Casting the Shallows for Calamari
  |  First Published: June 2006

Calamari are a way of life for many Victorian anglers and for good reasons. These humble cephalopods are mostly revered for their excellent eating qualities, but they are also a top-notch bait and heaps of fun to catch.

You don’t need state of the art gear or a flash boat to catch a bag of calamari. At the most basic level all you require is a hand line and a few jigs. But if you’re a sportfisher who might normally chase bream, goldens, snapper or trout with lures, consider adding calamari to your winter hit list. You can use today’s tackle and technology to catch heaps and the end result on the table is well worth the effort!

This article aims to provide you with a guide to catching calamari on artificial jigs over shallow reefs. The lion’s share of my squid fishing these days is done along Port Phillip Bay’s eastern shoreline, but most of what applies here will apply elsewhere in the state too.

For some, the choice of jig is all that matters, and like all forms of lurefishing, confidence is a great ally. However, there are tactics and techniques, including choosing a quality jig, which will put plenty more calamari in your bucket.

Water Depth

Calamari are classic ambush predators and use the cover of reef to pounce on their prey with surprising speed. So the most logical place to start looking for them is amongst reefy shorelines.

Some reef is vast and hard to read, much like a big river, so the key is to find patches of broken reef. Small patches are easier to work thoroughly and effectively. In most conditions, this type of reef is in 3 to 5m of water, sometimes even less!

Not only is this an ideal depth for hungry calamari but it’s also great for the avid fisherman because most of the reef can be seen with the naked eye, especially with polarised glasses when the sun is out. Overhead light really illuminates the shallow reef and distinguishes it from the sandy patches in between.

When the water is dirty, especially after rain, calamari will retreat into slightly deeper water, but they will still hunt. This is when a good quality sounder comes into play, enabling you to continue finding desirable reef in water that’s just too deep or dirty to see to the bottom. Colour sounders give a much better indication of the density of the structure, normally indicated in red.

Use your Eyes

For this type of shallow water fishing, your eyes are your best friend. When paired with polarised glasses you’ve got a deadly duo!

After choosing your location, and casting your jig, keep your peepers firmly fixed on your descending jig and particularly your line. When calamari are very aggressive, they will often grab your lure soon after it hits the water. Not paying attention to your jig from the moment it hits the water can mean that some early bites won’t stick.

The Beauty of Competition

During hot bites, resident calamari can be in big numbers, which creates competition for your offering. Hooked calamari are often followed by others that are keen to grab a floating scrap or steal the prize altogether. These ‘followers’ can be fooled into taking another jig, especially one that is the same colour as what the hooked squid has just attacked.

I know plenty of anglers who use this approach as their preferred method. They do very well indeed! Your fishing partner, especially one willing to cast on command, is most valuable in this scenario. Rapidly winding in and casting near your mate’s hooked calamari will pay dividends for your boat’s haul.

Watch Your Line

At other times, resident calamari might not be so aggressive, sitting deeper on a reef and in less concentrated schools. Watching your line for irregular movement as the jig sinks can be very productive in this situation. Anglers familiar with soft plastics call this ‘on the drop’.

Most calamari literally hug the jig so be careful not to pull too hard on the strike. The use of high visibility line, especially braid, is a real advantage when looking to detect line movement in deeper water or on cloudy days when the shallows are not illuminated.

What about the retrieve?

I normally employ a very slow and deliberate retrieve when calamari fishing, especially in shallow water where I can see my jig a lot of the time. A standard lift and drop retrieve works pretty well. It also allows you the luxury of speeding up or stopping the retrieve if need be. But like all forms of lurefishing it’s worth knowing what the lure is doing under the water.

Throw the jig 6ft out from the rod tip and play with it in plain sight. You’ll quickly learn how your rod movements ‘dance’ the jig and the respective sink rates of different jigs in your tackle box. This will allow you to visualise your jig bouncing over reef when you can’t see it. Believe me, you’ll catch more calamari and do wonders for your fishing confidence.

