Lauren VanderLugt and Vienna Wong cast lines for squid on the Edmonds Fishing Pier. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lauren VanderLugt and Vienna Wong cast lines for squid on the Edmonds Fishing Pier. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jigging for squid: Why winter anglers gather on local piers

They’re in search of the slippery, savory cephalopods — and a tasty plate of calamari afterward.

Ever jigged for squid? No, it’s not a dance.

A jig is a specialized lure anglers use to catch some of the millions of Pacific squid that migrate from the ocean through Puget Sound each year. These slippery, savory cephalopods can be found in waters near Edmonds from December to February.

Venture out on a Snohomish or Island county pier this winter, and you’re likely to see squid jiggers.

“Oh my God, it’s a blast,” said Michael Manion, a semiretired construction worker from Monroe.

Squid mainly feed at night, so most jigging is done in the late and early hours as the tide rolls in. At high tide, hungry squid hunt for small fish such as herring they spot in bright patches of the water.

Any standard rod and reel will do, but anglers should also pack a camping lantern or a large flashlight. You also can purchase an LED light specially designed for squid fishing.

Your odds of catching squid are improved on a cloudy or rainy night, when the artificial light will be most noticeable to them.

Squid anglers must be at least 15 and need to have a Washington shellfish license. The daily squid limit is 10 pounds.

And one more thing: Fishing on dark, cold and rainy winter nights can be unpleasant. So make sure to dress for cold weather and pack rain gear.

Manion and his wife, Brandi, have jigged for squid off and on over the past decade, but only really got into the hobby a few years ago.

Another jigger, Catherine Morello of Maltby, wouldn’t call herself an avid fisher, but she has enjoyed jigging every once in a while over the past 15 years.

“Squidding was just a fun thing to do in the winter because there’s not much else going on,” Morello said.

The most popular place to jig for squid in the area is the Edmonds Fishing Pier. Squid jiggers also can cast their lines from the dock at the 10th Street Boat Launch in Everett, the pier at Kayak Point County Park south of Stanwood and the Coupeville pier on central Whidbey Island.

Jim Strege, owner of Triangle Bait and Tackle in Snohomish, prefers fishing in warmer weather. “I don’t like the cold,” he said. But a fair share of his customers are willing to brave the elements for some squid.

He said the limited number of docks can prove troublesome.

“Well, when it comes to squid, you got what you got,” Strege said. “There’s only so many piers in Puget Sound to fish off. So they’re all going to be crowded.”

The other option is squidding by boat, but pier fishing is the preferred, proven method, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Garret Melton untangles his lure for squid fishing on the Edmonds Fishing Pier in Edmonds. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Garret Melton untangles his lure for squid fishing on the Edmonds Fishing Pier in Edmonds. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

So you’ve got your spot on the pier marked out and all the necessary equipment squared away. But what does one do with a bucket full of squirming, slimy squid?

Strege said squid is a popular bait for saltwater fishing. But a lot of fishers like Manion make homemade calamari.

Manion said freshly caught squid tastes a lot better than store-bought from the freezer aisle. For him, it’s well worth the effort.

“Oh my God, it just doesn’t get any better than that,” Manion said. “It’s night-and-day difference. They’re absolutely delicious.”

Squid, or calamari, can be sauteed, simmered, deep fried, stir fried, baked and pickled. You can dice it, cut it into strips or rings, leave it as a tube for stuffing or cut it into fillets.

Although it has a rubbery reputation, calamari turns tough only when overcooked. The trick to keeping it tender is cooking quickly over high heat or slowly over low — no more than three minutes when sauteeing and at least 20 minutes for a stew.

Manion has his own calamari recipe.

After gutting and cleaning the squid, Manion sears the tentacles and mantle (the body tube) in a pan set on medium heat for 90 seconds. He uses no flour or bread crumbs — just some garlic, butter, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. He serves the calamari with tartar sauce for dipping, or tosses them in a Caesar salad.

“It’s no question the best way to cook calamari, and this is God’s honest truth,” Manion said.

Morello isn’t much of a squid eater. For her, the joy of squid jigging comes from spending quality time with her friends. Often she’ll get into “friendly competition” with her fishing group over who can catch the most. And afterward, they go out for coffee to warm up.

As a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife department, Morello appreciates the chance to get a close-up look at Pacific squid. The ink-spewing sea creatures measure 6 to 9 inches long and sport 10 tentacles.

Morello enjoys watching the squid wrap themselves around the jig, as they attack the phony prey. But she keeps some distance, as squid have a parrot-like beak and can bite.

“They’re really pretty, the colors that change on them,” Morello said. “You don’t often get to see a squid in front of you. It’s an interesting creature.”

Cold winter nights draw squid jiggers to the Edmonds Fishing Pier. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Cold winter nights draw squid jiggers to the Edmonds Fishing Pier. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

More information

Learn more about squid jigging from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/basics/squid. There, you’ll find information about catching, cleaning and cooking squid — including the gear needed, fishing techniques, types of jigs, chef tips and a few recipes.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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