There are over three hundred different species of squid. All species have a distinct head which contains two long tentacles and eight shorter arms. The body of a squid is long and tapering with two triangular wings on each side. Many species of squid are a white to pinkish colour, but some are more brightly coloured. Most squid species are less than 60cm (2 ft) long, although the largest species, the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can grow to around 13 metres (45 ft), and there is evidence to suggest that in the deepest depths of the ocean specimens even larger than this may exist. Further information on squid species found in UK waters can be found in the section on Squid and Cuttlefish Species, and there is also an article with information on fishing for squid with a rod and line.

Types of Squid Used by UK Anglers

There is much confusion about the types of squid used by UK anglers, with terms such as calamari, clean, ‘dirty’, unwashed and loligo being used, leading to confusion.

Clean squid: This is simply any squid which has been cleaned for human consumption after being caught. This type of squid may be bought fresh from fish counters at supermarkets or fishmongers, or sold in frozen blocks. The reason this squid is known as clean squid is because it is cleaned and washed soon after being caught either on board the vessel or at a processing plant, as it will be sold as food. Despite the cleaning process removing some of the scent clean squid is still a very effective bait for UK anglers.

Dirty or unwashed squid: This is squid (of any species) which has not been cleaned or processed in any way after it has been caught. Some anglers prefer using dirty squid in the belief that the washing and processing of squid removes the scent and juices which attract fish. Clean squid is sometimes referred to as calamari and dirty squid as loligo. This is because calamari is a generic culinary term for any species of squid intended for human consumption and the Loligo vulgaris species is often, but not always, the species sold as dirty squid.

There is much debate in the angling community about the ‘clean squid vs. dirty squid’ debate, with some anglers claiming increased catch rates with dirty squid. However, it is important to remember that clean squid has been used as a sea fishing bait for years and has certainly accounted for a large number of big fish. There is unlikely to ever be a definitive answer as to which type of squid is the best bait and both varieties of squid are likely to account for good catches around the British Isles.

‘Clean’ Squid as Bait

The rest of this page is on using clean squid as a sea fishing bait (the article on ‘dirty’ squid can be found here). Squid is a versatile bait: small sections can be used to catch small flatfish or tip-off worm baits, with larger sections will catch a range of species such as whiting, coalfish, bass and dogfish.

Squid bought from fish counters which are intended to be used as food make great bait.

A whole squid is a classic winter cod bait and many sea anglers use squid for this purpose. Whole squid can also be used to catch large bass and conger eels.

Purchasing Squid

Squid at fishmongers
Squid is available from most supermarkets.

Since clean squid is meant for human consumption it is very easy to find. Many tackle shops will sell frozen squid in either 1lb or 5lb blocks, while specialist bait suppliers may sell frozen squid in sizes as big as 20lb blocks. There is nothing special about the boxed frozen squid most tackle shops sell. It is simply imported into the UK as food for human consumption and then sold as sea fishing bait. Usually, the squid sold cheaply by tackle shops is the species Loligo opalescens – an abundant, small and short-lived species caught in the Pacific Ocean. A number of supermarkets and some fishmongers sell squid in refrigerated form or iced on wet fish counters. This is an excellent bait and can have firmer flesh with even more scent than frozen squid. However, check that the squid has not been imported frozen and then defrosted by the supermarket – if they do this it should say that it has been previously frozen on a sign near to the product.

Storing Squid

Squid which has been bought frozen can be kept in a domestic freezer and will remain in perfectly good condition for several years. It can be removed from the freezer and allowed to defrost a few hours before use. Many anglers who have bought large 5lb blocks of squid allow the block to partially defrost and then break it into smaller sections which contain enough squid for a fishing session and then re-freeze these smaller portions.

Boxes of frozen squid
Boxes of frozen squid are sold as food but are available from fishing tackle shops to use as bait.

Always let squid defrost naturally and never try to speed this process up by putting the squid in a microwave or using warm water. This will result in an inferior bait with less scent. Squid which has been bought fresh from a fish counter can be stored in the fridge for several days.

Bait Presentation

Small squid around four to six inches in length are the optimum size to use as bait whichever species is being targeted, and happily, Loligo opalescens squid which is often boxed and sold by tackle shops is usually this size.

Squid strips: Strips of squid can be used as standalone baits for smaller species such as pouting, whiting, school bass and so on. In order to cut the squid into strips it needs to be gutted first – a guide on how to do this can be found by following this link. Strips of squid can be threaded onto the hook, and if the hook goes through the strip of squid several times it will be a tough bait which stands up well to casting and impact with the water. Strips of squid can also be used to tip off other baits to create a cocktail bait. Ragworm and lugworm are good choices to combine with squid, but mussel, peeler crab razorfish and a range of other baits will all benefit from having a strip of squid added. An additional advantage is that if the squid strip is left trailing it will move and flutter in the tide, adding a useful visual attraction to the bait. Another cocktail bait involves wrapping the gutted flesh of a squid around a sandeel and then securing the bait together with bait elastic or thread. This is a top bait for anglers targetting rays. Squid heads are not very good as a bait on their own but they can be combined with other baits such as lugworm, crab or mussel to bulk out cocktail baits.

Whole squid: When using squid bait to fish for large species such as winter cod, big bass and conger eels then squid can be used whole. Simply pierce the hook through the squid’s body several times and feed it up the line as the picture below shows.

Whole Squid
A whole squid on a large hook makes an ideal bait for species such as conger eels.

Bait cotton or elastic such as Koike Bait Elastic can be used to secure the squid in place and prevent it sagging down the bend of the hook. Prior to mounting the squid on the hook some anglers scrape away the pinkish skin of the squid to reveal the white flesh underneath but others leave the skin on in the belief a natural-looking squid will be more attractive to fish. There is no consensus over which approach works best and it is up to the anglers personal preference. As squid is a fairly large bait it will swing and flap around when being cast out. Many anglers, therefore, clip down squid baits in a rig incorporating Breakaway Impact Shields to prevent this. Pennell rigs are also popular when using squid as this ensures there is a hook at either end of a large squid bait, and this is the favoured rig when using this bait to target big cod.