Under the light of an early summer full moon, we were Scuba diving along New Haven’s breakwater. As we examined marine life with our dive lights, we were suddenly surrounded by a school of longfin squid that seemed to glide effortlessly past us. Occasionally, the males changed color; we were apparently witnessing a mating ritual.
We watched in awe. The pairs melted into the darkened waters only to return from behind us. The entire display lasted perhaps less than 2 to 3 minutes, but when it ended, I signaled my dive buddy to join me at surface. During the melee, I had suddenly remembered Jacques Cousteau’s description of a similar encounter; he recounted that the mating squid had attracted sharks. But despite my goosebumps, we returned to explore the breakwater and took home a couple of lobsters for our efforts.
In the winter, longfin squid are only found over the continental shelf, at depths of some 300 to 1,300 feet. As daylight hours grow longer and coastal bottom waters warm, they return to the coast and enter Long Island Sound. Spawning in the Sound generally begins in May; they return offshore in the fall. The creatures range from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Venezuela, but their largest population inhabits the waters from Cape Cod, MA to Cape Hatteras, NC. Squids have a very short lifespan — nine months to often barely past a year. For both sexes, death soon follows spawning.
During spawning, fertile females deposits 20 to 30 finger-like capsules, individually containing up to about 200 embryos. Attached to seaweed and rocks on a sand or mud bottom, the capsules, called egg mops, can contain a cluster of more than a hundred individual egg cases. Several females contribute to the same cluster. As the embryos develop, their developmental changes can be followed through their pale-amber capsules.
Depending on water temperature, the young hatch within a few days to nearly a month. The newly hatched are 2 to 4 mm in length (5/64 to 5/32 inches). Resembling their parents, these beautiful little creatures have very obvious color changing cells (chromatophores), that dot their body. As adults, contracting or expanding these cells, allows the creatures to can change color change color in order to blend with their environment. When sufficiently threatened, squids eject a dark cloud of camouflaging ink as they swim backward to safer grounds.
Longfin squid are visual feeders. The newly hatched feed mainly on copepods (tiny crustaceans). Adults easily consume 15 percent of their body weight in a single day. When a prey comes into range, the squid thrust out its two tentacles armed with suction cups. The squid then uses its arms to transfer its meal to its beak. With the exception of its prize’s head, it devours most of the remaining parts. Its favorite prey includes silversides, herring, mackerel, menhaden and silver hake. It also feeds on shrimp. Its predators include sharks, bluefish, striped bass, goosefish, flounder, diving birds, dolphins and pilot whales.
Like its close relatives, the octopus and cuttlefish, squids propel themselves by jet-propulsion. When hovering or at lower speeds, squids use a wave-like motion of their fins and jet-propulsion. But as they increase in speed, they wrap their fins tightly against their body (mantle) and jet-away. They change direction by adjusting the shape and angle of their outflow funnel. Their jet mechanism is recharged by sucking in water into their body cavity through openings on each side of their head.
Squids are great fun to catch. Their firm white meat (calamari) is described as “slightly sweet having an almost nutty flavor.” The most productive time to fish for squid is a night, under the light of a dock or any other light source shining into the surrounding waters. The nocturnal creatures are attracted to light.
The use of a “light and long” rod and reel, and 8 to10-pound fishing line is combination that is often recommended by experienced squid fishermen. Use a squid jig that is heavy enough to slowly sink to the bottom on its own (some folks add a small sinker). Then, to attract any nearby squid, jerk the pole several times as you retrieve the jig and let it sink again. Continue by varying the motions and if there is no action, consider changing the type of lure; there are many different types available. Better still, ask what is working best in your area, at your local fish-tackle store. When you feel a slight difference in the action of your gear, set the hook and begin reeling in your line. The squid you have may not been hooked, so use a net as you get it up near the surface.
Cleaning, preparing and getting your catch ready for the table is a subject on its own. For a great video on the subject, go to YouTube and in SEARCH, enter the title of Scott Rea’s comprehensive presentation, How to Clean and Prepare a Squid, and Cook it in Real Time.