The Ultimate Guide to Puget Sound Squid Fishing

Each night in the fall and winter, hundreds of anglers pack the local piers of the Puget Sound.  What are they fishing for?  Squid!  If you like calamari, then grab your gear and join in the fun of catching your share of the abundant Puget Sound Market Squid.

They’re not huge (5 to 12 inches) and they don’t fight hard, but it is sure fun to catch them.  They are delicious too.  So, if you want to ease the pain of another dreary Pacific Northwest winter, squid jigging is just the thing for you.   

In our Ultimate Guide to Squid Fishing, we share everything you need to know to start catching squid.  

Best Time of Year to Catch Squid

Every year from late spring through the end of February, millions of squid return to the Puget Sound to spawn.  While exact timing may vary from year to year, you can generally count on the squid migration following a consistent timeline.  

  • Late May:  Squid arrive around Neah Bay and begin entering the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
  • June through August:  Squid are present along the Straight and in the area of Port Angeles.
  • September:  Squid have moved into the Sound around the Edmonds waterfront.
  • October and November:  Squid are now present in Elliot Bay and along the Seattle waterfront.
  • Late November and December:  The squid have moved south to Des Moines and Commencement Bay.
  • Late December through early February:  Squid are now well dispersed throughout the Puget Sound.

The majority of squid anglers won’t start hitting them hard until October for a couple reasons.  

First, it gets dark earlier and most of the less dedicated “squiders” don’t want to stay up so late.  

Second, the early arrivals of the squid migration are usually smaller, in the 4 to 5 inch range.  Huge numbers of larger squid show up around most of the Puget Sound later in November and December.

Market squid have a 4 to 9 month life span but they grow fast.  It is not uncommon to catch 12 inch squid by November.

Not all of us have the time or energy to chase squid all season.  If you are looking for the ideal time of year to have a good shot at endless calamari, then focus your squid jigging efforts from late November through December.    

Where to go Squid Jigging

The best thing about squid fishing in the Puget Sound is how easy it is for anyone to access prime fishing spots.  No boat required.  There are over 60 public piers dispersed throughout the Puget Sound so there is surely going to be one near you.

Here is a quick list of popular and productive squid jigging piers, as well as the amenities available at each location.  

If none of these public piers work for you, here is a complete list to explore.

Don’t expect to be alone though.  Friday and Saturday nights during perfect conditions will leave you shoulder to shoulder with your fellow compatriots.  

Most conflicts can be avoided if you always stay respectful and patient.  One thing is for sure, there are enough squid for everyone!

Also an important note to consider, not all piers are open for night fishing.  Check the local regulations for rules before you go.

Ideal Tides and Weather for Squid Fishing

During peak season, squid are hauled out of the water and destined for the table without too much trouble.  However, if your timing is right and the conditions are perfect, squid jigging can reach a whole new level of excitement.

Tides  

When, and where, squid feed is hard to predict, but it is fairly common to have better luck around a high tide that occurs just after dark.  High tide an hour or two before dawn seems to get squid feeding again too.

Squid are voracious eaters when they’re not busy reproducing and it seems like the hour before and after changing tides switches them to eating mode. 

Don’t stress if the tides are not in your favor.  I have seen squid caught during all tidal phases at most public piers.  Piers that are in deeper water produce good catches at low tide as well.  

Weather

Squid jigging fanatics won’t let rain keep them inside.  They know better.  Some of the best action happens on those cloudy, wet nights during fall and winter.  

As predators of the dark depths, squid feed most actively when overcast skies dim the water and deepen the shadows around the artificial light that is present on most piers.  This lets them dart into the illuminated water to snag their prey without being spotted.

Squid of the Puget Sound are communal predators that form huge schools.  Rainy days help to concentrate their feeding activity closer to artificial lights near the docks.

A bright, full moon on a clear night is not ideal.  Although, like all fishing, having less than perfect conditions doesn’t mean you won’t catch anything.  

Essential Squid Jigging Gear

It does not take expensive gear to catch squid, but it does require having the “right” setup to maximize your success.

Take a quick look along a crowded pier filled with “squiders” and the unlimited variety of jigging setups becomes obvious.  Any fishing pole, reel and line will work as long as it does 3 basic things.

1- Provides good sensitivity to detect subtle strikes from squid.

2- Gives you sufficient reach beyond the edge of the pier to avoid snagging dock obstructions.

3- Light weight to prevent jigging fatigue.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each component and how to find the best squid rig for you and your budget.

Rod

Almost any fishing rod will work as long as it’s not too stiff or too light.  A 7 to 8 foot, fast-action, spinning rod rated for 4-8 pound test line is right on the money.  

It is important that with whatever rod choice you make, it should be sensitive.  Squid are small and their strike is difficult to detect.  Feeling the hit right away helps avoid letting slack in the line.  The spines on a squid jig are barbless and loosing tension in the line lets the squid escape.

