The Cephalopoda—squid, cuttlefish and octopus—are ideal sea baits for a variety of species. Here we talk about using squid but the techniques would apply equally to cuttlefish or octopus.
The flesh of squid, cuttlefish, and to a lesser extent octopus, makes excellent bait to tempt many species of sea fish. They belong to the class Cephalopoda, and are cylinder or sac-shaped molluscs with suckered tentacles surrounding the mouth and joining the head. The eyes are conspicuous, and the mouth is equipped with horny jaws like a bird of prey’s beak.
Squid have a ‘quill’ or backbone closely resembling plastic, while the shell of the cuttlefish is a familiar sight on beaches.
The squid is most commonly used as bait, as its distribution in the Atlantic, English Channel and North Sea brings it within range of trawlers operating at ports dotted around the coastline. Cuttlefish are frequently caught but in nothing like the numbers of squid. The octopus is a rare catch in our waters, but a few are hooked by anglers fishing on very rough ground for more conventional species.
Advantages of squid bait
Squid is the cleanest bait to use in sea fishing as the flesh is firm, cuts cleanly and easily, and can be presented attractively in a variety of ways. Above all it keeps well, and a supply laid down in a freezer can stay perfectly fresh for two years. This applies if you follow simple rules. The squid must be thoroughly cleaned by severing the head and cutting evenly down through the centre of the body to the tail. It should then be opened and laid out flat, and the stomach removed in one easy movement. With care you can do this without bursting the ink sac which has an acid content that is irritating to human skin. Squid wings are useless as bait and can be thrown away. Finally, it needs thorough washing using two changes of fresh water, and then the bait is ready for freezing.
If you are preparing a number of squid at the same time, it is a good policy to pack them in polythene bags holding just enough for a day’s fishing. Failure to do this will almost certainly result in wasted bait, as once thawed out squid cannot be refrozen with any degree of success.
Squid heads make a great bait for conger, ling or any other large species, and should be frozen separately. If they are mixed in with the bodies of the squid and taken out on shore trips when small fry are the quarry, it is likely that the heads will be wasted.
Take a word of warning however. The freezing compartment of a domestic refrigerator is only suitable for keeping small quantities of squid for short periods. Disasters can occur when a refrigerator is switched off for de-frosting, and the squid is left in the top. Keeping squid in glass jars to which salt or a stronger preservative is added is largely a waste of time. If preservative is used the flesh takes on the smell of the liquid and drives the fish away: it is not an encourage-ment to them to take the bait, nor is it particularly pleasant to use.
Squid caught on rod and line
Although most squid are obtained from commercial sources, they can s be caught fairly easily on rod and line during the winter months when they shoal in vast numbers par-ticularly at the western end of the English Channel. Between October and March they can be a problem in deep water as they snatch at baits put out for pollack and coalfish with a ‘take’ that is similar to those of both species. The similarity ends after the take however, as they let the bait go a few feet from the boat, even after making a number of powerful dives giving the impression that they are securely hooked. Rough ground has a particular attraction for squid. They hunt in enormous shoals over the great reefs, such as Eddystone, Hands Deep, Hatt Rock and the legendary Wolf Rock off the tip of Cornwall.
For a reason that has never been clear, the squid is seldom caught on normal tackle. It is extremely crafty and also incredibly fast. One of the mysteries of nature is how a large school of squid can suddenly change direction in unison. Squid shoals are a common sight within a few feet of the surface over deep water reefs. The members of the shoal move tail first, by expelling water under pressure which gives a fluidity of movement second to none. The first indication of a shoal’s presence is what can be best described as a giant shadow suddenly appearing.
To outwit a squid, the angler uses a ‘murderer’—a weighted body about 4in long fitted with two rings of needle-sharp points at one end of the lure. Jigged about 10ft below the surface, it will hook any squid that strikes at it on one of the many points. When the catch is lifted over the side, watch out for the ink which the squid will pump out.
The squid cannot be used as bait immediately after capture as the flesh is jelly-like and almost transparent, to the extent that you can see its vital organs. Six hours after death the flesh changes to the familiar white rubbery texture.
Most rod-caught squid are taken within a few feet of the surface, but in water less than 10 fathoms deep. The average weight is 2-3 lb, but specimens to 10lb are not uncommon. In fact, it is generally the larger squid that are caught on rod and line by anglers.
All fish will take squid, and some species particularly relish it. Heading the list are red and black bream, which are caught in their thousands on very thin strips about 3in long offered on fine hooks to paternosters, or a single hook on a flowing trace.
Change a frayed bait
As the squid is so tough, it is possi-ble to catch several bream on the same strip of bait. As soon as the edges show signs of fraying, however, it must be changed. Hun-dreds of conger eels to 100lb are also taken on squid head, or a whole squid hooked through the body and ledgered close to a wreck or on rough ground. Similarly it is a great favourite with the ravenous ling.
A strip of squid about 10in long and lin wide cut to resemble a fish, makes a fine trolling bait for bass. Mounted on a long-shanked hook and worked astern at about three knots, it will dart about in a realistic manner and soon find a taker.
For shore fishing on storm beaches, squid is ideal bait as it stands up to long casting and can take any amount of battering from heavy surf. Many flatfish en-thusiasts use it extensively as a bottom bait for turbot, plaice and dabs, although it has never been much good for flounder.
During the winter months, monster mackerel have a definite liking for a thin strip of squid, and give great sport on light tackle.