What is a “squid bar” ? It is a two, three or four foot long rod of 1/8” stainless steel or titanium designed to spread out a group of artificial squid baits to make it look like a school of baitfish or squid moving through or on the surface of the water. It is designed to attract a predatory fish by making a commotion on the surface like a school of frenzied baitfish. Back in the late 60’s, we sewed five or six fresh mackerel in a straight line on a heavy wire leader to attract a big tuna. Called a “daisy chain”, it had one hook artfully hidden in the last and usually larger mackerel in the line. The cruising bluefin, upon seeing the splashing bait on the surface would generally (but not always) hit the last bait in line. Over time, local fishermen adapted to using heavy rubber squids with molded fins and tentacles to chains and eventually it has evolved into the inverted triangle shape of the “Chatham Squid Bar” we now use off the Chatham and Cape Cod coasts.
Located on center and then at equal distances radiating out to each end are either welded eyes or crimped swivels, to which are attached five different leaders. Fastened upon these leaders at measured length intervals are individual vinyl squids of the sizes and colors according to the specifications of the customer. The center leader, or “stinger” as it is called, is the only leader attached to the angler and is of heavier strength monofilament. It generally has 4 or 5 squid on it depending upon the size of the bar. The very last bait in line is usually of a differing color and has the only hook in it, hidden partially by the squid and the bubbles the “squid rig” makes as it is trolled across the surface of the water. Most tackle stores on the Cape sell a version of “their” bar. Some will make their own, others may buy them from another source already made. For some reason, the ones you buy in a store come with some form of bag with one side of vinyl mesh (for drying) and one side clear acrylic (for visuals) for storing your squid rig. It is my personal opinion that the bag isn't necessary and adds to the cost of the rigged bar. These squid rigs, or bars cost from $125 to $250 depending upon the size of the squids on the bar and the specifications of other tackle that has been added.
I have always made my own bars. All of the materials are able to be purchased separately, and can be found in the local tackle stores. If not, one can surely find what you need online with a little research. I choose to make my own bars so as to minimize the connections between the boat and the fish. I also want to be the only one responsible for any failure that happens with the connections or the tackle. Many times I have heard on the radio about a failed crimp or a opened snap that happened, and the complaint always leads towards the guy who made the bar. Do you want to make your own crimp connections and selections of hook, swivel, chafe gear, and leader etc., or do you trust the younger bait shop intern or employee to do this ? I prefer making my own connections and variations. I use the best hooks i can. I use ball bearing swivels. I buy my “birds” and vinyl squid at the gear stores. I buy my leader from whomever makes me the best price on the freshest leader material. I stay away from online “deals” such as eBay etc, because I want fresh proven materials. But I also stay away from stores that markup prices out of line with the market.
I mentioned “birds” in the paragraph above. A bird is a torpedo shaped painted floating block of foam or wood, with a couple of wings molded into the body and protruding from each side. As this thing is trolled across the surface of the water, it wiggles and splashes back and forth like an oversized Jitterbug lure. The bubbles and wakes it produces serves two purposes. One, it attracts predatory fish like tuna via sound and commotion, and two, it serves to hide parts of the bar, stinger leader and the hook inside the last bait. Many years ago, a prominent charter captain and I were fishing closely together in the same area. As he trolled behind my setup, he called me on the radio and asked “Bruce, what are those things behind your boat”? I, not knowing what he was referring to, replied “Those are my squid bars - why” ? He came back with “No - I mean the splashing, whats up with all that splashing on your bars” ??? Ha Ha - He was onto my secret stuff ! I have crimped a bird inline between the swivel and the stinger to increase the commotion and make it a bigger visual to the fish. I came back to him on the radio and explained my thought process only to hear him reply, “Bruce, you don't need to put birds on your bars, I been fishing straight shell squid for years and they work fine”. This fellow also is a partner in a local tackle store, and two years later, EVERY squid bar in that store had a Play action or Carlson bird attached to it for sale ! The lesson ? Don't be afraid to experiment or think outside the box when it comes to making your bars.
Yes the splashing of the squid bars on the surface as well as the rumbling of the boat engines, and noise of the boat wake, all make noise. The bluefin is a top predator of the area and when it hears that disturbance it moves in to investigate, thinking it is a food source. So when we make our squid bars, we crimp in a bird or two on the bar, usually a large one on the center stinger, and sometimes a couple little “baby” or “tweetie” birds on the outside teasers. The splashing serves to attract the fish as well as hide the bar, the mono and the hook. So, in making a said bar, some noise is good.
Other noise is not so good. Try to imagine what its like to be a large feeding bluefin tuna off the coast of Chatham, hanging loosely with scattered schools of other bluefin, swimming into the tide, and feeding heavily on sand eels, mackerel, cod, bluefish and squid, as you move through your summer feeding grounds. After a few days of settling in the nice quiet routine of feeding amongst the whales, you begin to notice that every morning after sunrise a buzzing and rumbling sound that always moves towards you, and always comes from the west. You may also notice more than a few of the other tuna in your school seem to be fighting for their lives as they feed, and then disappear. Every day the early morning buzzing from the west gets increasingly louder and more prevalent, some days more than others. So, the tuna adapt and disperse when the sun gets higher and the ever approaching buzzing gets louder and closer. As you venture out in pursuit of this mighty gamefish, consider this effect as you make your plans. Leave early. Fish away from the boats. Find your own area of bait and fish by burning some fuel and actually looking for areas away from the crowds.
Humans make noise too. We catch a fish we are proud of, so we want to tell our pals about it. We are proud. We want the world to see how accomplished we are. We share with our friends, and we post the pictures on Facebook and Instagram and a myriad of other forums in order to receive the affirmations we need to feel good about our accomplishments. We want our pals to “like” us. If our pal tells us where he caught his fish, we then go tell all our other pals where or how he caught it so they will know that we are “in the loop” or “in the know”. I have seen many folks “share” another’s picture on Facebook with a comment “They Are Here” or “Big Fish Showing”, yet these anglers haven’t even gone out yet to wet their own lines ! The point here is that all this self serving “noise” is what kills the fishing. One week early last year, there were only two, maybe three, charter boats actively fishing for bluefin to the East of Chatham, and a few die hard smaller recreational boats. It had been slow. Most of the guys were south of the island fishing on the early small ones there. That Wednesday, out in the dense fog, I managed to catch 4 nice bluefin on my charter, one was 500 pounds, and another almost 300 pounds. I released the two recreational sized fish, and sold the two commercial sized ones at the Pier and being mid afternoon, lots of folks saw them. By Friday, the word was out and there were forty boats there. On Saturday and Sunday, there were sixty, but the bite was over, the fish had scattered. Some noise just isn’t good. Most human noise isn’t.
The fish will be here for the summer. The bait will be solid. Playing the boats is key. Going early is key. Keeping your ego in check is key. These fish are big and powerful, prepare your boat accordingly. Be safe. Make your own way, make your own squid bars, make your own noise if you want to get in on the challenge of a big bluefin tuna on standup tackle.
Just be quiet about it !
Captain Bruce Peters
F/V “Marilyn S” www.sportfishingcapecod.com 508 237-0399