▲ While many Westerners might be squeamish about killing and eating something they hooked out of the ocean moments before; many of Jeju’s foreign residents find embracing local squid fishing culture a real treat. Photo by Stephanie Reid.
When driving along the costal roads of Jeju at night, it is common to see little balls of bright, white light which appear to float above the horizon. This optical illusion is actually caused by the small fishing boats shining torch lights on the water to attract squid, a staple of the Jeju traditional diet and the modern economy of the island. Many of the squid boats offer the opportunity for guests to try their hands at squid fishing.
Hop on the boat Squid fishing boats leave the harbors of Jeju in the early evening. Fishermen say that the squid are more active in the early morning and right after sunset. Fall and spring are also the preferred seasons for fishing. The best time of month to go is on the new moon, when moonlight won’t distract the squid from the boat, but, if you are just looking for an exciting experience, if it’s an evening with clear weather, the boats will sail.
The boats move to into position between 5- 6pm, heading out to the open sea as darkness falls. Once the boat finds a good spot, the anchor is dropped and the megawatt lights are turned on. Sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat are recommended to shield ones eyes from the glare. The lights shine through the first several feet of ocean water, providing a view of many sea creatures, including many kinds of fish and baby squid. The younger squid tend to be found near the surface, whereas the larger ones live deeper down.
Waiting for the bite Once the lights go on, the fishing lines are unfurled. The common hook for squid fishing is called a “squid jig.” These are about 4cm long, brightly colored, and they resemble little shrimp. Jigs are cast using a weighted line, with approximately 5 jigs spaced evenly along the end. The line is dropped over the side of the boat, where the hooks can dangle near the bottom of the ocean.
When the line is fully extended, one waits for a few minutes, occasionally tugging to check for resistance or motion. When the weight of the squid is felt, the line is pulled up. As the squid exits the water, it will often spray ink and salt water at its captor. It is wise to wear clothes that will benefit from a squid ink tattoo, as it is permanent. Once the squid is lifted out of the water, with a deft turn of the wrist, the fishermen have a way of easily dropping the squid off the hook and into a waiting bucket- a move one can try all night to replicate.
▲ The spectacular brightness of squid boat lights attracts mature squid from deep in the ocean. Fishermen find it best to sail on a new moon, when there is no moonlight to distract their intended catch. Photo courtesy Jejusori
To the victor the spoils The fishermen will walk you through every part of the process, which is so visual that a language barrier isn’t an issue. Our guides regularly felt the lines and told us when to pull them up, as well as catching the lion’s share of the squid. After the return to shore, the guides will bag your catch and make a plate of raw squid for a late night snack. The squid is soft and easy to chew, fresh and flavorful. Most guides provide gochu sauce and chopsticks.
Each would-be fisherman gets a bag of squid to take home. To clean them, pull the insides out and wash them thoroughly. Cut away the eyes and slice the body. You can then flour and fry the squid for calamari, sauté with garlic and olive oil, eat raw with any sauce, or freeze it for a later time. There are hundreds of recipes for squid. The bounty of the catch can provide a great opportunity for trying new dishes.
Squid boat fishing is an exciting adventure and a great way to show a visitor a part of Jeju life, and sample traditional food. The standard tour lasts about 3 hours. If your schedule is flexible, just arrive at a harbor where squid fishing boats are docked and ask a fisherman if they offer tours. Most do and the price is usually around 30,000W per person. The open water can be rough, especially on the smaller boats, so be prepared if you are susceptible to motion sickness. Remember to bring a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, drinking water, and the wear clothes you won’t mind getting covered in squid ink.
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