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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cephalopod Sport Fishing

July 17, 2005
Isla San Marcos, 27o 14' N 112o 07' W (10 mi SE of Santa Rosalia)

The other night Lance on Milagro suggested we do a little night fishing for one of the Baja's most prolific species - squid. All that's needed is a hook and a bit of glow-in-the-dark plastic. Lures are sold specifically for squid fishing and they look like an elongated plastic egg made out of glow-in-the-dark plastic with a 'basket of spikes' at the bottom. Of course I don't have one of these purpose-built lures, but I do have a bottom jig that has glow-in-the-dark paint on it, and I figured that would be good enough.

We weren't going to be the only boat on the water though; we'd be joining some 100 or so Mexican fishing boats that fish the same area for squid nearly every night. They are based out of Santa Rosalia and every evening around 5pm they leave to go fishing. They return around 11 or 12, usually with 1000 lbs of squid 'fillets.'

We began our outing just before sunset. I've been told that it's not completely necessary to fish at night, squid can be caught during the day, but that fishing at night is cooler so that's when the Mexican fisherman do it. Anyway we set out, four of us (Stan from SolMate, Lance from Milagro, Earl from Dos Brisas and me) and got set in our fishing spot after about five minutes. We used a flashlight to 'charge' the glow-in-the-dark lures and then dropped them down to the bottom. The water is pretty deep, probably 200 ft, so it takes a long time to get to the bottom. The good thing is that you usually don't have to wait that long before a squid takes your lure. The 'strike' isn't much at all. The lure will be dropping and then all of a sudden it will stop, almost like hitting the bottom, except that when you try to bring the lure back up a little you find out that you're hooked up to something big.

I'm sure a lot of you are thinking, 'How hard can it be to catch squid; I've had calamari rings and they aren't that big,' well these are not those kind of squid. These are much bigger - up to six feet! I had the lightest rig, 7' pole with 20 lb test line, and a lot of times they would take line in long runs. The biggest one I caught was about four feet long and I had to bring it up to the boat three times before I could release it. The first two times I got it up to the boat and it took off on another run.

Another thing about squid fishing is what to wear. A bathing suit is best, and nothing else. Squid, you see, have two methods of propulsion. First they have large triangular 'fins' that they flap in the water to move about gently. Then they have the 'warp drive' which is part of their breathing system. It's comprised of the mantle and a jet nozzle. To breathe they draw water in through the mantle and over their gills, then they expel it through the jet nozzle. The expulsion part they can do with amazing force and, if they happen to be close to the surface when they do it, and pointed towards the boat, someone is going to get wet! It's like a mini fountain going off right in front of you. Of course it doesn't take long to figure out how to 'steer' them so that when they're next to the boat it's your boat partner that gets soaked, not you. This is the second thing that makes squid fishing difficult, just try to reel in a three foot squid while getting shot in the face with a geyser of salt water and laughing hysterically.

The next challenge is releasing the squid. Since a small one is plenty for two meal's worth of calamari steaks, you do a lot of catch and release. The catching part is easier then any other fish in the sea, but it's the releasing part that can be a little unnerving. Unlike fish, where all you have to worry about is keeping them immobile while you remove the hook, the buisness end of a squid comes equipped with 10 arms covered by suction cups. The hook will be on one or more of these arms and to release it you have to get pretty close. As soon as you do the squid takes the other eight or nine arms and tries to grab a hold of you. Having dozens of little suction cups grab onto your skin is pretty creepy, let me tell you. Also in the middle of the arms is the squid's mouth which has a beak much like a parrot, and just about as powerful. Get too close to that and you can lose a finger.

Anyway, we each caught a squid for dinner and had our fun catching, squirting, and releasing and got back about midnight with a lot of good memories.

You might think that's the end of the squid fishing tale, but no. The next evening, just before sunset, Linda was about ready to take a swim and wash up (we bath in the sea using salt water soap, then rinse in fresh water) when she noticed several large fish swimming around under the boat. She wasn't quite ready to jump in, so I got my pole out and dropped the lure in the water, just for fun. I hadn't removed the lure I used for squid, but when I'm just playing around I don't usually care too much what's tied on the line. Sure enough after about five seconds I hooked one of what ever it was, and boy it was big! I carefully steered it away from the boat and then jumped into the dinghy to finish pulling it in. As soon as I got it up to the boat I recognized the fountain. I'd hooked a two foot squid in 20 feet of water. Not only that but there were three more swimming around the one I'd hooked, all of them 'flashing' from red to white and back once every second or so. They change the color of their skin so fast it's amazing! Of course this put an end to Linda's plans for a bath at dusk, forever! Who wants to get in the water with the possibility of some hungry squid mistaking your foot for a fish?

I had Linda untie the dinghy from NAKIA so I could release the squid without worrying about getting hung up on the anchor chain or rudder. I ended up getting a little ride around the anchorage as the squid pulled the dinghy about a quarter of a mile before I could let it go, and getting soaked by multiple jets of salt water before I could get the hook out. So much for my last pair of nice clean shorts.