You may notice that some experienced squid anglers use light weight fly rods with spinning reels.  This is actually a great idea that satisfies all the criteria listed above.

Pro Tip:  Test out your rod’s sensitivity with this easy trick.  You are going to need someone to help so grab your spouse, kids or fishing buddy for this.  

With a light grip on the handle place the tip of the pole gently against your partner’s throat and ask them to talk softly.  A rod with excellent sensitivity should allow you to detect the vibration of their words.  If it passes this test, you’re good to go.

Reel

Again, no need to make this complicated.  A medium sized spinning reel matched to the rod of your choice with do the trick.  However, if squid fishing is going to be your new addiction, consider the following when choosing a reel.

  • The reel needs to be saltwater resistant.  Saltwater wrecks havoc on the bearing system of fishing reels.  Get the most out of your money by investing in a good, marine grade, spinning reel.  Either way, any reel you choose should be immediately rinsed with fresh water after every outing.
  • Squid are adept at wriggling free of the jig during the retrieve.  To boost your landing success, select a reel with a faster retrieval rate.  This will allow you to pick up any slack and maintain steady pressure.

Line

Light line is the only way to go.  4-6 pound monofilament is the preferred line for most squid fishing scenarios.  The light line is excellent at transmitting the subtle squid strikes to your rod while giving your jig a natural presentation.  

Anything less than 6 pound test can make some anglers nervous.  What if you snag a starfish or a rock?  Solve that issue by using braided line.  20 pound braid has an equivalent diameter of 6 pound mono.  It is ultra sensitive too.  

Jigs

Everybody loves talking about the jigs and for good reason.  No one jig will always catch squid.  What works one night may not produce the next.  Be prepared for the challenge by having an assortment of jigs at your disposal.  

The first thing most people new to squid fishing notice is how different squid jigs look from standard fishing lures.  Because squid do not actually “bite” the lure, the radiating spikes angled upward are designed to snag their tentacles.   

Jigs from 1.5 to 3 inches work best in the Puget Sound.  Colors that produce well include orange, pink, blue and green.  I also prefer jigs that reflect light or glow-in-the- dark to really get their attention.

Squid jig also come weighted or un-weighted.  When you are using a single jig use a weighted one.  With two or more jigs, first tie on an un-weighted jig. Follow that with 18-24 inches of leader from the bottom of the first jig to the top of a weighted jig.  Putting the heavier jig on the bottom avoids a tangled mess.

I will go into more detail about the squid jig setup later.

Buckets

When the action heats up, you need an easy place to toss your squid so you can get your lure back in the water.  A small, 2 gallon bucket is the perfect size.  Put a little salt water in it to keep the squid fresh after the catch.  

One thing about squid is they like to squirt ink as a defense mechanism.  Most of the time they still have ink left when you get them to the bucket.  I like to have two buckets along for this reason.  I put a plastic colander in the first bucket and after a few minutes I drain the inky water from the squid and toss them into a fresh bucket.  This makes for cleaner processing later. 

Headlamp

Squid fishing is primarily a night time affair.  A good headlamp provides hands-free light for seeing what you are doing.  Just make sure you turn it off when you are talking to someone else so you don’t blind them.

Spotlight or Floodlight (optional)

I really shouldn’t say optional on this but it just depends on which pier you choose to fish.  If your spot has bright lighting on the dock, you may not need additional light to attract the squid.

You may also have a fellow angler nearby with a light bright enough to outshine everyone else.  In that case, you can simply fish the fringes without interfering with their line.

The real die-hards bring compact generators and spotlights that can penetrate the murky water.  Always check the restrictions and regulations of the pier before hauling out a generator.  

There are some very bright battery operated lights available that are easy to transport and will last several hours on a single charge.  This is by far the most affordable and portable option for those new to the sport.

Rain Gear

Fishing in the Pacific Northwest during fall and winter is going to be wet.  Never leave your rain gear at home.  A well made rubber jacket and pants won’t break the bank and the comfort and warmth is worth their weight in gold.

Insulated rain jackets and bib overalls will really let you stay out fishing longer on those cold, drizzly December nights.

Keep a change of clothes in the car too.  After a good night of squid jigging, it is really nice to have warm, dry gear to change into.

Jigging Technique

Once you have the gear and know where to go, it all comes down to your jigging technique to seal the deal.  Squid fishing is often about trial and error.  Other times you will learn better by observing successful anglers around you.  

Let’s first take a look at my favorite way to rig up your squid jigs.

You have the choice to legally jig with 1 to 4 jigs on your line, but I find the 2 jig setup has just the right balance.  It is also super easy to tie up and change out jig colors on the fly.  Just remember, if you use more than one jig, always have the heaviest one on the bottom to prevent tangled gear.

