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Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Winter bass
Tuesday, February 06, 2018
Lighting the underworld

SoCal Squid
Our local market squid are complicated and mysterious little rascals. They tend to come and go on an annual cycle during winter and spring. When they show en masse, it’s because they’re spawning. But strangely, it seems they only live 4 to 9 months — not quite a full year — so how does that work out? During warm-water winters, they tend not to show up in the shallows at all.

What we do know is that the little buggers we use as bait are market squid and they spend most of their lives out over deep water, mostly out over the edge of the continental shelf, staying deep during daylight hours and coming up to feed on the equally rising plankton later at night.

They eat just about everything they can catch: krill, arrow worms, even anchovies that they’re jammed into a bait tank with. Out on their feeding grounds they’re pretty hard to catch, and almost no one even tries. But when they move in shallow to spawn — then every one wants a piece of the action.

It’s in roughly 90 to 120 feet of water where the action takes place. It seems each individual squid only lasts a few days in the orgy zone before becoming too beat down to continue on. Females waste away, losing mass as they make eggs, their skin falling off due to repeated grappling by males wanting to upload their code.

Male tentacles wear too. During a full float, one can see 2 or 3 or more piled on at a time, forming star-shaped blobs of grappling squid under the lights.

While all this is going on, down at the bottom, females are gluing egg cases together, forming massive blobs. Individual egg cases swell with sea water to become finger-length, each containing 50 or 100 eggs in a gel matrix. Perhaps you’ve seen these basketball-sized blobs of egg cases being pulled out of the bait tank and dished overboard?

Dealing with squid in the bait tank or receiver is a lot of messy work because of this. Crews will put a few live fish in with them, just to keep the squid from getting too comfortable in there and spawning out and dying early. Scooped squid tends to live, at most, for four days.

The stuff seiners pass off to the boats tends to be a little hardier, for being newer to the nest on average, too perky to crowd or brail, not yet ready to float. Every once in a while crews will find “daylight squid” out on the feeding grounds, balled up on the surface by marauding predators. If you can catch these ones, they last forever in the tank.

Squid eyes may look similar to vertebrate’s eyes, the ones we are used to thinking of as “eyes,” and they really are. But in the great diversity of animals, vertebrates are a pretty narrow group with very similar traits. All the rest of the critters either lack eyes, like worms, starfish and clams, or have wildly different eyes, like spiders, crabs and flies.

Squid are wildly different critters, too, more closely related to clams than fish. Evolutionary biologists call the way vertebrate and squid eyes evolved to be so similar in structure, (lens, iris, retina...) “convergence.” Similar conditions drove similar results, although from wildly different starting points.

But the way squid see color is completely different than the way we do. We have photo pigments (opsins) for three primary colors: blue, green and red. It’s the relative ratios of these three colors that give rise to the full spectrum we perceive. Squid only have one, and any color light activates it. In other critters, that would make them color blind.

However, recent work by a father and son team of Harvard physicists, Christopher and Alexander Stubbs, suggests that in squid, a combination of an asymmetrical lens and differences in the way light of different colors are focused by it allows squid to perceive the full spectrum. The big advantage is seeing full color at very low light levels.

If squid and their close relatives didn’t see color, how would they be able to match their colors to their surroundings as they do?

Catching this magic bait is what we’re interested in. It has everything to do with how the squirters see, because we gather them by shining lights into the water. With blues and greens traveling farthest in the water, these colors can pull squid from farther down. But by the same token, the way oranges fade faster with distance seems to concentrate them nearer the boat, where you can scoop them.

So sometimes you’ll see the pros put out lots of blue and some green all around the boat, but if they’re trying to scoop or crowd, they’ll also break out a single white light right at the rail.

For the practiced eye, spotting a squid spawn during daylight hours is easy with the right mix of birds and mammals behaving in the right way, and BAM! When you see it, you know it, but describing it in words, well, that’s another matter.

There are birds, but birds can mean a lot of things other than squid. With spawning squid, gulls fly back and forth scanning the surface, not too high, perhaps just 30 feet up. Occasionally one or a pair will swoop on the same spot. Key: there are no pelicans involved.

Sea lions are usually in on it too and they are spread out, ones and twos. Rissos dolphin love squid also, but common dolphin prefer fin-fish, as do pelicans.

Squid jigs work great and some of the most effective are the daisy-chain gangion-style squid getters that Izorline makes. Squid will jig during daylight hours just fine.

If they’re not spawn crazed, they will eat Lucky Luras and Sabikis better, but it’s scratch fishing at best. Mackerel will be on them too, and it’s harder to get your victims off a Sabiki.

Oh, and by the way, squid will actively try to bite you all the while. This makes the squid getter a lot more user friendly choice.

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.

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