Fishing for squid with a rod and line is known as squidding and is now popular around much of the south and west of the British Isles where this species is most commonly found, although squid are also present around the north of the UK in smaller numbers. Squidding requires the use of special lures known as squid jigs and an increasing numbers of anglers are developing methods and techniques to successfully catch squid in British waters.
Many anglers will struggle to identify the different species of squid they are targeting but the most common species in British waters are the common squid (Loligo vulgaris), the long-finned squid (Loligo forbesii) and the European squid (Alloteuthis subulata). Both the common squid and the long-finned squid have a mantle (body) length of up to 50cm (20 inches) and weigh over 5lbs, although the average is less than half this size. The European squid is much smaller, seldom exceeding 15 – 20cm (6 – 7 inches) in mantle length and a few ounces in weight. The colour of all of these species can vary with red, brown, pink and purple with a speckled or mottled pattern being the most common. Due to the difficulty in distinguishing the different species of squid found in British waters the rest of this article will consider squid as a single species.
Distribution and Behaviour
Squid are found in the waters surrounding the UK in waters down to several hundred metres deep. They are far more common in the warmer waters around the south and south west of England and parts of Wales and Ireland where they are mostly present in shallow inshore waters from the early summer to early winter. Squid appear to be increasing their numbers and moving further north, possibly as a result of warming seas. A report by government scientists from Cefas has even said that squid could eventually replace cod and haddock as the main species caught commercially in British waters. It may well be the case that squid are present in good numbers in the waters around northern England and Scotland today, but the lack of anglers targeting this species means that they are not reported.
During daylight squid move into deeper offshore waters and huddle together in groups on the seabed. During darkness they move into shallower water in large, loose groups to hunt and feed. Squid prey on smaller fish which they catch by reaching out with their arms and tentacles and entangling their prey before pulling it in towards their sharp beak as the picture above shows. Due to this nocturnal behaviour, it is therefore only possible to catch squid on rod and line during the night.
Squid are not caught using conventional spinners fitted with standard single or treble hooks. Instead, they are caught on a specialised type of lure called a squid jig. This consists of a body (which is designed to resemble a fish or prawn) and two rows of circular, upwards facing points which are known as crown hooks. When a squid attacks the lure its arms and tentacles become caught up in the many sharp points of the crown hooks and allow it to be reeled in. Anglers specifically targeting squid will therefore always use squid jigs rather than spinners or lures fitted with standard hooks. Read a more detailed article on the different types of squid jigs which are available to UK angler by clicking here.
Most anglers targeting squid in the UK use a rod and reel designed for spinning. As most squid are fairly small and do not put up much of a fight when caught a relatively light and sensitive spinning rod that is capable of casting weights of around 1oz (28g) is the best choice, although due to the increased casting distance they offer some anglers choose to use bass rods rated to cast 2 – 4oz.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Squid
Squid can be caught by casting and retrieving the squid jig in the same manner as a spinner. This is generally done from places such as piers, breakwaters, harbour walls and jetties which offer a good depth of water to cast into. Finding an area where squid are present is a matter of trial and error, or using the local knowledge of people who have already done the hard work and found an area where squid can be caught. Many anglers use a sink-and-draw technique when targeting squid. This is when the angler casts out the squid jig and then alternates between allowing the jig to sink and then making quick turns of the reel handle to get the squid jig to move upwards in the water. This method will see the squid jig cover different depths and increase the chances of locating feeding squid.
As squid hunt in mid-water they can also be caught on squid jigs which are presented underneath a float. An adjustable float rig is the best choice as this allows anglers to experiment with the depth at which the squid jig is presented. The diagram below shows how this type of rig can be constructed.
Once the jig has been cast out many anglers find that the movement of the tide is sufficient to impart enough movement into the jig to attract squid and get them to attack the lure, although making a few occasional turns of the reel can add additional movement if the sea is very calm.
Reeling in and Landing Squid
As the hookpoints of squid jigs are usually barbless it is important to reel in smoothly to ensure that a lightly hooked squid cannot swim off the jig. Anglers casting out squid jigs are likely to feel a heavy, dragging weight on the line when a squid takes the jig (squid are not strong fighters when hooked) and should raise their rod tip upwards and continue to reel in quickly and smoothly. When float fishing for squid anglers should resist the temptation to strike when they see the float dip under the surface. This is because the arms and tentacles of the squid are fairly weak and delicate, and may snap off if the strike is too powerful. Instead of striking the angler should quickly raise the rod and again reel in smoothly.
Landing squid can be difficult as the weak arms and tentacles of squid are liable to snap off, especially if the squid is hauled up to a raised fishing area on a pier, jetty or rocks. Therefore it is always best to have a drop net or landing net to hand to land squid. Some anglers report that squid come off the jig when they reach the surface of the water, either because the squid lets go of the jig or the force of breaking the surface detaches the squid from the jig. Whatever is the cause many anglers find that successfully landing squid can be more difficult than hooking them in the first place.
Does Light Attract Squid?
There is the belief that squid are attracted to light. This is certainly true in commercial fishing for squid as many fishing boats around the world successfully use light to attract squid to their boats and increase their catches. It is, however, unclear how well this applies to recreational rod and line squid fishing in the United Kingdom.
When it comes to fishing marks some anglers specifically seek out places that are close streetlights or other artificial sources of light in the belief that they will attract squid while some anglers also experiment with placing lamps or torches near the surface of the water where they are squidding. There is no conclusive proof whether or not this attracts squid and increases catches and it is up to individual anglers to experiment with this and see if this works for them. Similarly, it cannot be proven that adding sources of light to squid jigs works to attract squid. Certainly, a wide range of squid jigs are manufactured which feature a battery-powered light inside them, while other anglers attach a small disposable chemical light stick on or near to squid jigs to achieve the same result. However, it should be noted that many anglers successfully catch plenty of squid with unlit squid jigs and it is even claimed by some anglers that squid catches decline when a source of light is added to the squid jig. Again it is up to anglers to experiment and see what works for them.
Uses for Squid
Squid are a great bait for shore and boat fishing which can be used to catch almost all of the species of fish found around the UK. Squid is firm meaning stands up well to casting and it can be frozen for future use. This page shows how to gut squid for bait, but squid being prepared for human consumption can be gutted in exactly the same way. Squid is also delicious to eat and larger squid can be kept for the table. As with any species, anglers should only keep what they will use and any small and undersized squid (which make up the majority of catches in some areas) should always be carefully unhooked and returned to the sea.