  • First, slide a floating corky onto the main line.  Then, tie on a snap swivel.  The corky adds two advantages to the jig set up.  It lets you see where your line is in relation to everyone else and it also acts as a strike indicator.
  • Next, attach an unweighted squid jig to the snap swivel.  I prefer a 2 inch glow-bead jig.  Before selecting your jig, look around to see what colors and sizes others are using.  Just imitate the people with the fullest buckets.
  • Add an 18 to 24 inch section of leader to the bottom ring of the unweighted jig. Attach another snap swivel to the end of the leader.  
  • Finally, use a weighted jig on the snap swivel at the end of the leader.
Now you are ready to start jigging.
  • Start by casting out from the dock just to the edge of the illuminated water.  Squid are looking for prey in the light and casting into dark water is not productive.
  • With an open bail, let your jig sink to the bottom.  Watch out for snags.  A fellow angler taught me to let my jig hit the bottom and reel up a few turns.  Then simply wrap the line on the line clip located on the side of the spool.  Now you can cast repeatedly to the same depth without snagging bottom. 
  • After you cast, lift your rod tip up 2-3 feet with a sharp motion.  Let the rod tip drop to allow the jig to sink naturally.  Try not to lower the rod tip too fast though.  Squid usually strike in the drop and you will notice it better if there is less slack in the line.
  • Continue jigging in this manner while occasionally retrieving 1 or 2 feet of line each time.  Squid can feed at any depth and a slow retrieve helps you find the most likely area in the water column.
  • Once your jig makes it back to the dock, cast again and repeat the process.  

How to Land a Squid

Successfully landing a squid is a bit different than fighting a fish.  A squid hookup will feel more like extra weight on the line than a hard pull.  In order to keep the squid on the hook, reel in quick and avoid letting slack in the line. 

There is also no need to use all your muscle to set the hook.  Squid jigs have barbless spikes and more often than not, squid simply have their tentacles wrapped around the jig.  Pause for one moment too long and the squid lets go.

Follow this basic sequence to hook and land a squid:
  • While jigging, you may notice a slight change in pressure that feels like you hooked sea weed.  Sometimes you may feel a slight pull.
  • Once you notice something feels different, it is safe to assume you hooked a squid. Raise your rod tip to lightly set the hook.
  • Reel up quick to keep steady tension on the line.
  • Bring the squid over your buck and turn the jig upside down. 
  • Repeat.

Handling Squid After the Catch

You caught your first squid!  Now what?  Here are a few good tips to get the most out of your haul. 

Avoid the Ink

Squid fishing can get a little messy.  As I mentioned earlier, squid squirt a black, water-soluble ink as self-defense.  By the time you get your hands on them, they usually have some ink left. 

The best way to avoid getting inked is to quickly unhook them into your bucket.  Try not to point the tentacle end at yourself or others.  If you do get ink on your skin or clothes, it does wash out easily with water.  

Preserve the Taste 

What’s the point of catching all that squid if you didn’t want to enjoy some of the finest calamari around.  In order to get the 5 star taste, you must properly care for your catch.

Whether you have one or two buckets, one of them should have an icy bath of saltwater.  Scoop up some saltwater when you get to your fishing destination and add a fair amount of ice. 

The ice serves two purposes:

  • First, it keeps the meat cool to prevent spoilage.  A night of fishing could last several hours and the taste goes downhill fast.
  • Second, it humanely anesthetizes the squid’s neural pathways instantly.  This prevents stress hormones from contaminating the meat until you process them for consumption.

Once you get your catch home, pull them out of the water one at a time.  Use a sharp knife and quickly pierce the brain between the eyes.  The color, from tentacle to hood, should quickly fade to white.

Now you are ready to clean the squid for eating.  A quick google search will yield countless recipes and methods for cleaning your catch.  I recommend finding one or two to try and follow the instructions provided for best results.

Squid Fishing Regulations and Limits

Puget Sound squid fishing in Washington state is open year-round and has a generous limit of 10 pounds or 5 quarts (whichever is reached first) per day.  

It is legal to use up to 4 jigs on a single line, a forage fish dip net or a hand dip net to catch the squid.

Each individual is required to have a separate container to retain their harvest.

Only a shellfish license is required to harvest squid for residents and non-residents.  Resident youth, 15 or under, can squid jig for free and senior discounts are available.  At the time of this writing, licenses cost less than $20 for resident adults and $7.50 for seniors 70+ years.

Go Catch Some Squid  

That’s everything you need to know for an action packed night on the pier.  With any rod and reel, a few jigs and some bright lights, you are well on your way to success. Next time you crave some fresh calamari, grab you gear and go squid fishing.

Want to learn about more Puget Sound fishing opportunities? Then don’t miss reading our comprehensive how-to guides on pink salmon fishing and clamming.