The Jumbo Humboldt squid which had delighted anglers from Bodega Bay to Monterey since January and washing ashore as far north as Alaska, have left our waters as quickly as they showed up.
"As of Sunday the squid were gone," said Karl Menard, a marine biologist at UC Davis' Bodega Marine Lab. "Some guys went out last week and located huge shoals of squid but couldn't get any to bite. For a few days they were uncatchable, and then the next day, they were gone. We have no idea where they went or why."
The good times started Jan. 1, when Rick Powers was out researching rockfish on the Cordell Banks for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He couldn't find any in their usual location, and acting on a hunch, asked two of hisAnimal's disappearance baffles biologists
crew members to cast off into deep water.
"They just got pegged to the rail, we thought they were hung on the bottom. But they'd pull and pull, and get six or eight feet of line in, and then get pegged to the rail again."
What his men had snared were two jumbo squid.
The average dosidicus gigas measure six feet from tail to tentacle, and weigh an average of 40 pounds, though Powers has managed to catch a few 60-pounders.
They grow more than an inch a day until they reach maturity, travel in enormous shoals that's a squid group of several hundred thousand and rarely live longer than three years.
Though they prefer a diet of mackerel, sardines and anchovies, these aggressive predators will eat anything in their way.
"They eat anything they want," said Chris Cascarano, a five-year veteran of a bait and tackle shop in Marin County. "Hell, they even eat each other."
Powers recognized the squid from their last appearance in our waters in the El Nino winter of 1998.
After checking with the appropriate authorities and running three more research trips, Powers began operating squid charter trips in early February.
For a few heady weeks, Powers delivered masses of squid to satisfied anglers. The legal limit is 35 per person, but with each squid yielding between 10-20 pounds of thick white flesh, "nobody wants that many," said Powers.
Roger Thomas, who has owned and operated passenger ferries in the San Francisco Bay since 1968, says the squid made excellent eating, but the trick was in the processing.
The steak needed to be pounded with a wooden mallet to soften it up, and then he recommends batter frying small chunks.
Though one angler compared landing a squid to hauling in a heavy bucket, Powers claims even experienced anglers called these trips the most action packed of their lives.
People got squirted with ink as they landed a 40-pound monster. A tentacle reaches up and wraps around a fishing line as the angler hauls in the massive torpedo shaped body.
Ink, seawater and squid guts all the makings of a grand old time.
But now those good times are gone.
Almost two weeks ago, Cascarano said, "It's up to Mother Nature how long they stick around for. They could be gone tomorrow."