- Associated Press - Thursday, June 11, 2015

PINE HAVEN, Wyo. (AP) - Weston Rosenau floated on the lake surface Saturday morning, barely visible in a dark, camouflage wetsuit. Behind him trailed a bright yellow buoy with a red diving flag.

Suddenly, Rosenau dove, flippers sticking up in the air before nothing remained by the buoy and flag.

Seconds turned into a minute. The minute passed with no sign of him. After what seemed like an eternity, Rosenau broke back through the surface holding a spear with a flopping bright gold and yellow carp.

It was his first fish in Keyhole Reservoir that morning.

He shook his head as he swam with his speargun and fish to a nearby pontoon boat.

“I need fish,” he said to the boat driver. “Take me over there to that rocky point.”

Rosenau, 25, had no time for pleasantries. He and partner Brandon Miller, 31, were competing in the first Freshwater Spearfishing Nationals tournament in their home water. They finished in fifth place Friday against teams from as far away as New Zealand and Hawaii, and as close as Gillette and Douglas. Saturday’s goal was to break into the top four by shooting the most pounds of carp up to 50 fish each.

The weekend’s tournament was only the second national championship in Wyoming, and the first one for Miller and Rosenau. If they didn’t place higher after Saturday, they at least hoped to increase visibility and understanding of their sport among traditional anglers.

Spearfishing, they both said, requires fishermen hold their breath for minutes at a time and dive deep into murky lakes and reservoirs. It’s the best of both fishing and hunting.

“Sometimes the fish come right up to you, but other times you have to go down and hide by a rock,” Miller said. “When a fish floats by you have to slowly move by and creep up to it and find the right time to get your shaft in them.”

And all without running out of air.

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Freshwater spearfishing, as practiced during tournaments such as the Freshwater Spearfishing Nationals, is a relatively new sport in the U.S. And its rules are a complicated list of fish limits and equipment restrictions.

In some states, such as Florida, freshwater spearfishing is illegal. Other states prohibit spearfishing game fish, Rosenau said.

Wyoming allows spearfishing, but restrictions vary depending on fish species and the individual body of water. In Keyhole, for example, rod and reel anglers are allowed to keep six walleye, while spearfishermen are allowed only two.

One of the most important, and basic, spearfishing regulations states that all spearfishermen must be completely submerged before shooting a fish. That means no standing on shore or leaning over the side of a boat to spear a walleye or crappie, said Andrew Nikirk, Sheridan region fisheries biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

While underwater, anglers can use spears, or guns that shoot spears, but the line attaching the spear to the gun or person can be no longer than 20 feet.

“It can only be done in lakes, and can’t be within 100 yards of a boat,” Nikirk said. “Diver’s flags must be displayed to identify locations for other boaters.”

Despite, or maybe because of the growing popularity, some traditional anglers are skeptical of the sport, Rosenau said.

Some believe it’s too easy, or not fair because spearfishmen are not trying to coax a fish into biting.

Easy, Rosenau said, is the last word he would use.

Most spearfishermen frown on scuba gear, which means a diver must hold his or her breath underwater during the hunt, said Miller, Rosenau’s diving partner.

“We lose people every year to shallow water blackouts,” Miller said. “It’s when you hold your breath for too long, and then you come to the surface and the breath overwhelms your body and you blackout.”

Some divers can hold their breath for three or four minutes, and dive 100 feet below the surface. Miller’s record is 1:43 minutes. He hopes to reach the 2:30 minute mark one day.

Visibility is also an issue in freshwater. Spearfishermen are lucky to see 15 or 20 feet, Rosenau said.

“I don’t think people understand that we don’t have 20 minutes underneath the water at one time where we can hang out and see everything and wait for it to come to us,” Rosenau said. “When you are diving down and holding your breath, it is about movement. Fish are spooky and when something big is coming at them they don’t hang around.”

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Visibility seemed to be one of the biggest problems for the Gillette team Saturday morning. The pair finished Friday ranked among some of the world’s best freshwater spearfishermen who spend their livelihood, and free time, in the water.

The Hawaiian team, for example, owns a spearfishing shop on Kona, Rosenau said. They inevitably spend more time in the water than Miller and Rosenau, two coal miners from Gillette.

The men did have home-field advantage. The Rocky Mountain Spearfishing Association initially scheduled the national competition for a reservoir in Arizona, but officials there backed out at the last minute, allowing the Gillette pair to offer Keyhole as the next spot.

But Miller and Rosenau are also relatively new to the sport. A fellow coal miner from Florida introduced Miller to spearfishing three years ago. Miller then convinced Rosenau to try.

“The first time in the water I fell in love with it,” Miller said. “Coming from a hunting and fishing family I grew up in, it’s the best of both worlds to me.”

On Friday, those hunting techniques worked. Both speared walleye, freshwater drum and crappie. Saturday was rough fish day, which meant spearing primarily nonnative carp.

And then their luck started to run thin. They hit all of the likely spots, scanning along rock walls and diving to look under ledges. But they couldn’t find the numbers of carp they’d seen even the day before.

The team eventually finished in 14th place. The Hawaiian professionals took first.

With a few days distance from the event, neither Rosenau nor Miller sounded defeated. They hope to compete again next year at the tournament in Arkansas. In the meantime, they’ll be in Wyoming reservoirs, their buoys and flags in tow.


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