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How to Catch Squid: A Beginners Guide

Robert Thornton

Squid, or calamari as they are known in some areas, are found around all of Australia’s coastline. It’s possible to catch good numbers of squid in most of our coastal reaches, however the relationship they have with anglers varies widely depending where you go. 

In Australia, several species of squid are catchable on standard tackle, although there are two main species that get the most attention: bigfin reef squid (commonly called tiger squid), and southern reef squid (usually shortened to calamari). There are a few smaller species, the most prominent being the arrow squid, a name which actually refers to a number of smaller, similar squid species. They are equally tasty and regularly show up in bags of tiger squid and calamari.

Speaking of bags, the main pull for most anglers is their eating qualities. Calamari is considered a gourmet meal just about anywhere it’s served, and being able to procure your own is incredibly satisfying. It certainly isn’t difficult to put together a feed of fresh squid, but like any angling there are tricks you can apply to get the most out of your squidding sessions.

Squid fishing doesn’t necessarily require specialist tackle, however such equipment will make this activity more enjoyable, and you’ll probably hit more squid with less effort!

Daiwa Australia has an excellent range of squid specific tackle, from rods, reels and the jigs (known in Japan as ‘egi’), but also jig storage options, and even squid dispatching tools.You really can get lost in the world of squid gear, and the other bonus is that squid tackle can be used for applications outside of squidding to great effect.  

Let’s take a look at our different species and how you can pin a few for the table!

Tiger Country

In Australia, tigers can be found from about Coffs Harbour in NSW, across northern Australia, down to about Shark Bay in Western Australia and around all the adjacent islands.

Like many species of squid, they have a short life cycle, usually only living for around a year, and this means that they need to eat a lot to sustain an incredible growth rate. In angling terms, 1kg and about a 30cm hood length is considered a good specimen, however they are capable of reaching 3-4kg, and anecdotally larger.  

Despite all these appealing qualities, tigers still don’t draw the same appreciation that southern calamari do, and in most northern areas see little angling pressure.

Brisbane-based Daiwa Pro Team member Michael Sutherland loves getting stuck into these slimy predators, and when asked why, he laughs and unhesitatingly mentions their eating qualities.

“They taste good!” he says, “It’s not really about the fight – squid don’t really fight like fish do.”

Tiger’s have a habit of venturing into very shallow water, sometimes better  measured in inches, not feet, especially in their breeding season toward the end of winter and the beginning of spring. This is when most anglers catch the biggest models, however any time outside of the hottest parts of summer can turn up good numbers of tigers.

“I like to start just before winter, but it all depends on water clarity, and how much rain we’ve been having,” Michael explains. “They usually start to move in as the water cleans up heading into winter.” 

Finding a place to start can be a little tricky, especially if you’re land-based, however Michael knows the ingredients that go into a good tiger spot.

“You want nice clear water around structure, like weed beds, coral or rocks,” Michael says, “I don’t think wind has a lot to do with it, and personally I like calm weather – the calmer the better.”

“I also find calm weather helps you to get up nice and shallow [in a boat].”

Many anglers, including Michael, choose to fish around an hour or two either.

Even if you can’t see them, they can often be hiding right under your nose, blending in with their surroundings, so it’s important to cover plenty of water and not to stick around one area for too long if you’re not getting results. Nice long casts over good-looking country between 3m and 3inches sounds like a pretty general rule, but if you make sure your jig has a good darting action and ‘fall time’ (where you allow the jig to slowly sink or suspend between rips) you’ll soon find where they’re hanging out.  

Working a jig in this way over super shallow water can sometimes see a sinking jig fouling up on structure, but Michael uses an old DIY trick when working the skinny stuff.

“Sometimes I’ll grind the weight on the jig down [using a lathe or file], and this can almost get them to suspend, allowing me to give them a long pause,” he says. “They usually eat on the pause.”

Goin’ Down South

The other main squid species in Australia, and perhaps better known than its northern cousin, is the southern reef squid, better known as southern calamari. They can be found all along our south coast, with Northern NSW and the areas just north of Perth being their northern limit in the east and west respectively. Tasmania also boasts some absolutely whopping specimens in the 2-3kg range at times.  

With a similar life cycle and general habits to tigers, they also have their own peculiarities, especially in their appearance. While equally striking to look at, they have a more slender build, however the wings (also running the length of the hood and forming a diamond-like shape) are larger in relation to their body. Their characteristic rust-brown colouration is often decorated with dark-coloured spots.  

If southerns and tigers had a beauty contest, the panel would be torn.

Australia’s southern capital cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart and Perth see great numbers of anglers fishing from rock walls, piers, kayaks and boats chasing these guys for a feed, and just like their northern counterparts, they make excellent table fare.

