Presented from Issue 98
What is egi?
About 400 years ago a bloke in Japan was looking at squid in the harbour, while fishing, and thought there has to be a better way to catch these things. Until then the techniques were a dip net and teaser bait, cast or drag net. He studied the squid for some time and observed that the squid would prey on fish and shrimp as they slowed or stopped. After much trial and error he created an artificial bait that would suspend or sink very slowly in the water, and hopefully attract the squid to the artificial bait.
He called this artificial bait egi.
At that stage it did not have barbs on the lower part of the egi and was used to excite the squid to attack and come close enough to pick up with a dip net. After much success attracting squid to the egi, but still having difficulty netting squid more thought came into the design.
The first egi was constructed from Japanese maple drift wood that was already naturally buoyant with a coin inserted for weight, as fabric adhesion was not yet invented a texture was hand carved and heat was used to burn a contrasting colour, horse tail hair was also used to replicate the prawns legs in some designs, pheasant feathers were used to replicate fins of fish and to slow the decent of the egi, using fine wire a series of hooks were inserted to the back of the egi and the modern squid jig (egi) was born.
In the 400 years since its creation it has had many changes as far as the materials and coatings are concerned, however, the design of the egi shape and action has remained relatively unchanged. Using an egi is called squidding, in its nation of origan Japan it is called egingu.
Understanding the egi
The egi is relatively new to Australia when compared with our Japanese neighbours, and the correct use of the jig is even younger to Australia. Since their introduction to our domestic market there has been very little knowledge of the egi and how it works. Even as people spend a lot of money on new flash wiz bang egi, there is still little known about how they work or how to work them. We have been very fortunate that the squid that we target in Southern Australia is southern calamari (Sepioteuthis australis). They are quite naive and in such numbers that they are easy to catch, where as if we had been using them for 400 years the situation may be different. Like all animals squid learn. As part of natural selection squid understand that after a while they observe their mates being attracted to certain egi and action of egi. When this happens they are removed from the water and disappear, after a while they work out that if they go near that type of egi of that type of colour they will be given the same fate. So being able to understand the styles and colour of egi will help you to attract and catch more squid.
How is an egi designed to work?
Squid do not have a lateral line like most scale and fin fish that enable them to feel prey via vibration. Squid do not make much vibration as most of their distress is displayed in patterns and formation of colour on the skin. What squid do have is excellent eye sight. They have a large eye and can see better and clearer than any mammal because of the makeup of its eye. One problem they do have though is distinguishing colour.
All squid with the exception of one squid - Firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans) can only see in monochrome, scientists believe that because they can see 3 of the 6 polarizing light spectrums that they distinguish colours by separating the light refraction and brightness of colours to see various shades that we cannot see, so although they are effectively colour blind they can see many more shades and tones of colour in monochrome than we can. This makes them the ideal predator as they move silently and can see both during the day and at night better than any other animal in the ocean.
As squid are strictly a visual hunter they eat food that they can see but often lack the speed to chase down, so they use their stealth to stalk prey and as the prey slows or stops is when the squid pounce. This is why squid choose to prey on fish and prawns that will move fast in short bursts and then slow to regain energy. Taking this into account, the egi is designed to excite the squid to attack. Fast rapid movement followed by a sinking pause will encourage the squid to stalk the prey and then attack as the egi slowly sinks during a pause. Since its introduction to the domestic market here in Australia the most common action used is a lift fall retrieve, although this method can work well at times it lacks the one principal that the egi was designed to do, excite the squid to attack.
If a squid is hungry and in hunt mode they will attack most things that come within grabbing range, however, if they are not in a hunting mode they need visual attraction to entice them to feed, also having the fast aggressive action of the egi will more likely excite and attract the attention of a squid. Its a bit like waving your hands into some ones view to attract their attention, where if you remained slow and still you may not have attracted the other persons attention. Having the egi dart left to right in very quick succession will get the squid’s attention, where as a slow and vertical action may not get the attention of a squid from a distance may mean the difference between squidding and catching.
Technique for egi
There are many different ways to get your egi to work. As mentioned earlier we have used a method called lift and fall retrieve.
Lift and Fall:
This is simply a cast then once the egi has sunk to the bottom a 90 degree lift is employed and then we allow the jig to fall back to the ocean floor. This method is great for night time fishing where you have the opportunity to put many casts into one small area and give the egi plenty of time to sink. It is important to keep in contact with the egi by winding in slack line leaving only enough slack in the line for the egi to fall naturally, this will also give you the ability to feel any contact a squid may have with your egi.
