Complete Guide to Squid Jigging
Squid Jigging, Squid Fishing, or Simply "Squidding"
Squid jigging is an interesting fishery to say the least. Squid aren't particularly large and hardly put up a fight, and yet every night in the fall and winter dozens of squid fishermen line up shoulder to shoulder on piers vying for their share of the catch. I've called off salmon trips due to bad weather, and yet I too find myself regularly standing in full rain gear in the dark hoping to fill a bucket with squid.
Squidding in West Seattle
You'll never see a wider range of gear than when going squidding. I've been at piers where the fisherman on my left is using a $20 rod and reel combo, and the fisherman on my right is using a $400 fly fishing rod. One of the great things about squidding is that you can use just about anything. If you already have a fishing rod and reel, you're probably all set. Here's what you'll need:
- Fishing rod. About the only true requirement here is that it's not too light or too heavy. I wouldn't suggest anything lighter than a panfish rod, or anything stiffer than a salmon rod. The best fishing rod for squid fishing is a longer, fast action, lightweight trout rod. If I was going to buy a rod specifically for squidding—and I personally wouldn't—it would be a 7 - 8', fast action, graphite, 4- to 10-lb-test rated spinning rod. But again, most fishing rods will do just fine.
- Reel. Just like with the rod, you don't need anything particularly specialized for the reel either. Most importantly is to consider you'll be fishing in salt water, so either select a salt water resistant reel, or be very careful to immediately rinse your reel with fresh water after you are finished for the night. Almost everyone you will see will be using spinning reels. Also worth considering, squid are fairly capable of wriggling off your jig, so the faster you can pick up slack and reel in your line, the more likely it is they will stay on the hook. This means a very small ultralight reel with slower line pick-up is probably going to lose more squid. If I was to buy a reel specifically for squid jigging, it would be a 2500 or 3000 series saltwater-capable spinning reel, but anything will do.
- Line. Now we're getting to the things that do actually matter. Spool up your reel with light monofilament, 4- to 8-lb test. This will help you fish deeper with less weight, and allow the jigs to move more freely in the water.
- Squid jigs. You'll want an assortment of colors and weights. Some nights certain colors just seem to work better than others. I'll go into more detail about these later.
- Squid bucket. Most squid fisherman bring a bucket to drop their squid in. When the action gets going, it's important to be able to quickly unhook the squid and get your jig back in the water; some schools come and go in just a couple minutes. Also, buckets are easier to rinse all the ink out of once your done. Pro Tip: Pick up a cheap wire mesh colander at the thrift store and find a bucket it can sit in. Throw the squid in the colander and let the extra ink drain into the bucket. If the squid aren't soaking in a pool of ink it will make cleaning much less messy when you get home!
- Headlamp. Depending on the public lighting situation at the pier you choose, wearing a headlamp can really help when tying knots or undoing tangles. Remember, you'll be going out at night!
- Camping light, spotlight, or floodlight (optional). Squid are attracted to light, so the more light you have shining in the water, the more likely you are to catch squid. Many piers have lights on them, although on busy nights these piers can get very crowded. Some particularly dedicated squid fisherman will bring along a generator and huge floodlights to bring in the squid. If you decide not to bring a light, just choose a pier with lighting, or mooch off someone else's set-up. So long as you are respectful and do not cast across and tangle their fishing lines, most fishermen will be more than willing to share. Anyone who has invested that much money in squid fishing knows that there are more than enough squid to go around.
- Rain gear, warm clothes. Check the weather forecast before you go; it can get pretty cold, wet, and windy.
How to be a Successful Squid Fisherman
The four most important parts of squid jigging are:
- Sufficient Lighting
- Squid Jigs
- Squid Jigging Technique
We already covered lighting, so let's move on to squid jigs.
Squid jigs are unlike any other fishing lure. Instead of traditional fishing hooks they have a ring of thin, very sharp barbless wire hooks. Rather than hooking the squid in the mouth, the wire hooks snag the squid's tentacles as the squid attacks the lure. These wire hooks are attached to either a weighted or unweighted body, which often includes glow-in-the-dark features. It's a very specialized lure designed for a very particular application. If you plan on going squid jigging, you will need squid jigs.
When selecting squid jigs, there are a number of things you should take into consideration:
- Size. Match the size of the squid jig to the relative size of the squid you are targeting. Here in Puget Sound, squid jigs in the 1.5" to 2.5" range seem to work best. Too large or too small and the squid won't bite.
