Words: Paul Carter Images: Kosta Linardos & Paul Carter
In recent years in Australia we have experienced a boom in the popularity of fishing for squid, 10 years ago many thought it would just be another fad and something that would only last a few years, clearly they were wrong, it is more popular today than ever before.
Before targeting any fish it is important to understand the fish itself and also understand how it feeds as this will make it a lot easier to target them. Whether you need them for bait or a feed being able to locate and catch squid will depend on your knowledge of what makes them tick. To get started let’s look at what squid do not have in comparison to your run of the mill fish species. A squid does not have a lateral line. Most scaled and skinned fish have a lateral line that runs along the body to feel vibration and movement in the water, a squid cannot feel movement of food in the water. Although squid have scent pits on their head near the eyes, they do not pass water through them, this means that a squid cannot smell bait like a fish with gills does by filtering scent through them, a squid does have a gill system for breathing but most of the oxygen required by a squid comes through the fine membrane on the outer body of the squid. Knowing this means we understand that squid can’t hunt via vibration or smell like most other fish, however, what they do have is a massive eye. Squid hunt by sight alone, almost 2/3rds of their brain is used for vision.
When looking at the brain of squids it is massive in comparison to other marine animals, in fact a squid of only 30cm has a brain bigger than a 3 meter great white shark. Something else that makes these critters stand out from other fish is there is no bones, the hardest part of the squid is its beak. The beak serves a very important purpose in relation to the brain, unlike all other animals the oesophagus of a squid goes straight through the centre of the squid brain; a little bit like a garden hose going through a doughnut. The sharp and powerful beak enables a squid to make its food small enough to pass through the brain without causing it any damage or death. As the squid grows so does the beak, making it possible to get more food to convert to energy, as the body grows it needs more energy; so in turn greater and larger amounts of food needs to be consumed. So with a full 180 degree turn we get back to the fact that squid only live for less than one year, the reason they only live for such a short time is because they can physically no longer get enough food into their system to sustain life.
One thing that a squid has that other cephalopods do not have is 10 tentacles, of the 10 they have 2 that serve a different purpose, we call these 2 tentacles candles. The candles have a reach of twice their body length meaning that a 30cm squid has a 60cm reach. This could be the reason why no one attempts to catch an Architeuthis or giant squid. An animal that spends its life hunting and grabbing food with candles that can reach double its body length means a 20 foot squid can tear you out of your boat from 40 feet away. As mentioned, the candles are the two arm like appendages that extend out to grab food. On the inside tips of these candles are suckers and cells very similar to taste buds.
They will extend the candles often to check out something that is not quite right before grabbing and retracting back to the beak. So looking back lets simplify all this, squid cannot feel or smell food, they have great vision and anything they can hold they can eat. Now that we know all this, clearly our preparation in targeting squid has got to be sight related! Before we all start putting all this into practice there is another important factor about squid vision that must be recognised. All squid with the exception of the firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans) are colour blind. So now you’re thinking, “with all these nice coloured jigs on the wall at the tackle shop am I the biggest sucker in the world”?
Well you’re not and you can feel better knowing that the colour on the jigs serves a very important purpose. Squid can see three of the six UV light spectrums that we cannot. This gives the squid better vision than you or I but in monochrome. They use different light intensity to differentiate between colours. Therefore the assistance of better UV vision by polarisation means that it is all about getting the light to bounce better off your selected bait or jig to make it more visible, and getting the best contrast you can from the outer texture of your selected bait and or lure.
Where they live
So now we know a bit about the squid and how they hunt, it is equally important to know where they do this as there is no point fishing for squid where you will not ever find them. For many there has been a common misconception that squid only inhabit water up to 4 meters deep, considering that most of my squid bashing is done in depths that exceed 8 meters it’s time to start thinking outside the box. Calamari squid can be found in water from less than 1 meter to depths greater than 35 meters. Now that’s a lot of water to cover so narrowing down your search to habitat that squid will often hunt and feed in is imperative to success. Start in shallower areas and look at the bottom structure. If you are in a boat with a depth sounder, learn to recognise what the bottom looks like translated via your sounder image in areas where you can both catch squid and see the bottom. Predominantly you should be looking for broken ground made up of heavy weed and reef but more so vegetation than rock or reef. Once you have that part sussed out, finding squid in deeper water will be a breeze. For those who are land-based find an elevated area where you can survey your location and pick out the heavy dark patches as your target casting areas or if you sitting at home in front of the computer use applications like google earth or near map to search out new areas.