Rip and fall:
Similar to the lift and fall is the rip and fall, following the same basics as above instead of a normal lift you rip the rod tip as hard and as fast as you can 90 degrees. This will do the same as the lift and retrieve but in a faster and more aggressive action, it’s an attention getter more than anything with the fall being the most important factor in the retrieve.
Rip and Crank:
The rip and crank technique starts with a cast and again wait until the egi has hit the bottom, once egi is at rest on the ocean floor angler takes up the slack line and points rod tip towards the egi, a fast rip up 45 degrees is used to lift the egi, once the egi is off the bottom the rod tip is worked in very fast succession between the positions of 12 and 3 on a clock face two or three times, on every occasion that you lift the rod tip you wind one turn of the handle at the same time, what this does is take up approx 30 cm of line on most 2500 sized reels so on each crank of the rod tip it will dart the egi approximately 30 cm left to right. This action has a touch of the rub tummy and pat your head motion to it, it feels very unorthodox and awkward but works very well to get the squid to raise up and attack the egi and probably my preferred method. It is also the way that the egi was first designed to be used and still the most common action used in Japan.
At times squid will hold the bottom and it is hard to raise them up to attack an egi so a burn technique is used to simply annoy the squid into attacking for territory rather than for food, to do this you would cast past where you believe the squid to be sitting and with your rod tip pointed towards the water constantly wind and crank the tip of your rod up and down about 40 cm, this will make your egi twitch left and right subsurface. This technique is used a few times before employing one of the other methods. This can also be used when the squid have gone off the bite to bring them back on the bite. One important factor that should be taken into account with your technique is to correctly and firmly set your barbs into a squid, we often hear that people dropped a squid as it was only hooked on one tentacle or it is only just hooked, this is because the squid has been given opportunity to let the egi go after grabbing the egi.
The idea behind striking like you would any other lure is to cause the egi to turn or spin and the barbs penetrate the tentacles at the bulk of the head the most solid part of a squid or more than one tentacle as the squid embrace the egi, if the egi barbs are set close to the bulk of the head you should be able to lift a squid up by the egi with out the squid falling off. Squid attack all prey by extending both candles (longer tentacles) out and pulling the egi in towards the mouth of the squid so allowing the jig to hook naturally will in turn have them hooked by just one tentacle or by one candle if you are lucky (well set barbs in bulk of head and tentacles)
What makes a good egi?
There are various things that distinguish good egi from a bad egi, when shopping for new egi take a few of these items into account for a better success rate.
Although squid can only see in monochrome, colour is an important factor when selecting egi. Taking into account the environmental factors that can contribute to a squid being able to see and recognize egi, colour selections will vary, as squid can see polarization of light that we cannot see the use of reflective foils to enhance the visibility of your jig is paramount.
Different coloured foils that are built into the egi below the cloth surface will refract UV light differently during different stages of natural light as well as artificial light. When selecting natural colours understand that although squid cannot see the colour know that they can see shades better. Matching colours to the colours that will they will encounter in their own environment is important. Use the chart below as an indication of suitable foil colours for suitable conditions.
A good egi should fall naturally and sit at rest on the bottom with a 45 degree angle, most modern egi are constructed using forward weight and flotation in the tail to make this occur, weight placement and shape will help keep your egi straight when falling to keep its natural appearance. The reason the flotation is built into the tail is to keep the barbs free of any possible snags on the bottom and to allow the squid to be able to pick the egi off the bottom by the barbs to assist in setting of hooks while egi is at rest.
Quality egi are all finished off neat and contain stainless barbs, cloth is neat fitting and does not move, feathers are even and of the same length and the tow point should be clear of paint or glues. At times you may find an egi that appears to be of good construction but are mass produced in factories that are substandard. Often when buying new jigs it is worth buying one or two to begin with and giving them a few test swims to see how they stand up to conditions. As a rule the Japanese brands are of good quality, most of the new technology used on egi like warm jackets or kiemura UV coatings all come from Japan.
Note there are also a few unscrupulous companies that put cheap and defective jigs from china into a flashy packets with Japanese writing. This does not make them a quality egi rather leave the question what do they have to hide. So don’t get caught up in a brand hype make sure that the egi you have your eye on will suit what you want to do and it will last, particularly when you see the price of some egi on the shelf.
For many years on the Australian market the most common sized egi marketed for the use on Calamari squid was a 2.5 sized jig, the number relates to inches rather than weight, however when compared with the world market for targeting calamari type squid the 2.5 is considered very small and in most places a size 3 is the smallest size jig built for calamari fishing.
In its place of birth, the egi in sizes 2.5 and below was designed for catching Naory squid that only grow small in comparison to our local squid, Australia does not have Naory Squid so the need for 2.5 sized jigs is limited to bait collection rather than trying to catch food sized squid.
