Catching jetty squid

Matthew Godson suggests some simple steps for success

One of the common activities for people visiting coastal towns is a spot of fishing. Many such municipalities are situated in sheltered locations that have jetties or piers. These quays provide an opportunity to spend a few relaxing hours enjoying the therapeutic background sound of water lapping against pylons, watching the changes in colour of the sea and sky as day turns into night, and quite possibly obtaining a decent feed of wild seafood.

When first arriving at a coastal town, stretch the legs by going for a walk along the local jetty. This is where the first bit of detective work should begin to determine if it’s a worthwhile fishing spot or just a place for a romantic sunset walk. If you can see people already on the jetty with rods in hand, that certainly makes the sleuthing procedure that little bit easier.

Sunset is prime time on the jetty to catch a feed of calamari.
Ink stains are a giveaway to the best location on the jetty to land a squid.
Two good-sized squid on the jetty planks.

Asking people if they have caught anything or what they are trying to catch will certainly help establish the piscatorial species that are on offer at that particular spot. A quick peek into their bucket also provides additional evidence for you to determine what’s on offer. Don’t ever be afraid to ask a question. Most fishing folk don’t mind a chat when things are slow on the jetty and you will find that people are more than happy to pass on information and some tips to polite, interested onlookers.

If you have the jetty all to yourself then your eyes will need to do some reconnoitring duties. You will have to look for evidence that confirms fishing opportunities exist. Scan for ink stains on the jetty planks you’ve walked past the weed line in the water. The weed line is where the bare beach sand turns into areas of ribbon weed beyond the turbulent wave zone.

If you find ink stains then it’s fair to say ‘game on’ and calamari is definitely on the menu. The next step is to identify areas where the ink stains are concentrated, where there are multiple stains overlaying other stains. These areas of condensed ink stains represent the prime locations on the jetty to catch squid.

Once you’ve finished your investigative stroll along the jetty you should head to the local fishing tackle shop. Depending on the size of the town this could be a stand-alone tackle shop or just part of a service station. Buy bait in the area so you can gain some extra local knowledge while at the shop purchasing supplies. Remember that people talk and those running the tackle shops will certainly have an idea on what’s biting at that moment and what baits are best. A generic purchase from the local shop should be a bag of frozen whole baitfish such as tommy ruff (Australian herring) and maybe a squid jag or two from the discount bin to add to the collection.

All set up and ready for the squid to arrive.
All set up and ready for the squid to arrive.
Jetties can provide the scene for beautiful sunsets.
Jetties can provide the scene for beautiful sunsets.
Calm seas, beautiful sunsets   why be anywhere else?
Calm seas, beautiful sunsets why be anywhere else?

Setting up for a session

To keep it simple and only target a feed of calamari, you don’t need a trolley full of equipment. In fact, squid can be caught using just a humble handline, which is one of the cheapest pieces of fishing equipment. From a jetty there are two ways to go about catching a squid if they’re available ‑ the passive method and the active method. The passive method is more relaxing where you just prepare and wait for the squid to come to you whereas the active method requires you to do some work to put a jag right in front of a squid.

A basic passive set-up includes a handline or two with what is generally termed a ‘teaser’. A teaser in this context is a bait fish attached to 2-3m trace line under a fixed squidding float. The bait attracts the squid, which will grab it and pull the bait back down into the ribbon weed where it takes cover. A float disappearing under the surface is the visual alert to indicate a squid has taken the bait.

At this point you slowly pull in the line hand-over-hand until the squid is directly below where you are standing on the edge of the jetty. This is now when you need either a fishing rod or another handline with just a squid jag attached to the end of the line. Gently lower the jag into the water approximately a metre or so away from the squid feeding on your teaser just below the surface. Once the jag is dangling in the water, you will need to pull the teaser slowly from the squid’s grip and then lift it out of the water. Immediately start wiggling the jag up and down, no more than 6-9 inches, to grab the squid’s attention

Quick hints

The best time to target squid is around sunset, sunrise or an hour either side of high tide. A high tide at sunset can be a very productive session.

