Author Archives: René Potvin

About René Potvin

Started freediving and spearfishing in 1986. I competed for the first time in 1994 at the Connecticut Open. I won the B division with a bunch of togs with Murphy's beat up 90 cm Viper. I later won the North Atlantic Championships in 2003, 2009 and 2010. I participated in the FIPSA Worlds in Cabo Frio in 2006; came in 13th. I also play underwater hockey with CAMO in Montreal and do a lot of underwater photography. In 2006 I started making spearguns. They are known as Renesub Spearguns. The website is

Barrebalète à Baja! (tbar speargun, tbargun)

La barrebalète est un prototype d’arbalète propulsant une barre d’acier en forme de t.

J’avais fabriqué une arbalète utilisant un tube l’année d’avant. Le tube était d’une efficacité redoutable mais je ne voyais pas comment incorporer un ardillon, et la pénétration n’était pas très grande. Les poissons étaient choqués, et il suffisait de les ramasser, toutefois ce n’était pas très polyvalent. Les gros poissons auraient peut-être survécu, blessé…

La barrebalète était donc la solution. Elle a l’avantage d’assommer ou de tuer net la plupart des poissons, tout en ayant une force de pénétration aussi grande qu’une flèche traditionnelle. En plus, elle ne peut pas être pliée, elle ne coute que 10$, et elle est facile à trouver partout dans le monde. L’ajout d’un ardillon ou d’une pointe détachable ne pose aucun défit.

Le rayon d’action de la barrebalète semble être le même que l’arbalète traditionnelle. Je crois qu’en ajoutant de la puissance, ce qui ne causera aucune déformation de la « flèche », il sera possible d’atteindre des poissons plus loin que la plus puissante des arbalètes traditionnelles. Le prototype actuel ne permettrait pas l’utilisation de plus de 5 élastiques. Elle n’est pas assez lourde.

La barrebalète est parfaitement neutre. Le recul est à peine perceptible en raison de la masse du fut. Son unique problème, est le manque de maniabilité. Le profil de l’engin, plus que son poids, empêche des changements de direction rapides. Il est très difficile de suivre une proie. Il faut savoir tirer à l’intersection.
Le prochain prototype placera la barre dans l’autre sens, réduisant ainsi le profil de 30 mm. Il faudra toutefois ajouter un ergot au dos de la barre. Le fut sera profilé pour encore réduire la résistance. Quelques modifications au mécanisme seront également nécessaires.

Two yellowtails, why I will never learn Salsa

Sand whipped my legs as I got out of the car. The furious wind had kept all fishing boats out of the water. It was the first time I had ever seen the ramp empty. The water was covered with foam and spray… these were good conditions for kayak diving and the most secure I could hope for for since the greatest peril was out of the way.

I headed to the spots that are normally hazardous because of the boats.

Like anywhere else, the Mexican boaters don’t pay a whole lot of attention to dive flags. In their defense, I was run over only once (I have footage of the props passing over my head) while diving here. Given the time I spend in the water while in Baja, it’s a much better rate than in the US, the Bahamas and Canada. In Rhode Island, I managed to get run over three times in a single summer, in Florida it only took a week for a four-prop boat hit my kayak (video from underwater), and in the Bahama a 50-foot racing boat hit and flipped my 13-foot yellow kayak, with a huge flag, on a flat sea with unlimited visibility! I can’t count the times my kayak got bumped by boats, again, it’s yellow and I have a very large flag on it… So, If you believe boaters will pay any attention to your dive buoy, I believe you are deluding yourself.

On the first spot, there was no fish. At times, this cold season has been hard on the moral. Often the bottom looks like a dead quarry, even the corrals look sad. Fortunately, I almost always manage to find some life deeper. So I swam to the edge of sand. In the area where I anchored, the sand begins at 24 m (80 feet). I say begins. Most of my dives are a little deeper, but I never go beyond 27m (90 feet).

About dept, I was still within my comfort zone, on that day, sometimes I’m not comfortable past 22m so It varies too much to give much mind to my watch (LONG NOTE: In my opinion, the watch is only useful when I dive too comfortably too deep, right now I wouldn’t fish beyond 27 meters even if I felt fine, even with a good spotter, if on a specific day I feel fine at 30 meters I might smile, but I will turn around since experience has shown me that I simply don’t have enough margin at that dept, and I don’t see a point risking my life for this, and the ride up from too deep is simply horrible… I may still die spearfishing, better this than most other ways I guess, and I fully accept the risk, but I try to check the ego at the door as much as possible and dive to depts that don’t involve fear of not reaching the surface).

