During the spring months in Southern California, before the tuna and billfish arrive, we spend much of the early season targeting yellowtail, white sea bass and halibut in areas where the market squid are spawning. These squid “nests” attract all kinds of sea life from huge bird schools and feeding sea lions up top, to massive aggregations of sharks, rays, black sea bass and other bottom feeders anxious to take advantage of the easy bounty the spawning squid provide. The squid nests are typically found over sandy or muddy bottom in the 20 fathom depth range on the outside of the kelp lines and rocky structure along the coast or at the islands.
The easiest way to locate a nest is to look for large flocks of gulls sitting on the water and occasionally diving and picking squid off the surface. Sea lions will often be seen in the same zone “chewing their cud” as they try and swallow the squid they catch below the surface. Schools of feeding porpoise will sometimes be in the mix with the gulls and seals. The concentration of life around the squid nest is usually easy to spot by all the surface activity.
The other way to locate the actual nest is to find it on the sonar. Squid concentrations show up on color sonar as a thick, blue “fuzz” on the screen. Many times the squid will look like interference on the sonar screen due to their lack of a swim bladder to reflect a stronger sonar signal. Sardines and mackerel show up as stronger green or red sonar marks, which to the practiced eye don’t look like squid. Ideally, there will be larger deep-red marks around the squid concentration which indicate the presence of larger predators like sea bass, yellowtail and calicos. Another simple way to find a nest is to look for commercial squid light-boats anchored over the spot waiting for night to fall.
Once a squid nest is located, I like to meter around with the sonar and find the area with the largest concentration of squid and game fish marks on the machine. It is always best to anchor just up-current from the best marks and then scope back until the boat is positioned over the prime zone. You should be able to drop down and catch the squid or their eggs if you are right on the spot. The squid spawn millions of eggs and attach them to the sandy bottom in large balls which are easily snagged with bottom rigs. I will always have a rod rigged with a gang of squid catchers to drop down and sample the life on the bottom. Sometimes the squid will grab the squid catchers in sufficient numbers to fill a bait tank with a couple scoops of hook bait in short order.
I like to fish several types of outfits when targeting yellows and sea bass over a nest. My favorite rig is a dropper loop set up with a 4-6oz. torpedo sinker on the bottom and a 6/0-8/0 octopus-style hook on the short dropper 3 feet above the sinker. I always hook 2 squid on the hook to mimic the look of 2 mating squid suspended above the nest. Leader material should be 40-60lb test fluorocarbon. I like 50-65lb braided main line spooled on a 3/0-sized conventional reel mounted on an 8’ medium heavy live bait rod. The other favorite terminal rig on this same outfit is a white 1oz. bucktail jig with a couple squid pinned on the hook. A small white or glow-in-the-dark jig with a single hook can also be deadly for yellows, sea bass and big halibut when tipped with a couple squid and fished in the rod holder with the jig positioned just off the bottom. Most of the outfits used to fish the nest can be placed in the boat’s rod holders and fished in-gear. Game fish are seldom shy when they slurp up a couple squid fished on bigger hooks and will usually hook themselves.
The real beauty of fishing the squid nest is the lack of cover for bigger yellows and sea bass to run into once they are hooked. The clean sand bottom in 20 fathoms almost guarantees even the biggest fish can be easily landed if they are kept from wrapping the boat’s anchor line and chain. A good squid nest can give up a 30lb halibut, a 40lb yellow and a 50lb white sea bass on consecutive drops if you are there at the right time. It’s definitely worth the effort to find a nest and take advantage of the bounty the spawning squid can attract!
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