My jig collection now contains mostly size 3 to 4 sized jigs. It is a rare occasion that I tie on a 2.5 sized jig unless targeting bait for other fishing styles. Remember that a squid can feed on anything that it can wrap its tentacles around, so a 50cm mullet is still prone to attack by small squid, it needs only be attached to the fish for a short time to take a small bite and then let go again.
Keep to the rule that you can catch small squid with a big egi but there is a reduced chance of you catching a big squid with small egi, big squid would rather conserve energy waiting for a meal rather than expel lots of energy to catch a snack.
There has been a big influx of egi products on the market from rods to leader material, what makes an egi branded product relative to the task of catching squid and how will it affect what I do and how I catch squid.
Sadly in Australia the gear offered to us is more marketing based than practical fishing based, many companies have been producing so called egi rods and marketing them as egi rods when in fact they are simply a bream rod with low ride guides, just because something looks like an egi rod and is priced like an egi rod does not make it an egi rod.
Most rods are built with a single taper, this gives the rod a single action and is great for various applications, many will use a rod designed to cast soft plastics and hard body lures weighing about 5 grams without understanding that most egi are 12 to 36 grams. When casting light weight lures the rods most vital point is the tip that creates a flick, punching a lightweight lure short distances, an egi rod is designed to load from the egi hanging off the rod to the base, propelling a larger and more bulky weight rather than flicking a lighter weight.
Some of my egi rods are constructed with up to 7 separate parabolic tapers, this is because they are designed to work egi with the various techniques outlined above.
For working egi they are designed a bit like a bull whip where you need to get the speed of the frayed whip end faster than the handle to make the whip crack, because the egi is not very hydrodynamic and is fairly bulky and heavy, an egi rod uses multiple tapers to increase the speed of the tip when under load to faster than the handle so that the action imparted on the egi through the water can be done with less angler effort, most egi rods are also a little heavier than a bream style rod as the graphite construction is done with greater carbon pressure to make them a lot tougher for the aggressive action. In the early days of the egi boom in Australia I bought 4 different so called egi rods and all 4 have since broken under pressure of the action imparted by the angler, learning from this I bought a task specific rod to try and it is still going strong and has been a lot easier to use thus making my egingu experience more enjoyable than ever before.
Egi line is a PE (polyethylene) line that is simply light braided jigging line, it is round so it comes off the spool better and goes onto the spool better and is generally a lot finer in diameter than most other PE lines. Recommended line sizes for egingu are PE 0.6 to PE1 but most commonly PE1. Some specialist lines will be built with 4 strands of PE rather than 8 strands to make the line lighter and cause less belly in line while casting, this is great if you are fishing in areas where you know your line will not suffer any abrasion as it is still as strong in a straight line but is less hardy against rubbing on edged surfaces.
Some may look at the size of the line and ask why is the line class so heavy? Once you start to use some of the more aggressive techniques on your retrieve and you start busting off $35 egis then you will soon start fishing bit heavier.
Egi leader is pretty much fluorocarbon leader in 10lb to 14lb, the one noticeable difference in some egi leader is the tint of the line, some have been tinted with a pink tone as squid can see polarisation of light pinks and reds are the first colour spectrums to disappear below the water’s surface.
Fluorocarbon lines as a rule share the same light refracting properties as water so in clean water you should be fine with clear fluorocarbon. However, dirty water is pretty much suspended sediment and dirt particles in the water so fluorocarbon will in fact stand out as a single clear strand in the water, some companies have combated this by making camo leaders, put simply it is a fluorocarbon with various natural colours tinting the line at various stages of the entire length. One I have been using is Sunline Shooting Camo leader and is also suitable for all lure fishing in dirty water, the only proof was in the catching and on many occasions I have caught fish in dirty water while a person standing next to me using the same lures and techniques has not been able to get a bite.
When looking at reels to egingu with the best and most useful size is a 2500 or a 3000 sized reel, a 3000 sized reel is most often a 2500 reel with a bigger spool diameter, commonly found with a number change at the end of the number.
I use Daiwa 2506 or 2508 reels. The number change indicates spool depth, with spool depth change comes drag change, a Daiwa 2506 only has 3kg of drag, when using aggressive action I fish with the full 3kg of drag to keep the egi working without pulling line, the finesse drags in these reels works better with short even bursts of drag rather than long erratic bursts like you may get from snapper or bass.
The shallow spool also makes spooling the reel easier as you do not have heaps of mono line underneath for the PE to bite into so the line comes off much better and lays smoother on the spool. They use 2500 sized reels as they are commonly all of the same retrieve ratio and take up good amounts of line without sacrificing weight. This makes taking up slack line and using aggressive actions like rip and crank easier, taking up slack line without moving the rod is important so the egi can fall naturally without hindrance, using smaller reels means more turns of the handle and more difficult to catch up on slack line when using some techniques.