The first 10 meters of surface water was murky. Past this cloud, I could see 30 meters. This provided an exceptionally wide glance at the bottom. There was nothing! I could see all the way to the rocks and into the great beyond. Shivers ran down my back. I was cold like a guy with a four-year-old suit that was not seeing fish.

I got back to my kayak. I pondered about the futility of this, life in general and fell into an existential crisis. I thought maybe I should get out, find another hobby, learn so knit, join a theatre group, learn Salsa, then I remembered how I hate dancing, and salsa music in general, so I paddled to another spot. The wind made it difficult to paddle in that direction, especially with my sobbing, but I’ve never seen winds strong enough to stop me entirely! Kayaks are great in hard wind.

I anchored on a reef right in the boat channel. On a normal day, I might as well be smack in the middle of Port Everglades inlet. I’d get run over every five minutes.

As I put my face in the water, I saw baitfish! Finally, some life! salsa! I got my 130 cm speargun with two bands. It was a reef, and it was the gun with the wire shooting line. The 150 cm gun with three bands is the one I use almost all the time, but it made no sense using it there.

Five minutes in, I shot a small yellow snapper. I put it on my back and pushed on.

I got to the sand again. It was only 16 meters deep. I was not these long before a yellowtail swam by. I moved my hand and it came closer. I shot it from under. The shaft passed through it. The fish fought, but not much. Since I shot it from the bottom, it was fighting belly-up. That usually sedates fish. The yellow tail joined the yellow snapper on my stringer. The yellow tail was 27.5 pounds, so it was cumbersome, but I often dive with larger stripers on my back.

I dove again. Nothing in view for a few second, then another yellowtail came from far away, lazily following the bottom. I didn’t have much breath left and that thing seemed to take its time… I managed to wait it out. I shot from so far, the shooting line stopped the shaft… Fortunately the shaft dug into the fish far enough for the flopper to open.

I head for the surface. The reel line came out. Once on the surface I stopped the spool. Only 20 meters of line was out. I tried to reel the fish back in. It worked for a while…

I could not see the fish since the visibility was not that great. My reel line was going straight down. It seemed stuck. Great. I went down to investigate. I followed the line, never letting it drag the gun down. I saw the yellowtail and a “macramé” of line around every rock and reel head there is. Oh boy. The web is 5 meter wide.

My second gun was on my kayak, 200 meters away, and I would never have found my gun again if I had tried to get it… so I breath-up and go work on the line. I was grateful I didn’t have to worry about boats… The entire time, the yellowtail was trying to entangle me… I made sure my knife was ready. I finally got most of the line off the corals.

I was back on the surface, taking a few breaths before resuming the dangerous work, when the line started moving again! The fish had managed to untangle the line! I reeled it in as much as possible. That’s until I saw a huge mess of entangled line… A big knot with wide tentacles. I needed to leave the gun behind and work the line by hand all the way to the fish. During this time, the fish turned and turned around me. My fins, my knife, kept getting caught in the line.

When I got the fish in my hand, there was line everywhere. I couldn’t use the gun anymore. So I swum back with three fish and what looked like discarded fishing net. It took me 15 minutes to get the line untangled, and that was in my kitchen! (video of that ordeal coming soon).

The second fish weighed 28 pounds.

The might of a 6 pound mackerel

I shot two mackerels while laying on the sand at about 20 meters (66 feet). I landed both by putting no resistance on my reel.

When I shot the second one, to my absolute amazement, half my line was out before I got to the surface! That tiny fish had dragged a shaft that weighted as much as itself, with the line.

GRRr says the little monster!

Yellowtails, long fight, double cubera shot, and legions of contaminated foes.

Whenever I don’t have a cold it seems that every sick person feels cheated and will jump at any opportunity to swipe some of their snot on my food or face… This is no paranoia. The legions were out to get me! The lady at the bakery that coughed all over my food and used her diseased hands to bag my pastries was only the most obvious suspect. No doubt the gas station attendee had sick kids coughing on his hands between fill-ups…

Well congratulations! I am now part of your contaminated legions. I can now ear strange rattling and humming sounds coming from my chest. Fortunately, my sinuses have been spared, for now. I hope the low hum I often emit when I breath-up attracts fish.