Water clarity is important. The clearer the water, the better when it comes to squid. It may take a few days following a storm before water clarity is ideal again.

Have a collection of jags in a mixed variety of colours. Some days one colour works better than others. After a dozen or so casts, don’t be afraid to change jags to present something different to the squid.

Remember squid live in the bottom column of water in the ribbon weed. If your jag or teaser is not near that area, you are not giving yourself the best chance for success.

One squid ready to be put in the bucket.
One squid ready to be put in the bucket.
Country locations such as Moonta Bay, South Australia have jetties ideal for squidding.
Country locations such as Moonta Bay, South Australia have jetties ideal for squidding.
Night time can be a very productive period.
Night time can be a very productive period.

Nine out of 10 times the squid will go straight to the jag and latch onto it thinking that it was the tasty bait it had just been feasting on. All you will need to do now is lift the line and once you feel its weight you have it. It’s important to keep constant pressure on the squid so it doesn’t become unhooked from the jag. If it doesn’t respond to the jag, gently lower the bait straight back down and leave it there until the squid returns. Be patient because unless pricked by a prong on the squid jag they normally come back. Once it does so, try the above process again. Hopefully it will be second time lucky.

An alternate method to using the two-piece set-up outlined is to use what is known as a squid spike or squid pole. A squid spike is similar to a jag in that it has prongs to hook the squid but it also allows you to attach a baitfish to act like a teaser. This makes it a two-in-one device. Once a squid has latched onto the bait, you can pull it in and hook it on the same line. Pull the squid in slowly until it’s directly below you before lifting it out of the water. Make sure that the spikes have firmly caught hold of the squid’s tentacles or arms. The only way to know if it’s safe to begin to pull harder to lift the squid out of the water is when you feel more weight and a pull as the squid tries to hurry away with the bait. Remember once hooked to keep constant pressure on the line so the squid doesn’t have a chance of unhooking itself.

Sometimes you can be lucky and have the jetty all to yourself.
Sometimes you can be lucky and have the jetty all to yourself.
A good bag of squid from a sunset session.
A good bag of squid from a sunset session.
The ink stains tell you that this is a good spot.
The ink stains tell you that this is a good spot.

Depending on local fishing regulations (they do differ from state to state) you can potentially prepare a number of handlines with squid spikes and teasers to increase your chances of catching a few. All you need to do is watch the floats periodically and be ready for action only once the floats disappear under the surface.

The active method requires a little more energy where you need to ‘work’ as much water as you can to come across squid hiding in the weed. You will need to cast out the jig using either a handline or a rod. A rod allows you to cast further and cover more water so it is should be seen as the preferred piece of equipment for this method. The aim of the game is to cast the squid jag out and slowly retrieve it in a fashion that imitates a moving prawn. Let the jag sink so you can work it just above the top of the ribbon weed that squid use as cover to stalk prey. The best way to work the jig is to use a lift-and-wind technique which makes the jig move up and down in the water column as it’s slowly retrieved.

An impressive squid taken from the jetty with a jig.
An impressive squid taken from the jetty with a jig.
A winter squid caught from the jetty using a teaser bait under a float.
A winter squid caught from the jetty using a teaser bait under a float.
A good-sized squid taken from the jetty using a teaser bait.
A good-sized squid taken from the jetty using a teaser bait.

The lift-and-wind technique is simply that, you raise the rod from a position pointing directly where the jag is in the water to pointing directly up to the sky. As you lower the rod back to the position pointing to the water you reel in the slack line. This is repeated until the jag has been completely retrieved. You must do this slowly so the jag maintains position just above the ribbon weed. Once you feel weight, a squid has grabbed the jag and when you feel a pull it’s caught so reel it in while keeping pressure on the line at all times.

If you feel adventurous you can combine the passive and active methods. While waiting for a squid to find your teaser, you can cast a jag around other areas in the meantime, which maximises your chances of obtaining a good feed of calamari.

Six squid ready to be cleaned.
Six squid ready to be cleaned.
Calamari about to be prepared for cooking.
Calamari about to be prepared for cooking.
A bag of calamari tubes ready for the freezer.
A bag of calamari tubes ready for the freezer.

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