Killer Calamari: Fishing For Squid Off The Coast Of California

Giant Humboldt squid have been moving north

Giant Humboldt squid have been moving north

By Steve Chapple Giant Humboldt squid have been moving north from Baja to California waters creating some wild nights of fishing off San Diego. Here two visiting Canadians hoist their catch on the stern deck of the Seaforth. Adult Humboldts grow as big as your leg, sometimes much bigger, reaching 7 feet and 100 pounds. Rowdy and pissed when pulled from the depths, they squirt water and ink until they're boated. Voracious predators, even cannibals, with a biting beak like an eagle's, they dine on sardines, fish, smaller squid species, and even each other.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Party boats leave ports in San Diego, Long Beach, and Los Angeles about an hour before sunset. Depending on the day of the week and the number of squid in the area the boats will bring from 20 to 80 anglers for a night's cruise.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

The captain uses sonar to find his quarry. Squid don't show up as well as bony fish do on the screen, but we found ours all right, about eight miles west of Mission Bay. A school of thousands can hang on the same reef for many nights. Some years the squid appear only briefly, but this spring they stayed for over two months.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

This is a squid lure. You fish it by letting your line down to the bottom, then reeling in slowly and steadily. The opalescent green is phosphorescent and attracts the animals. When they grab it, the circular array of hooks grabs back. If you hook one, don't pump the rod as you would with a fish or they will slip off. It's slow and steady to the surface. Hard work.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Just before we arrive at the squid grounds, first mate Cody holds an orientation in the galley: "Keep your thumb on the reel! Don't pump the rod! If you have to ask whether you have a squid on, you do not have a squid on! We'll bag your squid at first, but once they come thick and fast, you bag your own because there won't be time! Don't slip on a squid! Safety first."Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

The squid spray water and sometimes black ink when they hit the surface. The animals "swim" by jet propulsion, squeezing water through their siphons, and can travel up to 25 miles an hour. Their tail fan whips like a rotating set of fins, and they can jet instantly in any direction. Their power and agility allows them to outmaneuver most fish. This one couldn't outmaneuver us, though.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

These squid are cannibalistic. Stomach contents of boated Humboldts are chockfull of other Humboldts, chopped into bite-sized bits. Catch one, another may attack it on the line. And on the night I was out, seven-foot blue sharks joined the fray. Not a good idea to fall overboard. Here a squid reacts to the sight of the gaff with a squirt of water and ink.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

The action gets heavy once a few of the squid hooked deep down (800 feet or so) are brought to the surface and the rest of the school follows. When they're 10, 50, even 150 feet below, they are much easier to catch in numbers. This young angler is checking out his first big squid.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Squidding is one of those weird outings that captures the imagination of even the most jaded Sponge Bob addict. I hope this kid isn't worried he just caught Squidward. Or that Dr. Zoidberg character from Futurama.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

The business end of the squid. Eight tentacles and two arms push the food into the mouth, where prey is slashed by the beak.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

And here's the beak, which looks like that of a raptor. Or a parrot. It feels hard and sharp, and tears the prey. Squid beaks are a delicacy in Japan.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

The shorter tentacles have suckers lined with TINY teeth. I reached into the bag to rearrange my catch and the tiny teeth pricked like cactus spines.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Nobody knows for sure why the nocturanal creatutes are showing up in such numbers from their normal haunts off Baja California and Peru. It could be a change in current or water temperature (Humboldts are named for the cold Humboldt current). Or it could be that large rival predators such as sharks have been fished out, leaving room for the giant Humboldts to move in with relative safety.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Humboldts are curious and intelligent, with large brains for invertebrates. They're kind of like an angry cousin to the octopus, another smart critter without much backbone. The squid have been known to touch and taste SCUBA divers with their arms, doing no harm. Usually. They have millions of color changing organs called chromatophores, which flash change the squid's skin color from port wine to blanched white. When feeding they seem to communicate to each other in psychedelic blotch-talk. Here an angler named "Bee" carries his squid to the bag, holding on by the tail fin to keep its tentacles and beak away from his fingers.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Cleaning the squid on the way home. The boat charges $5 per squid for the service. Some folks eat everything, tentacles and fan included. Others prefer just the steak. There is an art to cleaning these squid. It should be done immediately, or the flesh goes rank. Keeper parts are then frozen, or eaten.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

There is a pen-shaped membrane inside the white muscelly mid-region, and two flat membranes cover the surface of these steaks. Here, Cody peels off the first membrane, but a second should be peeled before cooking. One simple recipe calls for soaking the flesh in milk or soy sauce, then breading it with Italian crumbs, and frying in butter with a little lemon and garlic. Other cooks go Thai with basil and coconut milk. In the days when there were untold numbers of mercury-free tuna, rockfish, and grouper in the Pacific, most Californians never touched a squid. We are "fishing down the food chain," as the marine biologists say.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

The famous ink gets washed off in the bait tank. Some people make a boiled pudding out of the black stuff, or cook it with fettuccine, prawns and mussels, but this camper has yet to try it. For the squid, though, the ink is a defense, providing a cloak of getaway juice, and perhaps a slightly noxious or stinging poison.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fishing for giant squid

Fishing for giant squid

Squidding is a weirdly pleasant experience on a balmy SoCal night, though it does make you wonder what the hell is happening to the oceans when sportfishermen start targeting such alien-looking game. Here I am with one of the squid which now lie in my freezer, awaiting the First Annual La Jolla Calamari Cookout. My wife is not volunteering to cook them.Field & Stream Online Editors

If You Go:
The Humboldt squid bite can be hard to predict. Pack your rubber boots and wear old clothes because there can be a lot of ink flying around.

Who to call:
Seaforth Sportfishing
www.seaforthlanding.com
Mission Bay

H & M Sportfishing Landing
www.hmlanding.com
San Diego