How toTips & Techniques

How to catch southern calamari

IN a relatively short space of time southern calamari have shifted from an occasional target with limited following to a popular species with widespread attention. I suppose it was throughout the eighties when fishos cottoned on to the seafood potential and relative abundance of this unique cephalopod, and the species started gaining interest.

As a fishing target calamari are pretty cool. They are aggressive feeders, have widespread distribution and can be actively targeted by fishers of all ages. On the table they taste pretty darn good and I think it’s fair to say that most predatory species around our country won’t pass up a meal of calamari either.

Where to Find Them

In this feature I’m going to concentrate on our southern calamari. Some of the same rules and methods can be applied to the northern species, but their habitat and feeding behavior does vary. Southern calamari can be found around the lower half of our country from Southern QLD around to Exmouth in WA and including Tasmania.

They are more prevalent in areas of low energy and clean water where weed beds are in abundance. Shallow inshore bays and gulfs are the perfect environment to find them, especially bodies of water from 1 to 10m depth. While you can catch calamari in deeper water the bulk of the biomass and the better environment will be found inshore.

Most of my local calamari grounds lie in water from 2 – 5m of depth with access to good seagrass meadows and even some limestone and cork weed nearby. Concentrating on areas on the inside of a point or lee side of an island, just over the blueline in a sheltered bay, and on the tapering edge of a reef as the hard bottom gives way to seagrass are all likely environments.

Calamari will be scattered through these areas, so you will need to work an area to find a concentration. You might plug away catching one or two here and there – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but when you find a school and have a mass of squid sitting at the back of your boat or under a jetty, that’s when the chaos starts!

Squid Jigs and Tackle

The first step is to arm yourself with a suitable rod and reel, and a handful of jigs. The beauty of squid fishing is the minimal tackle and preparation required for a session. In the rod department, you can essentially get away with using any light to medium rod with a degree of success. To improve casting distance and ability to effectively work a squid jig, you can invest in a dedicated Egi outfit. But in reality any rod with a bit of length, say between 7’ to 8’ with a fast taper will be ideal. You don’t want a rod too stiff, if the rod is too firm you’ll likely loose a few calamari as they lunge away, resulting in just a portion of tentacle remaining on the jig.

A threadline reel between 2500 and 4000 is ideal size, complemented with 15lb braid. This braid may seem like an overkill for squid but by fishing with 15lb you will minimise jig losses when you foul up in the ribbon weed. And if you’re not hooking the weed on occasions, then you’re likely not getting deep enough. A 15lb fluorocarbon leader completes the set-up.

In the jig department there are oodles to choose from, varying in make, model, colour, size and style. For best results, stay away from the 5-jigs-for-$10 specials at your local tackle shop. If you want good results, invest in some quality jigs as they will pay for themselves time and again.

So what makes a quality jig you might ask? A good jig will sink horizontally, not nose-first, and will impart a darting action when worked underwater. A quality jig will have a good finish with quality prongs and tow point, with long-lasting cloth – if they are the cloth-covered variety. The cheaper jigs have a tendency for the underbody lead to fall out, eyes coming adrift and the prongs rusting.

Squid jigs are sized numerically, with sizes 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5 being the most popularly used sizes. Smaller 1.8 and 2.0 sizes are available, along with a larger 4.0 and 4.5 models. This unique numeric sizing of squid jigs refers to the length in inches from the eye of the squid jig to where the body meets the prongs.

It’s handy to know the sink rate of the jig you are using, so you can count the seconds for the jig to sink. This will help you to work the squid jig just above the weed. As a rule of thumb, a size 2.5 squid jig will sink at 5 seconds per metre, a size 3.5 will sink at 3.2 seconds for metre, while the 4.0 will take 2.9 seconds per metre.

Some of the better jigs I use regularly are Shimano Sephia Egixile, Yamashita Egi OH-Q Live, Yo Zuri Aurie Q and DTD Real Fish Oita. Different colors will work well in different conditions, depths and locations, but if I was going to take a handful of jigs onto the water I would take a UV white, King George Whiting, Green and Yellow (Colour HS in Yo Zuri or Banana Prawn in Egixile), blue pilchard, and all-black. The black jigs work really well in low-light conditions as they silhouette well from underneath. Look to use luminescent or red jigs for night time use, and UV glow for overcast daytime conditions. Don’t be afraid to change jigs to see what’s working on the day.

