Squid fishing in the Northeast has seen a substantial increase in popularity over the last several years, especially in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and on Long Island. Despite this, it remains something of a niche fishery, with the number of squid anglers remaining relatively small as compared to those pursuing various species of finfish. In our area, anglers pretty much stick to vertical jigging from docks and bridges at night, assisted by the use of lights to attract the squid. It’s a very effective strategy that can result in large catches, though it limits where and when one can fish. When the squid are running heavy anglers are often crowded elbow to elbow in the more popular locations, leaving little room for the sport to expand. Contrast this with Japan, where today, squid are among the most popular creatures chased by recreational anglers countrywide. It makes perfect sense, then, that the Japanese should be at the forefront of squidding technology and techniques for shore-based anglers. Recently, I’ve learned of a method of catching squid used throughout Japan, known as eging. It allows one to actively pursue squid from almost any shore location, be it a dock, bridge, beach, or boat, and it works in the day as well as at night, without the need for artificial lights. This helps to explain how so many shore anglers are able to participate in the sport in Japan without being crowded into a few locations as they sometimes are here. Eging has recently caught on in a big way in Australia, but is still largely unknown in these parts.
Egi are squid lures that more closely resemble plugs than they do jigs. They are designed to be cast out and retrieved, also in a plug-like fashion. Egi differ from the squid jigs commonly used here in that they have a distinctly curved body and a streamlined weight under the throat that allows them to sink at a specific rate. Squid jigs used for vertical jigging tend to have straighter bodies and either a floating or neutral buoyancy.
There is a tradition of squid fishing in Japan that dates back centuries, but shore angling for them using these specialized jigs only started in the 1990s. Most egi superficially resemble shrimp, but probably better represent small fish to the squid in our region.
I first gave eging a try on a sunny afternoon late in October of last year. My egi had just arrived in the mail that morning. When I removed the shimmering, spiky, jewel-like lures from the box I could hardly wait to test them out. I headed down to a dock where I knew squid had recently been jigged at night. Despite very low confidence that I would catch anything besides perhaps, a cold, within 10 minutes I had landed my first egi-caught squid, and after an hour had landed five. That was all it took to get me hooked on this new method of catching squid.
Decades of research and development have gone into today’s egi, and the results are some of the most impressive pieces of eye candy ever produced by the fishing tackle industry. This effort has not been taken just to attract fishermen. Squid are highly visual animals, with eyes that are freakishly large in proportion to their bodies. Every detail of these lures is designed to exploit the way squid visually detect and attack their prey. As with so many things the Japanese people develop a passion for, eging has developed into an art, complete with its own range of specialized rods, reels and assorted paraphernalia. Top of the line eging outfits can run upwards of $1,000. While I’m sure such tackle can provide one with the ultimate in eging satisfaction, my own limited experience has shown that it’s easy enough to catch squid this way with the same rod you may use to catch snapper blues.
Rods made for egi fishing are long and light. They run 7 to 8 feet in length with a moderate taper and a soft tip for tossing the light jigs, feeling for subtle bites and avoiding having the squid tear free when being reeled in. I have never held one of these rods, nor have I seen them for sale in the U.S., but from what I’ve read they sound similar to rods used here in the U.S. for dropshotting freshwater bass. So far, I’ve done well enough with a 6-1/2 foot-moderate action spinning rod, which I mostly use in freshwater. Try using something similar to what I just described if you have it, the lighter and longer the rod is, the better. As for line, I use 10-pound test braid for the main line topped off with a 3- to 4-foot leader of 8-pound fluorocarbon. Attach the lure with either the smallest snap you can find or a loop knot to allow the full action of the jig.
