|Targeting Big Calamari in Port Phillip and Western Port Bay|
|Written by Andrew Clark|
|Saturday, 12 July 2008|
Towards the middle of the year, fishing, particularly in our bays, begins to slow and we start packing up the rods and reels and wait for water temperatures to rise again. This is the time of the year however, that one species, especially large specimens, follow the cold water into the lower reaches of Port Phillip and Western Port. Which species? Big southern calamari squid.
TIMING IS ESSENTIAL
Large southern calamari can be a year round proposition, but, like so many other fishing species, there are better times of the year than others. Whereas snapper and whiting seasons tend to be more dependent on warmer water (although you can catch both during winter), calamari are more of a cold water species. This means that as other fishing seasons are finishing up, the calamari season, particularly for bigger ones, is starting.
In the lower reaches of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, the most productive months for the larger calamari are between June and October. This is the time of year that the big breeders move into these areas to spawn. It seems that each year can be different when trying to work out the best month to hit these squid grounds. A couple of years back, we found July to be the best month, then last year it was October. Like any style of fishing, you need to keep an eye and an ear open for the weekly fishing reports through tackle shops, radio and the Internet to know when things on the squid front are starting to fire up.
GETTING THE LOCATION RIGHT
I know it sounds a bit hackneyed, but it’s no use fishing where the fish ‘aint. Big southern calamari are one of those species that seem to move through essentially the same grounds in Port Phillip Bay and Western Port each year and rarely much beyond these, particularly in any numbers. Because bigger calamari prefer the clear, colder water they’re generally found at the entrance to bays and estuaries rather than well up inside them. Therefore, the main holding areas for big calamari are going to be in and around Queenscliff and Portsea in Port Phillip Bay, while in Western Port, Flinders and Cat Bay are the number one locations for catching the big bangers. Now, before you start sending in emails, I know that big squid regularly get caught further up inside both Port Phillip and Western Port, but it’s always about playing the percentages in fishing and sticking to most productive areas.
The next thing to consider when chasing large calamari, or any size calamari for that matter, is water depth. Again, there are always exceptions to the rule, but generally the best water depth is between 4-12 meters. If I had to choose a favourite water depth, it would be around 7 meters.
What we generally do when we arrive at the squid grounds down at the bottom end of either bay is check the water clarity. If visibility is good, we will work in deeper water and if the visibility is on the poor side, we’ll work the shallower water. It’s probably a good time to mention that if visibility is very poor, as in the water is murky; chances are the squid fishing also will be poor. The reason for this is pretty simple, calamari with their enormous eyes, are a visual hunter and as a result rely heavily on good water clarity to be able to see prey. When water clarity is poor, they become more difficult to catch because they can’t see the jigs.
The best days we’ve had chasing big squid have been when looking over the side of the boat; you can make out the sea floor in 10 meters of water. The good thing is, at the southern end of Port Phillip and Western Port there is generally excellent water clarity because of the proximity to the open ocean (although we’ll have to see what happens to the water clarity around Queenscliff and Portsea over the coming months with the ‘Queen of the Netherlands’).
TIDES, TIME OF DAY & WEATHER
Two major influences on saltwater fishing are tide and time of day. Fishing for big calamari is strongly influenced by both of these factors. Firstly, fast running water and catching calamari generally don’t mix. Secondly, like many other species, dawn and dusk seem to be the preferred times for calamari to feed and therefore to catch. With regard to tide, I think there is a difference between fishing the high and the low. At low tide the water clarity is normally considerably worse than at high tide. Obviously, at high tide there has been about 6 hours of nice clean ocean water running in and therefore water clarity will be at its best. Also, at high tide water depth is at its highest, so this is the time the squid move back into the reefs and broken ground close to shore, which they then often abandon for deeper water when the tide is low. ???
As far as weather conditions are concerned, it’s straight forward. For calamari fishing, whether it be for big or small models, you need a light wind to get some drift (more on that later) and preferably flat seas. Obviously if the wind is light the sea chop should be little if anything, but there still may be some swell moving into areas like Queenscliff and Flinders that are close to the open ocean. I think that the calamari fishing tends to be better when the seas are flat because the squid grounds you fish are generally fairly shallow, therefore if the seas are rough the water gets churned up, visibility goes down and the calamari become less active.
