by Hannah Pennebaker , October 05, 2019
October is here. For most Puget Sound anglers, this means coho salmon. But for dozens of fishermen lined up along every saltwater pier, fall means squid fishing! Puget Sound market squid live in the depths in warmer weather, but come in shallow during the fall and winter months in massive schools to spawn. These squid are small, less than 12 inches, but incredibly tasty. They make for great seafood pasta or calamari. I've also used them as bait for lingcod, or traded them to other sportsmen for venison! Their uses are numerous. The limit on squid is generous; 10 pounds or a gallon bucket full. All you need is a saltwater fishing license, a bucket, and a light rod and reel. It's a great activity when you've put the boat away for the season. Anyone can do it with the proper technique, and some knowledge about squid behavior.
One of the best things about squidding is that you can use almost any rod and reel effectively. However, the veteran squidders use long and light rods to detect the squid's subtle strike. Baitcasters and spinning reels are equally at home here, as are braid and monofilament line. As long as you can jig with it, you'll catch squid.
One of the most controversial aspects of squidding is what color and size of jig squid prefer. Squid jigs are small, oval shaped lures with a row of sharp spikes at the bottom. They come in all shapes and sizes, and some even glow or light up. Squid do not bite, but attack these jigs, and the spikes ensnare their tentacles. Some squidders swear by a certain color combination or brand of jig. Many sports stores in the area sell jigs, but in my experience the best ones are made and sold by other fishermen on the dock. There are 3D printed jigs, squid shaped ones, and molded ones. Different colors and shapes work better some nights than others. Squid can be picky!
Another thing to experiment with out there is how many jigs to use. Some squidders use one jig, while others use two or three in sequence. Jigs have different weights, so always use your heaviest jig on the bottom and lightest on top to prevent tangles. A trick to see your line better in the dark is to run a bright colored corky on your line. It's a good idea to look around and see what jigs successful squidders that night are using.
The main way to catch these tasty squid is by jigging, or quickly lifting your pole up and back down to to simulate an injured baitfish. Watch other squidders to get an idea of what motion to use. To start with, you can vertically jig under your light, but many squidders will cast out into the darkness and jig their way back to the dock. Squid lurk in the darkness and snatch their prey in the edge of the light. Experiment with all kinds of techniques and you will hook up. Squid travel in large schools, and you will see ghostlike streaks in the water when they pass by.
In all other kinds of fishing, when you have a fish on the line, the rods bends down. The oddity of squid fishing is that when you have a squid strike, your pole tip will go up. Reel in when this happens, and if your rod feels heavier, you've got a squid on! Once you bring it in, simply hold your jig over your bucket and turn it upside down to drop the squid in.
While squid can be caught during the day, the most productive time to do so is at night. Light attracts small fish that the squid feed on. Aspiring squidders have two options when it comes to their light source. One option is to make use of the lights at piers, or jig next to someone with a light. The alternative is to buy your own light. If you are just getting into squidding, I suggest the former.
If you go to Les Davis or Point Defiance, you will see squidders lined up with halogen lights attached to generators. Some docks such as Redondo ban the use of generators. They are loud and unpleasant smelling. For these reasons I suggest buying an LED squid light and a battery. Home Depot and Amazon sell good LED lights, and an old car battery works just fine. Small submersible squid lights are another option, although they don't seem to be quite as effective as above water lights.
Cleaning and Cooking
Once you've got your bucket of squid home, the hard work begins! Start off by either twisting or cutting off the mantle of the squid (the top part) just above the eyes. Remove and discard all the guts from the mantle and wash it out, then make another cut below the eyes to remove the tentacles. You can gently scrape off the skin for a cleaner presentation, or leave it on. Cut the mantle into rings for calamari, or fill it to make stuffed squid. Bread with egg, flour, and panko, then fry for a few minutes a side to make fresh calamari. It's also great in pasta dishes! Alternatively, freeze it for bait or for future trading opportunities for fish or game meat.
If you've ever wanted to join the crowds of squid fishermen and bring home your very own bucket of squid, now is the time. Schools are starting to show up north in Seattle and Edmonds. The action will only get hotter as the weather gets colder. A word of caution, squid have sharp beaks and can give nasty bites. They also squirt ink when caught, but thankfully it is water soluble. Redondo, Edmonds, Les Davis, Dash Point, and Seacrest Pier all have dedicated groups of squidders. It is a very welcoming community, so don't be afraid to jump in and get your limit!
Hannah Pennebaker graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in Environmental Studies. She enjoys both freshwater and saltwater fishing adventures in the Puget Sound area with her fishing group, the Straw Hat Fishermen.