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Humboldt Squid February 15 2005

One day Kevin and I saw a flyer at a tackle shop advertising boats that were going out to catch Humboldt Squid.  We had heard of these things but had never gone despite our interest in the huge monsters.  So of course we hopped on the next boat out.  It was quite an experience.  
The boat left at sunset and motored west for a few hours during which time the crew were going around setting up these enormous light rigs that would be used to attract the squid.  When we got to the right spot, the crew switched on the many lights pointing down into the water.  It felt strange to be such a bright island surrounded by dark water.  
We used heavy boat rods with very thick, heavy mono tied to luminous squid jigs.  As I understand it, the jigs look like smaller squid to the big squid which then try to grab them and get caught on the many sharp barbs that hand like baskets under the glow-in-the-dark lead head.  Once there's a squid on your line, it feels like fighting against a Jet Ski, a pulsing, lurching battle unlike anything I've caught before or since.  As they come to the surface, you can see their skin flashing patterns of deep red and bright white.  Deep underwater, where there is no red light, when they turn red, they're invisible to other eyes down there.  At the surface, though, the effect is pretty amazing.  They were mostly too heavy to just swing up over the railing, so the deck hands gaffed them.  Up on the boat, they continued to change colors  and writhe for quite some time.  Sometimes you could hear a low rasping sound as their parrot-like beaks tried to bite into the deck. 

For added excitement while everyone on the boat was bringing up these oddities, a mako shark had been drawn to the lights and was circling just under the boat, attacking the squid.  Several guys brought up fractions of their original squid. 
At the end of the trip, some of the fishermen decided they didn't want to keep their catches so Kevin and I took a couple of their burlap sacks and added them to our own haul.  Laid out on the walk in front of my house, they made quite a lineup.  I think their ink still stained that cement when I moved a year later.
Cleaning nine big squid proved a fascinating and somewhat disgusting process.  We started by removing the "wings" and head.  Their heads attach to their body tubes with a universal joint that looks as if it were designed for a plastic part.  Two knuckle-like protrusions on the inside wall of the tube mate to a spheroidal bit on the head, allowing the head to swivel any which way.  Disengaging that joint made the process feel less like cleaning a fish and more like disassembling a machine.  We removed sub-assemblies until we had just the tube, which we cut open to form a block of about 3 square feet of protein an inch or so thick. 
The Humboldt Squid seems very hardwired.  The suckers still react to touch and suck onto things hours after death.  The block of meat to which we had reduced each squid would twist and deform as if it were alive when we tapped it with a knife handle. 

When we finished processing all the squid, we had many pounds of thick squid meat that we had little idea how to cook, and a big bucket of some seriously awful offal.  Not wanting to leave that horrible goo in my trash barrel until trash day, I confess I did something not-very-neighborly-- I drove down the alley looking for someone who had left their barrels out and unlocked, and I dumped the offal there.  I hope its discovery wasn't too terribly traumatizing. 

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