So, baring all of this information in mind, if you had to decide on a time to hit the calamari grounds down around Flinders or Queenscliff, you’d ideally pick a day that is nice and calm, had a high tide around dawn or dusk and you’d fish an hour and a half either side of the tide change.
Many species are affected by the moon phase and in Victoria none more so than southern calamari. What we’ve found is that the new moon seems to be the most productive particularly in terms of numbers of calamari caught. I think the reasoning behind this is to do with the limited light available to squid when feeding at night under a new moon. As a result, their feeding seems to become more concentrated around the traditional times of dawn and dusk.
On the other hand, the full moon seems to produce the opposite. The calamari being a visual hunter, can feed effectively around the clock, because the full moon (when visible in the sky) provides plenty of light even in the dead of night. This means it becomes difficult to predict the best bite time. The other thing we’ve noticed during a full moon is that the big calamari seem to be more spread out and also appear to move into deeper water. I can’t say I know why this happens; perhaps it’s due to the extra light at night that allows them to venture further a field and thereby ‘spreading’ them out. As I say, I’m not sure why this happens and ultimately I suppose the reasoning makes no difference anyway; stick to the new moon for more predictable feed times and also to find them in their most concentrated numbers.
DOWN TO BUSINESS – TECHNIQUES AND GEAR
Well, the first thing I should say here is that catching calamari big or small isn’t rocket science. Even the most inexperienced fishermen, provided he’s in the right spot with a squid jig, should have no problem catching them. One thing that we’ve found with big calamari is that they are, if anything, actually easier to catch than smaller ones. They seem to hit jigs harder and with much less hesitation than smaller squid and if you go through a school of them, quite often you will get a hook up on every rod you have out.
When it comes to fishing outfits, a 2500 to 3000 size thread line reel with 10 to 15 pound braid matched to a suitable 7” rod is capable of handling any size calamari. Sometimes you hear people say you need a snapper outfit to handle big squid, but that really is going over the top. Calamari aren’t exactly the dirtiest of fighters and certainly aren’t renowned for their blistering runs. It’s all about keeping constant pressure on them and gently working them up towards the surface. The main thing is, just take it nice and easy so you don’t rip the jig out of the tentacles.
There are a couple of different jig styles that you can use to catch calamari. The first is to use artificial jigs that resemble a prawn in appearance and the second is to use a bait spike with a whole silver whiting or other small fish on it. Both styles of jigs can be used either at anchor or while drifting, with the main point of difference being a bait spike is normally fished under a float. Artificial jigs on the other hand can be worked by the angler while casting and retrieving or the rod can be left in the rod holder and the natural movement of the boat moving up and down adds the action to the jig suspended in the water column.
Personally, I think artificial jigs are the way to go provided you use good quality ones. It’s pretty easy to know if a jig is good quality or not purely by the price tag. The best quality jigs start at around $20 and can go up to as much as $40. This isn’t to say you can’t catch squid on cheaper jigs, because you can, just in my and many of my contemporaries' experiences, you won’t catch anywhere near as many. We’ve had most success on squid of all sizes using jigs in the 3 to 4 inch size, but just make sure you have a variety of colours because calamari, regardless of size, can be very fickle at times.
The most successful method we’ve used over the years is to drift, fishing 4 rods with 2 of them running down deep using a drop shot sinker and the other 2 fished unweighted where the jig sits further up in the water column. Of course, you can cast one of the unweighted jigs around and work them through various depths of water and cover more ground.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not uncommon to get multiple hook ups when the big calamari are out in numbers and if this happens, cool heads need to prevail if you want to land them all. Although squid jigs don’t have barbs like regular hooks do, if pressure is maintained the squid should stay attached to the jig. This means that if more than one rod goes off, it’s normally fine to leave unattended rods in the rod holders until you are able to get to them. Generally, the weight of one of these big calamari, normally between 2-4kg, is enough to keep the rod bent and the prongs of the jig well embedded into its tentacles.
Big southern calamari aren’t an urban myth. They can be caught, and caught in big numbers. It’s like any other style of fishing; be in the right place, at the right time, with the right gear and big calamari rings will be on the menu.