“I used to think of squid fishing as a winter thing, when the water is at its clearest down here,” Jesse says, “Winter is certainly the best time for numbers, but you won’t get as many larger ones.”

“I find through the warmer months they are still around, but prefer the colder water temperatures closer to the ocean itself, and these squid are in fewer numbers but larger in size.”

The waters inside Port Phillip Bay and Western Port – Jesse’s main stomping grounds – are littered with weed beds and rocky flats, and this is where he starts most of his squid missions.

“I normally try to cover a range of depths with my drift – using the wind – and I like to cover depths between about 2-6m,” he explains, “Keeping an eye on the sounder, not for squid but to see the depth and if there’s reef or weed down helps a lot in the boat.”

“If you’re on a pier and not getting much in one spot, walking along and casting as you go is a good way to find them.”

“You might not start getting them straight away, so it’s important to stay mobile.”

Despite being a heavily fished-for and written-about species, Jesse says he still sees fellow anglers making common mistakes.

“I think some anglers don’t impart enough action in their jig,” Jesse explains, “Where I live in northern Port Phillip Bay, a lot of people just chuck their jigs out and put them in rod holders or just cast out and wind them straight back.”

“I think the darting action of the jig is what catches their eye, and they then swim over and eat it as it’s sinking.” 

General Squid Tips 

Squid anywhere in Australia will hang out in little packs, especially around spawning time, which can vary around Australia. Spring in most areas will see cephalopods shift their focus to breeding.

“Keep an eye out behind any squid you have hooked, as there’s usually one or two following,” Michael says, “If you don’t have anyone else with you to throw in a jig behind the one you’ve hooked, having another set up rigged so you can quickly cast it in once you’ve landed the first one works great.”

Nude, Dart, and Peak series jigs are as good (if not better) than anything available on the market today.

Michael reckons a lot of newbies use jigs that are too big, and this affects their results.

“I like to use a 2.5-3.0 size,” Michael says, “They will eat larger ones, but you’ll miss a lot of the smaller squid by doing this, and they taste great!”

Away from the jigs though, rods, reels and lines don’t necessarily have to be squid-specific designs. Michael prefers to use his bream and snapper set ups for tigers in the shallows

“There’s not much to it, just a light combo to get a long cast out with the jigs that I use, and a nice small reel with 10-12lb trace and 10lb braid,” he says, “I want something light enough to cast, but strong enough to pull jigs off snags, which are common.”

Jesse also likes to use heavier than normal lines for the same reason.

“Because you’re trying to get the jig down and fish about three quarters of the way to the bottom, you will get snagged, so I don’t ever go too light,” he says. 

“I don’t think you need super specific gear, but I do prefer using it,” Jesse explains, “I think it imparts a much better darting action to the jig, and being a parabolic design, you’ll won’t pull the prongs out of lightly-hooked or larger squid as often.”

“I love using the Emeraldas rods, and something in the 8'6" range might seem too long, but I reckon it’s a good allrounder for boat and land-based fishing.” 

“Any light 7'-7'6" spin rod will work just fine, however.”

As far as reels go, Daiwa’s Emeraldas MX series, also designed specifically for squidding, with their shallow spools and ultra sensitive and smooth drag, are perfect for the job. These reels are designed to cast jigs further, and keep squid pinned once they grab the jig!

Another thing to consider is storing your jigs, which might not always fit snugly in standard tackle boxes. Daiwa has many great jig storage solutions. Daiwa’s Egi Wallet and Emeraldas Egi Holder are fantastic options to keep your jigs from banging around and getting damaged, especially for land-based anglers.

While our two anglers do most of their squidding during the day, night fishing can also be successful. When the sun goes down, squid will often seek out artificial light sources that attract baitfish, and this is where anglers should focus their efforts.

“Fishing around rock walls and lights in harbors at night you can often see them just sitting there,” Michael says, “They can be quite spooky at night, but it’s good fun cruising along with a spotlight until you see one, then you can put a jig in front of it to see if they want to eat.”

When landing a squid, it’s always better to use a net, and to scoop from behind. Swiping a net from the front will cause them to jet backwards, and with only a metre or so of line out you’ll risk pulling the prongs out of their tentacles. It’s a good idea to give them a few seconds in the net to get as much ink out as possible, as doing this can avert any inky disasters to your clothing or upholstery! 

Sucked In!

Given the relaxed approach many anglers have to this style of fishing, it’s no surprise that many who try their hand are sucked in! There really is something hypnotic about watching a squid sneak up behind a jig, adjusting its colouration to suit the environment, only to pounce on it while several of its friends watch on.

Whether you’re out on a food or bait collecting mission, a day with the family, or simply just trying to unwind, squidding offers a truly unique experience that any Australian living on the coast has access to! 

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