Targeting squid with bait and jags
Before getting too involved in technical jargon and modern equipment it is important to recognise that there is more than one way to catch a squid, you do not need to own the best million dollar outfit or expensive jigs to get you started. All you will need is a handline a float and a bait squid jag, when you have the advantage of clear water a squid can see a baited jig from a long way away and although not the most effective way of targeting squid, it will get you started. Baits like silver whiting, grass whiting, pilchards or tommy rough can be skewered onto the bait jag. A a 10 cent snap swivel with a sinker and float running on the line with a match or float stop enables you to vary the depth you wish your bait to sit at. It is as simple as lowering your bait into the current and feeding out as much line as you desire to get your bait in the best position to cover the best ground you can. A squid float looks pretty tough to pull under the water but rest assured that squid can pull a squid float well below the surface without any difficulty. When placing your baits on the jag remember to ensure that plenty of barb is exposed and do not push the baits all the way down into the barbs, when a squid grabs your bait you want to ensure that the barbs penetrate well and if your baits are pushed hard into the barbs you have less chance of the barbs working as designed. This whole set up should cost you less than $15 including the bait.
Egi: The gear and how it works.
By far the most effective way of targeting and catching squid is to use an egi (pr.egg-ee). An egi or commonly known as a squid jig is a lure designed to dart and shoot through the water and then slowly sink to the bottom replicating a bait fish or prawn. The egi is not some new buzz word or marketing tool of the big tackle companies to sell more gear, and in fact the egi has been around for longer than all the tackle companies combined. To many that look at an egi there is a general belief that they are all pretty much the same, however, the body the head and the weight all serve very different purposes and all contribute to the way they swim and work in the water. The number one feature you will find in all egi is the shape, there is a very good reason why they all have the bend in the back, this is what causes your egi to shoot up off the bottom. Depending on the angle of the bend in the back will depend on how sharp it ascends, the more prominent the angle the more resistance from water on the back of the lure and the sharper its ascent, and obviously the flatter the angle, the less the jig will jump up and more attention is focused on its left and right action.
When selecting your egi style or shape consider where the squid are most likely to be in the water column, when squid are high up in the water you will want a jig that jumps higher covering more of the depth but less ground, and when they are holding deep and low select a flatter jig that is more effective staying low and close to the bottom. One thing that I will say, when selecting which egi to buy, is that quality is important for many reasons. The main advantage of a quality egi is the way it moves in the water and its increased visibility in the water. A good egi will hold in the water level at 45 degrees or less, it will not plummet to the bottom, it will sit upright on descent and will not roll or spiral down. It should look like a baitfish or prawn as it both moves and sinks.
As previously mentioned I spoke about making the light bend well off your egi. This is done with the assistance of foils and reflective tapes on the body of the lure, light refracts differently off different coloured reflective surfaces. You may have never noticed the foil that sits under the cloth of an egi but you should take this into account. A simple rule of thumb to remember is red foil for low light or night time, gold foil for morning and afternoons and all other colours with high sun. Select the outer colour or cloth to suit water clarity. Natural like colours browns and reds for clear water and bright colours for dirty water. Although squid are colour blind the selection of colour is of the utmost importance for making your selected lure more visible, as we all now know squid only hunt by sight so making your egi more visible is half the battle, if they cannot see it they can not eat it! I cannot stress the importance of this. With vision being the first half of the battle the second half of the battle is action. Getting the lure to respond to the action you impart on a rod is important along with keeping in touch with your lure to feel squid tickling your lure.
