personally changed my guns to. I hope this will give you an idea on how and why I use certain guns setups.

As in the test I have separated my guns into hand loadable guns, which are ideal for shore diving and competition scenarios where you want to be quick and efficient. I then have rubbers setups that need a load-assist. These are great when targeting specific species where extreme power is needed.

My Hand Loadable Set Ups

Gun: 900 Carbon Rob Allen
Rubbers: 14mm @ 45cm
Pretension: Maximum
Spear: 1.3m 6.6mm shaft – double wrap 1.8mm Dyneema

My 900 is probably one of my favorite guns, I am constantly surprised at how well this little gun performs. It is fairly easy to load by hand and is just crazy good to shoot. I use this gun mainly for reef species and is basically my replacement for my std. 1100 with a single 16mm rubber and 7mm shaft. That said, this gun would probably out shoot most single rubber 1200 guns. I use a 6.6mm shaft as it is quick and accurate to the end of a double wrap. It still has loads of punch and it even went right through a 35kg Daga Salmon (Mulloway) when used for a second shot. The shot was not close and went in mid way and out the gill plate on the other side!

Gun: 1100 Carbon Rob Allen
Rubbers: 14mm @ 55cm
Pretension: Maximum
Spear: 1.5m 7mm shaft – double wrap 1.8mm Dyneema

This is my other favourite gun. The 14mm rubbers make this gun loadable by hand even with the rubbers loading at 400%. Like with the 900, the 14mm rubbers are so smooth and it is just such a joy pulling the trigger. This is my all round gun and I use it for reefies in clean water, and if a good size gamefish comes past, I know I have more than enough power and range to get the job done. This gun has pretty much replaced my standard 1200 with single 18mm rubber and 7mm shaft.

I have chosen to go with the 14mm rubbers over the 16mm rubbers that are also hand loadable, even thought the 16mm have better performance. The 14mm rubbers are marginally easier to load, especially off the muzzle. I also like the fact that there are no strings to wrap around the lugs to pretension the rubbers. It’s very quick and convenient to just pull the rubbers down and onto the lugs when I go dive. Plus the 14mm rubbers on the carbon barrel just feel really amazing, and there is no recoil at all.

roller gun spearfishing
35kg Daga taken with a 1100 / 16mm rubbers
My Set Ups Using a Load Assist

Gun: 1100 Aluminum Rob Allen
Rubbers: 18mm @ 60cm / 16mm @ 60cm
Pretension: Maximum
Spear: 1.5m 7. 5 mm shaft  / 7mm shaft – double wrap 2mm Dyneema

This was my first roller gun and I have kept it for my more powerful setups. If I am hunting Daga and need of maximum power, then I switch to the 18mm rubber and 7,5mm shaft. If I am hunting gamefish and need speed, accuracy and distance, I put the 16mm rubbers on and change to the 7mm spear shaft.
This is where the roller gun becomes very versatile as I can swap out rubbers and spears in a minute or two and have a totally different gun.

Gun: 1200 Aluminum Rob Allen
Rubbers: 18mm @ 65cm / 16mm @ 60cm
Pretension: Maximum
Spear: 1.6m 7 mm shaft – double wrap 2mm Dyneema

I made this gun up as a blue water gun, specifically for fish like Wahoo and  Couta. I tried 18mm rubbers but only had a 7mm shaft and missed twice on long shots on Kakaap.  The shots were long, difficult, and I probably would not have attempted the shots had I been using a standard 1300, so it is difficult to read too much into the 2 fluffed shots.

I changed to the 16mm (took the 60cm rubber off the 1100) and the gun shot really well with the 7mm shaft, and I shot a number of good sized Couta and Tropical Amberjack. I was enjoying this setup, so I just stuck with it.

The 16mm rubber and 7mm shaft setup is nicely balanced. I think the high powered 18mm starts to overpower the 7mm shaft and it might be starting to wobble or vibrate. This is only an assumption at this point and I need to try the 18mm rubbers with a 7.5mm shaft.

marlin roller gun
MJK Marlin using 1300 MAMBA Roller gun
Gun: 1300 Aluminum / Carbon Rob Allen & Carbon Mamba Barrel
Rubbers: 18mm @ 75cm - 70cm
Pretension: Maximum
Spear: 1.7m 7.5 mm shaft – double barb - double wrap 2mm Dyneema

I have made a number of these canons to take on trips, and am still to come home with one. This is mostly from guys who have large multi rubber guns who see what the rollers can do and then won’t give them back.

I have made variations with Aluminum, Carbon and Mamba barrels. My favourite without a doubt is the Custom Mamba. I think the extra volume and weight give the gun the right amount of inertia with the high powered 18mm rubbers. The E.X. Rob Allen Carbon barrel is great because it is so light that it makes the gun feel a lot smaller in the water. This helps with minor recoil that this canon is going to have. I found the gun is a bit buoyant at the muzzle and could cause you to shoot a little high, adding a little lead in the muzzle sorted this problem out easily. NB - this buoyancy is something you need to consider with carbon roller guns

I often get asked if this is the ‘ultimate’ blue water gun. It is difficult to say, as you can find more powerful guns out there. But, you have to consider the size of the gun and ease of diving with it. When you take that into consideration, I can’t think of a better setup.  The down side, if there is one, is that this gun is not easy to load at full power, even when using a load assist (which is essential). Some guys drop it down a notch so that it’s not so intense. Craig Heslop recently took one to Latham Island for doggies and in his pre-trip pool tests, he was accurate at a whopping 9m with the gun. And that was not at full power…

Final Comments
You probably noticed that all the guns I currently have setup, are all full pretension rubbers that don’t use the standard line that is wrapped around the lugs to pretension the rubbers. I just find them a lot less of a hassle and I can change out the rubber quicker if need be. It’s also easier to just pull the rubbers off the lugs when the gun is not in use, as apposed to unwinding the strings and loosening the rubbers that way.

Also, when using a load assist, it just makes sense to maximise your power, and the only way you will get more power out of a standard pretension rubber, is to go over 400% stretch which is not advisable as this will just reduce the life of the rubber dramatically.

With the hand loadable guns, you could go with the 16mm standard setup and this works well, as proven in the tests. The advantage is that you are only stretching the rubbers to 300%, so they should last longer than using the 14mm rubbers stretched to 400%. Again, the ease and simplicity of no strings makes the 14mm a winner and it just looks better, if that has any value.

As far as the bearings go, ceramic bearings are definitely worth investing in. The guns I have been using them in have been brilliant and the hard ceramic bearings show no signs of deterioration from sand or general wear and tear. I think they will have a longer life span than the standard bearings, but only with time will we know for sure if this is the case.

I hope that this article has helped shed some light on many of the questions surrounding roller gun setups, and which setup will suit your needs best. There are still some things that need to be ironed out, like the potential ‘over powering’ issue and what spears are best suited to solving that problem. But in the meantime, there are setups that are proven to work incredibly well and I think this problem only really effects guns where guys might be wanting to get too much out of the gun.

I think that the biggest thing you need to take away from this article, is of how well some of the setups perform and how versatile one gun can be. I am definitely going to be doing more experimenting and I am sure I will find some more gem setups for my arsenal.

Chris Coates