Now before all you game fishermen get excited and start to pant and sweat, this feature does not cover teasing up blue water pelagics with hookless lures and lobbing hapless squid into their waiting mouths. But interestingly enough, when you’re switch baiting for squid, many of the same principles apply.
To be technically correct, the term ‘switch baiting’ really involves actively fishing for a target species with one technique and utilising a second outfit that’s on hand to increase your desirable by-catch. In this case the by-catch is squid.
What do I mean? If you’re drifting along fishing with soft plastics or bait, then you’re usually using a single hook, which is ineffective when trying to catch squid. So a second outfit, rigged with a squid jig, is kept close by as a proven means by which to seize the opportunity to diversify your bag.
For this method to be successful you’ll need an understanding of squid feeding behaviour. Where they live, why they are there and what time of the day are all factors worth considering. Water quality and clarity, temperature and seasonal factors also have an influence. To go into these details would more than fill another feature article. Fortunately, there is a simple way to ensure that you succeed more often than not. And the good news is, a lot of southern anglers are already doing it.
These are the two most important words in the puzzle. Not only because of the plastics themselves (more on that later), but because of where you’re fishing and the methods you’re using.
If you are casting plastics in Port Phillip Bay, then you’re usually fishing in 2-8m of water, close to a reef of some sort. This just so happens to be exactly where Mr. Squid lives! And believe me, Mr. Squid and his relatives take a real liking to soft plastic lures. He likes the way they smell and doesn’t mind the taste and consistency.
How many times have you had neat little bites taken out of your soft plastics? They’re not all toadfish! You can turn those bites into squid with a few clever tricks.
Before we go into any techniques, it’s worth covering two other important areas. These are firstly, your choice of plastics and secondly, your choice of squid jig. Your choice of soft plastic should be determined by its size, shape and most importantly scent. Your choice of jig should be determined by quality components and while this usually has an associated high price tag, the advantages are worth it!
Berkley Gulps are the best choice for ‘switch baiting’. They have 400 times the scent release of other soft plastics and squid absolutely love them.
I’ve had 20 squid lined up to eat my Gulps on Port Phillip Bay reefs and the Gulp scent seems to make the squid far more aggressive. They’re also available in a great range of colours and styles, and are biodegradable so they’re better for the Bay. 3” Dropshot Minnows are my favourite.
The other great thing about Gulp plastics is the variety of fish that you catch with them. Fishing inshore reefs in the Bay over the last few years, I am constantly amazed by my catches. Many of you will have read about them in my monthly reports. Banjo sharks, silver dory, cardinal fish, ling and other unusual catches turn up with the usual pinkies, flathead, red mullet, pike, parrotfish, salmon and ‘couta.
Other soft plastics will attract squid too, especially those that imitate small baitfish well. Atomic paddle tails, Slug-go's, long tail minnows, Ecogear paddle tails and Storm wild eye minnows. But I reckon Berkley Gulps’ scent encourage squid to hang on for longer, increasing your chances to ‘switch bait’ them.
The best quality squid jigs come from Japan. Quality is not always in the finish, but it’s certainly in the sharpness and durability of the prongs, their construction and most importantly, their buoyancy. Just like in a normal squid fishing scenario, a successful squid jig for ‘switch baiting’ must sink in a level fashion back through the water column. A calamari that has followed your plastic to the boat is more likely to take the replacement jig if it has near neutral buoyancy and descends slowly. This is particularly important in shallow water where the sink time isn’t long.
Many brands fit under the ‘good jig’ umbrella but there are some obvious features to look for. Chemically sharpened prongs are a must. Ensure that they are strong and attached to the stem well. The overall finish is also important because it will determine how long the jig lasts.
The new Yamashita ‘silk’ jigs are the best finish I’ve seen for a while and yet are very durable. Other brands to look for are Yo Zuri, Egilee, Dart Max and Hayabusa.
Now that you’re armed with your packets of Berkley Gulps and your Japanese squid jigs, it’s time to put the idea into practice. The simplest idea is often the best. Suspend one or two jigs in mid-water, from the back of the boat. Fish from the front of the drifting boat, casting with the drift. This keeps cast and retrieved lines away from the suspended jigs, and the boat’s movement keeps the jigs off the bottom.
This method is simple and very effective. As the boat drifts forward over a reef, the movement and scent of the plastics attract squid. They follow the plastics up, sometimes all the way to the boat, but are normally spooked by the boat or the beady eyes of the anglers staring at them! They sink back through the water column, and as the boat drifts over their path, they attack the jigs that are suspended from the back of the boat. Simple, but very effective. One thing to remember is to back off the drag a little on the back ‘suspending’ rod. Strikes to jigs from already fired-up squid can be very aggressive and can easily send an expensive outfit overboard. Trolling rod holders are very handy because they can solidly lock a rod to the boat. This method also regularly takes cuttlefish.
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Sometimes you’ll drift over a patch of reef and it will be covered in calamari. Often, they will be very cautious and wary of a squid jig presentation but will respond like a raging bull to a soft plastic. So how do you convert the plastic grabbing squid into tubes or rings on the table!
Here’s what I do. Lighten the weight of your jighead as much as you can. TT manufacture jigheads and their hidden weight system is great because it allows the plastic to sink very slowly. Once the plastic is in front of the squid, work them slowly back to the boat with squid in pursuit or even hanging on. When close to the boat, cast your squid jig to the last known location of the squid, even if that means placing your plastic rod into a rod holder with squid still attached. Within seconds, most squid will usually let go of the plastic and bear hug the jig.
Watching calamari react to your plastics and inhale your squid jig right at the boat is a real buzz. This technique can be very effective if done in a team of two anglers. One casts and retrieves the soft plastic, the other casts the squid jig.
It is sometimes possible to sight fish to specific squid. It’s a great way to upgrade the size of your catch. I’ve seen anglers who’ve caught lots of big, tough fish over many years turn into giggling geese with the excitement of a good ‘switch baiting’ session! Their excitement is probably heightened with the knowledge of a great feed and some very happy family members who’ll be more than happy to issue a fishing leave pass next time you want to hit the water.
Quite often, a hooked squid will be followed in by other squid. If there are two of you fishing, consider a ‘relay’ approach to maximise the number of squid you take from a school. While one of you is hooked up, the other angler should cast near the hooked squid and leave the jig to sink. Quite often, it will get hammered by one of the followers. By the time your squid is closing in on the boat to be landed, your mate can get his jig back in the water to hook up on the followers from your squid. And so the cycle continues.
A lot of southern sport fishermen are already targeting various fish species using soft plastics on our fertile inshore reefs. If you ask them, very few will say no to a feed of tasty calamari. And even if you don’t like eating them, and you don’t have mates who’d appreciate some fresh snapper or whiting bait, they’re pretty good fun to catch.Reads: 2020