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Calamari capers
  |  First Published: December 2004



That big squid was right to attack Captain Nemo’s sub in Jules Verne’s classic novel 20,000 leagues under the sea. Have you ever noticed just how much his sub looked like a squid jig?

Yes, they are ugly, aggressive, make a shocking mess and can give a nasty bite, but they sure make for a great meal and are quite exciting to catch. What am I talking about? Calamari of course!

Identification

Southern calamari (Sepioteuthis australis) can be identified by the elongated wings that extend the entire length of the ‘cone’ or body of the squid. Arrow squid (aka Gould’s squid, flying squid, aero squid – Nototodarus gouldi) also frequent southern waters but are more often caught in deeper waters. These are not quite as tender as calamari and easily identified by the distinct head like the point of an arrow.

Both squid can range from kelp brown to opaque white. They can change colour and fill the water (or boat crew) with jet black ink when startled.

The best calamari I’ve seen was around 3kg, but are more commonly caught at weights ranging 500-800g.

Times

The very best time of year to target calamari is spring and early summer, when the bigger models move inshore to spawn. They can be caught year round, you just need to work a little harder and the average size drops a tad.

They seem to bite best when the tide is moving and by putting a bit of action into your jigs, this can turn follows into hook-ups. They can also be taken after dark with the use of a strong light to coax them into the general area in search of food. Pier lights are good places to start when land based after dark.

Bait and lures

Many manufacturers offer a wide variety of cloth-covered jigs. These vary in weight and size and can be used in a variety of different ways.

The very smallest of these jigs can be used only in water where there is just about no current as they are very light. If this is all the squid are taking, then add a ball sinker about 60-90cm in front of the jig so it can attain suitable depth.

The larger jigs can turn-off fussy biters, but they certainly do well on the larger spring run of squid. These carry a bit more lead in their keel and will comfortably sit at depth while drifting in a 4-6kt current.

These jigs come in a real rainbow of colours and, of course, the subject of colour will spark all sorts of debate among seasoned squidders. Squid have some of the best developed eyes in the animal kingdom, yet still attack a cloth-covered piece of plastic!

Locations

Calamari turn up just about anywhere so it always pays to have a few jigs at the ready in case one follows up a hooked fish. When a day on the calamari is on the cards, head in shallow and look for some reef areas in about 4-6m of water.

Good Bellarine Peninsula squid grounds include from Clarke’s Beacon to (offshore from) the ‘Cottage by the Sea’ in the Point Lonsdale Bight (remember that beyond Clarke’s Beacon is a marine park and you should not fish in this area. Refer to you local fisheries guide or website for GPS coordinates); the shallow reef around the Queenscliff Pier; the shallow weedbeds from Indented Head to Portarlington; the shallow weedbeds just out from the Clifton Springs boat ramp; and either side of the Alcoa Pier. Of course, calamari are caught in other areas, these are just the most popular in my part of the world!

Areas off Mornington in Port Phillip Bay, and around Flinders over in Western Port, are other popular areas.

Methods

Fishing for calamari can be very visual in shallow water and coaxing one to take your jig can result in very animated commentary among boat crew as the chase evolves.

The most successful method for me has been drifting over shallow reef with two rods in the rod holders with one pointing towards the bow and one towards the stern. Floats baited either with an artificial jig or skewered fish are placed in these holders to keep them apart and allow enough room for two people casting in between them.

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Now here’s the tricky bit. Those casting need to be able to let the jig sink close enough to the bottom to be in the calamari’s strike zone, but not snag up and lose those expensive jigs!

The person casting the same direction the boat is going is most at risk of losing a jig. This is because they have to retrieve their jig a bit faster than you would if you were casting out of the opposite side of the boat due to the boat gaining on the jig’s position, rather than moving away from it.

Often a number of calamari can be following the jig cast out by an angler and this is where the second person in the boat can cast another jig in the general area in an effort to snare another from the school. Fussy biters can follow the jigs all the way to the boat and then slowly descend back to the reef if not interested. If you see one following your jig, immediately drop the rod tip to get the jig to nose dive.

In past experience, I’ve found this excites them no end and will more often than not induce a strike. In waters where there is no current, this is more often the scenario. Sometimes you will need to repeat this a few times to get them to strike and this may only be a gentle touch of the tentacles rather than a full on grasp. When this happens you need to strike immediately as they will reject the jig in a flash if it does not taste good. This is where a skewered fish jig can mean the difference between ‘touches’ and calamari on ice. Smaller fish such as silver whiting are better for smaller calamari rather than a whole garfish.

Where there is good water flow, you’ll find that calamari will bite first and ask questions later. I’m pretty sure they are more aggressive in these conditions due to the possibility of their prey escaping with the current.

All squid jigs have no barbs on their tines so when a calamari is hooked you must always keep the pressure on them and never allow slack line.

As soon as they are hooked they release a puff of black ink into the water so as to confuse would-be predators. Just remember, they always keep a little in reserve so it pays to jiggle them in the landing net beside the boat before bringing them onboard. They can send this ink as a jet a good 3-5m out of the water so it also pays to avoid ‘looking down the barrel’, so to speak, when winding them towards the boat and bringing them onboard.

Cleaning and Cooking

Cleaning calamari can be a messy job, so have plenty of water with you. The head is first and this comes away from the body or cone fairly easily and takes the gut along with it. This is the moment of truth as sometimes the ink bag bursts and this can go everywhere! If you get it on concrete (well, anything for that matter!), make sure you wash it off immediately as it can stain permanently if left for a period of time. The remaining stuff inside the cone can be cleaned via a strong jet from a garden hose.

The wings can now be removed from the cone by placing the index finger and thumb through the membrane joining them to the cone. Removing the wings like this can remove some of the dark, spotted skin and give you a good start on this. Most people like the skin removed and this is a great way to provide the ultimate in soft calamari rings. If the skin still provides resistance, then gently scrape it away with a sharp knife.

The wings can be eaten as well and if you only get a few calamari, I recommend you cook these up, too. The thickest part of the wing is toughest and cannot be eaten on the larger calamari, so cut this off and cut the wings into strips.

There are many ways to cut the cone, but the most popular is into rings. This is done simply by cutting across the cone.

Calamari cooks very quickly and overcooking can result is something with tenderness akin to fan belt rubber. Therefore, your pan and oil needs to hot so they cook fast. About 30 seconds per side is plenty.

The simplest recipe is to toss them into your hot pan with about 3-5mm of oil and a teaspoon of minced garlic. Cook no more than 6-8 rings at a time so you can give good attention to each one. Sample one of these to make sure you aren’t over cooking them.

Oh, and have salt and lemon juice at the ready!

CAPS

1. A good spread squid jig colours and sizes to cover all situations

2. Stewie Turner holds two ripper calamari from the Lonsdale Bight taken in spring.

3. A decent calamari succumbs to a whole garfish baited skewer-style jig.

4. The southern calamari possesses one of the most developed eyes in the animal kingdom.

5. The bight area of Point Lonsdale is a very popular spot to chase southern calamari.

6. This massive calamari topped 3kg and grabbed a whole garfish skewered on a metal jig.

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