Magazine article The New Yorker

Squidding

Magazine article The New Yorker

Squidding

Article excerpt

"I'm Schmitty. This is Poke, a.k.a. Squidmaster, a.k.a. Mr. Bates."

Poke: "Schmitty here we call Shipwreck."

Poke, a commercial lobsterman from Long Beach, wearing camouflage overalls and rubber boots, was squatting in a pool of lamplight outside Davey's Locker Sportfishing, in Newport Beach, one recent night, fiddling with his tackle: a forty-to-sixty-pound-cast rod and a twelve-ounce, twenty-five-dollar, glow-in-the-dark, medievally barbed lure, heavy enough to drop three hundred feet to where the jumbo squid were feeding. "You got to fight the monsters with the monsters," Poke said. Not that they are wily prey. "They're dumb," he said. "Like a blonde or a doorknob."

Last month, as freakish and familiar as wildfires, mudslides, or earthquake light, a "squid invasion" began on the coast of Southern California. As they periodically will do, thousands of the slippery, suckery, tentacled deep-sea hoovers known as Humboldt squid were making their way north from Mexico, devouring everything in their path. That night, Poke and some seventy other fishermen--warriors with Budweisers--set out on a boat called the Western Pride to try to beat them back.

Hooking a squid is easy. Reeling one in is hard. Humboldts can weigh up to a hundred pounds. "They don't fight like a fish," one barrel-shaped fisherman said. "It's like a sack of potatoes." Another likened the strain to "pulling up a bucket of concrete." At the stern, two sisters, Millie Brown and Evelyn Morley, outfitted their rods with hot-pink jigs. It was their first time squidding. "We heard about it on the news," Brown said. Morley elaborated. "Basically, we wanted to cook it," she said.

Three hours in, two miles out, and not a squid in sight--just the mesmeric sight of other squid boats with lamps turned down toward the sea and the sound of beer cans cracking open. Then, suddenly, the cries went up:

"Fresh one!"

"Deckhand!"

"Gaffer!"

A man hustled over with a large hook, pierced the cone of the first-caught squid, and pulled it aboard. It hit the deck, a tangle of extremities spitting ink and water, the angry white of a banged thumb before the blood flows back into it. Next it turned a livid rust-red. "Hot tamale," its captor said, parading it--thirty pounds, the size of a toddler--down the length of the boat, before stashing it in a burlap sack pinned to the rim of the bait tank. "I got one!" Morley called out, and the gaffer swung it over the railing, where it changed from green to black, breathing rhythmically, as its ink dribbled out. …

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