Most egi weigh from 12 to 35 grams, they are bulky and have both significant water and air resistance, most people who start squid fishing do so with a light soft plastics style rod rated from 1-3kg and a nice and light leader because that’s what they have been lead to believe from other lesser forms of fishing media than Hooked Up Magazine. Knowing that a squid jig weighs in excess of 12g, make your rod selection based on cast weight. Most 1-3kg outfits designed for soft plastics are rated to cast 5 to 7 grams, so hanging something twice the rods rating off the end is going to restrict your casting ability and limit the action you can put into the lure. Egi rods are no joke and yes they are very different than your normal plastics style rod. I know using my preferred outfit rod a Gan Craft Violence Jerk I can put my full strength into a cast without worrying about the rod snapping and without losing any distance in casting because it is designed to cast those weights and to punch an egi through the water, it is not rated by grams rather it is rated by egi size making it easier to select a rod for the size of jig you are most often going to use. Another feature of any decent egi rod are low ride guides, this serves 2 purposes, firstly it keeps the line close to the blank ensuring that the line does not belly between guides creating line drag, this benefits your casting and secondly with the line closer to the blank you will have greater sensitivity with any bite signal.
The Egi action
Once you are all set up and ready to go it is very important to recognise that the rod is a tool to get the most out of your egi and if you do choose to buy yourself specialist gear there is no point tying on an egi and leaving your rod to sit in a rod holder, you can do that with a handline or a fibreglass rod and nylon line. The action you impart is a massive contributing factor to the end result of catching squid. I cannot stress enough the importance of remembering that squid hunt with only sight. There are various ways of using a rod to get your egi to dart left to right, shoot up off the bottom and appear as a food source, the idea like all lure fishing is to get the lure to present as a natural food source to the target species.
Over 400 hundred years ago the egi was designed to replicate bait fish after the inventor watched bait fish in a harbour dart around in sharp and short bursts and then rest. The most effective way to do this with the rod is very similar to the way you would high speed jig for demersal species. First you lift the rod up very fast, hard and sharp whilst at the same time turning the handle of the reel followed by subsequent sharp and agressive jerks of the rod making one turn of the handle for each jerk. The first lift will shoot your jig up off the bottom and for the following jerks when you lift the rod, try and return your rod tip to the same place each time, with each turn of your reel handle you should be returning between 35 and 50 cm of line on each occasion which in turn moved your jig 35 to 50cm left and right. Don’t be shy with your jerks, I fish with 3kg of drag for squid and I still pull drag on occasions so the jerks are very violent and fast.
Depending on how wide or narrow you want your egi to move will depend on how fast you work your rod, should you want your egi to travel wide you simply leave more time between jerks, this will give the egi the freedom to move further through the water, should you want to keep the movement sharp and tight then you increase the speed of the jerks preventing the egi from reaching its full distance and keeping the movement closer and tighter. If you wish to increase the height your egi reaches then rather than returning the rod tip to the same place each time, you increase the distance that your tip will travel giving more lift and a side to side momentum.
There is no rule to the amount of jerks you can or should use just remember that you will need to allow pauses, the pause is the single most important part of any action. At times when you are fishing in small isolated reef areas you do not always have to make repeated jerks, one simple sharp jerk will shoot the egi off the bottom and keep the jig from travelling The jerking will get the attention of the squid and the pause will be when the squid take the opportunity to attack the jig. You will find when the squid do attack the jig with violent action they do not do so gently, they will fully embrace the jig. When your jig is being held tight by a squid you should strike hard as if you were setting a hook into any other sort of fish, the reason for this is because a squid has a lot of strength in its hold and when they embrace the egi they do not grab the barbs, they will attack the head to try and incapacitate the prey by biting through the back bone, because of the strength if you do not strike they will feel the pressure of the line and simply let go.
Often anglers will experience catching squid on one candle, this is because either they had not committed to grabbing the lure or because pressure was applied and the squid let go of the jig and by chance got caught up on the barbs as he let go. So for any squid angler who have experienced getting the single tentacle back instead of the whole squid it is most likely because you did not strike setting the barbs into the hardest part of the squid which is the head.