With more legs than a chorus line and brainier than most contestants in the Big Brother house, squid, cuttlefish and octopus are possibly the weirdest inverts on the planet. These cephalopods (it means “head-footed”) all have well-developed heads, large eyes and beaklike jaws, and the larger species of octopus are the Masterminds of the invertebrate world.
Squid are voracious predators that prefer to hunt over clean sand or mud, and they are more abundant around our shores than you might think. The common squid (Loligo vulgaris) grows to around 50cm, the long-finned squid (Loligo forbesii) gets to 80cm, whereas the little squid (Alloteuthis media) struggles to get much beyond the 20cm mark.
OVER THE COUNTER
Calamari squid (sold for human consumption) is a most under-rated shore bait here in the North East, although boat anglers swear by it for big cod or bass. Public demand for ever-more exotic food means you can usually find it on the fish counter of supermarkets, or you might like to check out buying it in bulk over the internet.
In winter, numbers of smaller squid sometimes mingle with the sprat shoals off the North East coast. When this happens, the cod and whiting will be feeding on nothing else. It takes a good heavy sea to disperse them and bring the cod inshore in search of other food items. An obvious bait squid may be at such times, but few anglers seem to cotton on to it.
TIME FOR COCKTAILS
I am a recent convert, if only because I refuse to waste quality worm or crab baits on winter whiting when I can bulk up the hook bait with squid. Inshore cod, if they are around, will also wolf down a cocktail of squid tipped with a worm, razorfish, mussel or mackerel, and they are equally partial to large whole squid baits.
I always play safe and when going for whiting with smaller hooks I make sure they are strong ones, just in case something more substantial comes along.
My local tackle shop sells frozen baby squid no more than a few inches long, known as ‘squiddly diddlies’ or party squid. These can be fished solo, in multiples, or as a worm/squid cocktail.
Boat anglers uptiding for winter cod in the Teesbay area have taken several 20lb-plus specimens in recent years on party squid. Come February and March, when the spawning cod move inshore, I put in some serious effort with a big squid bait. I tie the last few squid on to the hook, then slide a top Pennell ook down the trace to push them into a nice compact shape.
Presentation, as always, is key. A tentacle from a baby squid is just the right size to add zing to a small worm bait for flatties or whiting, but it’s a fiddly process mounting it. Supermarketbought squid tend to be that bit bigger and easier to manage.
Tip off a cocktail bait with a tough tentacle or a strip cut from the mantle and it will wave alluringly in the tide and ensure your worms stay on the hook. The possibilities are endless.
For example, whole squid are used for conger and various ray species in some parts of the country. I have even had some success float-fishing squid strip and larger tentacles for Pollack at rock marks in South West Scotland.
Tough squid is, and tough it needs to be after multiple hits from these greedy little denizens.
KEEP IT SWEET
Dabs will sometimes take an old, smelly squid, but other than that it is essential that your baits are fresh, or at least freshly frozen. The baby squid I use seem to have been frozen individually, so they separate easily straight from the freezer and I can take just enough for one session, rather than hump along a huge block and wait for it to defrost. It is a waste of time re-freezing squid or any pre-frozen baits, for that matter, so discard any leftovers after your trip and you won’t be tempted to do it.
Supermarkets and fishmongers also sell fresh squid on ice. These may or may not have been frozen and defrosted, so it is safest to assume the worst. You can tell a fresh squid by the thin, purplish membrane covering the body. If it’s not there, chances are the bait has come out of the freezer and been refreshed.
It’s time squid came out of the shadows. It’s a cheap, tough and dependable bait and you might even develop a taste for it yourself.
When you are fishing store your squid in a cool bag or box to keep them in top condition.