A how-to on Harbour squid
  |  First Published: January 2015

The kings should be full steam ahead this month. In fact, I would nominate February/March as my favourite months of the year. With the water at its warmest, anything can happen, including tropical ring-ins like cobia, samsons, amberjack, and even the occasional rainbow runner. The one thing that they all have in common is their obsession with eating squid, so here’s a quick refresher on nailing a few squirters.

There are two main types of squid found in the harbour — the calamari or southern squid, and the arrow or common squid. Calamari squid 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. They are often encountered by live baiters who consider them a nuisance, although I have never understood why. A live squid or even a strip will outfish a yakka any day, and even if you don't use them for bait, who could complain about a fresh feed of squid. Most of you will probably laugh, but when it comes to mulloway or kingie fishing, I'd prefer a fresh squid strip over a live yakka any day.

The best way to catch calamari squid is with the standard Yamashita style jig. The old hard plastic bead style are nowhere as effective as the prawn imitations, but even amongst them there are dramatic differences in quality and effectiveness. Problems I have encountered include poor weighting and weight distribution, blunt jags, and in the worst cases the jags and leads fall out. A good jig will have needle sharp jags (I'll buy the first 12 dozen that come out with chemically sharpened jags — guaranteed), securely fastened jags and leads, and most importantly of all, sink horizontally and slowly. The bottom line on squid jigs is that like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Calamari squid can be lured by working the jig very slowly, with regular stops, about 2m above the kelp. They can grow quite big — we've caught them up to 1.5kg — and because of the snaggy nature of the bottom, I'd recommend using no less than 8kg line.

I'd also suggest using a net to land the big ones as they do have a habit of dropping tentacles under strain.

Calamari differ from arrow squid mainly in appearance. Calamari are proportionally shorter and have larger green eyes, but the most obvious difference is in the length of the wings. Calamari wings run the full length of the tube, whereas arrow wings run slightly less than half way down. You are more likely to find arrows upstream, but calamari mainly congregate in the lower reaches.

Catching arrow squid requires a slightly different approach. They are a schooling animal, whereas the calamari is a loner, or at best found in small schools of 6-8, depending on size. Arrows congregate in large numbers in the deep bays and are less structure orientated. They hang close to the bottom and are caught by letting the jig sink right to the bottom and then slowly jigging it back up. Quite often they grab it on the way down and are snared on the first part of the retrieve. A lot of anglers prefer a paternoster rig with two squid jig droppers for chasing arrows.

They are highly excitable and can often be caught one after the other, to the stage where the large quantity of ink expelled by their panicking mates puts them off the bite. At places where there is some flow in the water to take the ink away, they can be caught in large numbers.

Whether collecting squid for bait or food, they should be iced down immediately. Squid for bait are ultimately used fresh, but for prolonged storage they are best frozen whole. Whatever you do, don't put whole squid directly in your icebox. Put them in some sort of container first, because the ink is a nightmare to clean up.

The ultimate storage technique is to vac-pack the squid whole, immediately after capture, and then drop them straight into an ice slurry. If you are using them in the next few days, just leave them in the slurry. If you want to keep them longer, then freeze them as quick as possible.

A product called Zip Vac is ideal for this job. Although the ultimate seal is not as good as the more upmarket electric vac-sealers, the huge upside is that this system uses a manual pump and can be used on location without any need for a power supply. Speed is of the essence when processing squid. Zip Vac kits are available at Fish Outta Water at Manly Vale.

When you’re ready to use them, thaw the squid out slowly in the fridge.


Keep an eye out for some of the tropical travellers that venture down this time of year to spend the summer holidays in Sydney Harbour. None of these fish are common enough to warrant specifically targeting (although samsonfish have become increasingly common over the last few years), but all show up as by-catch of targeting kings at some time.

Although rainbow runners do stray and have been caught as far south as Victoria, they are more at home on the Great Barrier Reef. Possibly more are actually caught in southern waters than are recorded, as they could easily be passed off as my mate Jobbie once put it as “colourful kingies”.

Samsonfish, a close relative to the amberjack and yellowtail king, find Sydney Harbour in their southernmost limits. While samsons are not classified as a tropical water species, they are far from common in Sydney Harbour. You might be lucky enough to encounter half a dozen a season.

Like rainbow runners, amberjack look very similar to kingies, displaying only a few subtle distinguishing features. They are also probably passed off in many cases as just weird looking kings and never reported. They have a brown, rather than a yellow tail, and a dark band across their eyes in the juvenile models.

Amberjack rarely stray much further south than Coffs Harbour according to the textbooks, and are more common in Queensland, but being a highly mobile fish will obviously venture down to Sydney when the currents are favourable.

Cobia show up occasionally. I’ve heard of them up to 20kg in Sydney and have personally caught a few 1m specimens. They are great eating; in fact, I would say the best of all the pelagics, and put up a great fight, often leaping clear of the water.


A serious North Head king — caught on a squid of course.


Cobia are a welcome bycatch of kingie fishing in the Sydney region during the summer months.

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