No, it’s not a new dance craze.
Starting right around Labor Day and continuing into the new year, the inner bays of Puget Sound are host to a voracious predator that swarms in by the millions: squid. These aren’t the giant squid of lore. Called market squid, they’re a more manageable size of 10 inches or so, perfect for anglers without Captain Nemo complexes. Hungry and ready to spawn, the squid seek out shallow harbors and inlets—the same places where marinas and city piers provide access to the squid jiggers who lay in wait.
Squid jigging is urban foraging at its craziest and most fun. Imagine a city pier after midnight jammed with a boisterous crowd of hopeful anglers outfitted with glow-in-the-dark lures (and maybe a secreted flask of hooch). Everyone is laughing and kvetching in a dozen different languages. Now and again a school of squid comes swimming by—and pandemonium erupts. Rod tips go down and slippery mollusks come flying up and over the railing by the dozen, landing in buckets along the pier.
A squid jig is a type of lure; jigging is a fishing technique. All you need is a lightweight spinning rod, the sort used for trout, and a pocketful of jigs, which you can find at most local tackle shops. Usually luminous or highly reflective, a jig looks like a little cigar with a halo of L-shaped wires sticking out from one end. The fisher—or jigger—drops this funny-looking lure 10–20 feet below the surface and starts teasing…er, jigging…it up and down in the water column. The idea is to entice a squid to attack the tantalizing lure. Lightweight rods with sensitive tips will register the subtle strike. Now hoist up your prize, which is fastened greedily onto the lure, its tentacles wrapped up in the wires. If you’re not quick, the squid will let go.
But be careful! It might blast you with a stream of black ink.
Squid jiggers mostly show up after sunset. Someone usually has a halogen light as well, to shine on the water (squid are attracted to light). If the action is good, you might see a phalanx of jiggers hunched over their rods into the wee hours, each of them hoping to fill a 10-pound daily limit. (All squid anglers 15 years or older must have a Washington shellfish or combination fishing license; wdfw.wa.gov.) There are plenty of nights, though, when the action is nonexistent, so perseverance pays off.
No matter what time it is when I get home, a quick calamari pan-fry is a must. It doesn’t get any fresher or sweeter than this.
Cleaning squid takes a little practice. You remove all the goopy stuff inside the mantle and discard, then slice the mantle into rings. (You can also stuff the tube-like structure and bake it.) Next, cut off the cluster of tentacles, discarding eyes and beak. Slice the tentacles into sections or leave whole. The final cooking couldn’t be easier. Simply sprinkled with a little flour and flash-fried in butter is the way to go—and soon you’ll be doing a celebratory midnight jig in your kitchen.