If you take a look through the freezers at your friendly neighborhood bait shop, you’ll find an assortment of options. Of course there are shrimp, but there are probably also many other choices: Mullet, sardines, whitebait, clams, crabs and a bunch of other stuff. All of them catch fish, but there’s a time and place each is most effective.
One of the most common frozen baits is squid. Squid are one of the most important food sources for saltwater fish worldwide, so they’re an important bait. Sometimes you’ll find whole small squids; other times, large or small pieces of “wing” from larger squid. I generally prefer large wing pieces for offshore fishing and smaller chunks for inshore applications, but whole squid are useful for some purposes.
Now, almost every saltwater fish will eat squid, and in many places it’s one of the best baits. But truthfully, it’s not the best bait to use inside Charlotte Harbor most of the time. Every fisherman has heard of matching the hatch, which just means offering fish something they’re already eating. Fish in the Harbor are more likely to eat shrimp and baitfish. Offshore fish see and eat squid on a regular basis.
Squid prefer cooler, saltier water, so they are rare in the Harbor except in winter. So if there are few squid in our inshore waters, does it make sense to use them for bait? Not really, unless you want to catch scavengers such as catfish and stingrays. But here’s an exception: You can add a piece of squid to your shrimp. This combo adds a new scent to the familiar shrimp, and can draw fish in out of simple curiosity.
As a bonus, the rubbery squid will help keep the softer shrimp on the hook. Because squid is tough, it’s very forgiving. You can miss a couple strikes and still have your bait be there to attract fish. This makes squid a great choice for less experienced anglers.
Now, in winter when there are some squid in the Harbor, they can be a great choice for mangrove snapper, cobia or small sharks. It’s no surprise that these species are drawn to squid, as they all spend time offshore where squid are more prevalent.
Cut strips of squid can be effective as trailers on a spoon or jig. Snook and redfish will go after lures rigged this way, probably more because of the added motion the strip provides. However, this rig is a secret bait for one of our tastiest gamefish: Flounder. Flatties love squid, and a strip of it pinned to a lure dragged slowly across the bottom can be irresistible to them.
When you’re fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, the importance of squid is hard to overstate. They are a major food source for open-water predators like sharks, mackerel, kingfish, little tunny and blackfin tuna. They’re also a favorite of many reef species, especially snapper and red grouper.
For grouper fishing, I like to cut a squid wing into longer strips. The idea here is to deter the smaller fish like snapper and triggerfish by making my bait too big for their mouths. But they’ll still peck at it, and it takes patience to wait for a grouper to inhale the bait before reeling it up to set the circle hook.
If you want to catch the smaller fish, just cut smaller pieces of squid. You can go all the way down to pinky nail-size bits for catching pinfish and other bait. Being able to cut your bait to custom sizes is an important advantage of squid.
Whole squid are a good bait just the way they are, but you can also use them in pieces. The head with the tentacles is a great choice for snapper, and the motion of the waving tentacles seems to get them fired up.
The hollow tube-shaped body can be used as is or cut into strips, or you can use it as a squid-dom (that’s what Fishin’ Frank calls it, anyway — it’s a portmanteau of “squid” and “condom”). Slip it over a frozen sardine, then stick a hook though the whole works at the sardine’s head end. The combined scent of sardine and squid is highly appealing to grouper and amberjack, and the squid acts as a protective sheath to keep the sardine from getting nibbled apart by smaller bait thieves.
When it’s used in the times and places where fish are accustomed to eating it, squid can be one of the best baits for Southwest Florida fishing. If you insist on using it when there are better choices, expect to catch lower-value targets. Just like with everything else in fishing, having that little extra bit of knowledge can make all the difference.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.