Underwater hunting grounds attract spearfishermen 

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The sixth annual Wrightsville Beach Spearfishing Tournament will commence Friday, June 20, from Seapath Yacht Club and will run through midday Sunday, June 22.

Anyone can sign up until the day before the tournament, although the tiered entry fee increases from $50 to $75 closer to the start date. Both scuba and freediving are permitted, depending on the participant’s preference as well as the targeted species of fish.

There will be nine species categories, including inland and deep-ocean fish. Prizes will be awarded to the top three fish in each category, said tournament founder and organizer Gregory Woodby of Wilmington.

“We want somebody who has a jon boat and someone who has a 60-foot sport fisherman to be able to join the same tournament and have the same chance of winning prizes,” Woodby said.

Woodby, along with Dewey Preast and Ryan McInnis, are organizing the nonprofit tournament. All of the money from entry fees and donations from sponsors will be used to pay for tournament expenses and prize money, Woodby said. Sponsors also donate prizes for winners of divisions, such as spear guns and other gear.

Along with the nine species categories, there is a master hunter category for the overall best catches, including any number of fish from the nine categories. Weight and quantity are taken into account when deciding a winner, Woodby said.

There is also a bonus lionfish category. Lionfish are an invasive species, and the tournament wants to raise awareness that they are edible, Woodby explained. This division will only have one winner based solely on the quantity of fish caught.

Fishermen are able to go anywhere to fish as long as they return in time for the daily weigh-ins at Seapath Yacht Club. On the final day, Seapath will host a party with a band and cookout as the winners are decided and prizes are distributed.

The tournament has averaged around 55 people in past years. However, Woodby estimated 60 to 70 people will participate this year due to a lot of early signups.

Woodby said that spearfishing and diving are gaining in popularity, as more dive shops have opened in town and he has seen more people diving and fishing in the water. Woodby studied marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and said he quickly learned how wasteful most commercial fishing is, leading him to pick up spearfishing.

“When you spearfish, you are very selective; you only shoot the fish you see and want,” Woodby said. “It is a challenge, and it is very exciting to be in the environment underwater.”

 

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