It sure brought me luck though…

Day 1

On the first day of my disease, I dove a spot where I lost a shaft a week prior. The mono had given up… It never happens to me. I’m very good at keeping my gear almost adequate. Seriously, I can only recall the one time I lost a shaft to a striper, about 15 years ago. That’s how often this happens.

Anyway, I dove the sands, far from shore, in about 80 feet of water. There was nothing around except sand, no rocks, no boulders, nothing, just sand. I dive this sort of area to see yellowtails and other pelagic. It helps if there are grass eels…

Since the visibility was only 20 feet, I couldn’t see the bottom until I was 60 feet down. It’s a great way to get anxiety if you are sensitive little wuss like me… All this to say, I couldn’t see much of the bottom each time I went down, so I was very surprised to see my long-lost shaft laying on the sand, slowly rusting as the red color of the sand touching the shaft showed. BTW, the only parts that rusted were the areas where the shaft was in contact with the bottom… Mayne someone can comment on this below….

My luck did not stop there! I put the 150 cm speargun with three bands back in the kayak, as well as my new-found shaft, and took my 130 cm speargun with two bands and metal shooting line to go scout the rocks. Yes, my 130 cm speargun is my hole gun. Baja is different.

Anyway. I was going down the slope, looking between the rocks when I saw a hole that I taught could hold fish. A lot of the holes have multiple communicating passages and are not that good for hunting. Let’s just say that you must shoot fast before the fish simply moves a few inches to get away from you. These structures don’t give you much of a chance…

So, this crevasse looks promising. I did not have my head inside the hole. I was looking from a few feet away, but I saw meat. A wall of meat. I assumed this was a large fish, not a seal or a moray eel since there were scales… The silhouette said 20 pounds, or more, and moving slowly away. I shot well inside the hole. I good hit. The shaft wiggled a bit. I could not get it out right then, so I went back up letting the reel spill some line.

Back into the hole, I had to twist and pull quite a few times. The fish looked dead but moving… uh oh… what did I spear in the back?

I finally pull the 25 pound cubera got out, and found that I had shot a second cubera in the head. It was the one fighting. The poor thing was only 7 pounds. Anyway, that was my first double on cuberas! A very lucky day indeed.

Cough, wheeze, cough.

Day 2

Sebastien insisted we go fishing. I would have laid in bed all day otherwise (not).

The wind was up, but I kayaked, wheezed and coughed my way to some yellowtail area.

I took the 150 cm speargun with three bands. I pondered about taking the 130 cm gun out of the hatch and keep it attached on the side of the kayak so I could take it quickly… but noooo.

The strange wheezing coming from my lungs attracted baitfish. I started diving at the base of the deepest rocks. Only 50 feet where I was. Hey I was sick!

The sand at the base of the rocks are found at depths of 50 to 90 depending on where you are along the shore. The bottom stays level for about 100 yards, then plunges to 200 feet according to my depth finder. I try to land on the slope at 70 to 80 feet, no deeper than 90, to wait for fish in the abyss to come and say hello. There was no more than 20 feet of visibility, more like 15, worse than on day one. The eerie thing was that the water cleared up quite a bit at 75 feet, so the abyss looked black and stuff that came out of it were likely to give me a heart attack.

It took a while, perhaps forty minutes, but as I was at 67 feet (19.5m according to my watch) when two yellowtails passed by. I shot the second one. I had not been on the bottom for very long (my total dive was only 69 seconds on the watch), so I took my time in order to give it as little resistance as possible.

The yellowtail did not give me much of a fight, but it wouldn’t die. I pulled on that line very delicately, inching it to the surface for 26 minutes, yes almost half an hour. I didn’t want to lose that fish with delicate skin. I had a Tahitian shaft through it, and I couldn’t tell how good was my shot.

Once the yellow was close to the surface, I saw the shot was pretty good and that none of the flesh had torn… Hell, I had taken my time, but I was about to lose it by wrangling it in, no sir, so I slowly steered it to my kayak. There I somehow took my 130 cm gun out of the hatch and loaded one band…

The second shot did the trick. The yellow simply froze.

