Spearfishing is a popular activity practiced for recreation and subsistence along the tropical and subtropical coast of Brazil. Although being an economically important activity, the influence of species traits driving target preferences among recreational spearfishers have been poorly explored. Spearfishing is highly selective towards large trophy species, therefore its effects on top predators, which are generally threatened, have been widely reported as detrimental. Here we test if species traits are useful to predict spearfishers’ target preferences and the relationship between spearfishers’ experience with catch's size and composition in a subtropical Brazilian rocky reef. Large macrocarnivores species and species that form schools associated with the pelagic habitat are predicted to form the core of target preferences by spearfishers. More experienced spearfishers captured larger fish than less experienced ones. Herbivores and macro-carnivorous fishes were the most important trophic groups contributing to catch composition biomass, being parrotfishes (Scarinae) the most selected. Spearfishers with more years of practice acknowledged that stocks of many targeted species have been depleted. Spearfishers claim that spearfishing is sustainable because their catches are selectively captured, but such selectivity is highly dependent on fisher experience, frequency and body size of available targets. Most importantly, spearfishing is highly selective for large and vulnerable individuals, especially big old fat fecund females, which are the individuals that need to be protected most. There is an urgent need to control species identity and size of captures to avoid stocks colapse and local functional extinctions.