Squid - How to catch them


“Who wants to go squid fishing?” I asked my fishing buddies, and in return they looked at me with disbelief; why would anyone want to catch squid?

I had initially reacted similarly upon hearing that many people were getting into this sport. After all, they don’t fight very hard, tend to be relatively small in size, and look pretty weird.

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However, as increasing numbers of anglers are passionately dedicating themselves to pursuing these creatures, I figured there had to be a reason, so decided to give it a decent crack.

As it turned out, I failed dismally the first few times, but this meant that when I finally started to ‘crack the code’ and catch a few, I was overcome by a feeling of euphoria. It was the same sort of feeling I’d experienced upon catching my first snapper on a jig or, more recently, upon landing my first snapper on soft-bait.

All I knew was I wanted more, as it can be a lot of fun getting out at night, standing on the rocks or a wharf with your buddies, chewing the fat while waiting for a squid to come along and grab your lure. In fact, I now realise that by constantly talking about it and thinking about it, I have become fully addicted to this highly specialized aspect of fishing.

Much of this is no doubt due to it being so different from anything I’ve done before. Consequently, you need to become a sponge for information, be receptive to rather unusual techniques and tactics, and ideally fork out more cash for rods, reels and lures. Yes, squid fishing – like any other form of specialist fishing – requires specialised gear for the full potential to be realised. Having said that though, most light spin and soft-plastic outfits will get you started and in with a reasonable chance of success.

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Squid can be successfully targeted from the land or the boat, and I have enjoyed both, but in this article we will concentrate on what I have learnt while fishing land based.

The right gear

Let’s start with the rod. When I first started, I used my soft-plastic set, but soon discovered the rod was too heavy and short, making it feel as if I was fishing for snapper with a stand-up game-fishing outfit.

Specialist squid rods really are a joy to use, and can be anywhere from 2.3m (7.5’) to 2.75m (9’) in length. Made from graphite, they are very light, weighing between 110 and 140g, but also very delicate, so you risk breaking them by using them to target large, powerful fish.

The better rods have low-profile guides – unlike those generally used on traditional spinning rods or soft-plastic rods – which effectively reduce the line’s spiralling effect as it comes off the spool. This, in turn, minimises the amount of excess line produced, and enables anglers to cast into the wind more efficiently. I have been using a rod called a Calamari Stick, and this should be available in NZ shortly.

The ideal reels are small spinning reels with low-capacity spools that hold around 150m of braided line. Available in various qualities, like anything else in life, you pretty much get what you pay for.

As for the mainline, I find PE braided line works better than a fused line, and believe there will soon be specialised braided lines available for squid fishing – if they aren’t here already. These are very fine and limp and of very high quality, so expect to pay the price.

Light fluorocarbon leader is the standard for trace material, and tends to range from 2.7kg to 4.5kg, depending on the size of squid anticipated.

The best knot to join the fluorocarbon to braid is a PR knot, as it slips through the guides beautifully, but a back-to-back Uni knot will suffice.

Lure choice

A huge range of squid lures are available in all sorts of colours, compositions, sizes, weights and shapes. I prefer models in pink or orange, as well as those with natural baitfish colour schemes. There are a few brands around, but it’s usually worth purchasing one of the more expensive ones, as the cheaper ones tend not to work as well.

As also mentioned, the jigs come in different weights too, and picking the right one is often vital to success. For example, the three sizes I’ve been using are 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5, with 2.5 being the lightest and 3.5 the heaviest. Try to select a weight that will allow your lure to slowly sink down towards the sea bed.

If not catching much, try changing your lure’s weight, size or colour, as these factors can make a big difference.

There are also two very different finishes used on squid jigs. One consists of a cloth-like covering over the squid’s body, which creates texture, while the other is smooth and usually also incorporates see-through plastic containing shiny, reflective internal inserts. I have been advised to use the textured body lures at night and the shiny, clear-plastic bodied versions in the daytime, and so far this has largely proved a good strategy.

Squid basics

The life cycle of a squid is an interesting one, as after only a year or so, they lay their eggs and die. During this time however, they feed intensely, and their ultimate size is largely a reflection of their ability to consistently find and catch food. Consequently they can be very aggressive, and sometimes you’ll see them competing with each other for your lure while retrieving. When this happens, let your lure sink, as most of the time squid take lures while wafting down through the water column. This aspect is very important, so always remember it when developing your technique.

