I was told once that in Sydney “the best King and Jew fishers are the best squidders”. That was my original motivation to learn how to reliably catch inkers… not that it’s helped much with the Jewies though…
I don’t class myself anything close to a Sydney Harbour squidding expert but when I want to find a few I normally can without too much hassle. This is how I go about it.
I’ll deal here with catching squid in the daytime (I’m primarily talking about Southern Calamari squid, a.k.a. Green Eyed squid which is the species you’ll most often encounter around the harbour in daylight hours)
A good squid spot in Sydney Harbour needs 4 ingredients: clean water; weed… preferably kelp; hard structure… like rocks or jetty pylons; and sand.
Rain is the big enemy of squidding in Sydney Harbour. Even though the Harbour isn’t as affected by fresh water in the same way as a true estuary system like the Hawkesbury, after a lot of rain you’ll see lots of rubbish in the water and it will often be quite cloudy.
You can escape the effects of fresh water by moving closer to, or even outside the harbour mouth.
When you start fishing, you need to get your jigs working as close to the weed as you can. If you’re not getting hung up now and then you’re not fishing close enough.
You’ll find kelp around the fringes of the harbour on nearly every rocky shore and headland, from wave washed spots around the heads right up into the quiet reaches of bays.
I guess it helps squid to find nice hidey-holes. All our best spots have what I’d describe as ‘jumbled’ bottom structure.
Sometimes we can call a probable take before it happens just because there happens to be a prominent gully or bommie for us to cast to.
Like a lot of marine predators you will often find squid most plentiful on these boundaries. It stands to reason then that where there is patchy sand there are lots of boundaries and lots of squid.
If any one of these features is missing I can confidently say you're much less likely to get squid and I wouldn’t waste time fishing there.
Water depth is much less important. I’ve caught squid in less than a metre of water and in water up to 40m deep on offshore reefs.
In Sydney harbour, the warmer months of the year see a lot of smaller squid hanging around in shallower water. From mid Spring to Mid Autumn I concentrate my squid fishing in water less than 3m deep.
Through the cooler months the average size gets bigger but squid become easier to find in deeper water... a lot of my spots at this time of year are in 3-10m.
Finally on location, squid are highly mobile. Just because a spot fires on one morning, doesn’t mean you’ll find squid there in exactly the same conditions next morning.
Thankfully though, they’re also very aggressive which means if squid are around, you’ll usually catch one within the first few casts. If I don’t get one in the first 5 or 10 minutes I’ll move and keep moving till I find them.
To be an effective squidder in Sydney Harbour you should find yourself a bunch of likely spots… then when you go fishing for squid you’ll have plenty of options to try until you find them.
The best advice on how to learn about catching Sydney inkers I was ever given (from a genuine Sydney squid ‘Sensei’), was to spend a day fishing for nothing but squid.
It’s really tempting when you’re struggling to find squid, to put away the jigs and start fishing for something else. Leave the other gear at home for a day. You’ll learn more about squidding in 1 day without distractions, than in a season of short sessions.
Finally, just to get you started with some areas, try out the rocky shorelines and points inside South Head, North Head and around Middle Head.
As I said before the couple of hours either side of high tide is best for squid but you can catch squid at any time of day as long as the 4 ingredients for the right location are there.
Without doubt, the low light times of early morning and late afternoon produce more squid. This is when bait is more active so of course the squid are out hunting too.
Pay the money and get good ones - Yo-Zuri and Yamashita Jigs are the brands by which others are measured although there are some other great brands too.
They’re expensive but they’re finely balanced so they sink horizontally, not vertically as some of the cheaper models do. This sink attitude makes a big difference to the number of hits you’ll get from squid.
Good brands also have fine, sticky-sharp jags that will attach themselves instantly to your clothes, boat carpet, and anything else they touch, including squid.
You’ll still catch squid on cheap jigs, just nowhere near as many.
My choice of size is based on water depth. I try to use the smallest jig practical that will still effectively get down to just above the kelp.
This means that in shallow water in the warmer months I nearly always fish with size 1.8 or 2.0 jigs every now and then putting on a 2.5 for slightly deeper, favourite summer spots.
During the cooler part of the year when I’m fishing deeper water most of my squidding is done with size 3.0 - 4.0 jigs. I’m sure these bigger jigs also better suit the relative bigger size of the squid found at this time of year.
Colour is a personal preference and in my view the least important factor. My own choice is for bright pink or orange jigs in low light and more natural colours when the sun gets up. For what it’s worth my first ‘go to’ colour is a Yo-Zuri pattern locally called ‘Yakka’. You’ll find good harbour squidders who swear by gold, blue or green.
It’s a pretty simple system. All you need is a 6 1/2 – 7’ light spin rod and a 2500 – 3000 size reel and you’re in business.
Some people use heavy (around 20lb) line to help rescue weeded jigs. I use line around half that, preferring the added finesse. I’m convinced I get more takes using lighter line and I rarely have any problem getting jigs back out of the kelp.
