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Calamari safari
  |  First Published: December 2008



Catching squid from the rocks for bait or the table sounds like a good plan

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Despite the fact that calamari squid are very common along the NSW coastline, not a lot of people seem to pursue them.

They make first-class bait for a range of species, including jewfish, kings and snapper and are superb table fare.

The southern calamari squid prefers oceanic water and is most abundant over inshore reefs, close to the ocean rocks and the lower reaches of large bays and inlets. They differ from another common species, the arrow squid, which is more at home in our estuary systems.

Calamari are more like a football in shape, with wings that run the length of the body. Arrows, as the name suggests, have a more pointed body shape with triangular wings that are about half the length of the body.

Calamari grow much larger, with specimens of 2kg or 3kg reasonably common. They also have quite large eyes, with a prominent green ‘eyebrow’, which is why another name for them is the ‘green eye’ squid.

Although it’s not hard to catch good numbers of calamari from a boat, it’s probably more convenient for most of us to do it from the ocean rocks.

Having spent some time along the North Coast, I understand that not all headlands or rocks are suitable. However, the Central Coast, Sydney and South Coast are blessed with some very user-friendly rock platforms that are ideal places to catch calamari.

A good calamari spot needs to be safe, which works out well, because calamari prefer calmer water rather than washy, wave-lashed spots.

A reefy bottom is essential, so there’s no point in casting out over sand. Calamari also prefer areas with plenty of kelp growth, rather than just bare rock.

As for depth, that doesn’t really matter so much, as long as it’s not so shallow that a squid jig will snag up just after it splashes down. Most of my favourite spots are between 2m and 4m deep.

To help work out where and what you’re looking at when selecting a spot to try, polarised sunglasses are a must. Obviously, bottom structure may be hard to see in really deep water but on a sunny day around low tide, most bottom structure is visible.

SQUIDDING GEAR

A lightweight threadline outfit is the best bet when it comes to chasing calamari off the rocks. A 3m blackfish or whiting rod and a small to mid-sized threadline like a 3000 size spooled up with 4kg to 6kg braid or mono will do the trick. A shorter rod will be fine if you’re standing right at the water’s edge, without more rocks in front of you.

Basically, the rod needs to have a light sort of tip to help cast the squid jigs and absorb the pressure exerted on the legs of the hooked calamari. If you’re not careful, a bit too much force with a stiff rod can tear the soft leg of the squid and then it’s gone and won’t come back.

Although squid can simply be lifted onto the rocks, I’ve found that a long-handled landing net means a lot more squid are landed. In fact, these days I don’t go squidding without my landing net.

When using braid it’s important to employ a 2m leader of fluorocarbon or mono, because squid have very keen eye sight. There are specialist fluorocarbons on the market which have been designed with squidding in mind, so they may be worth investing in if you really get into this game. I’ve been using 4kg to 7kg Sunline fluorocarbon and favour the Sunline FC Rock, it’s very hard-wearing around the rocks.

One area where it pays not to skimp out is with the squid jigs. It’s plain and simple – higher quality squid jigs catch more squid and last longer. Sizes from 2.5 up to 4.5 can be used off the rocks, but in most cases a size 3 or 3.5 is perfect.

On the subject of sizes, it’s been proven that larger jigs will catch larger calamari, but the big ones aren’t always present so that’s why it’s a good idea to start off with a 3 or 3.5.

Squid jigs come in a wide variety of colours and styles. When using the basic style of jig, I’ve found pink or orange work better than blue or green. Over the past six months, though, I’ve been using Yamashita Naturals, which come in several different more natural-looking colours. These are very high quality jigs and they also have quite a reflective sheen that glimmers in the water. Of these, I favour the more golden or bronzy colours.

Another Yamashita model that has come in very handy is the Oh Q Sen, which is a slow-sinking squid jig. After getting frustrated with snagging and losing jigs in some of the shallow spots I squid at, I tried these and haven’t lost one yet.

TIME, TECHNIQUE

Calamari can be caught throughout the day at any stage of the tide. The best times, however, are around sunrise or sunset, when they come out looking for a feed and are easier to catch.

In some places a low tide may be best so that you can get closer to reef or kelp while other spots may be better at high tide because they are simply too shallow at low.

The technique is pretty straightforward.

Simply cast out and allow the jig to sink down towards the reef or kelp. Obviously, the aim isn’t to snag up but the closer to the bottom structure you can get the jig, the greater the chances of it taking a squid’s interest.

Once the jig has reached the desired depth, give it a couple of sharp twitches with the rod and then pause for a few seconds. Keep repeating this process until the jig nears the rocks in front of you.

Try to avoid too much slack line during the retrieve so it’s easy to feel when a squid grabs the jig. When it does grab, give a gentle strike to set the hook but don’t strike too heavily, as that may simply rip the jig out.

Keep the pressure on and if it’s a big calamari, allow it to pulsate on the line rather than trying to bully it in. As it nears the rocks, it should come up to the surface and spurt out some black ink. Now it’s time to slip the landing net under it or wash it out with the wave action.

At this stage, make sure the squid is pointing away from you because there’s a good chance it will spurt out more ink and you don’t want a faceful of this horrific black mess.

Just pick it up, remove the jig and give it a sharp tap on the head to quickly and humanely dispatch it. Store the calamari in a cool place until you’re ready to go home.

If they are intended to be used for bait, I find it’s best to keep them intact and store them in a freezer bag. That way all the fish-attracting black ink and gut stays in the calamari.

If, however, they are for the dinner table, it’s a good idea to clean them on the spot rather than making a mess back at home.

A long-handled landing net comes in handy when squidding off the rocks.

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