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Orange County

Riot of Squid Addles Anglers

Fishing: The jumbo variety mysteriously mobs local waters, which means charter boats are booked solid.

July 28, 2002|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nine miles off Newport Beach, anglers anxiously lined the railing of the Nautilus as deckhands scooped basketfuls of anchovies and sardines into the dark water to entice their prey. The captain flicked on the boat's intense lights, hoping to attract jumbo squid to the surface of the pitching sea.

Jumbo squid are a rarity in Southern California waters, but they seem to turn up during summer in El Nino years. Arrive they have, in massive numbers along the coast from San Pedro to San Diego. Thousands upon thousands of the mollusks have been snared daily since mid-July.

But on this night, the first stop and the second were busts.

"One spot--that's all you need," muttered fisherman Gary Quon of Lakewood.

Two hours later, though, the 58 passengers of the 70-foot charter boat found that sweet spot about two miles off Newport Pier. Frantic bursts of activity broke the silence as the anglers hauled the water-logged, torpedo-shaped creatures from the cobalt water.

Slapped on the deck, the squid hissed and wheezed, spouting seawater in a futile effort to propel their way back to sea. They shot jets of chocolate-colored ink, staining clothing and irritating skin.

Two hours later still, the soaked, exhausted and exhilarated anglers had captured 170 jumbo squid.

Debbie Reider, 31, of Huntington Beach was among the first to land one. She caught five by late Thursday night.

"When you pull them up, they turn incandescent pinks and greens and blues. They're beautiful creatures," she said. "We have fun at their expense.... You get drenched and they squirt all over the place."

Reider, a member of the South Bay Lady Anglers who has fished since childhood, had just returned from an Alaskan fishing trip with a catch of halibut, salmon and yellow-eye tuna. A big seafood dinner is scheduled tonight, and now she had her appetizer nailed.

Popularly called giant squid, they are typically found in the warm waters off Mexico, Chile and Peru. Fishermen say the creatures show up every few years off Orange County, usually before an El Nino winter. "Every time the squid come up, they circle Newport," Quon said.

No one knows why they come. Some speculate that warm currents carry them, or their food source, from their home waters. Others say the reproduction rate has risen. Marine biologists say the answer is elusive.

The squid this night were about 2 feet long, weighed up to 4 pounds and came in a rainbow of colors, their luminous flesh marked by the deepest indigo to lemon yellow. The lilac tentacles and arms were delicate and wispy.

In a little more than a week's time, about 65,000 jumbo squid have been caught in Southern California waters, according to www.sportfishingreport.com. It started slowly--a mere 15 squid on July 17--and skyrocketed to 16,378 four days later. Once word spread, twilight charter boats have been booked to capacity.

Their presence has been impossible to miss in Newport Beach. Not only was there an armada of brightly lighted squid boats on the horizon each night, but hundreds of people lined Newport Pier hoping to bring in a catch.

Aboard the Nautilus, people wore ponchos or slickers, even garbage bags, to try to keep dry. They wielded fishing rods with special lures called "squid jigs," which look like tasty morsels to the jumbo mollusks.

Two brothers aboard were competing for prizes.

"I think I got one!" yelled one, Gabriel Jordan, 11, of Irvine. "This better not be an old boot."

A deckhand helped him, but at the last moment, the squid's body snapped, leaving only its parrot-like beak on the end of the line.

"That's what he gets for running my line," he said, before stowing the beak in a burlap bag.

Hours later, the boy triumphantly reeled in an intact squid. "You are mine!" he yelled at the limp creature hanging from the end of his line. "I can't believe I finally got one!"

His brother, Adam, 14, won the $80 jackpot for the heaviest squid--about 4 pounds. "Hopefully, we're dividing it," Gabriel said, hinting broadly.There was an air of weary exuberance aboard. A deckhand grabbed a squid, sliced off the head and fins and cleaned the body. Galley cook Trisha Woodbury, 20, cubed the white flesh and quickly grilled it in butter, garlic salt and black pepper before passing it around.

Vista resident Bill York and his 18-year-old son, Cliff, had gone squidding earlier in the week but threw away the heads and fins. That did not go over well with York's mother-in-law. So the York men and a friend were back.

The night's haul--"Probably 20, though we'd like to say 30," the elder York said--would go to the mother-in-law intact.

"Her Japanese friends will come over and she'll make five gallons of squid miso soup, squid sushi and about eight other Japanese dishes I've never heard of," he said.

Quon, who planned to take his catch to his favorite sushi restaurant in Gardena, called the night's haul "a little scratchy." But he said he was glad for the four he did catch.

"In another week," he said, "they'll be gone."

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