Working an Area

When I’m fishing from the boat I’ll aim to target calamari on the drift to be able to cover ground and work an area thoroughly. I’ll pinpoint the area I wish to target and then motor up wind to be able to drift back through the area. This is obviously best done in light winds, but if the breeze is up slightly I’ll leave my motor running and will kick the engine into reverse every now and then to slow the speed of drift. If you’re drifting too quickly it’s a lot harder to get your jig down to the depth you want.

When you find a few calamari they will often rise up in the water column to attack a jig. But when you’re scouting an area, or if the sun is high overhead you really need to get your jig down as close to the bottom as you can. When the boat is drifting in one direction, the momentum tends to lift your jig high in the water column.

To combat this, try casting ahead of the boat so your jig can reach a bit of depth. After laying a cast in front or just offset of the line of drift, I’ll give my jig plenty of time to sink towards the bottom. When drift fishing from a boat I prefer using size 3.5 or 4.0 squid jigs, as these larger sizes will also aid in achieving depth.

I then work my jig on pretty slack line. I’ll have a fair belly of line, and when I hop my jig I’m only making contact with the jig on the highest lift of the rod tip. The loose line still lifts the jig as the rod tip is raised, and this allows the jig to stay quite deep and helps to present it naturally. I like imparting plenty of action too, giving a two or three sharp lifts of the rod tip, before recovering some of the slack line. I’ll continue working the jig in this fashion until the jig is behind the boat and lifting high in the column.

I’ll normally do two to three drifts through an area, and if we don’t have any action I’ll move along and try another likely spot. Calamari are generally aggressive, so if you haven’t caught one or at least seen a follow, then it’s time to move on. By staying mobile and working areas systematically, you should eventually locate some cooperative cephalopods.

If we’re fishing some inshore weed beds for whiting, then I’ll often flick a squid jig out the back to try and pick up a stray squid or two – and they’re often big suckers lurking around the whiting grounds. Because we’ll likely be fishing anywhere from 5m down to 15m for our whiting, I’ll cast the jig behind where we’re fishing, and will try to release enough line so that the jig sits just above the seafloor, and with the reel engaged I’ll sit the rod in the holder and will continue fishing for whiting. We’ll often pick up two or three nice calamari in a session by leaving a jig set out the back.

There’s no point in setting a jig underneath a float in this depth – the squid will rarely rise to the surface to attack a jig, unless they have followed a hooked fish to the surface. It’s quite common so see a good sized calamari follow a hooked whiting or red mullet to the boat, and for this reason I always have a spare rod rigged with a squid jig, so I can simply flick a jig in front of the squid. If they have followed a hooked fish from the depths, it indicates they are hunting and willing to feed.

I’m sure we’ve all had sessions where you can see squid following your jig, almost touching the jig with their long candles before retreating. Pretty frustrating huh?! We’ve noticed this behavior more frequently on really calm days in shallow water with minimal water movement. In desperation I’ll try dropping squid jig size and will even smear a bit of scent such as tuna oil or S-Factor onto the jig. Sometimes this makes a difference, but it does make a mess on cloth-covered jigs. But sometimes the squid just won’t play and there’s not a lot you can do but to move on and try a different area.

For land based fishing it’s a similar principal to fishing from the boat; look for likely weed beds and work those areas systematically. It goes without saying that the weed beds need to be within casting distance, and concentrating your fishing around the twilight periods brings the best results. Land based areas such as jetties, piers, natural rock ledges and breakwater groins are all popular land based locations to find a calamari or two. Any area which is low in energy and fronts likely habitat is worth a cast.

Similar when fishing from a boat, let the jig sink to as close to the seafloor as possible before hopping the jig up into the column. Always scan the area just before you lift your jig from the water to make sure there’s no squid following. For land based fishing I prefer using smaller jigs, with sizes 2.5 and 3.0 being my preferred sizes. These smaller jigs sink slower than the larger models, and their small profile can tempt squid in hard-hit areas. In really shallow grounds I will sometimes drop to a smaller 2.0 jig, but the casting distance is compromised with these mini jigs.

Alternatively a floating squid jig can be used. Croatian manufacturer DTD has released some bibbed hard body squid jigs which can be worked in much the same way as a hard body diver for fish. The jig can be worked down to a depth, and allowed to slowly rise before being repeated. In super-shallow areas these jigs can be quite effective, where traditional jigs will sink and foul in the weed quickly. 

Targeting calamari is a fun and active form of fishing, whether you’re trying to secure a feed for yourself or gather some bait. We target calamari quite regularly with our kids which is a lot of fun, and the ink always makes it interesting.

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