There, to make it look bigger!

Cuberas, sea lions and killer whales in Baja

The last two weeks were a transition period according to the locals. There were very few fish. I was lucky to shoot a wahoo and some pan fish.

Three days ago, the water cleared up quite a bit, the temperature must have changed but my watch still said 21C. That day, I saw groupers and pargos in great number. I hoped this was not a strange occurrence due to some weird water current that would not last. Divers told me the area would suck for about a month, which corresponded to what I saw in 2018. I didn’t want it to be true.

Yesterday, I went out again, hoping to confirm that the fish were back… I dove the same spot where I saw all the action 72 hours prior. The water was clear but alas there was nothing, desert, no life, even the little aquarium stuff seemed to have vanished. What a bummer! I dove the clean blue dead water for two hours…. all by my lonesome.

At 4 pm, I finally see one, then two cuberas. I shoot one in the mid-twenties. This was encouraging but I was still a little skeptical.

After I get the fish back to the kayak, I resume diving hoping to see more fish. I wait on a rock at about sixty feet. Stuff comes out of the edge of visibility. Soon, there are fish everywhere! I am surrounded by large cuberas! I keep my finger off the trigger, waiting for something larger than what I shot. I could have filled my kayak with twenty something pargos, but what’s the point?

I’m down on the bottom taking it all in, admiring the fish circling me, I’m still hopeful to see something in the forties, when a 400-pound sea lion comes into view. It swims with the cuberas. That thing is big and looking me up from six feet away. I’m not sure I’d want to shoot anything while he’s around. I can see where that would go! I don’t believe I have ever seen a sea lion that size. It was dark, almost black. Unfortunately, my camera was back on the kayak, out of juice. When will we get more than a few minutes of battery life on those action cameras?

By this time the sun is twenty minutes from setting. I’m an hour of paddling from my car and the wind is very, very strong. I don’t want to, but I must go. I pull my anchor and as I’m changing to my kayaking shirt, a plume of water explodes no more than 30 feet from me. I could not see what type of whale this was, but I bet it had a black and white pattern… You have to love Baja.

It’s bent shaft season also…

40 pounder the next day.

Stoned a 37 pound wahoo!

I was fishing somewhere south of La Paz.

I began my day by paddling 30 minutes and anchoring, only to find out I did not have the top part of my wetsuit… So I jumped in without my suit and took the anchor out. The seas were rough enough for me to have to turn into some swell in order to stay upright. I got back to my car after 40 minutes of paddling in rough seas. I had not eaten since 8 pm the previous night, it was 2:30 by then. The old peanuts on the car floor, those stuck in the space between my seat brackets and the carpet sure looked good to me, but I passed. Walked back to my kayak, wobbly legged and all, and proceeded to paddle back to the same spot.

The rocky coast sends waves back and creates a bit of a confused seas type of mayhem. I finally don my suit, and start fishing the sandy bottom of the steep rocky coast. I look up, towards the rocks, for some snappers. I rub the bands, do all the usual. I manage to attract small groupers but nothing I want to shoot.

I was diving super well on my empty stomach. It always gives me an extra 20 seconds. Moreover, I generally feel better while diving and I need less recuperation time when I’ve fasted for more than 12 hours. I encourage divers to try intermittent fasting lol.

I was going up and down the coast, diving the deep parts first then looking between rocks, also tried long breatholds. On some of those longer dives I attracted everything in the proximity, it looked like an aquarium…. of small tropical fish.

The sand was at about 20 meters (66 feet). It’s only 75 meters from the shores. Some rocks are a little farther and deeper. The sand goes down to 60 meters about 500 meter away from the coast. I saw some small mackerels at 27 meters (90 feet). That’s deep for a 3 pound fish that you know will likely tare. That said, I was encouraged to look further out.

Sure enough, there were the long thin barracudas type fish we often see here (not the needle-nosed ones). I dove down to the bottom a few times. Fish came to check me out. I slapped the water and swam farther away until I could not reach the sand anymore… well I did not want to. There was no reason to go down at 30 meters or more, only to see sand. The action was on top.

As I swam against the current the get back in position, I finally saw it. A nice sized wahoo almost on the surface. I fumbled to point my gun and took a shot from the surface. I hate shooting from the surface since the movement often makes me miss my mark. I could have fired earlier. Instead I got as close as I could before taking my shot. It was a difference of one and half seconds perhaps lol. I knew where the spine was but I never expected to hit it like this!


