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Event: Fishing for Humboldt Squid

A rare opportunity...fishing For Humboldt Squid in Northern California

Date: 2/23/05
Location: Half Moon Bay, CA
Cost: Depends on charter or private boats
Reviewer: Zander

Introduction: When most of us dream about catching big game we see visions of leaping marlin, majestic sailfish, and hard hitting tuna. But the ocean is full of other predators that are more than capable of putting up impressive fights, bending our rods, and testing the endurance of our reel's drags. The mysterious Humboldt Squid is one such creature, and in the last month the California coast has seen more jumbo squid action than in the last 8 years. While biologists are hard at work determining exactly why they are here in record numbers, the fact is that offshore anglers are afforded a unique angling opportunity....one we made sure to take advantage of.

Making the 20 mile run at the break of dawn

Humboldt Squid: Humboldt squid are common in the gulf of California, and while they are found of the coast of California on occasion, they rarely make appearances in great numbers like they have this season. Many anglers recollect the last time they remembered making squid runs, citing the coming of El Nino. Some anglers believe that these conditions are a sign of a poor salmon season, but are a sign of an excellent Tuna season. The fact is that at this time of year when most California offshore anglers would normally be pulling crab pots there is suddenly an exciting new species to pursue. The prospect of pulling up a predator that can reside in depths over 1000 feet deep was enough to get many anglers up at the break of dawn to make 18-20 mile runs straight into the Pacific.

Also a rare sight, a squid fleet in northern California

The Humboldt Squid, which is also often referred to as the Jumbo Squid, is usually at home from Baja down to South America. Scientifically named Dosidicus Gigas, the Humboldt has a reputation for being a deadly predator and has been nicknamed the "Red Devil" by Mexican fisherman. There are even some stories of commercial fisherman falling overboard in the Sea of Cortez and being attacked or even dragged down by these giants. These Squid can reach 6 feet in length, and can weigh over 80lbs. What is known is that they grow extremely fast, which many scientists believe is the reason that they have such insatiable appetites and are so aggressive. These Squid move extremely fast in the water, have excellent eyesight, and attack their prey with a combination of arms and tentacles. Once prey has been ensnared they are devoured with the squid's razor sharp beak. Like other squid they have the ability to change colors instantly. Perhaps most impressive is that these creatures can be found in depths over 2000 feet, but will rise up all the way to the surface to feed.


TT Angler "Seasicknes" and his experienced crew cleaned the squid and used the parts as chum and bait for crab pots

Preparing Squid Tackle
: While there is squid tackle available on the market, most anglers in Northern California were ill prepared for the Humboldt foray. Some anglers ordered special giant squid jigs from down south, while others made makeshift lures out of diamond jigs and bars. A lot of rock cod tackle suddenly came in handy again, as anglers fashioned Frankenstein-like creations. The key was to create something that would be highly visible, heavy enough to get deep should the current be strong, and have plenty of hooks to snag the squid once they latch onto the lure. We were not sure if our "do-it-yourself" lures would work, but we were lucky enough to procure 2 foot-long Ahi USA Giant Squid jigs to use as primary baits.

Foot long squid jigs glow underwater, one of our makeshift diamond jigs (upper right)


Making the run: We gathered up with other TT anglers, and their friends, and all met before the break of dawn. Local charter boats were also making the run, as many offshore anglers eagerly anticipated their very first squid fight. For a lot of us this was a new experience. Would we find them? How would they fight? Or would they even fight at all? We had lots of questions...and the answer waited for us exactly 20 miles straight out of Half Moon Bay. As the light of dawn broke the horizon JIP cranked the TT Whaler "Endless Wave" into high throttle and we were on our way. We couldn't have asked for better conditions, a calm ocean with well timed swells helped us reach our destination quickly. When we arrived we powered up the fish finder and the Garmin lit up with the strangest looking school we had ever seen. It was time to get down to some serious squid fishing.


Never knew a squid could bend a rod like that!

Rods: The day before we came out the charter reports highlighted an excellent fishing report. The squid schools were so thick anglers were experiencing a wide open bite. A lot of anglers had come ill-prepared and posted stories of rods being stressed to the breaking point, and drags being completely toasted after just 1 or 2 squid. Other anglers brought high speed reels and found themselves simply unable to make any headway once hooked up. We decided to bring our Albacore and Halibut rods, and we are glad we did.


Fishing on the TT Whaler "Endless Wave"


Once you hook up the squid will dive in spurts as it attempts to propel itself away. A rod with a serious butt is going to save you a lot grief. Some anglers actually bust out rods complete with gimbals and made use of their tuna fighting belts. This is a sheer muscle game as the squid don't run side to side so much as they do up and down once hooked. Ugly sticks, Seekers, and Calstar rods all make excellent choices, either with normal guides or rollers. I highly recommend the Seeker G 660H-6' C which has more than enough backbone, a quality metal reel seat, and a gimbal....just in case you want to employ a fighting belt. (After the 3rd or 4th squid you will be wishing you had one.)


