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By: Dan Bacher March 17, 2005 More Articles by Dan
The mysterious and cannibalistic Humboldt jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas) are now schooling in huge numbers off the California coast, providing anglers with an exciting angling option when both salmon and rockfish seasons are closed. Although the hard-fighting squid are being caught off Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, the hottest spot for the action is the fertile waters off the Sonoma County coast. This unique fishery was discovered when Rick Powers, captain of the New Sea Angler, was doing research trips to Cordell Bank through NOAA Fisheries for rockfish specimen collection at U.C. Santa Cruz. Scientist Steven Berkeley is studying the reproductive cycles of rockfish. "On our first research trip on January 1, I noticed that the water was warmer than normal, 55 to 56 degrees, versus the normal 48 to 51 degrees," said Powers. "These were the same water conditions that we had in the winter of 1998 and 1999 when we fished for the jumbo squid before." After they caught a bunch of yellowtail rockfish on the top of the bank, the researchers wanted chilipepper rockfish. Much to Power's surprise, he didn't see many signs of rockfish. The research crew caught a few chilipepper on bars and hooked up something big on the bottom. "We thought that they had hooked an old gillnet, but when the 'net' began pulling on the line, I realized it was a squid," he said. On the three research trips, a lot of big squid were caught, but the deep water spots didn't hold their normal amounts of rockfish. "Either the squid are eating the rockfish or they're scaring them away from their usual spots," said Powers. Powers began booking trips in specific pursuit of squid. Fishing was wide-open on every trip that Powers made in January and February, with anglers catching of the squid. The squid ranged from 15 to 50 pounds and averaged 25 pounds each, according to Powers. Fortunately, by using only squid jigs rather than Diamond and Hex bars, Powers' customers have hooked only one rockfish on all of the trips. This is great because Cordell Bank is closed to the take of rockfish and lingcod year round. I made a trip with Captain Rick Powers and 42 anglers aboard the New Sea Angler on Friday, February 11. Powers advised me to bring heavy tuna type gear with at least 40-pound test line to pull these big bruisers from the depths. "The fishing was wide-open yesterday," said Powers as he began looking for signs of the squid on his electronic fish finder. "Let's hope we find them again today."
At first, Powers couldn't find a concentration of squid that would bite. We put the glow-in-the-dark squid jigs down to the bottom in 600 feet of water. For the first hour the bite was tough; a dozen big squid were hooked and landed. Then the big predators finally went on the bite - the jumbo squid attack had started. "These squid live only one year and grow up to one inch per day," said Powers. "To keep growing, they feed on everything that moves, including one another." I hooked my first squid at 300 feet and it seemed like it took forever getting it in. These squid are extremely powerful. Although they don't make like long runs like a tuna, they make short bursts and fight all of the way to the boat. It was total chaos. Even with three deckhands, it was hard to keep up with the squid. I was hooking the sea monsters just 3 to 5 feet below the surface. Every time I would drop down, I would hook a squid. I stopped at nine squid, more than enough for my tired arms and plenty of squid for future dinners. By 12:30 p.m. when Rick Powers called it a day, most anglers were too tired to continue fishing. (The squid bag limit is 35, since the bag limit on all invertebrates for which there is not a bag limit otherwise established is 35.) When the squid were landed, they would go through some amazing color changes, from red, to pink, to blue-grey, similar to a dorado. Although relatively docile when they are taken out of the water, anglers definitely need to be careful about handling them, since they have razor-sharp beaks that tear through the flesh of their prey or somebody's careless finger. In spite of all of the squid flopping around the deck during the height of the action, I didn't see anybody get bit. Anglers experiencing the sensational squid action included Eric Stockstad, Bard Forster, Eric Johnson, Bruce Corbett, Gib Earl, Jim Dunn, Don Sanchez, Scott Webb, Bruce Webb, Darwin Boele, Robert Ea, Dee Jones, Randy Kelly, Mel Whit, Albert De Sousa, Jim Harrington, Curt Scarrit, Dan Shaw, Kelli Shaw, Bill Henneberg, Wayne Miller, Michael Lum, Anthony Nguyen, Perry Bell, Lue R. Hoff, Jeff