Le documentaire complet de Marc Wattrelot! TV show, full version now available!

Marc a pris les choses en main! Nous avons enfin une version complète du documentaire dans lequel Mathieu Gingras, Valentine Thomas, et moi, partons en camper à travers le Québec. Un excellent travail de Marc Wattrelot!

I spent 7 days in a camper with Valentine Thomas and Mathieu Jutras Gingras, going around the province of Quebec.

50 pound wahoo taken with my snapper gun

December 14, 2018.

I was diving an hour from La Paz. I was looking for snappers and groupers. That day I found very little fish. When I finally did, they were hiding in holes past 25 meter (80 feet) and they were not big. I got a yellow snapper at 26 meters and a grouper at 24. The current did not help make things any easier. I’m not complaining about the difficulties. It’s the sort of action I prefer above all other type of spearfishing. I get to exercise and have a challenge…

Every time I went down, I found myself 100 meter from my point of descent. I either kept drifting far from my kayak or I had to swim a lot, so I decided to pull the anchor and keep it in my hands. That way I’d be able to drift without care and use the weight of the anchor to go down without kicking as much. I hoped to undo the anchor from the surface but, as usual, the grappling wedged itself in the most unlikely crack.

I took a few breaths and went down to retrieve my 3 pound grappling, my gun in hand.

When I finally reached the anchor (beginning of the video), I had to wiggle it quite a bit so it would let go. Since I had been diving past 25 meter for over an hour, it was not very taxing. I even decided to keep the grappling with me on the way up. I could have let it go and pulled it from the surface, but I expected it find another crevasse (see Murphy).

I had the super long 150 cm gun with me. I use it more and more for snapper (other story).

30 feet from the surface, a shape appeared. It was a wahoo. I knew it even though I have not seen those very often anywhere around Montreal or Rhode Island.

I turned my extremely long gun towards it and closed the distance by changing my direction just so.
I was fishing for snappers and grouper, so I had a reel and a Tahitian shaft. This was not a bluewater setup, but I had a good shot and I took it. The fish torpedoed! Wheeez! The reel turned like crazy. The fish disappeared (the footage is eloquent).

My kayak was right beside me when I surfaced. This was quite convenient. I tied the gun to it. I now had the kayak for a float and I reduced my chances of getting entangled. This fish was powerful enough that I didn’t want to test what would happen it I got snagged.

I played the wahoo as much as possible. I was almost at the end of the 30 meters of line in my reel. It didn’t matter, the kayak could move and I kept the fish from going far. It took ten minutes, but I finally put my hand in the gills…

The fish did not fit inside the kayak, the cooler or my car. No matter, I was a very happy person.

The adventure continued… When I got to shore, the sun was down. I took pictures etc… but my routine was changed by the fish. And I forgot the camera! I found out once I was home, all excited to see the footage… Man did I look into that bag and on the floor of my car.

50.1 pounds

I had to go back to get it, but it was dard! Since I dodged cows in the dark all they way back to La Paz, I had to wait for morning. I even passed a SUV that had hit one a few minutes prior. Anyway, going back was out of the question… so I put my alarm on (not something I do in La Paz very often).

Driving back the next day, I’m shopping cameras in my mind… but behold, it was waiting for me in the pebbles, with the wahoo footage in it’s little brain!

First gun I made, the victoriaville hockey gun

I made this gun 12 years ago. I found these old pages in the archives… I still use that gun regularly. Further down you’ll see my second hockey gun as well as the mech of a white oak speargun I used in Puerto Rico ages ago.

Hockey stick gun with trigger activated line release! It started out as a test for a mechanism I wanted to build but I got inspired by how straight and sturdy the stick was.

The retainer.

Holds 6 or 6.5 mm shafts with mono looped at the back.

The line release system…

Boy oh boy finaly a truly capable line release!

Setting the handle with epoxy.

I initially thought of keeping the Victoriaville logo and paint job for fun but the wood is really nice.

I built a 100 cm as well

Now that’s a line release!

A loaded gun in the house! Notice that the band follows the shaft perfectly.