The start of the season is around April and tends to finish around January. Early on, the squid are often smaller, but as the season goes on and they eat more and more, their size increases. The season peaks from August to December, and although the biggest ones are often encountered in October and November, you can still come across a hefty specimen at any time.

You will find most of your squid around rocks and seaweed with a bit of current nearby, as they like to be able to hide from predators, as well as ambush their prey. There are heaps of potential places to try, and many areas will never have had a squid jig cast out into them before. I have caught squid in almost every place I have tried, so give your local spots a go.

Wharves are often very good for squid, and you’ll often be able to tell if squid have been caught recently, as you may well see squid-ink stains on the decking.

Although I have heard of a few catches in the daytime, night time tends to be more productive, making squid fishing a mostly nocturnal activity.

Possible techniques

I use three different techniques to take on the various situations encountered, with each requiring a different rig to get the best from it.

The first and most successful technique is called egging, and involves tying one squid jig onto the end of a light fluorocarbon leader. It is used by the more experienced squid fishers, and requires good equipment as well as some persistence while learning.

The basic technique involves casting your lure out and letting it sink down to the depth where you think the squid are likely to be holding. Then, when it has reached the required depth, the angler whips his rod aggressively two or three times to dart the lure up through the water column before allowing it to fall back down again. Next, commence a slow retrieve, accompanied by a few rod twitches.

The trick is to vary the lure’s sink time to see if you can determine where the squid are holding in the water column. Once you have figured this out, you can keep your lure in the right zone by timing its sink time, before whipping your rod to keep it in the right zone.

This method is fun and challenging, and if the right rod is used (i.e. a specialised squid rod), you can actually feel if your lure is touching the bottom or brushing over the top of seaweed, which can be an advantage.

The second technique I use incorporates a float to hang the squid lure at the preferred depth – a popular shallow water method, as you do not have to worry about timing your twitches to avoid being snagged on the bottom.

The floats used are made for the task, enabling the distance from your lure to the float to be adjusted, and they also have a hole for a glow stick, so you can see where the float is at night time – a great help.

The third rig is a kind of squid-lure ledger rig, with two squid lures branching off the rig’s backbone, above a small ball sinker on the bottom. It’s a rig that suits wharf fishing, as you can cast it out and leave it. Most experienced squid fishermen use this technique, placing the rod against the wharf railing while deploying a second rod for egging, as described earlier.

Fortunately, a few fishing shops now specialize in squid fishing. The guys I met at Angler NZ in Wairau Park are particularly passionate about their squid fishing and only too happy to help with rigs and techniques. They also go fishing together in groups, and generally don’t mind beginners tagging along.

The catch

Upon hooking a squid and bringing it to the surface, be aware that they squirt ink out through a vent between their tentacles, so make sure you point it at your mate. If that’s not an option, lift it just clear of the water and allow it to squirt, before smoothly lifting it onto land. But if it still looks fat, it’s probably still loaded!

The flavour of fresh squid is superb, and I rate it up there with scallops and crayfish. To clean them you need to remove the insides. Be aware there is an ink sack inside the squid, so if you can remove the insides without damaging this sack you will create much less mess. This is done by running a butter knife around the inside of the tube to separate the innards from the squid-tube wall, enabling you to pull the tentacles and insides out as one. Next, remove the cartilage spine (gladius), which looks like a plastic feather and runs lengthwise inside the tube. Finally, remove all the skin, made easier by also removing the flaps (which are also edible), give it a good wash and cut it into strips or rings.

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Catching squid is an absolute blast. As well as being challenging and a lot of fun, it’s also highly addictive – as I’ve found out. It provides an excellent opportunity for social times with mates, too, and you don’t need a boat. Best of all, only a couple of hours after dinner are needed to catch top quality seafood, so have a go and see what you think.

Squid ledger rig

The ledger rig has two squid lures branching off the backbone above a small ball sinker. (Again, cord is used here to make the rig easier to see; light mono or fluorocarbon is used in practice).

Adjustable float rig

An adjustable float rig is popular, as this allows the squid-jig to be presented at a specific depth. A small Cyalume stick can be inserted, making it easy to keep track of at night. (Cord is used here to make the rig easier to see; light mono or fluorocarbon is used in practice).

2011 - Paul Senior
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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