Bait — Squid

Ken Jones

Staff member
Squid. Inexpensive, readily available, and good bait for several species, that describes squid. Or perhaps I should say once described squid! Recent years have seen steep increases in the price of all squid, both that sold as calamari for eating and that sold as bait for pier rats (and other less fortunate anglers). Why? See below.

When I first began to fish squid was one of my regular baits. It was easily stored (frozen) and stayed on the hook well. Today, I rarely use squid for pier fishing unless I am fishing for mackerel, sharks or rays. It is simply not as good of a bait for many of the more preferable species. However, a tremendous number of anglers do use squid and they do catch fish.

Most sold as bait are Doryteuthis (Loligo) opalescens, the opalescent inshore squid, a species that ranges from Bahia Asunció́n Baja California to southeastern Alaska. Typically retreating to deep water during the day, they return to surface waters at night. That’s when the squid boats with their bright lights are out netting the squid (when they can find them). If you’ve ever fished at night at the Newport Pier, Redondo Pier or Monterey Wharf #2, all piers close to deep-water submarine canyons, you may have seen those brightly lit up boats that sometimes seem surprisingly close to shore.

The squid is tubular-shaped, usually about 6-10 inches long, pointed at one end, and flanked by wing-like fins. It has 8 short arms, 2 longer tentacles, and big eyes. Coloring typically ranges from white to brown but they are able to change their colors depending upon mood and activity; they’re normally bluish-white but dark red or brown when excited, feeding or frightened. They are easily distinguished from octopus.


These squid feed on smaller prey, everything from fish to crabs and smaller squid, while being a food source themselves for larger fish, pinnipeds, and birds.

As for bait, they are typically cut into strips or used whole depending upon the fish you are seeking. When pier fishing I will take the squid, cut off the head, remove the insides, and set them both aside. I then take the tube and cut it down one side and flatten the squid. Next I like to cut rectangular strips about 1 inch wide and 3-4 inches long depending upon the fish I am seeking. I then cut the strips vertically; I will then have two strips, each one-inch wide at the top tapering to a pointed bottom. Depending upon the length and size of the hook I will then run the hook through the bait 2-3 times starting at the top. I like to leave the sharp point of the hook outside the strip with somewhat of a dangling hook free end. I feel if being reeled in the cut of the bait helps it flutter much like a fish. Squid is tough and will generally survive attacks from smaller fish. However, I change it every so often simply because I want it to retain its fresh smell.

Most often I am fishing a high/low rigging and on the rig in SoCal you can catch white croaker, sculpin (scorpionfish), bass, small sharks and rays. It will at times even attract a halibut. In CenCal it may attract a kingfish (white croaker), sand sole, cabezon, small rockfish, sharks and rays. NorCal will see more cabezon, starry flounder, more rockfish and possibly a ray or skate.

Small strips, about 3-inches long, make excellent bait for mackerel. Most commonly, a hook, size 4-2, is tied directly to the end of the line and a split shot sinker is attached a couple of feet up the line. The strip-bait is put on the hook and it is allowed to drift a few feet beneath the surface of the water. Obviously the distance of the pier’s surface from the water, the current, and the amount of wind can disrupt this type of fishing. Still, it is often the best method to catch mackerel when they’re acting finicky.

Squid is excellent bait for sharks and is definitely the best bait for rays, especially the big old mama bat rays. Several strips can be used or a whole squid. Heavier rigging is needed but it can be either a high/low or Carolina-type rig. The bait should be fished directly on the bottom.

When fishing on boats I simply use bigger strips of squid.

By the way, what about the remains, the head and guts? I chop them up before I start fishing and throw pieces out every so often to act as chum.

As for those prices, a couple of factors are at play, both related to supply and demand. The first has to do with the squid themselves. They are short lived with a life span rarely exceeding nine months. They are also (according to the CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife) “strongly affected by environmental and atmospheric condition of the California current”... and “extremely sensitive to the warm water trends of El Niño, with overall catches decreasing, but then rebounding in cooler La Niña phases which bring increased upwelling. El Niño conditions hamper the southern fishery and market squid landings are minimal during these events, while landings in the northern fishery often increase, then decrease for several years after. During these warm water events with nutrient poor water, landings can disappear entirely in some areas.”

During the last few years we’ve seen supply problems with squid due largely to the changes in water temperatures and their impact on the numbers of squid. I remember talking to Ginny at Wylie's B&T in Malibu and hearing how she was having trouble finding squid. When she finally found a supplier in Oxnard the wholesale prices were super high. She paid the prices because anglers wanted squid but she admitted that the prices were too high for many. She kept her retail prices as low as she could with a small mark up but admitted that at some point she would have to raise the prices since she was not making a profit on the squid. When demand stays the same but supply goes down the result is an increase in prices. This environmental reason, the up and down squid populations due to changes in water temperatures, is probably the main reason why local prices have recently gone up.

But, there is a second factor that can also be involved, the international demand for squid and the volatile overseas markets. This market has expanded greatly in the last few decades and overall it’s been a very profitable although risky at times business.

When the demand is high and the supply is high an equitable equilibrium price is achieved; the fishermen make a fair amount of money and the consumer sees mid-point prices. When demand is high but the supply goes down the prices go up but given the lack of supply the overall profits are down; the anglers pay more for the squid while the commercial fisherman are making less money. When the supply increases but the demand goes down the prices go down; the anglers see lower prices but the commercial fisherman are not making money.

With the increasing international market California fisherman also compete against the squid fisherman from many other countries. Not only does local supply and demand impact prices but also the international supply and demand for squid, most destined for the dinner table. It’s a lucrative market at times and depending upon the prices offered for the squid, the commercial fisherman may decide to save more or less for the local bait companies. Yes, the old supply and demand game.

Two close cousins of squid, octopus and cuttlefish, have also gained a few recent followers. At times you will see small octopus for sale in fish markets but more common, and seen in more and more bait shops, are packages of vacuum packed baby octopus from the northwest. Typically these packages contain 8 octopus and cost $7-$10. They can be good bait for sharks and rays and are tough (rubbery), a good trait when fishing in crab infested waters.

Although rarely seen in bait shops, cuttlefish are available frozen in some markets (especially Asian markets) and I've had several reports on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board indicating good success when used as bait, especially for sharks and rays. If fairly large sized, cut them into strips much as you would squid, if smaller sized, use them whole.
Squid isn't inexpensive anymore. I go crabbing a lot and frozen squid is my main bait. 3 pounds frozen costs about $13 at Asian stores. If I needed the frozen squid and didn't have time to get it from the Asian store, I would stop buy Safeway. Prices were a little higher but still not too bad. Except I stopped by Safeway last week as an emergency for squid, it was $17.99 for 3 pounds. I also went by Hi's Bait and Tackle today and they had 3 pounds of squid for $13.99. I wish I knew what caused the upswing in price buy couldn't find any info online.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Yes, I should have noted the somewhat recent increase in prices. The last couple of years has seen problems in supply with squid boats, at times, having an increasingly hard time finding the squid. I remember talking to Ginny at Wylie's B&T and hearing how hard of a time she was having finding any squid. Given that demand stayed relatively the same it has driven up the prices.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I've changed the article to discuss the problems with price. Hope it down't mess the overall article up too much.