Asbury, Henry Farnsworth, Tim Malsch, Zane Black, Kevin Calvi, Ernest Couright, Dennis Lai, Gus Fabian, Cliff Chiu, Wayne Brown, Denise Brown and DeAnn Jones. On the day before, Fish Sniffer columnist Kathie Morgan, fishing aboard the Payback skippered by Captain Dave French, also reported hot squid action. She also reported being bitten through her sock by a hungry squid on the deck; boots, rather than tennis shoes, are highly recommended when squid fishing! Besides being a fun recreational fishery, the jumbo squid is targeted by commercial fisheries in the Sea of Cortez and off the coast of Central and South America. Mexican panga fishermen fish for squid at night in the Sea of Cortez fish to supply the Japanese calamari market. The Japanese consider the big, white-meated squid to be a delicacy. "With so much unknown about the biology of this squid, it is impossible to intelligently manage such fisheries," noted William Gilly, a biology professor at Stanford University, who has been studying the species for two decades, in the National Geographic News on July 20, 2003. National Geographic Ultimate Explorer television correspondent Mireya Mayor followed Gilly and cameraman Bob Cranston on one of their expeditions to Guaymas, Mexico for the fascinating documentary Devils of the Deep. The squid live at depths from 660 to 2,300 feet, but will come up to feed, as we saw during my trip. Gilly estimates that 10 million squid may be living in a 25-squre mile area outside of Santa Rosalia, Mexico. "There is probably an almost unimaginable number of Humboldt squid if you consider their entire range - Chile to California and over halfway to Hawaii on the equator," he stated. How long the jumbo squid will school off the California coast is anybody's guess. But they offer an exciting alternative to crabbing until the salmon season off Bodega Bay begins on April 2 and the rockfish season starts on July 1.
Meanwhile, shore anglers fishing the beaches and piers of Bodega Bay and the Sonoma County coast can find a mixture of surfperch, mackerel and jack smelt. Crabbing has been also very good this season; Captain Dave French, captain of the Payback, hasn't returned from a crab trip this season without limits of Dungeness crabs for all of those aboard. For squid, salmon and other trips aboard the New Sea Angler and other boats, call Bodega Bay Sportfishing, (707) 875-3344, or The Boathouse, (707) 875-3495. Will's Bait and Tackle, (707) 875-2323, offers fishing adventures aboard the Payback and Samantha Irene, while Aggressor Sportfishing, (707) 829-4728, offers trips aboard the Calico. For information regarding fishing in Tomales Bay, call Lawson's Landing in Dillon Beach, 707- 878-2443. Bodega Bay, Sonoma County Location: in Sonoma County off Highway 1, Bodega Bay, population 950, sits at an elevation of 45 feet. This popular town has a variety of charter boats, restaurants, lodging and facilities to accommodate the angler. Lodging and camping: For complete lodging, camping and recreational information, call the Bodega Bay Visitors Center, (707) 875-3866, or get on the web at: www.bodegabay.com Fishing trips and information: Call Bodega Bay Sportfishing, (707) 875-3344, or The Boathouse, (707) 875-3495, for trips aboard the New Sea Angler, Profish'nt, Predator and the Sandy Ann. Will's Bait and Tackle, (707) 8752323, offers fishing adventures aboard the Payback and Samantha Irene, while Aggressor Sportfishing, (707) 8294728, offers trips aboard the Calico. For information regarding fishing in Tomales Bay, call Lawson's Landing in Dillon Beach, 707- 878-2443. Boat ramps: Public ramps are available at Doran Regional Park, Westside Regional Park and Porto Bodega Marina in Bodega Bay. Kayaking: Bodega Bay offers some of the best kayaking north of Monterey Bay. Bodega Bay Kayak offers rentals and sales of tandem and single kayaks. You can kayak down the Estero Americano to the ocean, paddle around Bodega Bay or go down the lower Russian River. Call (707) 875-8899 or booking at (707) 875-3944. Places To Visit: Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory has been open to the public for tours since 1976. Volunteer docents give tours to drop in visitors on Fridays from 2 to 4 pm. Group tours are scheduled on other weekdays up to four times a week. The BML is located on 2099 Westside Road, call (707) 875-2211. Doran Regional Park is part of the Sonoma County Park system. Doran Beach offers camping, a boat ramp, beachcombing, surfing, body boarding and kite flying. Located off Highway 1 in Bodega; call (707) 875-3540. Events: 32nd Annual Bodega Bay Fishermen's Festival, Saturday and Sunday, April 16-17, 10 am to 6 pm at Westside Park.
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