Legends of Diving Articles


'Bottom Scratcher' Spear Gun
by Dr. Sam Miller
© 2010 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.

My all time favorite spear gun is a "Bottom Scratcher." It was designed/developed in 1939 by Wally Potts and perfected by the Bottom Scratcher spear fishing club of San Diego, California. It is the original California long gun, constructed of by the joining of a simple tube SS handle containing a one piece trigger to a 1&1/4 inch dowel barrel, and a long balance bar that was either made of wood or SS.

In the very early days if spear fishing around 1950 Wally sold a Bottom Scratcher gun to Paul Hoss a member of the Dolphins spear fishing club which had won the very first spear fishing meet in Laguna Beach in the Summer of 1950. When he sold it to Paul who lived in a suburb of LA, Jack Prodanovich is reported to have said to Wally that "Selling a gun up north was like selling guns to the Yankees." And he was correct. Paul disassembled the gun did some modifications that improved the trigger pull and began producing a very close copy affectionately became known as the "Hoss gun" by the "Yankees" of Los Angeles and Orange County. The Hoss copy was cosmetically and functionally identical in every respect except for the Sturgil muzzle which was the muzzle of choice for all guns used by serious Yankee spear fishermen. The guns which were made by Wally and Paul were all custom made therefore no two were exactly identical. It was reported substantially less than 100 were made in a 30 plus year period by Wally and some where between 20 and 30 by Paul in about a 10 year period. Needless to say they were difficult to obtain and are now scarce and highly prised by those who own them, or collectors of diving memorabilia.

Known through out the spear fishing fraternity as the "California long gun" and on occasion the "Long Tom," they were made for long shots at big fish in then the clear unpolluted waters of SoCal.

I was fortunate to have ended up with two. My own personal custom gun and a friend's who after being chased out of the water by a shark decided that spear fishing was not for him, so he sold it to me a half what a bare unrigged new one costs -$20.00.

My guns measure 7 foot 9 inches plus the point which can have many configurations and lengths adding as much as a foot if the Prodanovich point impact aka power head was used. It has a sling pull of 4 foot 8 inches and the 5/16 diameter SS arrow rides on the first rails to be installed on a spear gun. It has a balance bar that extends approximately 15 inches behind the trigger mechanism.

It was made during the era of the kettle cured rubber. I can't recall when surgical rubber for spear gun slings became popular but I think in the mid 1950s. I used 28 or less inches of surgical tubing for power when it became popular and readily available. I do vividly recall the first time I test fired it at Ships Rock off Catalina using the then new surgical slings...the Arbalete type slide ring exploded totally disintegrated ! The arrow went flying in to the blue water never to be seen again by man--or at least me...so slide rings from aerospace material was custom made. A number of years later I influenced Joe La Monica who developed the Voit/ Mares/JBL gun to began producing a very strong SS slide ring based on my design

My first and my favorite gun has a custom (aka home made) "San Diego" style "dump pack" constructed from a piece of SS sheet, a SS Piano hinge, several lengths of WW 11 webbing and a SS rod as the release pin. The dump pack contained 200 feet of yellow 1/8 Polypropylene line fan folded into small bunches secured by two pieces of a bicycle inner tube (they won't rot) terminating with a small WW11 water purification bag modified into an automatic Co2 inflation float. It has a 15 inch SS balance bar

Gun number two is equipped with a huge six inch "Riffes Reel," produced and marketed about 30 years ago by a now defunct San Diego company by the name of Aquacraft. The reel holds about a jillione miles of hard lay tuna trolling nylon line. I can not recall how much it holds and I have never been reeled there fore cannot accurately state with any reasonable amount of certainty the amount of line on the Riffe's reel but it is a lot! It originally came equipped with a 15 inch balance bar, which the former owner trimmed to eight inches. I found this too short and extended it to it's original length of 15 inches by the addition of a piece of 1 &1/4 wood dowel.

Do I still use the guns" Heck no, especially when one Bottom Scratcher/Hoss gun sold on E bay several years ago for $2200.00 plus dollars.

I have several custom wood guns I made about 20 or more years ago that I currently use, but another story for another time.

But-- I still have wonderful memories of the Bottom Scratcher and years gone by.

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