July does see the start of the very cold water in Victoria, with temperatures in Port Phillip bottoming out in July and August at around 11C.
The waters in Bass Strait will be slightly warmer but all is not doom and gloom as the well prepared free-diver with good thermal protection can still enjoy some serious hunting and gathering.
The crayfish have still been in reasonable numbers (please note that it is now closed season for females but males still are allowed) and the scallops in Port Phillip are at their best around this time of the year. Fair catches of other reef species can also be landed and a feed is always available when the weather is right.
It will not be long before the calamari turn up in Port Phillip in numbers so keep an eye out at the regular haunts such as Queenscliff, Portsea, St Leonards and so on. I have landed good catches in July but August will see better numbers of calamari turn up to lay their eggs in the shallows.
How a keen spearfisher can stay warm in the peak of winter in Victoria is probably more important than the fishing. A quality 5mm wetsuit with good gloves and booties will mean that your average free-diver can stay comfortable in 11C water temperature for 3-4 hours.
A quality wetsuit has ideally two garments: a full long john which covers legs and chest region and a hood attached jacket covering head, arms and double layer over the chest region, meaning 10mm of neoprene here. This suit should fit well and not allow water to easily enter. Most quality suits have seals on the face, wrists and ankles to prevent water flowing into the suit and onto your body. Another unique feature of some modern suits is silver titanium lining on the inside of the wetsuit. This acts like a space blanket and reflects body heat and keeps the diver extra-warm and thus increases comfort. They also are much easier to get into and do not require soapy water like open cell wetsuits.
An under vest can also be worn by those who feel the cold or by those who want to extend their dive time. These vests usually come in 3-4 mm thickness and are a great accessory and I wear them when the water drops below 12C. Be sure to wear them UNDER your long john for extra warmth.
The value of quality gloves and booties are often overlooked by some spearfishers. They obviously add protection for your feet and hands but can also add great warmth as well. Some divers I know get very cold during winter dives despite having reasonable 5mm suits simply because they do not have good gloves and booties.
Some gloves are made from rubber or leather and offer ok protection but little warmth. These are fine for summer diving when water temperatures are more favourable. In winter, divers do generally require neoprene gloves to offer warmth as well as protection. Ideal thickness is 3mm although if you are only targeting crayfish, abalone or scallops a thicker pair of gloves in 4-5mm will add additional warmth but will restrict movement.
The ideal thickness for booties is 5-7mm in winter. Remember though that by increasing booties thickness you will need to check that your fins are still going to fit comfortably. Quality booties should offer protection on the sole of the foot to allow for walking on rocks and to cater for land based diving.Reads: 2193