As Jackie Portman laboriously pulled a massive squid over the railing of an 80-foot fishing boat on a recent afternoon the animal started spraying ink everywhere. The women on board cackled, the men ducked, but, still, everyone got a kick out of getting soaked in the smoky liquid.
"We went home covered in it," Portman said. "It was all over our clothes, our feet, everywhere. It was pretty gross."
Last week marked Portman's third year squid fishing with the emergency room staff at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. Over the last 12 years the annual trip has grown more popular among hospital staff looking to catch some calamari.
Dr. Howard Nakashioya, who organizes the trips, has had to add a second one, usually a short time later, each year, because the first boat fills up so quickly. This year, Nakashioya organized another trip for next week.
According to the crew at Davey's Locker — a local charter fishing group that takes the physicians, nurses, and their family out each year — there has never been a better opportunity to throw out a line and make a catch.
Since March, an unprecedented amount of the enormous cephalopods — ranging in size from four-to-six feet and weighing in at 15 to 40 pounds — have set up residence between Huntington Beach Pier to Laguna Beach, Davey's Locker manager Norris Tapp said.
On twilight outings organized by the charter fishing group based out of the Newport Harbor the boat has returned with anywhere between 195 to more than 600 squid, Tapp said.
"I've been out here fishing for 25 years and I have never seen a concentration and extended presence like this particular time, [especially] on a nightly basis," he said.
Tapp believes that the concentration of squid may be responsible for attracting a large number of mako, blue and thresher sharks in local waters.
Last week, the Hoag group returned with more than 20 squid after their day trip.
The squid are not nearly as consistent during the day, but at night they swarm the boats. The squid eat the bait fish that are drawn to the lights at the bottom of the boat, Tapp said.
The squid propel themselves by "letting out that jet of water and will run you all around the boat," he added. "Put your reel into gear and hold on."
The only "trick to catching them is being there," he added.
"They bite anything," Portman said. "And they're heavy. Bringing them in is where the fun comes in."
Portman enjoyed the trip so much she plans to go on the group's second trip later this week.
"We have a good group of people down here, and that part of it" makes it worth the inking, she said.
"Don't worry, it washes out," fellow co-worker Rusty Vidal said.
One 20-pound catch could feed a family of four for a week, Tapp said.
"It's so rich you can't eat it in one sitting," Tapps said.
The twilight tours leave from the Balboa Pavilion at 7 p.m. every night. Tickets cost $33 for adults and $26 for seniors and children. Call ahead to make reservations at (949) 673-1434.