The first hockey gun aka “victoriaville gun” ended up being one of my favorites but only after I added wood on the sides to make it neutral. Right now that gun will stay perfectly still midwater with the shaft inside. I have added no lead to it. Here are pictures of it now :

bands are aligned automatically…

JJ waiting for fish at the dam… The gun appears short on this picture but it’s a full 90 cm fitted with a 6 mm shaft and a 16 mm band. The gun shoots like magic.

The second generation hockey gun gained from my previous experience. First I put maple on both sides from the start. The mechanism is made of 3/16 inch 316 stainless. The guard is smaller and fits inside the stock but is still held in place by the pins. I thought about using a casette design but that beats the purpose. Casettes just don’t feel the same. Seing the mech in action is part of the fun.

Obviously I have to shape the maple from it’s present block appearance. It’s a 100.

I will also reduce the distance between the back of the handle and the trigger to ressemble the Marc Valentine specifications.

I finally finished the sanding and mechanism.

I have to finish the guard.

Again, I chose to align the bands with the shaft. Notice the line pin, I borowed that idea from a european gun maker (Deep).

In the water this gun shoots very straight. The one band is plenty strong enough for the 6 mm shaft. You can barely see it reach the end of two wraps of shooting line.

If you let the gun go in fresh water the tip will eventually sink. My guess is that it will be crazy neutral in salt water which is just great.

For those not sure how to make a wishbone, here is a simple solution:

I get a lot of questions about making the mechanism. The thickness of the metal on this picture is 3/16 but the grade is 316 (304 will do but it will eventually rust).
As you can see on these pictures there is no tool investment involved in making a mechanism as opposed to working the wood. I’ve used electric grinders to make the previous mechs but I think I will stick with the metal saw from now on. One tip, make the holes before you draw the rest of the part.

In the rough.

This is about 40 minutes of work with handtools. It’s not the mech in the 2nd hockey gun. It’s going into a 110 with an oak core that I’m building right now. Once filed the mech will be smaller and the two pins somewhat closer than shown here.

150 cm speargun may be the best for Baja

December 1st, 2018

Weather Underground was predicting 10 km/h winds from the NW, so I drove to Ventanas in the hope of getting one of the few flat-water days of the area. I don’t particularly like Ventanas or Sargento, it’s too shallow and the spots are way sandy, but I do visit once in a while, just because.

As I reached the desert crossroad, I saw the large Mexican flag waving in the wind… Indicating wind much stronger than 10 km/h coming from the South East, the very worst scenario. I drove to Ventana anyway. Sure enough, the baby boomers we out with their kites, doing their jumpy thingies, their left and right stuff, and generally going nowhere with prohibitively expensive wings.

No sandstorm peeling my car’s paintjob, yet looking at the white caps, I turned towards the shelter of mountains further south.
One reason I did not mind going to Ventana was that I would not have to face the Saturday fishing mayhem of other spots… Arriving at the parking lot, I drove past twenty trailers. Fortunately, many of them already had their boat loaded. There were still about ten of them out there, each one sure to buzz by my kayak and my dive flag.

The sea was flat, but I felt the incoming tide.

On the water, I was by myself. I guessed all the other fishermen were out South… because you wouldn’t want to be at the island with the wind, unannounced or not. Looking far to the horizon, I could see some of them, maybe five miles out.

I started by taking a target out to test my 150 cm speargun. Last year I did not have much success with it and thought perhaps the aim was off… Confounding me, it turned out to be super precise with one or two bands, one or two hands, in any configuration… So out I went to the deeper spots I had identified.

I did something I rarely do. I got my float out. I dove the same area without a float a few days before and I was not always comfortable trusting my reel at 26 meters of depth (almost 90 feet), and now I held a 150 cm behemoth of a speargun.

The visibility was around 20 feet. Which is good for this area. My anchor indicated a dept of 18 meters, but that could mean it was on top of a boulder… I went down and sure enough I leveled out at 22 meters. First dive, snappers come to me. Small cuberas, but I take a shot since I want to test that gun.

– Foompt! makes the gun.

Right in the head, the fish does not struggle one bit.

I shot four fish like this. Each in the head. The only one that struggled even a little was the yellow snapper (9 pounds, quite a large specimen since the record is 13 pounds). Now I’m all confused. Can a 150 cm speargun be the right choice for Baja, even for shore diving?

150 cm renesub speargun, 9 pound yellow snapper