How to Make a Pole Spear

Just under the surface of the frigid ocean is a bounty of saltwater fishes to be foraged. Many an outdoors person would agree that, in a survival scenario, the ocean can often be a far more productive source of food than the land, especially the cold, nutrient-rich waters that circulate around our shores. But how to pursue these fish? Here, I’ll show you how to build a pole-spear, a time-tested, simple tool that is incredibly effective for putting fish on your dinner plate.

The anatomy of a pole spear is quite simple. The spear is made up of a 5–8 foot long shaft. At one end, a barbed tip is affixed to retain fish once speared. At the other, a loop of elastic is attached. It’s this elastic loop that provides the energy to launch the spear forward underwater. To load the spear, the elastic loop is placed in the crotch of the thumb, and the spear pulled back, stretching the elastic. The hand holding the elastic loop then grips the spear to keep the elastic stretched out and primed for a shot. Releasing the grip frees the spear and allows it to shoot forwards, into a target fish.

man carrying pole spear on the beach
rockfish lying on the ground

If not in a survival scenario, why use a pole spear? There are a ton of options to acquire fish under the ocean surface. Many modern spearfishers prefer spearguns – highly accurate, stealthy platforms that are quick to aim and powerful enough to send a steel shaft far through the water to hit a fish. The humble pole spear, on the other hand, is not as maneuverable and usually not as powerful as a speargun, so range is more limited. In addition, most pole spears require the spearfisher to hold the tension of the rubber using their grip. This means a spearfisher with a pole spear must get closer to all too often skittish fish and maneuver the length of the spear in potentially tight spaces amongst the rocks and kelp on the ocean floor. I like to tell people that the speargun vs. pole spear debate is not so different from the modern rifle vs. bow hunting debate. But for those who enjoy the challenge of sneaking and stalking their way to within close range of a target, a pole spear might be the right tool. In addition, the pole spear has few moving parts to break, and can be made from a wide variety of materials.

To build the pole spear, we’ll need a straight, round stock for the shaft. It should be light enough to be somewhat neutrally buoyant in water, but heavy enough to pack some punch behind a shot. Almost any hardwood will work, but hollow aluminum tubing works as well. Below are the materials and tools you will need for this particular build, as well as instructions on how to put the spear together.


1. Straight, stiff, round stock ½”–¾” in diameter. Hardwood or aluminum tubing will work.
2. Elastic (surgical tubing or bicycle tube)
3. Spear tip with barb (floppers can be bought at most fishing shops or online)
4. Waxed line for binding
5. Finishing oil (linseed oil)


1. Drill
2. Grinder
3. Knife
4. Sandpaper
5. Pliers