While Victoria’s Western Port Bay is known as a hot spot for catching large calamari year round, Port Phillip Bay is known as a highly productive squid ground but doesn’t offer the same consistency of size. With the on set of winter, cooler water temps and a current influx of bait into the bay, squid with hoods in excess of 40cm are currently on offer on a consistent basis. In areas such as Queenscliff, Point Nepean, Portsea and Sorrento, there is always been large squid on offer, even further north through to Rye on the eastern side, Port Arlington to the west and the deeper channel drop offs and sand flats in between hold good number of large squid.
This I believe is due to larger congregations of baitfish that has brought more and bigger squid inside the bay and kept them hanging around. With this bait we are also seeing larger than normal schools of salmon that can provide great fun when you’re done with the squid. Catching large southern calamari is not in any way rocket science and half the battle is won by being wherever they are. Targeting big squid is no longer just about ripping them into the boat. When you’re targeting big squid the common laws of fishing come back into the fold and you’re dealing with runs, pulled barbs, line peeled from the spool and drawn out fights (well, as drawn out as fighting squid can be). There are a few things you’ll need to adjust whether fishing land based or from the boat to bypass catching those small squid and getting on to the thumpers.
Where and When
Finding the right location within the general aforementioned areas is obviously an important aspect and there are a few factors to keep in mind to be where the squid are. I believe depth; water clarity and strong current flow are the three most important factors to getting on to a bigger size of squid. It’s no secret that the further towards the heads or opening to an ocean you approach, the clearer the water becomes and water clarity is highly conducive when targeting squid for the simple reason that the squid can better see your offering. All the squid captured in these images were caught between 7 and 10 metres and I could see the bottom clearly all day. So one important factor is water clarity. While not always a majorly important factor, water clarity is more important based on what I believe is another conducive factor to targeting larger squid and that’s fishing for them in a hard running current.
You’ll find that fast water and clarity often go hand in hand and while these are hard conditions to fish in and many anglers will shy away from this fast water, it can be highly conducive to getting on to those bigger squid and difficult conditions to escape in the southern end of the bay. I’ll get into the “how to” of fishing this fast water a little later. I have found the best ground to look for is obviously grass beds, broken rock and rubble, thick weed and somewhere that offers a depth change. I find that a dead flat bottom is nowhere near as productive and my many years diving the bay have shown the same. Squid tend to hang around areas where there are changes in depth and changes in bottom structure, these only need to be subtle and something as simple as the many steep inclines that line the bays shores are enough to hold large numbers of squid. This is why Port Phillip offers such excellent land based fishing, once you get about six metres past the shoreline there is nothing but flat sand for the large majority of bottom area. These depth changes don’t need to be dramatic but looking for some kind of change is advantageous. You will see from my sounding image that although the depth change is only 3 metres from 7 -10, this type of drop off or depth change consistently produces squid and casting over bottom features like this will increase your chances of finding good squid.
Fishing The Tide
When it comes to targeting species of fish anglers place great importance on tide, and many anglers I know wouldn’t dare target a snapper, whiting or gummy outside of tide changes. When it comes to squid these same anglers don’t even take the tide into consideration. This is fine and fair enough as you can catch squid at any time in any tide, however, if you’re after larger squid and more of them, paying attention to the tide will do wonders to your day out! I have found that those crucial 90 minutes fore and aft of the high tide is when it can really fire. The high water offers depth and it also offers clarity, which as I said earlier are important factors. You’ll also find, which may surprise some of you, that the action can be at it’s best while the water is running hard. You may be wondering how to target squid in fast running water when you can’t get your jigs to the bottom so I’ll explain that in this next section. Trying to time “slack water” in the southern end of Port Phillip Bay is almost impossible as slack water rarely coincides with a peak high or low which is a general misconception many anglers have about slack water. It is even more prominent in Port Phillip due to the nature of it’s small opening from the ocean and the fact it has vastly different openings at either end. In saying that I still recommend a 90-minute window either side of the tide. This allows you to fish a multiple of ways. For such fast flowing water the need for a sea anchor, anchor or the best option an electric motor will keep you over productive ground. Electric motors are invaluable in these sorts of conditions and if you’re serious about your squid and are thinking about purchasing one I cannot stress enough how great they are. They will put you on to more squid in varying conditions and open up new ways to fish for any species. While I never recommend anchoring for squid and a good drift in most cases is beneficial, there is no point drifting too fast and drifting away from productive ground you’ve just sounded or seen.
