First catch your squid…
  |  First Published: March 2009

Following on from last month’s column on kingfish, I’ve decided to offer you a refresher course on catching squid, which are the key to constant success on kings and jewfish.

Huge quantities of squid can be found in the Harbour and can present a great alternative bait on the slow days. Not only are squid excellent table fare but, if looked after properly, make excellent bait.

Two main types of squid are found in the Harbour, the calamari or southern squid and the common or Hawkesbury squid.

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

They are often encountered by live-bait fishers, who consider them a nuisance, although I have never understood why. A live squid or even a strip of squid will outfish a yakka any day and even if you don't use them for bait, how could anybody complain about a feed of fresh calamari?

Most of you will probably laugh, but when it comes to chasing a jewie or king, I'd prefer a fresh squid strip over a live yakka any day.

The best way to catch calamari squid is with the standard prawn-imitation jig; I use Yamashita or Jarvis Walker brands. The old plastic bead-style jigs are nowhere as effective as the prawn imitations and there are dramatic differences in quality and effectiveness among the prawn jigs.

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 twelve dozen that come out with chemically sharpened jags – guaranteed!), securely fastened jags and leads and, most important of all, they must sink horizontally and slowly.

The bottom line on squid jigs is, like most things, you get what you pay for.

If your jig sinks too fast or head down, take to it with your wire cutters. Slowly clip little pieces of lead off the weight until you have it sinking to your desire.

After you snip each bit off, drop the jig in the water to see your progress before snipping the next bit

Calamari can be lured by working the jig very slowly, with regular stops, about 2m above the kelp with a retrieve similar to when jigging for flathead with a soft plastic – just a lot slower.

Give it a couple of sharp flicks, then let it rest for a while before the next flick. The length of the rest intervals will depend on how deep the water is. Obviously in deep water you will need to let it sink for longer.

Southern squid can grow quite big, we've caught them to 1.5kg, and because of the snaggy nature of the bottom, I'd recommend using at least 8kg line.

I'd also recommend a net to land the big ones, which have a habit of dropping tentacles under strain. They also like good water quality so if you are struggling to locate one, go in search of clean, clear ocean water.

Calamari are proportionally shorter and have larger green eyes than common squid but the most obvious difference is in the length of the wings. Calamari wings run the full length of the tube, where common squid wings run slightly less than half-way down the tube.

You are much more likely to find common squid upstream, while calamari mainly congregate in the lower reaches..

Catching common squid requires a slightly different approach.


They are schooling squid, where the calamari is a loner or, at best, in groups of two to six. Common squid congregate in large numbers in the deep bays and are much 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 retrieve.

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.

In places where there is some flow in the water to take the ink away, they can be caught in large numbers.

Whether you are 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 ice box. Put them in some sort of container which is then put in the ice box; the ink is a nightmare to clean up.

If you are collecting squid to use the next day, I suggest putting them in two zip-lock sandwich bags and then submersing them in an ice slurry made on salt water.

Try to avoid letting water, particularly fresh water, come in contact with them.

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