Squid can be caught in many areas of Puget Sound. Photo by Mark Yuasa, WDFW.

Enjoy squid jigging: a fun, nightly affair this winter

Catching squid is simple whether from a pier or boat

Squid are relatively easy to catch and sometimes you’ll even get more than one to latch onto to your jig. Photo by Mark Yuasa, WDFW.

During fall and winter, while most urban dwellers are sleeping there’s a lively fishing dance happening up and down the piers around Puget Sound.

No this isn’t a “flash mob” showing up along the waterfront, but a group of anglers jigging for squid.

Squid are relatively easy to catch and a family friendly fishery, plus once you unlock the key to jigging the reward will likely come in a small bucketful of tasty sea creatures — commonly known in the culinary realm as calamari.

Squid jigging has seen a substantial increase in participation over the several past years especially since accessibility is simple and success rates can be especially good when returns are strong.

From September through February, millions of these jet-propelled squid migrate into Puget Sound as they prepare to spawn.

It is here before laying their eggs along the sandy bottom near kelp beds and rocky areas that squid feast on small baitfish like herring and candlefish, zooplankton as well as grabbing a colorful jig bouncing up and down on the end of a fishing rod.

Squid inhabiting the Salish Sea are also referred to as “Pacific squid” or “market squid” and measure 4 to 12 inches with a short-term one-year life cycle.

Not much is known about squid, although WDFW fishery biologists say an entire population replaces itself each season, and as a result they can withstand high fishing pressure.

“It is a boom or bust type of fishery for Puget Sound anglers and exact arrival timing is unknown,” said Roy Clark, the WDFW squid manager. “Last year, squid arrived early and in big numbers, and this season the return took time to develop. This year they had a robust population off the coast and down in Oregon.”

Part of how WDFW fishery managers support a sustainable squid population is with fishery assessments to monitor angler effort and harvest. The WDFW management plan for squid goes through 2022, and Clark says they plan to conduct creel checks again to follow up on a 2016–2017 survey.

In total, 12 piers in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound were surveyed from August 2016 to January 2017 with surveys being stratified by tide. Additional information collected included biological data and information on the residency and fishing frequency of anglers to gain a better understanding of the resource and its associated user group. Surveys showed the bycatch and associated impacts from squid jigging can be considered relatively low.

There are six commercial fishery licenses that target squid in Puget Sound, and not a lot of catch recordings with just 100 pounds taken in 2020.

Since this is a winter-time activity your most important tools of the trade are rain gear, layers of warm clothes, waterproof shoes/boots and a thermos filled with your favorite tea to ward off the ever-present rain and frigid temperatures.

Lastly, keep in mind you won’t find much solitude along the piers so show patience and keep your distance between fellow anglers to support public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Often times if you aren’t familiar on how to catch squid there’s usually a friendly soul nearby willing to offer some tips!

Gear and tactics

Unlike many other saltwater fisheries, squid jigging is a lot less complicated.

A lightweight 6- to 9-foot trout rod and spinning reel does the trick. Your mainline on the reel should be loaded with 10-pound braided or 8- to 12-pound Hi Vis monofilament line so you can feel the subtle tap or vibration of a squid sticking to the jig.

For your leader use 8-pound fluorocarbon measuring 3- to 4-feet and attach the jig with either a small snap swivel or a loop knot to allow the jig to flutter.

At your local tackle shop look for a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce weighted luminous glow-in-the-dark pink, red, orange, blue or chartreuse jigs. Unweighted lures are also used by squid jiggers tied to a one-ounce lead weight. Colors are a preference and weight will depend on water current so be sure to have a variety in your tackle box.

Regulations say no more than four lures may be used at one time so often anglers will “gang-tie” multiple jigs to their main-line.

These jigs don’t have “hooks” and are slanting sharp prongs that squid wrap their tentacles onto as they don’t “bite” a jig. Keeping a steady upward pressure with no slack in the line is important and avoid reeling fast otherwise they’ll simply let go of the jig.

Bring your rod tip up to about 10 o’clock and then slowly lower the jig back down to make it resemble an injured fish. From a pier lower your jig from the surface down to about 20 to 25 feet down although some work entire water column from top to bottom.

Timing is also key to catching squid with the best period occurring at night during or right at flood tide change. When abundant you can even catch squid on a daylight flood tide.

Squid are attracted to lights beaming off urban waterfronts or lit piers, and many anglers like bring their own powerful lanterns or spotlights to dangle just off the surface of the water.

Schools of squid lurk along these shadowy edges of lighted water and then quickly dart out into the light on their unsuspecting prey.

Jigging from a boat

It has been a longstanding tradition to catch them off piers but pursuing squid from a boat is a new trend that may be unlike anything else lifelong Pacific Northwest anglers have experienced.

Anglers use large powerful 1,100-watt LED commercial lights hung along the bow, port, and starboard sides just above the water’s surface and powered by a portable generator. What you create is a 25-foot radius of bright lights surrounding your boat. The powerful lights are used to attract squid and the feed they prey on to the boat.

Boat jiggers will also add a pair of 108,000 lumen UV spectrum lights dropped into the water off the boat’s stern. You can also add a fixed 20,000 lumen LED lighting onto the transom as the more lights the merrier.

Make sure your boat has an anchor to lower off the bow. This keeps you positioned in one specific area and avoids you drifting away from the schools of squid.

The advantage of using a boat is accessing areas that aren’t being fished on as heavily, plus you can go to areas where squid are as deep as 80 to 125 feet.

This includes spots right off the Edmonds, Elliott Bay, Des Moines, and Shilshole Bay marina breakwaters; Todd’s Shipyard in West Seattle; and piers along the Seattle waterfront that aren’t accessible from the shoreline.

Make sure your boat is equipped with the proper safety equipment since being out in the dark and during the winter can be dicey at times. If the weather forecast doesn’t look good, it’s wise to pick another day.

Learning how to fish from a boat isn’t too complicated, but if you’re unsure there are some Puget Sound charter boats who offer guided trips. More information about how the Departments works with charters and guides is available on our website.

Where to go and rules

There are lots of locations along the Seattle waterfront and across Puget Sound to catch squid.

Like any other fishery if the bite isn’t happening along one pier it might be wise to move to another.

The pilot run of squid shows up in September and they return well into February. The prime months are November through January.

Not much is known about their exact migration timing. Some years they’ll appear as early as late-summer or like this winter are late to the show and not as abundant in their normal locations.

Squid fishing is open year-round. The daily limit is 10 pounds or 5 quarts (no minimum size) of market squid and all other species, plus up to five Humboldt squid may be harvested.

Besides a fishing rod other allowable gear are a forage fish dip net or handheld dip net. Each angler must keep their catch in separate containers. Keep in mind there are closures around marine preserves, conservation, and shellfish protection areas. A state shellfish license is required for those 15 years of age and older.

You can find a wealth of information on WDFW’s website, including how to clean squid and tasty recipes at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/basics/squid.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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