Squid on fly
by Rob Paxevanos.
Bushy is still after that elusive wild ten-pound trout on fly. Harrison and Cooper have been in front of the pack catching makos on the long wand. The lads from A River Somewhere have been chasing bonefish in trendy places.
Lefty Kreh and his mates have been fishing across the globe knocking up countless numbers of new species on fly. However, apart from the odd incidental catch, nobody but nobody has had the courage (or the brains) to develop techniques for the ultimate fur and feather challenge squid on fly.
Cephalopods are not fish, they are actually very smart molluscs, characterised by having tentacles attached to their heads (a similar description would fit many fly fishermen I know). But for all intents and purposes squid behave just like fish in that they are unpredictable in their willingness to take a fly (or lure or bait for that matter). Despite popular opinion, squid are not always easy to fool regardless of the type of angling technique. Sure, if you're out fishing for something else and a willing squid comes along, then you can be lulled into a false sense of security. Let's see the same angler tell me he is going out to catch a few squid and it will only be the really experienced squidder who consistently comes back with the fresh calamari.
My cautious attitude towards squid comes from fifteen years of targeting them. OK, so I admit that trying to fool them is a passion. In the early years it was Rye, Portsea, Sorrento and the fabled squid grounds off Queenscliff that received most of my attention. Even these days, dozens of other squid aficionados can be seen drifting or anchored off Queenscliff when the squid are biting.
Back then, there were no Yo-Zuris (artificial squid lures); to catch squid we used dead fish slipped over a stick with prongs on the end. It was and still is a serious business. Fresh whole sand whiting or garfish worked best and it is relevant to note that a natural looking horizontal floating presentation produced far more lockers and takers than a dead looking heavy headed jig. The most interesting observation from the early days was that squid can lock-in on a food source and be hard to tempt with anything else. Sort of "match the hatch'. Sure, the odd kamikaze can be scored on the most pathetic presentation but you can bet your little tentacles that over time the observant angler will notch up more squid. "They're not hungry!" is a common complaint when dozens of squid hovering below a pier refuse to co-operate. However, upon closer inspection the real story is unravelled.
When you can see squid in the water and they are moving forward and then drifting back, they are usually feeding, much in the same way that trout move up to take emerging nymphs. Don't panic, I'm not going to attempt catching them on an emerger, not yet anyway. What the squid are actually doing is sneaking up on little baitfish holding in the current. They then drift backwards with the fresh snack trapped in their suction cupped arms. In these circumstances the only real way of fooling a few squid is by way of a well-presented fly. This is easy enough to do but the real problems start when you try to hook them.
In the beginning, when everything but trout on fly was considered to be weird, I happened to find myself under the bridge at Wagonga inlet, Narooma. On the day in question I was chasing tailor and pike on fly. They were quite easy to catch, as any minnow style of fly stripped fast was working. During the mid session doldrums I let my fly sink a little deeper and was stunned to see a squid of about a kilo absolutely monster it. This was a surprise because a friend close by had been trying to catch squid on standard jigs without much luck. Ah ha ... dinner, I thought with a smile on my face, letting the squid take the fly well before setting the hook, but my smirk quickly vanished when the hook came back absolutely squidless. I felt better next cast when the squid reappeared and engulfed the fly again, but still no calamari. I just couldn't hook this slippery sucker regardless of how well it took the fly-it was like trying to scoop some spaghetti with a gaff. It wasn't helped by the squid letting go at the slightest hint of movement as I struck.
In the time that it took for the hunger driven saliva to crystallise on my lips I had found an undressed hook in my fly vest and tied it several inches behind the bend of the fly - sort of like a "stinger" arrangement. By now it should be obvious that this story is sponsored by Advanced Hair (not some new fly-tying material but the hair replacement mob). Next cast the squid wasn't so willing and I thought I had lost my big chance. A little pulsing in the action, sort of an eel-like swim, saw my sparring partner again materialise out of nowhere. After several takes though, I found the stinger hook was simply sliding over its tentacles (obviously a very sensitive area). My brain storm had turned out to be a full circle of stupid ideas; it was nothing short of a flying gaff trying to scoop out the spaghetti. In the past I had hooked a few squid on fly by accident, but after trying the genuine thing I felt like I needed therapy!
Suck it and see
After snapping out of deep defeat syndrome I once again realised that knowledge is king and I would have to use my findings to increase future successes. What I have since developed must be viewed as being in the infant stages. Any more research and I would be locked away for good. Firstly, I have found that several small gape, long shank hooks glued together give the best hook-ups. The extra prongs help and the small gape does not totally surround individual tentacles without the point being felt. Secondly, I have found that striking very quickly and sharply gives the squid less time to move its tentacles out of harms way.
As a side note I have noticed that the jigging action recommended on the back of squid jig packs works because the average angler doesn't look to see what the squid is doing. A squid is quite happy to take an unjigged presentation that is drifting through the strike zone, the problem being that any line tension will cause all but the most foolhardy squid to eject it. For this reason I'm going to recommend polaroiding. It is hard enough to catch these fellas when you can see them, but accelerated learning can be gained just by watching their responses. Finally, I will leave the fly choice up to you. Matching the hatch is important, so look in the water to see what is happening. Squid make two mistakes-they show where they are, and what they are eating, so make the most of these.
Finding the suckers
Squid like weed beds, especially near river and estuary mouths. They also frequent piers and other structures just like other fish do. If you're having no luck you can always resort to looking for fresh ink blotches on the local jetty, no other species leaves calling cards like this. Another helping hand working against the squid is the fact that if you pull up half a leg you can prove to your mates that you did get a hit and, no, you were not just imagining things!
Essentially, southern squid occur throughout the lower half of Australia, although I have hooked them as far up as Cairns. Jervis Bay has produced some absolute monsters for me-some bigger, six kilo plus specimens have actually gone down on my live bonito baits from time to time. Keep an eye on the moon and tide phases too. A full moon seems to stimulate the best leg-pulling action.
Arms race If you race out to grapple with squid on fly then the editor might seriously doubt the intellectual capacity of his readers. However, if you do go after them and actually land a squid on fly then you can be sure that you are one of only a few. And the beauty is, it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, in fact it is a lot cheaper than chasing other equally exclusive brag- gable species, such as marlin on fly. Check out the IGFA listings and I think you will find there is plenty of scope for claiming a fly rod squid record or two, without going further than the local jetty! Arrow squid, move in large schools and are remarkably aggressive - they will cling to your presentation even after being landed. For this reason I consider only southern calamari as true squid on fly, sort of like the way some anglers prefer using a dry. I will not even attempt to look up the scientific names of the different squid species, this article has to stop somewhere. What next you ask . . . perhaps octopus ... or jellyfish on fly?