Lifting the lid on squid
  |  First Published: November 2011

When I first started squidding on Sydney Harbour 25 years ago, I shared the kelp beds with just one other boat – a couple of old Italian fellas who used to drift the stretch along Middle Head from their old, blue, riveted de Havilland.

They were after calamari for the pan, with little chance of it ending up on a hook as bait.

I cut a deal with them: I would show them how to convert a small quantity of their entree into kingfish if they would teach me how to catch squid with a jig.

For Harbour kings, used to anglers’ second-rate offerings of live yellowtail, those strips of fresh squid proved to be offerings they couldn’t refuse.

We caught seven kings that afternoon, much to the delight and surprise of my new mates and they, in turn, happily passed on their squidding techniques.

My own conversion to squid had come about from experience gained from a decade fishing from the rocks.

Squid would often plague the LBG fraternity with their trademark crescent-shaped death bites to the brains or throats of our hard earned live baits.

For a while this was just outright annoying, until we realised we could eliminate the problem and secure a first-grade entree with the simple addition of a deadly squid spike.

The dead yakka was impaled on the spike and sent back out to the greedy cephalopod.

Their real value was revealed on one long, boring day when I decided, just for a laugh, to send the squid back out on an 8/0 under a bobby cork.

This was the day that I came to the realisation that the long waits between bites was a result of our poor bait choice, rather than the norm for LBG. We had a 15kg king on the rocks within 15 minutes of the squid going out and from that day on, our success rate went through the roof.

When I started boat fishing on the Harbour I needed to learn how to use a jig to catch squid.


It was pre the prawn imitation jigs that dominate today’s market and the old boys were using the old-style ‘bead’ jig.

They stressed to me that the key to success was to ‘give the jig a couple of sharp tugs (they were using handlines) and to then let it settle long enough to let it sink back to near the bottom’.

“The squid hide in the kelp,” they told me.

I had to laugh, 25 years later, when an Australian jig importer offered to lend me a DVD that showed the ‘new’ Japanese pro squid techniques where anglers give the jig a couple of sharp tugs and then let it settle long enough to sink back to near the bottom. Our old mates had been on top of it for over 100 years.

These days everyone on the Harbour goes squidding. Most are after bait for kings and jewfish; some are after them for food and I guess we are not far off the day when we have the specialist who fishes exclusively for squid.

I don’t think that the squid population in the Harbour has suffered noticeably despite the thousandfold increase in pressure.

I’m not catching any fewer squid than I did 25 years ago, although it is getting hard to get a spot to yourself over the kelp beds on the weekend. They are extremely sustainable critters.

To back up my claim that we could soon be heading towards the day of the exclusive squid angler, this year we saw the debut of the first squid-only fishing tournament.

The Yamashita Squid Series kicked off in April, with the first event on Queenscliff Harbour in Victoria.

The six-round event spans various locations across Victoria and NSW, culminating in the grand final back on Queenscliff Harbour.

The Sydney Harbour round was cleaned up by Fishabout Tours guides Nick Martin and Stu Reid. Nick got first prize of $1000 and both he and Stu got a pile of some really good sponsors’ stuff.

To show his appreciation, the Fishabout boss rewarded both boys by letting them keep their jobs and clean the ink off the boats in their own time!


The kingfish and jewfish run will be in full swing by now and if you are going to have a good season, you will need to master the fine art of squidding.

Squid are by far the best bait but they must be fresh.

In the bays and harbours you will find the southern calamari and the common squid; the calamari makes the best bait.

Calamari are the bigger of the two and are found around structure. They are particularly fond of kelp beds but can often be located around jetties, bridge pylons and boat moorings.

The best way to catch calamari is with a Yamashita jig. A good jig will have jags that are needle-sharp and securely fastened leads and jags and most, important of all, will sink horizontally and slowly.

The Yamashitas have all these attributes. The bottom line on squid jigs is, like most things, you get what you pay for.

Calamari can be lured by working the jig very slowly about 2m above the kelp with the occasional sharp whip of the rod and regular stops.

My recommendation is to spend a whole day squidding. Don’t take any fishing gear other than your squid gear, so you won’t be distracted.

Find as many kelp beds as you can and keep squidding until you have mastered it. It will be a lost fishing day but it will pay off tenfold throughout the season.

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