Egi are sized according to a Japanese unit of measurement called a sun, which is a shade over an inch in length. The 2.5 and 3.0 sizes are best matched to our single, small species of squid. These sizes weigh 3/8 ounce and 1/2 ounce, and have sink rates of approximately 3.5 and 5.0 sec/m, respectively. The trend in Asia is towards larger jigs of size 3.5 and higher, but their waters contain larger squid species than ours, some of which grow to over 6 pounds. Egi come in a dazzling array of colors and patterns. This may seem odd, as squid are believed to be color-blind. The reasoning behind this is that different colors reflect light differently, and therefore affect the squid’s ability to see your jig. In choosing a color, the aim is to achieve maximum contrast underwater, which will enable squid to notice your jig from the greatest distance. I have yet to fully experiment with colors, but so far have found brighter colors such as pink and orange work well in the day, and dark colors such as red and purple work at night. Curiously, I’ve had the least success when I’ve tried to “match the hatch” with natural colors that mimic whatever bait is present. If I had to choose one color to use day or night it would be pink. It’s the only color that has produced for me in all conditions.
As eging is just catching on in the Northeast, few local tackle shops stock these jigs, and in many areas, such as mine, they can barely be found at all. Up until recently, I had little choice but to order egi online directly from Japan.
Thankfully, Yo-Zuri now makes a line of egi squid jigs that retail for between 7 and 8 dollars. If your local tackle shop is not yet stocking these jigs, politely request that they do so. In the meantime, they are available online at tackledirect.com. Yo-Zuri currently has two models of the jigs available, the Aurie-Q-RS A1604 and A1605 in 1.6 (2 inches) and 1.8 (2-1/4 inch) sizes, in an assortment of squid attracting colors.
Your best bet for where to start fishing with egi is to try spots where squid have been caught at night. If you don’t get down to your local dock often enough to spot the night-jiggers, just look for the ink stains during the day, they’re a sure giveaway of recent squid action. Eging is most effective in waters less than 20 feet deep and without a strong current. There are effective ways to fish these jigs deeper, but that is beyond the scope of this article. Despite their light weight, egi cast quite well, but they are tricky to use on windy days.
The key to successful eging lies in the retrieve. Egi should be cast out and allowed time to sink to the bottom. This can take 10 seconds or more depending on the water depth. You will not have much contact with your jig as it falls, so it helps to watch your line pay out until it stops. Next, reel in any slack, point the rod towards the bait, then snap the rod up sharply two to five times to about the 2 o’clock position in rapid succession, reeling in the slack between each snap. Now for the most important part: allow the jig to sink back to the bottom on as tight a line as possible, the goal being for the jig to slowly sink at an angle towards you. The jig must be allowed to settle on the bottom, then, after a pause of a few seconds, repeat the whole process. A well-balanced jig sinks slowly with a horizontal attitude, providing an optimal target for the squid. It also comes to rest with the spine array elevated off the bottom to both increase hookups and minimize hang-ups.
What happens during the retrieve is this: the initial snap lifts the jig off of the bottom, then successive snaps cause the lure to dart erratically from side to side, attracting the squid’s attention from a distance. Squid will quickly approach the bait to within striking range and then stalk it as it sinks. When the jig comes to rest on the bottom the squid will strike out with its two long tentacles. If you keep a fairly tight line you may feel a faint tap as this happens. That’s the time to quickly but gently raise your rod to set the spikes and hook the squid. Sometimes you may feel multiple taps as the squid tests the lure, as if to see if it’s worth eating, but often you will not feel the squid strike at all. In that case, as soon as you repeat the snapping process you will feel the weight of the squid hanging onto the jig. When you do hook a squid, don’t rush to reel it in, as it may be hooked by only one tentacle and could easily tear free.
If there is one aspect of eging that I find takes getting used to, it’s the lack of contact with the lure during the retrieve. I often can barely feel it, and sometimes can’t feel it at all. Adding weight to the lure to increase castability and bottom feel is an option, but it would spoil the lure’s balance and all-important slow sink rate. There are several good videos uploaded to Youtube by Australian anglers demonstrating the retrieve method I described. If you plan on giving eging a try, I recommend checking out a few.
Eging is definitely a finesse technique. While it isn’t likely to produce the large catches that are sometimes possible by vertical jigging with the use of lights, it offers the advantages of allowing one to cover more water, fish any time of the day or night and avoid crowded docks. I don’t expect to be placing an order for my $1,000-eging rod anytime soon, but you’ll surely find me out on the docks and beaches eging this season. I’ll be hoping to see more of my fellow anglers out there tossing their egi too.