A squid propels itself away as it breaks the surface


Reels: When you hook into a 20lb squid a decent reel will do, but on the occasion you hook into a Humboldt weighing over 40lbs you are going to wish you had brought your full on tuna gear. These jumbos can fight, and are capable of pulling more than 15lbs of drag pressure in bursts. They will tire you out, not only because they fight hard but because they are so darn heavy. When we first reached our destination we had to go all the way down to depths over 500 feet to hook into the first few squid. As we pulled these up to the surface we noticed the entire school start to make their way to the surface as well. Because we had run with 6 other boats there was more than enough activity to keep them closer to the surface, and thank goodness, because my arm muscles were burning after just 2 squid. I started fishing with a Penn 30T (3.5:1) and the squid proceeded to beat me up. It took quite a bit of effort to haul up the first one, and the squid really did a number on my upper limbs.


JIP brings in a squid with the gaff


After that first experience I found that our Daiwa 2-speed reels were a much better fit for this application. We employed the ultra refined Sealine SLT30-2SPD and robust Sealine SLD30-2SPD to do all the dirty work. The ultra low gear ratio (1.8:1), coupled with brawny dual drags, allowed us to make steady constant retrieves without feeling like we were putting in time in some weight room. A constant retrieve is important because squid would actually come off our foot long squid jigs if we lost line tension. Both reels performed excellent, and I highly recommend the tank like SLD30-2SP for dishing it out to these massive squid. It offers the muscle of the more expensive SLT30-2SPD at a price of 309.95. The Sealine SLT30-2SPD on the other hand is simply exceptional. While it is certainly overkill for this application it is definitely high up on my list of reels that I would also use for Tuna. I found it as smooth as a Shimano Tiagra, with just as much muscle as a Penn International, and best of all it costs less than either.


These jumbo squid put our tuna gear to the test, "fish with 2-speeds if you got-em"

The Squid really did test our reels, as we hauled one after another into the boat. Gearing and drags were pushed relentlessly, and the two-speed reels seemed to simply shrug off the punishment. The Humboldt squid do seem to weaken during the fight, and in between the hook up and the point they break the surface it is possible to switch into high gear and really crank away, since you can instantly pop into low gear when you do get tired. Using a lever drag reel is a big plus, because you can always revert back to your pre-set drag pressure, which we recommend be set between 15-20lbs strike.


The Daiwa Sealine SLD30-2SP was a perfect reel for the job


Landing: During our fishing we noticed that our squid jigs did get hit a lot more than our makeshift diamond jig lures, but because these squid are so big our larger diamond jigs loaded with multiple treble hooks did seem to hold onto more squid, with much fewer becoming unbuttoned during the long haul to the surface. Once the squid came to the surface it often seemed like they were suddenly full of energy again. Diving away, blasting us with gallons of water, or muddying the water with ink. Yes they do ink...and quite a bit. You will want to use a gaff to bring the Humboldts in. We quickly learned not to bring the squid into the boat right away as they continued to disperse serious amounts of water and ink onto the deck. By holding them in the water while on the gaff for a few seconds it made for a much cleaner boat. Once on the deck these creatures that moved with such great agility in the water almost seem lifeless.


A Humboldt squid on top of our 100 qt. cooler


Calamari anyone? During the day party boats and other small craft had also made the run, and it was the first time in my life I had ever seen a squid "fleet" in Northern California. Most anglers cleaned the Humboldts quickly after catching them to get the meat out of the ink. The majority of squid we caught were between 25-35lbs each, and 4 of them easily filled up a 100 quart cooler, making it necessary to clean them, if we were to continue fishing. At the end of the day between the 6 boats that had run out of Half Moon Bay that morning we had a complete catch of well over 100 squid! Some of the boats were so heavily weighed down with squid they sat noticeably lower in the water. All I could think of as we head back to the marina was that I hoped everyone really liked calamari.

JIP holds up a nice Humboldt squid...which probably equates to about 30 servings of fried calamari

Conclusion: Who knows how long these mysterious Humboldt Squid will stay in our waters. Some say that the sheer numbers of these giants continues to grow in the Pacific, others are sure that one day they will mysteriously disappear for another decade or so. Whichever the case may be the experience was memorable. I never thought I would respect giant squid as serious big game, but these Humboldts have me singing a different tune. While I probably won't be visualizing landing a giant squid in my angling dreams anytime soon, any fish, or squid for that matter, that can put a tuna stick and a 2-speed reel to the test certainly gets respect in my book. Until the next time I'll just remember how enjoyable it was to haul in these immense Humboldt Squid up from the depths, and keep myself busy trying to find 101 creative ways to prepare all this squid.









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