Fishing for Giant Humboldt Squid

Huge Humboldt squid offer the successful angler both a formidable battle, and a gourmet meal.

The giant Humboldt squid, Dosidicus gigas, is a tough and tenacious beast that should never be confused with those market-sized squid that show up in the frozen section of your favorite Bait & Tackle store. While not quite the size of the giant squid depicted by Jules Verne, this species can reach a length of over six feet. Known for its aggressive, predatory nature, the Humboldt squid sports incredibly powerful tentacles and possesses excellent underwater vision; not to mention, a razor-sharp beak that can easily tear through the flesh of its prey …or that of an unsuspecting angler.

Today, one thing is certain; there are far more giant Humboldt squid along both sides of Baja California and the California coastline than ever before in recorded history. Each year, hundreds of Baja California’s commercial fishermen work in rough seas on small pangas to fish for these big squid. And it's no easy task, since the catch is very heavy and each squid must be caught on a hand line. The entire economy of many Baja fishing poblados, like Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortez, depend upon these squid for a livelihood, with fishing and packing operations providing the majority of local jobs.


And now, recreational anglers in both southern California and Baja have discovered the great sport involved in catching this monster-like creature. Fishing for Humboldt squid is best done during the dark of night using multiple, pre-mounted 300 to 500-watt halogen lamps, which generally draws the big squid toward the boat. After they appear, steadily chumming using chunks of mackerel or squid will usually keep them hanging around. Although they can sometimes be caught with bait or on conventional fishing lures, special equipment is sometimes needed for larger Humboldt squid to get the job done right.

I recommend using a 3 to 6 foot length of multi-strand, 150+ pound test wire leader with a specially designed squid jig attached to the terminal end of the rig. These lures have numerous pin-like prongs running up and down the body, which ensnare the tentacles of the giant squid as soon as they wrap around the artificial bait. Nothing likes being ‘hooked’, and the giant Humboldt squid is no exception …but it has a lot more weight to throw around than most of the fish that you might commonly catch. It also possesses a large sack of ink that should be allowed to discharge boat-side prior to gaffing the squid and hoisting it over the rail. Once it hits the deck, cut away and discard its head and tentacles and then place the body on ice to maintain its quality.

Please, however, observe this important word of caution; you should avoid all contact with the large beak at the center of the tentacles. Mangled or severed fingers are often the steep price that is paid by those who fail to do so!

On the other side of the coin, anglers who successfully fish for Humboldt squid are also happily rewarded with several pounds of gourmet quality calamari steak for the dinner table after their trip is over. For those who find themselves in this delightful situation, allow me to offer the following suggestion; do not cook it too long. As with mosy delicate seafood, overcooking will result in it becoming tough and rubber. To enjoy a wonderful calamari dinner, simply dip a thick fillet into beaten egg and then dredge it in Japanese panko-style breadcrumbs. Lightly sauté the steak in a mixture of butter, extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic, turning only once, until both sides are golden brown. Serve with lemon wedges, your favorite fresh vegetable and rice or pasta on the side. It’s that easy.