False Bay squid fishing

By Donavan Cole[Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]

SQUID must be my — and many other False Bay fishermen’s — favourite species to target! Not only are they fun to catch, but they are also delicious to eat and one of the best baits to use. I can’t think of a single species of fish we catch in False Bay that would not eat a chokka bait.
Our False Bay squid (Loligo reynaudii) are usually called chokka/tjokka by fishermen (this name originated with the old Kalk Bay handline fishermen) but they’re generally called calamari when prepared as a meal.
South African-caught chokka is one of the tastiest squid caught anywhere in the world and demand a massive price overseas. There is a large commercial handline squid fishery off Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay where they catching the same species as we catch in False Bay, and most of it is exported. Most of the time when you order calamari locally at a fish-and-chip shop or restaurant you will be eating a cheaper imported trawler-caught squid. It is softer but not as tasty as our local species.
The imported squid is also sometimes used by local fishermen as bait, but there is no comparison between the two; our local squid will out-catch the imported squid every time, and many anglers refer to our local chokka as “white gold”.
Chokka fishing can be quite a messy affair, though, as a mix of water and slimy black ink will be flying around when the chokka are lifted from the water, so its always best to wear clothing that you don’t mind getting stained black.

Chokka are commonly caught along the South African coast from False Bay to Port Alfred, but I am going to discuss fishing for them around False Bay.
Chokka can be caught pretty much everywhere around the bay, but the best areas are where there’s a softer sandy or shale bottom. The most commonly fished areas are in Buffels Bay towards Cape Point and the area from Simonstown to Muizenberg. The area off the Bull Nose (Simonstown Naval Harbour) is a favourite spot as it can usually be fished in most weather conditions and is easily accessible by pretty much anything that floats. Craft fishing here usually launch off Long Beach opposite the Simonstown train station.
I’ve found that chokka can be caught right through the year in Buffels Bay and I’ve had some of my best catches in the middle of winter. Simonstown area is usually different, though; the best times there will usually be during the summer months from October to May. The 2020 season, however, proved to be very different and good catches were being made there most days in the middle of winter.
Chokka can usually be caught when water temperatures are from 14°C upwards. They will however go off the bite pretty quickly when you have a very rapid drop in temperature and when a big swell and strong sea are running.
Along the Simonstown to Muizenberg stretch chokka can be caught anywhere from close inshore to more than 20m of water. In Buffels Bay we will generally fish in water from 15m to as deep as 45m, but usually find the bigger squid in the deeper water. When fishing in Buffels we will usually fish in line with the big white Diaz Cross on the top of the hill above Buffels Bay slipway.
I will usually start looking from a depth of around 20m and watch my echo sounder while heading straight out to sea. I’ll check to see where the best markings of chokka are and then either start drifting from there or throw anchor depending on the prevailing wind conditions.
Drifting will usually result in the best catches as you will move around covering more ground. You do, however, end up losing more jigs when drifting if they snag on the bottom and it can also be quite challenging keeping your jigs down near the bottom when the wind picks up. Your best times of the day will always be early morning and late afternoon.
I prefer to go and anchor or drift on my own, but some days you need to anchor between all the other boats catching because seals can be quite a nuisance. Some days you will lose almost every single chokka that you hook to them, and when you’re situated between all the other boats the seal will eventually move from boat to boat until it has eaten its fill!
Our chokka generally live a maximum of 18 to 24 months and the average size caught will be between 10cm and 30cm mantle length (measured from the tip of the body to the base of the body where the head enters). Larger specimens of up to 50cm can sometimes be caught.
When Cape snoek are being caught in Buffels Bay you might want to think twice about fishing for chokka, as snoek love going for chokka jigs and most of the time you will go tight and get bitten off immediately by their razor sharp teeth. I’ve gone as far as trying a wire trace and didn’t lose any jigs, but the chokka would not come near the jigs with the wire traces. These days we don’t encounter snoek as often as in the past, but we often catch other species like gurnards, mackerel, maasbankers and octopus on the squid jigs.
It’s best to wash the boat as you are catching, because the black ink will leave stains all over. The best thing to use for removing the marks that won’t come off is a bathroom mould cleaner, and for the really stubborn stains you can use diluted pool chlorine.

For squid fishing I will generally not fish with under 20 lb line/braid as you run the risk of losing your expensive jigs if you’re fishing too light and you snag the bottom or a seal takes your catch.
I like to fish with a spinning/grinder reel in the 2 500 to 3 500 size loaded with braid. In my experience you will feel far more “bites” and catch far more when using braid than monofilament line. You will, however, lose a lot more chokka without that stretch in the line for a bit of extra give when they jet backwards. I like to use a softer rod that can handle a 1- to 2 oz jig; if the rod is too stiff then you wont feel a lot of the “bites”.
When it comes to jigs it’s a case of the more expensive the jig, the better the catches. You will find jigs in every colour under the sun and with different textures, but my favourite colours are pink, blue, white, green and chartreuse/ yellow. Most days they will work but you will find days when you will end up catching most on one specific jig while others get very little interest. I frequently fish before sunrise and after sunset so I always look for jigs that have some sort of glow-in-the-dark colouring on them as these will get far more action in the dark.
I mostly fish two jigs on a thin fluorocarbon trace with a lead jig (1- to 2 oz depending on depth of water and current) at the bottom and a “floater” (shrimp like floating jig) just above. I drop the jigs down to the bottom and then lift them around 30cm from the bottom and wait for the bite. When the chokka are feeding off the bottom then I’ll use a single floater type jig with a small peanut-size ball sinker and cast it out and let it sink down and work it up slowly.
At times you will have a lot of fine weed and sea grass on the seabed when fishing in Simonstown, and if your jigs touch the bottom they will get fouled up. A way to prevent this is, when you drop down the first time, lift the jigs off the bottom and then set the line in the line clip on the side of the spool (on a spinning/grinder type reel) so that when you drop down again the jigs don’t touch the bottom because the line stops at the line clip.

When catching squid there are so many different “bites”, but usually if you feel any movement or bumps on the line that will be a squid taking the jig. The most common “bite” to recognise is where the line will go slightly slack and then heavier than normal and you are usually hooked up. There is no need to strike, you simply start reeling and try not to stop reeling. Don’t pump the rod up and down as the slightest bit of slack in the line will result in you losing your catch.
There are also times when you will lose the squid while reeling in and end up finding a single tentacle on the jig hooks; this is usually the case if you’re reeling them in too fast. This also happens frequently when you’re using braided fishing line which has no stretch or give when the squid jets backwards against the jig.
I find the easiest way to feel for chokka is to hold the rod and lift the tip every now and then and you will have a good feel for the weight of the jig, so that when you lift the tip of the rod and feel extra weight you then keep the tip raised and start reeling in and you should be hooked up.

In addition to a Post Office-issued Recreational Fishing Permit you will also require a molluscs fishing permit (number 9) to legally catch squid. There is no legal size limit and you have a daily bag limit of 20 squid per person. Currently there is a closed season for catching squid from 12h00 noon on 19 October to 12h00 noon on 30 November of any year (as per the Marine Recreational Activity Information Brochure). Please check your most recent regulations as this could change.
Happy squidding.

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