More monsters in Washington


Editor's note: Based in North Puget Sound and operating from Alaska to Baja, Joel Shangle has been a news junkie on the West Coast saltwater scene since the 1990s, first as editor of California Fishing & Hunting News' and now as editor of California Sportsman, which hits newsstands in October. He's the host of Northwest Wild Country, a popular fishing and hunting radio show airing throughout western Washington, and has the deepest source list this side of the Library of Congress. In other words: if you're catching fish on the West Coast, just try to get away from him.

You can thank Twilight for bringing vampires to Washington, but I was joking about the coho Chupacabra in Monday's column.

Turns out, though, that sea monsters are really invading Washington waters.

Weekend warriors fishing out of Sekiu, Wash., a popular port on the southern side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca  the 100-mile-long body of water that separates mainland Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia  started to light up the local internet fishing forums Labor Day evening with reports of Docidicus gigas: Humboldt squid.

"Humboldt squid terrorize Sekiu!" and "Humboldt squid invade Sekiu 9/7/09!" threads funnelled a ton of traffic through PiscatorialPursuits.com Monday afternoon and evening, to which California & Baja anglers will respond: "Y-a-w-n."

The ravenous Rojo Diablo is a ho-hummer in warmer southern waters, where the species swims by the bazillion. But for the tiny town of Sekiu  which, incidentally, sits 29 miles east of Twilight's vampire coven in Forks  a Humboldt squid sighting comes along about as often as a Megaladon. As in, never.

"I've been here since 1976 and I've never heard of them in Sekiu," said Larry Bennett, a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife fisheries tech supervisor.

DFW fish-checkers had Labor Day off, so it's difficult to say how many of the overgrown squid have been landed. However, it appears they're following the general behavior pattern of the species and have washed into the Strait in one massive shoal of beaks, tentacles and flashing purple-and-white chromatophores (the specialized skin cells that allow Humboldts to change their colors like flashing copcar lights).

"You've heard about a couple of Humboldt squid out here? Try hundreds of them," said Gary Ryan at Van Ripers Resort. "They showed up here (Monday) and people started calling in, asking 'Hey, can we keep these things? The first guy brought in one, then the next guys brought in two, and the guy after that had two or three. It was like that all day. They're big, too: biggest I weighed in (Monday) was over 40 pounds."

Which begs the question "Why?" Most anglers hooked the big invertebrates in relatively shallow trolling gear, and several reported them following small hoochies to the surface in broad daylight. Humboldts typically inhabit deep waters during the day (as deep as 2,300 feet) and feed shallow at night.

They're also classified as "semi-tropical" and have never been reported inside the Strait. El Nino events have brought them as far north as southeast Alaska, and the last significant sighting in Washington was last October, when a wave of the ink-stained wretches washed into the Westport Boat Basin in southwest Washington.

Several large pods of Humboldts pushed into Oregon and Washington near-shore waters in 2004 as well, but they've never been considered a year-around resident of this part of the north Pacific.

"We had a rise in the water temperature out (at Sekiu) last week, up to 58 degrees," Bennett reports. "Whenever the water gets that warm we start seeing the warmwater species like mackerel and sunfish, so you'd have to suspect that (the squid) came in with the warm water."

The species has displayed an alarming voracity, and an ever-increasing range: they showed up in Monetery on the heels of a late 1990s El Nino, returned there in force in 2002, and have been a regular inhabitant of those north-central California waters ever since.