Fishing for Giant Humboldt Squid

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Dated: 7th February 2006
Location: USA/California /Northern California/Bodega Bay
From our Bodega Bay Fishing Correspondent Bob Fisher
Fishing for Giant Humboldt SquidFishing for Giant Humboldt Squid
Our previous trip had been cancelled due to inclement weather. There was a couple of days reprieve before the next storm hit us so my fishing buddy Rich Pharo (no it's not a joke, that's his real name) decided to go ahead and book another trip on the New Sea Angler, a fishing charter boat that operates out of Bodega Bay.

For those of you who don't know, Bodega Bay is the scene of that famous Alfred Hitchcock movie classic titled 'The Birds'. By comparison, a movie about our trip would mostly likely have been called 'Attack of the Giant Killer Squid' and it would have been produced by Rod Sterling as an episode of the 'Twilight Zone'.

As usual, we drank too much coffee and talked all the way up there as we sped along in the pre-dawn darkness narrowly missing three dead skunks before running over the entrails of a fourth one. We arrived safely at the boat harbor and skidded to a halt in the gravel parking lot right in front of the boat and the dock.

There was a crimson glow in the eastern sky behind us. In front of us the dock lights, cabin lights and spreader lights of our charter vessel shone brightly, leaving reflections on the still water. All paying passengers were accounted for and after we all displayed our fishing licenses the deckhands untied the bouys and ropes and Captain Rick Powers headed the 'New Sea Angler' away from the dock and down the channel.

As we headed out to sea Captain Rick gathered everyone inside the main cabin. We were given an interesting lecture on the history of the Giant Humboldt Squid fishery followed by detailed instructions that ranged from how to fish for the squid to how to clean and prepare them for cooking when we got home. The area we were going to fish is known as the Cordell Banks.

It is a two hour trip in the 65 footer and it would put us some 20-25 nautical miles offshore. The two hours passed sooner than expected. We kept ourselves busy chatting with the deckhands and some of the other fishermen, watching dolphins in our bow wave and also a pack of sea lions that appeared to be chasing fish across the surface of the water.

Before you know it we were at the spot and the Captain's voice over the P/A system was telling us to drop our squid jigs down: "All the way to the bottom guys, 700 feet down...Make sure you are on the bottom". We were only there a few minutes when he said: "Nothing here fella's, bring 'em up"... Strangely we didn't travel that far, when he spins the boat around and heads back in the same direction we just came from. We come to an abrupt halt again! Was this a ploy to throw us off from the exact location of where the Cephalopods were lurking? I don't think so, we could hardly see land. "Squid on the bottom guys, let 'em sink all the way down" Captain Rick assured us.

I was situated mid-ships, port side. My Daiwa 600H spooled with 50lb line was still spinning in free spool, line rapidly disappearing as my jig ventured further and further down into the unknown. On the port bow I could see an angler engaged in a battle with what appeared to be some prime sea-bottom real estate. However, closer observation revealed that he was slowly cranking and recovering a small amount of line. Then it was the guy next to him. There was a solid bend in his rod which he rested against the handrail in a futile attempt to assist him in his battle for leverage.

I had nothing so I decided to wind up 20 feet or so and then drop back down to re-establish my contact with the bottom. Even though Captain Rick uses his engines to position the angler in a somewhat stationery position over the school, there is still a slight amount of drift. So I actually had a little bit more than 700 feet of line out as I lifted the rod tip up and it was promptly pulled back down again.

Four or five rapid cranks of the handle saw me hooked up solid. Man, this was one heavy squid and he was a long way down! My rod was rated as 30-50lbs and fortunately for me it had a long foregrip and a gimbal butt and I was wearing a rod belt. At least I could get some leverage. We had been warned of how messy this trip was going to be so I was wearing a cheap rainsuit even though it was a bright and sunny morning.

Some serious 'pump and wind' for about 10 minutes resulted in the retrieval of about 500 feet of line. With sweat dripping down my face and sunscreen stinging my eyes I decided to discard the nylon top. Five minutes later I could see 'color' and called for the gaff. With one hefty swing my deckhand managed to separate the squid from my jig. I swore then I nearly cried (just kidding...) What else can you do?

I dropped the jig back down again, seven hundred feet or so! But I didn't have to wait very long. I was hooked up solid. Fifteen minutes of muscle torture and a pool of sweat saw my first Humboldt Squid lying at my feet, its killer tentacles sucking at my rubber boots and its beak trying to bite me. Can't blame it really....I removed the jig and dropped it down again. Damn! I hooked up straight away. I consider myself pretty fit - but I was already exhausted. I took a breather.

A huge gentleman who goes by the name of 'Stretch' and calls himself a 'deckhand' stood by my side and offerred words of advice. They were not entirely kind words..."Lift up that rod tip" he said. "Now wind up as you lower it". "What are you doing? What's the matter with you?" he taunted me in a put-on English accent..."I'm not bloody English!!!" I protested. "I'm Australian!...And I'm exhausted"... "I don't care where you are bloody from! Get that fish in" he said! Strangely enough, I liked Stretch and to prove that I wasn't a wimp I dragged that fish up from the depths to the surface where he could gaff it.

Now that I had two Giant Humboldt Squid at my feet I decided to take a break and walk around the boat and take some photos. Fortunately for me when I returned to my spot at the rail and my rod, Captain Rick was announcing over the P.A. that the squid were now only a hundred feet down. Apparently it is quite common for them to gradually come up from the depths during the course of the day.

It was much easier now and I quickly added a couple more to my bag. I looked over at the guy next to me. I didn't get my camera out in time... The equivalent of a bucket full of water and ink had just been ejected (with a loud 'woosh') from an angry squid that was hooked up and laying on the surface near the boat. The contents were now dripping from his hair and down his face.

It was absolute mayhem. The squid had come up to the top and were now right under the boat. People were calling for the gaff simultaneously all over the boat. The bags that hung from the railing were full and squid lay on the decks around everybodys feet. The deckhands were racing around madly trying to gaff everybodys fish and untangle lines. I saw an elderly gentleman slip on a squid and fall.

Now when we looked down, over the side, we could see four to five foot long squid swimming up in what was very clear water - we could actually see them come up and grab our jigs and attempt to take them back down into the depths....

As quickly as it had started, it was all over...I looked at my watch, it was only 11:30am. Captain Rick announced: "That's it folks, pull 'em up we are going back in". I think that was a fair call. Everybody had more than enough squid. It was a two hour trip back in and as it turned out the deckhands were still cleaning squid as we pulled up back at the dock. Boy those guys worked hard all day long! And then after all that they had to clean the boat down and get it ready for the next day.

Rich and I both gave half of our cleaned catch to friends or family when we got home. Nothing was wasted. I absolutely love Calamari so I spent an hour or so cutting my share into meal-sized portions which I put into labelled bags that were vacuum sealed and placed in the deep freeze. The tentacles went into separate bags, I am going to use them for bait!

In summary, my first Giant Humboldt Squid trip was an exhausting but very enjoyable day. Be warned that it is really hard work pulling up Humboldt Squid from 700 feet of water on 50lb tackle. And wear cheap rain gear that you don't mind getting dirty or are willing to throw away. Me, I just can't wait to do it again...

Captain Rick Powers is a no-nonsense charter captain who works hard all day to put you onto the fish. The New Sea Angler is a big stable boat that is capable of venturing far offshore. The deckhands were unquestionably the hardest working yet friendliest that I have ever encountered. ...Bob Fisher