For this style of fishing in relatively shallow water, my favourite jig is the Ecogear Dartmax 3.0 and 2.5. They have a hollow head and a cleverly placed tow point, which causes them to sit exactly horizontal on a straight line to the rod. They also have very sharp hooks and are especially good when calamari are hugging the reef and are reluctant to travel far for a feed. Like all premium Japanese jigs they’re not cheap, but I reckon they are worth it.

The Value of Braid

Last year, I was lucky to fish with Mr. Orimoto, a Japanese tournament squid fisherman. Yes, they have squid tournaments and yes, they’re big business! He taught me the value of using braid instead of mono when chasing calamari. Braid floats, which means that much of your line stays on top of the water, especially with a slowly descending jig. As you lift your rod to move the jig you’re only picking up the section of line that has sunk, giving the jig a much more vertical up and down motion.

Mr Orimoto said this is crucial in attracting an aggressive response. On slow days, and in deeper water you can really accentuate this movement with erratic rod whips, as Orimoto was keen to show me. He looked like he was fighting Bruce Lee, but let me tell you, he knows his stuff! All Japanese squid anglers use braid and their jigs are designed to fish better this way.

Brightly coloured floating braid also acts as a bite indicator. Pay close attention to where the line descends into the depths – this will be where knocks, taps and pulls from calamari are most easily noticed.

What’s that smell?

Covering this topic comprehensively would fill an entire article, but the fact is, scent additives do work, especially when things are slow. A good friend of mine, who is a great calamari fisherman, wires bluebait and whitebait along the back of his jigs and swears by it. While that’s taking scents to an almost baitfishing level, it does illustrate how enhancing the colours and movement of a jig with smelly stuff can increase your catch.

The best scents are Egimax and Glomax, which come in a small aerosol pack. Ultrabite is also good, as is Megastrike paste.

Funk it Up

Those fortunate to enough to own a tournament boat are actually behind the wheel of a calamari catching machine, whether they know it or not. It’s a virtual Death Star!

All those gadgets can be put to good use. Your electric motor allows you stealth over shallow reef, and your sounders (yes, many tournament boats have more than one) give great visual indications of the bay floor and reefs. Tournament boats are also a great stable platform to fish from.

In my opinion, everyone keen on calamari fishing, no matter what boat (within reason) needs an electric motor. The Minn Kota saltwater Riptide is the best for the job.

Keeping it Simple

If you’ve only got a basic tinny then don’t be intimidated by all this talk about tournament boats. Electric motors and sounders are desirable but not essential – you’ll just need to use your brains. Find some shallow reef and drift with the wind, casting to the sandy patches ahead as you go. A drogue will help slow your drift if there’s a breeze blowing – a bucket with a strong handle will suffice.

go get ‘em

Catching calamari is fun and very challenging, and winter is a great time to chase them. Just rug up and take a thermos of hot tea. If things go well and you follow some of the tips in this article you won’t need to be on the water for more than a few hours to catch your bag. Having said that though, some of my mates will spend an entire day roaming about the bay fishing for a mixture of calamari and pinkies, and all in the middle of winter!

I’ve even seen anglers who have tangled with 1000lb marlin turn into giggling youngsters as they watch a calamari follow and then pounce on their jig in shallow water. And sometimes, it’s only a 3 iron to the shore – it really is that accessible.

So when you see a flat and still weekend forecast this winter, head out after some calamari. You’ll have a ball.


Eastern PPB Ramps

Mordialloc Creek

Mordialloc Reef, Parkdale Reefs, Beaumaris Bay, Black Rock

Patterson River

Aspendale and Edithvale shoreline, Seaford Reef

Frankston (Kananook Creek)

Frankston Reef, Olivers Hill, Canadian Bay, Wooleys Reef, Pelican Point, Ansetts, Sunnyside, Kunyung Reefs


Red Bluff, Snapper Point, Fishermans Beach, Bird Rock, Mt Martha Cliffs




Dartmax 3.0 & 2.5

Egilee Flash 3.0 & 2.5

Egilee Flocky 3.0 & 2.5


Yo Zuri Shrimp Hunter 2.5

Duel Chameleon 3.0

Yamashita 1.8 & 2.5

Hayabusa 2.5



Polarised sunglasses

Braid line (preferably bright colour)

Quality sounder (preferably colour)


Electric motor

Uncluttered fishing area in your boat

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