Using the Japanese egi technique of aggressively jigging your squid jig while the current is at it’s strongest is almost useless. If you try and cast forward of the direction of flow, your jig will quickly come back towards you before it gets near the bottom and you can’t impart any action upon it. If you cast with the flow your jig is never going to make it to the bottom, but will sit in the flow about two metres below the surface. While many believe it’s useless to target squid in fast flowing water as you can’t get your jigs to the bottom, and that the use of a sinker is necessary I disagree. In clear water, in a fast flowing current, the need to hit the bottom isn’t imperative and you’ll catch squid with your jig sitting within a few metres of the surface. The squid will see the jigs and swim up towards them and attack aggressively. These larger models are breeding, spawning and ferociously hungry. Large squid are actually easier to tempt than smaller models with an artificial offering and you’ll notice how aggressively they attack a jig. So the best way to fish in these conditions is allow the jig to sit with the current flow and just leave the rod in the rod holder. This is known as dead sticking, as you literally are doing nothing. Keep in mind that in this kind of flow even if using 3.5-4.5 size jigs it’s unlikely to reach depths greater than two metres, but fear not, in even slightly turbid water as long as you’re in that 7-12 metre depth range the squid will see your offering and attack with gusto! While I have tested dead sticking versus an aggressive retrieve multiple times and the aggressive retrieve always catches more, you don’t have many options when the water is running hard which it often will be in the southern end of Port Phillip. Once the current settles, and you’re nearing slack water, you can start switching back to an aggressive egi technique. Casting forward of the current flow or across it into shallower water and aggressively working your jig as you would normally will bring great results.
Fishing anywhere in fast currents or waters with depths greater than five metres is cause to use jigs at an absolute minimum of 3.0 in size. I personally bypass these and use 3.5-4.5’s. I get better casting distance and can cover more ground and more importantly and especially when dead sticking I want that jig to be highly visible and a 4.0 will stand out a lot more than a 3.0. Also, a big squid isn’t messing about with small prey, it’s hungry and like with any form of fishing big baits will more often than not catch big fish! I also like to use quality jigs. Aside from being more robust and having better cloth patterns and reflective under-foils, the better quality jigs have a better fall action; a better and angle of decent just swaying in the current and a far better retrieve action. Many years ago when I only owned a few quality jigs and many cheap jigs I learned quickly that quality jigs catch more squid. Many people still try to debate this but it’s a feeble argument. Some of the high quality brands I love to use are Yamashita, Gan Craft and Evergreen. While many of the models from these brands are up there in price, they are excellent jigs that work, and work better. In the mid-tier category Shimano and Black Magic both make good cost effective jigs. Like any style of lure, what works is largely psychological and there is nothing wrong with buying stuff just because you want to and it looks cool. It’s part of the fun of fishing. I spend a lot of time buying lures, organising them in tackle boxes, reorganising them, losing them, catching fish with them and then buying more. It’s a part of fishing that I love and I am in no way ashamed of that and neither should you be. It’s fun!
I love using dedicated egi rods and when targeting large squid they are highly advantageous. When casting a big jig, a good egi rod that is rated to cast jigs from 3.0-4.5 gives you better casting distance, it allows you better control and you can work your jig aggressively with ease. When it comes to fighting big squid is when they can mean the difference between landing the squid and losing it. Big squid take big pulsing runs and the parabolic and forgiving nature of a good egi rod prevents you pulling the barbs or breaking off flesh. When you’re dead sticking in the current you’re generally not going to have time to strike and you therefore won’t get a solid hook up in the mouth region of the squid, squid hooked in legs or candles are easily lost. I prefer rods that are about 7.5 – 8 feet in length. A smooth drag is also highly beneficial for the same reason as are quality knots. You need to take your time as the squid has the advantage of current flow and depth and you’ll be surprised how much line he takes before you can start your retrieve. He’ll also have another hard run as he nears the surface and the parabolic action of an egi rod and a smooth drag will prevent lost squid at this crucial moment.
Landing Your Squid
Be sure to have a net on hand to quickly land the squid once it reaches the boat, trying to just lift a 1-2kg+ squid up with your rod or line will end badly with a lost squid, jig and maybe a broken rod. This idea of trying to grab squid with your hands is also silly and will just end in lost squid and getting ink all over yourself and boat. You don’t need to get ink on yourself, anyone else or in your boat so why would you? When fishing land based a very long net is necessary or a long squid gaff. Always carry one of these, as chances are the day you leave it at home is the day you’ll need it.