Spring is squid time in New England. When the water temperature reaches 50 to 55 degrees, the 10-armed marine mollusks migrate inshore and gather in protected estuaries, bays, coves and harbors. Once their predators (namely bluefish, fluke, seabass and striped bass) catch up and the water begins to warm, the squid schools move to deeper water, although the occasional pod can still be found inshore through the season.
How to Find Spring Squid
Squid tend to move closer to shore on the flood tide and feed heavily through the start of the ebb. During the day they typically hold near the bottom in deep water (12 to 20 feet), often in depressions or along the edge of a drop-off. In this situation, you can catch them from a boat by working a squid jig just above bottom. Once you find a school, drop anchor and work the area by casting your jig upcurrent, letting it sink to the bottom and bouncing it back toward the boat. You may have to reposition the boat if the school moves off.
You can also use a depthsounder to find squid. Individual squid often appear as faint, cone-shaped marks suspended in the water column or along the bottom. Sometimes the presence of a slick will give them away once bluefish and stripers arrive and begin feeding on them.
A good way to tell if there are squid in your area is the presence of commercial squid trawlers. The trawlers generally work sand-bottomed areas in open sounds, such as Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds. Also, when you start to see signs for “Fresh Local Squid” in your neighborhood markets, you can bet the squid are in.
Catching Squid From Shore
While you can catch plenty of squid during the day if you know where to look, nighttime action is much more reliable. After dark, squid gravitate toward any source of light, because that’s where baitfish (namely silversides) tend to gather. Lighted docks, wharves, piers, bulkheads and bridges are all great spots to look for squid after dark, although some spots tend to hold more squid than others. You can generally recognize these places by the number of hardcore squid anglers they attract.
Fishing for squid is easy, but a bright light is key. Many squid fishermen bring their own portable lights, which they run off a generator or from their vehicle. If the dock, pier or wharf has electrical hookups, you’re really in business! Aim the light or lights toward the water and wait for some bait to gather.
Sometimes the squid will show up immediately; other times you’ll have to wait until a school swims past. And sometimes they never show up. Keep a close eye on the water below. Often you’ll see the squid lurking in the shadows around the edges of the light, waiting to pounce on a hapless baitfish—or your lure.
Squid Jigs and Tackle
To catch them, all you need is a light spinning or baitcasting outfit and a squid jig. These oblong lures feature a “skirt” of upturned spikes and come in a variety of colors, sizes, weights and styles. They are available in most saltwater tackle stores or through catalogs such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas. Jig color can make a big difference, so bring a wide selection. Weight can be important too, as sometimes the squid like to hold near the bottom. Other times they prefer a nearly weightless jig that just “hangs” in the water.
A good basic rod-and-reel setup for jigging, day or night, is a light spinning outfit spooled with 8- to 12-pound line. Tie the squid jig to the end of the line and you’re good to go. No need for a leader here.
If you’re trying to fill a cooler in short order, go with a heavier rod and line and use multiple jigs on the same leader. Tie a series of 2-inch-long dropper loops, spaced 6 to 12 inches apart, in a 3- to 5-foot mono leader. Attach one end of the leader to the main line via a barrel swivel. Lastly, tie a small bank sinker to the end of the leader and secure 3 or 4 jigs to the dropper loops.
Jigging action can be critical to success, and often you’ll have to experiment with numerous techniques until you find the right one. Daytime fishing usually requires a “yo-yo” jigging action, where the jig is lifted a foot or two off the bottom and allowed to free-fall. At night, the jig can be cast out away from shore and free-spooled until nearly out of sight, then lifted smoothly toward the surface. Sometimes you can score by simply jigging the lure directly below the spot where you’re standing. And sometimes simply allowing the jig to dangle at the end of the line works better than a more active presentation. Again, experimentation is key. If you have 2 people jigging at the same time, start by having each person use a different action or fish a different depth until you find the combination that works.
There is no need to set the hook when using a squid jig, as the squid’s numerous stick arms will become entangled on the spikes. Just lift the rod gently and reel steadily to keep the squid attached as you bring it to the surface. Once you lift the squid from the water, hold it above the surface for a few seconds so you don’t get covered in ink. To remove the squid, jiggle the squid over an open cooler or bucket until it falls off the jig.
If you plan to eat your squid, cover them with ice to better preserve them, then get them home and clean them. If you intend to use them as bait, place 4 to 5 squid in individual sealable bags and pop them in the freezer.