Pictured above: Docks with bright lights near deep water are likely spots to encounter early-season squid.
I strolled down the ink-splattered planks, giving side-eyed glances at the 5-gallon buckets scattered around the dock. A dozen fisherman were hunched over the water, slowly jigging their rods and peering into the circles of light made by their generator-powered lanterns. As I put down my own bucket at the edge of the group, one of the fishermen leaned back and dropped a squid into his rapidly filling bucket.
Before the sea bass and porgy seasons open and before the big stripers return, longfin squid move inshore to spawn and feed; best of all, they swarm to lighted docks like moths to a flame, putting them within easy reach of shore-bound anglers.
Over the next hour, I caught eight squid by working the shadow lines while the fishermen directly under the lights out-fished me at least two to one. Eight squid is plenty for my purposes, but I decided to stay until I caught “just one more.” A few minutes later, with nine in the bucket, I headed home for the best part of squid fishing.
Catching squid isn’t very exciting—even a large squid fights only a little better than a glob of seaweed—but the promise of the meal to come makes their return one of my favorite rites of spring—and perhaps my wife Pam’s least favorite.
I believe that squid taste best when prepared as soon after catching as possible. Because fishing for squid from shore takes place after nightfall, that means I often enjoy my fresh-caught calamari as a midnight snack.
• Learn How-To Clean A Squid
There are a number of delicious and complicated calamari recipes, but I prefer mine pan-fried in butter with a light coating of breadcrumbs, eaten over the sink, with the only the dog, roused from sleep by the smell of the cooking, as company.
I admittedly romanticize this calamari consumption, viewing the squid fishing and cooking as an appetizer to the entrée of the “serious” saltwater fishing season, when stripers, bluefish, fluke, and sea bass return to both the figurative and actual menus.
Pam feels differently since she views the aftermath of my midnight meals in the clear light of day. Where I see the beginning of the best time of year, she sees only spilled breadcrumbs, splattered butter, and squid-ink fingerprints on the cabinets and refrigerator. During the first squid run of our marriage, she walked me through a frighteningly accurate reconstruction of the crime scene. It began with my deck boots hurriedly kicked off at the door and ended with the licked-clean plate and crumpled throw pillow where she deduced her husband fell asleep and the dog polished off the calamari.
I’ve since broken most of the bad habits from my bachelor years (helped along by the strict ban on cleaning squid in the kitchen sink). And, while I wouldn’t say that Pam is excited as I am by calamari season, I think I see a pep in her step every May when the southwest winds start to blow and the squid move in from offshore.
To catch a squid, take whatever medium-action rod you use for false albacore or schoolie stripers, and rig it with a squid jig above a ½- to 1-ounce sinker.
Squid can be surprisingly picky, so make sure to have squid jigs in a few different sizes and colors. Generally, smaller is better when squid fishing from shore. Pink and green are staple colors, but glow and orange also work. Fishing two squid jigs is a good way to find out what the squid are hitting.
Squid are attracted to dock lights, and show up around docks and bridges near deep, open water. The most productive squid spots are well known and draw a crowd when the bite is on.
While you can sometimes see squid jetting just under the surface through the lights, most often they’ll be holding deeper. Allow your rig to touch bottom and then crank up a turn or two.
A slow sweep of the rod will attract hits, but be sure to occasionally let the jig sit still. Squid jigs are weighted so that they sink or suspend horizontally – squid often attack them without any added movement. If all else fails, watch the technique of the guy with the most squid in his bucket and imitate that.