Squidding this season has been REE-diculous. They showed up earlier than usual, in crazy numbers, and they appear to this angler to be of larger average size than we’ve seen in recent years.
They are everywhere right now. My personal favorite spot has been the Seacrest pier in West Seattle, but that’s primarily because it’s so convenient to my work kitchen. They’re being caught at the Seattle downtown waterfront, down south in Tacoma they’re cleaning up. Up north in Edmonds guys are filling their buckets. Pretty much any well lit pier in the Sound is squid territory right now.
I got all schnazzy this year, and put a portable light rig together. It’s simply a car battery, with power inverter (you can find them at Home Depot next to where they have the car batteries) and a couple of bright LED work lights, all strapped to a hand truck.
If you’ve checked out any of the squidding spots, you’ll know that squid fishing is particularly popular with the Asian community. These guys know their shit, too. They have their squidding game dialed in, and really haul ’em in. It’s pretty obvious when you’re the clueless cracker amongst these guys, trying to figure out how to catch them. I owe a lot of these guys thanks for …. tolerating me, sidling up to their lights, and trying to get in on their action.
Once you have your own light rig though, that attitude of tolerance quickly becomes welcoming. “Right this way sir.” “There’s an open spot right here, sir.” “May I get you a hot towel, and some chamomile tea?” All right, maybe there’s a touch of hyperbole there. Although I did have a guy last night see me rolling up with my rig, and call out (jokingly) “Hey! Here’s my new best friend!” As he motioned me toward a spot next to him.
It’s good to feel welcomed.
Of course, fishing next to guys who are doing much better than I, I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching and trying to learn how to improve my catch rate.
I’ve been trying to see how deep they are jigging. What I’ve learned is that it depends on where they are that night, or even that moment. Sometimes a school is right at the surface. Other times they run deep. You’ve got to work this one out, but my advice is to target mid water column first. There is a belief amongst some of my cracker brethren that squid hang out just above the bottom, and you need to bump your jigs off the bottom. In my observation, the guys who snagging and bringing up debris off the bottom, are the ones whose catch buckets are mostly empty.
Next up was figuring out a jigging style. Watching the gang down on the piers wasn’t much help. The successful squidders seem to have all different styles. Some are jigging fast, some slow, making long sweeps of their rods, or just quick, jerky twitches.
I wasn’t able to settle on a pattern the worked consistently. That is until a couple weeks ago when I got a break. It was a calm night, the water was like glass and particularly clear. The squid were running just under the surface, and I was able to watch them approach and hit my jigs.
Like many types of fishing, they often chase the lure, but don’t commit. That’s not frustrating … no, not at all. When you get one, there were usually 4 or 5 more that had been following the bait but didn’t hit it.
The squid were chasing the jigs when they are dropping down. When the jigs stopped, they’d approach and sometimes grab hold. When the jigs were jigged upwards, the squid would back away. Unless of course they were close enough to get snagged.
Now I had some solid information I could work with… I’m sorry, I meant to say, with which I could work. Are you happy now Ms. Proof Reader Lady? (she’s good, but persnickety)
Squid are drawn to descending jigs, will strike them after they stop, and will back away from rising jigs, but can sometimes be hooked if you jig up quickly. Knowing that, I was able to put a pattern together.
I don’t cast out. I flip the jig out underhand 10 or 15 feet away from the pier, just outside the circle of the spot light. I let slack out as I raise the rod tip up one time, then close the bail and let the jig flutter and swing down toward me, jigging occasionally as the line swings in toward vertical. Sometimes I get hit during this first drop. Once the jig has dropped most of the way down, I’ll jig up sharply with a long upward swing of the rod. Immediately I quickly drop the rod tip and let the jig flutter back down. At the bottom I pause for a 4 or 5 Mississippi, then repeat the jigging until I get one, or I need to recharge the glow on the jigs.
Sometimes you feel the weight of them when you jig up. But mostly I feel them hitting during that pause at the bottom. Sometimes they pull at it, sometimes it feels like tapping, sometimes the jig gets lighter as they lift up on it. The point is, if something is messing with your jig, it’s probably a squid. I shouldn’t have to tell you, if you are getting hit, jig up right away, and keep reeling until you have it out of the water. Those hooks don’t have barbs, and they will scoot off if you let them. But if they do get off the hook, drop the jig back down. 7 times out 10, they’ll come right back for it. Apparently once they do commit, they’re greedy about it.
Speaking of things you’ll go back for more of, who doesn’t love fried calamari?
(I’m really getting the hang of these transitions, eh?)
I considered making a video on cleaning squid, but there are already tons of them on YouTube. I figured I’d save myself the effort, and let you check out one of those if you need to. And I’ll get right to the cooking.
Once your squid is cleaned, and cut into rings or strips. Then you’re going to want to soak it. Most recipes you find will suggest you use milk, but I’ve found that buttermilk works better. It has both a higher fat and a higher lactic acid content. Another alternative is to add a little bit of pineapple juice to regular milk, say 1 Tbs of juice per cup of milk. The acid tenderizes the squid, and the fat plumps it. Both help give you a more tender, richer end product.
Also, after much experimentation, I’ve settled on a mixture of seasoned rice flour and cornflake crumbs as a coating. I could go on about absorbent properties, and contrasting consistencies, yada yada… But I’m ready to eat. So trust me, it’s good.
1 lb of cleaned/cut calamari tubes & tentacles
1 cup buttermilk, or 1 cup milk + 1 Tbs pineapple juice
2 1/2 cups rice flour
1 cup cornflake crumbs
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp granulated onion
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 eggs beaten w/ 2 Tbs of water
1 quart of frying oil
Soak the calamari in the milk for at least two hours, and as long as overnight. Drain it completely, rinse it off and pat it dry between paper towels.
Heat the oil in a high sided pot to 350°.
Combine 2 cups of rice flour (setting aside 1/2 cup) with the other dry ingredients.
Dust the calamari thoroughly with the remaining 1/2 cup of rice flour.
Toss the calamari in the egg wash. Then move it in small batches into the flour/crumb mixture, tossing the squid in the mix and coating each piece thoroughly.
Fry the calamari in small batches, allowing the oil to return to 350° between each. It will cook VERY quickly. 15 seconds per batch should be fine. Transfer it to a plate or bowl lined with paper towels, and let the excess oil get soaked away for a few seconds before serving.
There are tons of options for dipping sauces. Marinara sauce is common, but I’ve always found that to be too strong for squid. My tartar sauce recipe is on my Fish & Chips post, and I think it goes great w/ calamari, especially if you tweak it with some hot sauce.
Although, fried calamari also is great served on top of a salad, as well as over some vegetable pasta, like I’m having for dinner tonight.