- Color. When the squid are in thick this really doesn't seem to matter, but on other nights it definitely does. I keep a range of colors with me, however my favorites are generally pink, green, and blue, in that order. No matter what color you go with, it definitely helps if there is some glowing element on your squid jig.
- Weight. Squid jigs are either weighted or unweighted. Some have lead, some don't. It's a good idea to buy mostly weighted jigs. If fishing with a single squid jig, you will want to tie on a weighted jig, which will allow you to fish at the necessary depth. If you use two jigs, the second one can be unweighted. Tie your main line to the top of the unweighted jig, then tie a 18" - 24" leader from the bottom of the lightweight jig to the top of the weighted jig. It is very important that the jig on the bottom weigh more than the top jig or else you are guaranteed to get some major tangles.
Zak Tackle Squid Jigs
Zak Tackle squid jigs are the perfect size and weight for squidding in Puget Sound. Pink is always a top producing color!
Have a Favorite Squid Jig Color?
Squid Jigging Technique
One of the most frustrating things about squid fishing is when the guy next to you is catching a squid on every cast and you're struggling to get a single squid. Some times this is because he has better lighting, or a more productive jig color, but chances are its because he has a better jigging technique.
- Cast your squid jig out a ways from the dock, typically no further than the edge of the light you are fishing near. Casting way out beyond the light will not be effective.
- Allow your jig or jigs to sink. I often let it sink all the way to the bottom.
- Raise your rod tip quickly and sharply 2 - 3'.
- Drop your rod tip to allow the jig to sink freely. (At this point I watch my rod tip for a squid to bite. If the rod tip moves up slightly, that's a squid. Give the rod a moderate hook set, don't swing for the fences here.)
- Reel in a little slack.
- Repeat steps 3 - 5 until your jig is back to the edge of the dock. Then cast again.
If you don't seem to be catching and someone nearby is, watch their jigging pattern and how deep they are jigging and try to match that.
Squid "bites" are unlike fish bites in a couple of ways. First, squid generally won't get hooked unless you "sink the hook." Second, squid generally attack the jig from below, meaning rather than the rod tip being pulled down on a bite, it will raise up. Finally, squid don't fight. When you hook a squid it will just feel like weeds. If it any point while you are jigging, the jig feels a bit heavier than usual, you probably have a squid. Just reel in your line quickly, drop your squid in your bucket, and get your jig back in the water.
Squid bites are very subtle, but once you catch your first few you'll be able to detect them.
Headlamps for Charging Glow-In-The-Dark Squid Jigs
Squid are most active at night, so to give yourself the best chances of catching a bucket-full, you'll want to concentrate your jigging efforts after the sun sets. Headlamps make it easier to charge your glow-in-the-dark jig between casts, and allow two free hands while tying fishing knots or untangling your line. The Petzl Tikka puts out 100 lumens, enough to light up the dock, with a battery life to keep you jigging all night.
Best Tide for Catching Squid
I've heard a lot of different opinions regarding what the best squid tides are, but the most predictable trend is slack tide. Slack tide is the time of low current that occurs during peak high and low tide. Your best time to go fishing is from about one hour before high or low tide until one hour after high or low tide. During this period of low current activity, the squid seem to draw in closer to the lights and bite more aggressively. Check local tide charts, available online, to see when slack tides occur. And again, remember, go squidding at night.
Also, incoming and high tides are typically better than outgoing and low tides.
Time to Go Squidding!
You're all set to go squidding now! You know when to go, where to go, and the gear you will need to go squid jigging. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section and I'll be sure and get back to you! Good Luck!
Questions & Answers
Will green submersible lighting scare the squid away? If so, what's the best color of lighting to use?
In my experience, that only things that will scare the squid away are seals and sea lions. They're such a pain! As far as lighting goes, I prefer using above water lighting just because it cheaper and easier to rig. I'm sure submersible green lighting would work well too, and it's certainly not going to scare them away. As far as color goes, I just use white light. If you watch commercial squid fishing boats, they also just use above water white lights.
Just wondering if there's a particular way to handle squid when removing them from a jig?
I find it easiest to pinch the top of the jig where your line in tied on, hold it upside-down over your bucket and give it a shake. The squid will drop right off. They're pretty slippery, and can get fairly tangled, so trying to pull them off the jig by hand can be difficult.
Will a salmon license be ok to harvest squid?
Currently in Washington the 2019/2020 regulations state, "A Combination or Shellfish/Seaweed license is required for all shellfish (except crawfish) and seaweed harvest." Check your license to see if it's a "Combination" license. If it is, you're all set. If it says "Saltwater Fishing" or "Freshwater Fishing", you'll need to buy an additional shellfish/seaweed license.