Catching calamari squid on jigs is an art and a science…
The squid’s alien appearance, chameleon-like ability to blend into its environment and shrewd cunning has enthralled generations of Aussie anglers.
It’s pulsating skin, swirling tentacles and razor beak might conjure up ideas of some horror from the deep, but its flesh is a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy when prepared right.
Until the wave of Italian and Greek immigrants turned up half way through last century with some decent calamari recipes, Australians had no idea how to prepare squid properly, and ended up deciding that it was only good for bait.
These days you’d be flat out finding a pub between Bondi and Birdsville that doesn’t have crumbed calamari rings on the menu.
Vaguely prawn-shaped, multi-pronged jigs have been the primary weapon in the squid hunter’s arsenal for decades now. In the past, these jigs were simple affairs, uniformly coloured pink or white cylinders with a single or double row of wonky steel prongs to snare curious tentacles.
These days, Australians are taking note of the detailed, finely textured jigs employed by Japanese EGI anglers. These dedicated purists have really elevated the art of squid hunting over the last decade, and expensive, imported jigs are now the armaments du jour of the serious ceph enthusiast.
The southern calamari is the most popular squid species in Australian waters and is widely targeted by rec fishos. They’re frequently caught in good numbers from Brisbane around the southern half of the country and up the west coast to Perth.
They’re known to be short lived and quick growing and respond well to a variety of angling techniques. Of all the various cephalopods caught around the country, the southern calamari is the best target for those looking to take home a decent feed.
Good sized calamari squid can easily attain hood lengths over 30cm, with the largest specimens measuring up to 50cm.
Arrow squid are smaller, with somewhat tougher flesh and are considered to be a lower quality food species, although they’re still highly prized as bait and the larger specimen have enough meat on them to warrant a fry up.
They’re very common in and around the estuaries of New South Wales and can be really prolific in some waterways such as Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury River. They’re a good species to hone your squid catching ability on as they’ll willingly hit a jig and can sometimes be caught in good numbers.
Northern calamari squid are the tropical neighbour of their better known southern relative. They’re sometimes encountered in northern New South Wales waters and are caught frequently all the way up the Queensland coast and across the Top End. Although they’re on average a little smaller than southern calamari, they cook up just as well.
The most effective technique to catch squid is to cast and retrieve prawn jigs in fairly shallow water. The most important step is to target them in the right locations, which can take a bit of trial and error.
Squid seem to prefer to lurk and hunt in clear water over the top of a sandy bottom with patches of seaweed. Pure sandy areas don’t seem to hold as many squid, and neither do rocky, reefy areas completely covered in seaweed.
Squid can be found in the open ocean over the top of reefy structure and in front of rocky headlands, but are also plentiful within bays and estuaries so long as there is no brackish water present.
The idea when jigging for squid is to imitate the movements of a prawn, so allowing your jig to sink before slowly retrieving it and imparting the occasional quick jerk with your rod tip.
It can take a while to get the hang of the ideal retrieve, but generally squid seem to hit jigs more freely when they’re allowed to sink deeper in the water column and only jerked occasionally.
Clear water is best for targeting squid and they’ll often be very hard to tempt if the water is murky or chopped up or after any rain. They will often hit jigs much more willingly in low light conditions, so nighttime and very early mornings generally offer up prime squid hunting conditions.
Even very large squid aren’t capable of putting up too much of a fight, so can generally be handled easily on quite light tackle. A small 1000 or 2000 size spin reel loaded with 6-8lb braid and matched to a 7’ flick stick is perfect.
Although light tackle is well suited for squid fishing, it’s a good idea to use a fairly crisp rod with a stiff tip that allows you to effectively impart realistic, prawn-like jerks to your jig. Soggy fibreglass blanks are hopeless for this style of fishing, you want a nice crisp graphite rod, similar to what you’d use to flick soft plastics for bream or flathead.
It’s definitely a good idea to invest in a few different jig sizes and colours so that you can experiment when the squid are finicky. Some days, they will actively hit any jig you cast, but on others you might have to swap between half a dozen different sizes and colours before you find something that works.
Squid seem to have very good eyesight and can be fussy regarding presentation, so it’s worth using very light fluorocarbon leader to attach your jig to your mainline. Fluorocarbon line has the same refractive index as water so is virtually invisible under water.
ON THE PLATE
You can’t beat a feed of fresh crumbed calamari rings, just make sure not to overcook them!
One large calamari squid provides plenty of meat for an entrée for two people, although smaller squid are hardly worth the effort of cleaning for their small yield.
The key to perfect calamari rings is to lightly crumb them with egg and panko breadcrumbs and then to flash fry them in an ultra hot pan. Any more than about 30 seconds of cooking either side and they will toughen up and start to go rubbery.
Serve them straight out of the pan over a light salad with a squeeze of lemon juice and you’ll be hooked!