One issue that I’ve discussed often with good squidders is ‘mono vs braid’… on the basis of the significant number of squid I lose when using braid.
I swear by using mono when squid fishing. BrettP and I have repeatedly tallied the difference and while we regularly lose up to 1 in 5 squid on braid (nearly always close to the boat) we almost never lose any fishing mono.
Now here’s the theory… using ‘stretchy’ mono creates a shock absorber making it less likely you’ll ever have slack line between you and your squid. Because of the ‘pulsing’ way a squid fights and the barbless jags, any slack will let the jags drop out of a hooked inker.
A lot of gun squidders use only braid though… many of them will either use less ‘stiff’ rods or, from a recent Fishraider discussion, wind their reel’s drag back significantly. If you do use braid make sure you use a good quality mono or fluorocarbon leader to the jig.
Regardless of your preference, you’ll definitely do better if there is some ‘give’ in the system to absorb a hooked squid’s ‘pulses’ and keep the jig where it’s meant to be.
Daytime squidding in the Harbour is very simple.
Simply tie the jig to the end of your line or leader, flick it out over the kelp, let it sink as close to the kelp as possible, then retrieve it slooooowly.
If you think you’re winding slowly enough, halve the speed and now you’re probably about right. The aim is to keep your jig moving just above the weed. Any speed in your retrieve will quickly see your jig plane up towards the surface away from where squid will be lurking.
I intersperse my slooooow wind with occasional gentle flicks of the rod tip. Just think how a swimming prawn is likely to move. It only needs to be subtle… I sometimes see people ripping jigs with full, hard sweeps of a rod. If you think about the distance the tip of a 7’ rod moves in an arc from horizontal to vertical that would have to be one hell of an athletic prawn.
A squid take is very distinctive. You’ll feel a sudden weight as if you’ve hooked a lump of weed but then it will start to pulse. This is the hooked squid trying to get away backwards by jetting water from its mantle.
When you get a take, lift the rod firmly and smoothly but not hard. If you strike too hard you’ll just rip the jig out and possibly end up with a only a tentacle for your trouble.
Then wind in smoothly and steadily. No pump and wind… all that will happen if you try that, is the jig will drop out when you lower the rod tip. Big squid will occasionally take a little line against the drag but they don’t ‘run’ as such so just be patient and smooth with them.
When you get your squid to the boat or shore you can either lift it in (only recommended if it looks well hooked) or net it. When netting a squid don’t try to swim it in head first as you would for a fish, net it from behind. If the squid tries to bolt it will swim backwards, straight into the net.
If you value your clothes and cleanliness, wait for your squid to ink in the water… not on you, the boat or your mates. Every squid saves a last load of ink to use at boat-side. My 6yo daughter in particular likes to bring squid straight in and make sure this last load hits someone on board.
Just hold your squid in the water until it’s done its messy squiddy thing (if it looks only lightly hooked it’s sometimes worth risking being inked because leaving them in the water just gives them more opportunity to escape). When you finally land it try to keep it pointed away from anything you’d like to remain in its original colour.
As previously mentioned, just work your spots over quickly until you find squid. 5 minutes in any spot is enough to let you know if they’re about.
Once you do catch one, always throw the next cast in the same spot. Squid usually travel in pairs or schools so where you get one, you’ll often get more.
Keeping squid for bait
One of the main advantages in catching squid is having a ready supply of quality bait. Fresh squid is one of the best baits you can use in Sydney Harbour but its effectiveness can be easily diminished if it’s not looked after.
The best way to keep squid in top condition is to keep them alive in a recirculating bait tank until you’re ready to use them as either live or strip baits. Bait tanks with aerators are a poor second best as one dose of ink and all the water will need to be replaced or the squid will quickly suffocate.
If you can’t keep them alive then the next best thing is to put them straight into a zip lock bag that you can then put on ice in an esky. The squid tend to end up swimming in a bag of ink that only seems to make them better as bait. Sometimes 2 zip locks (one inside the other) are best to keep them tightly sealed.
It’s really important not to let squid come into contact with fresh water. It really damages its effectiveness as bait for some reason… hence the sealed bags in the esky.
Squid in zip locks can also go into the freezer this way and when you can’t get any fresh, this is still a long way better than service station squid or even fresh market squid.
Even better than zip locks for the freezer I’m told is to vacuum seal them. There are a number of good vacuum sealing units available for home use. Having not used this method I can’t compare its effectiveness but I’d still try to keep my squid in their own ink.
Of course if you’re going to be using your squid immediately it’s just as easy to pop them in a bucket but be warned that once dead they deteriorate very quickly.
Even though this is written as a guide to catching Squid in Sydney Harbour, exactly the same pattern has worked for me up and down the east coast of Australia.
Once you can reliably catch squid you’ll always have fantastic fresh bait or delicious Calamari rings.