There are some specific reels designed with egingu in mind, the Shimano Sephia and Daiwa Egee, Emeraldas and Caldia are a few that come to mind. Your reel of choice should be one that has a quality roller bearing as there is lots of casting and retrieving involved in egingu, as the PE line does not stretch it will not grab the roller bearing so it needs to spin freely with light contact, if this roller bearing does not spin freely you will be doing lots of line replacement and swearing and cursing braid as you fiddle with air knots from twisted line all day long.
Scents and sprays:
Unlike scale and skin fish squid do not breath by passing water through a gill system, although they do have a singular gill located inside the mantle. Most oxygen is absorbed directly through the skin as the squids blood passes very close to the outer membrane of the flesh, up to 80% of the squids required oxygen is absorbed in this way, this is why squid die quickly if they cannot get fresh recirculated water. Squid ink contains melanin that blocks the pores that sit below the outer membrane reducing the ability of squid to take in oxygen from water.
Squid do have scent pits that sit below the eye cavity but as they do not filter water through this gland they are not effective unless the scent is directly placed onto the pits, squid do have ability to taste though, like a human tongue they have glands very similar to taste buds on their candles (longer tentacles).
Squid do extend these candles close to a potential food source to check its taste or safe eating properties, this is why many people use scents on egi so that if a squid does extend its candles to taste an egi it is more likely to return to grab the egi in a full embrace.
Finding squid most often is a quite simple task, obviously squid like the salt water so coastal water and bays are a common location. Squid can be found in depths from half a meter through to 40 meters, most commonly from 3 to 6 meters of depth. In Japan this is considered shallow fishing as most eging is done in 8 to 12 meters, the reason for this is that most of their coast line is naturally deeper than what we have in Australia.
Squid will inhabit inshore and offshore reef and weed beds, the main reason they live in these areas is because that is where the food is.
As a squid is only alive for up to 12 months they are an eating machine so good food source is important, they also inhabit these areas as they choose to spawn and lay eggs in the vegetation found around these reefs and grass beds. If you are looking for squid don’t look for big sandy planes, look for nice broken ground and in most locations you will not need a boat and a sounder to do this you can see it through the water by observing dark patches or areas that contrast from the sand. Be prepared to lose a bit of gear while fishing these areas because the squid are deep in the reef, grass and kelp beds and this is where you should be putting your egi and sadly these areas also love to swallow up egi and not give it back. If anyone has a bit of dive gear there are plenty of egi to recover in some areas. Thousands of hard earned dollars line the ocean floor in the form of shiny egi in some places.
As squid only spawn once or twice in their life in Australia we don’t always have big squid, because the life cycle is approximately one year. In summer we normally find smaller squid after they have hatched in spring while the bigger broad stock breed during winter and early spring. What we do get is a good mix of sizes throughout the year because of the two spawn cycles. Southern calamari squid will spawn when the water temperature reaches 15 degrees, because of our temperate climate our water temperature has more gradual increase and decrease so in the changing of the season’s our water holds 15 degrees for longer periods twice a year rather than an extreme up and down like some locations around the world. In Japan they only get one spawn from the changes in season from spring into winter and then not another spawn again for 12 months so we are fortunate to have a better average size of squid throughout the year.
Squid are the largest biomass of all marine species in the ocean with Cephlapods making up 60% of the oceans marine biomass. Australia has the highest concentration of squid on our coast than anywhere else in the world. The brain of a squid is donut shaped and its oesophagus passes directly through the brain, as the squid evolved over time they developed a beak so that they eat without passing items that are too big to pass through the brain. Squid can use pigments built into the outer membrane of the skin that allow them to hide from predators and prey alike and communicate with other squid to warn of threat or danger, they also use this pigment to as part of a long courting synchronised dance ritual that they do when selecting an appropriate mate to spawn with.
A female squid may spawn with many partners to increase the chance of successful insemination.
Squid numbers: As there are good populations of squid in Australia we do not have immediate concerns for the healthy numbers, however, because they only spawn once to twice in a 12 month period it would not take long to reduce spawn stock to unproductive levels.
Remember when eging that yes our squid population is large and healthy, but also remember that it will not take too long to change that. I hope that this information helps with your understanding of all thing egi and squid, I have been very fortunate to be able to attend some modules of marine biology courses through Melbourne University and the Melbourne Aquarium and to be able to fish with some of the greatest egi anglers and lure designers in the world.
It is only fair that this info be shared with all to better ourselves and the sport, like everything, if we always do what we have always done we will always get what we have always got.