The key to consistent results on canals is to ensure you get plenty of bites. The fish you catch don’t have to be big, it’s simply a case of building a base weight and going from there. Fishing with squatts is my banker method of doing this.
On some days, you will catch quality fish on squatts, sometimes enough to win the match by fishing just one swim with them alone. On other days, you may be able to catch 4 or 5lb of squatt fish, which combined with a few bonus fish from the caster swim, or some early fish on the short swim that we’ve talked about over the last couple of months, will give you a match-winning weight!
What Are Squatts?
Squatts are the smallest of the maggot family used for fishing, and are basically tiny maggots, even smaller than a pinkie.
They come from the small housefly and are naturally white in colour, but you can sometimes get red versions that have been dyed. Often you need to order squatts from a bait dealer or tackle shop a week before you need them.
Where To Fish?
Choosing the right swim on which to fish your squatt line is important. First and foremost, you need to be able to feed squatts easily with a catapult, so don’t go too far out.
In my experience, you can’t feed squatts any further than 11.5 metres. On most narrow canals, however, this will put you well up the far shelf, and you can actually get away with fishing closer in. Just going up the far-bank shelf is perfect in my eyes, ideally in a depth of around four feet, although I’ll happily fish squatts in water as shallow as two and a half feet.
Plumb up down the middle of the canal and find the deepest water. Then, go further across a little at a time and you should notice that it gets steadily shallower. I like to fish just up this shelf out of the main boat track, and on a steady slope that fish will patrol. I also think it’s important to fish straight in front of you with squatts. Often, the canal will tow one way and then the other. Fishing and feeding in front of you enables you to fish comfortably over your feed all the time, no matter which way the canal is towing.
To start the swim off, I always like to set a little bed of bait on the bottom by feeding some groundbait. The fizzing and attraction of this quickly draws fish into the swim, and gives you a base to fish over.
The mix that I use is Sensas Canal Black and Sensas Lake mixed in a 50/50 ratio and a little on the dry side, so that the particles within are active and fizz up off the bottom. Two or three balls cupped in accurately at the start are ideal, and within a minute or two you will be able to see the groundbait pimpling and fizzing. It is this that quickly attracts fish into the area. Within the two or three balls, I place a good handful of hemp and a small palmful of squatts and pinkies.
After feeding this initial bed, anglers may make the mistake of simply fishing over the top of it without feeding. I can’t stress enough the importance of feeding squatts from the start with a catapult. This helps keep fish in the swim, and also attracts more and more as the day progresses. Sometimes, the fishing can be difficult to begin with, but with regular feeding of squatts with a catapult, the action will get better and better.
Hemp is a great holding bait, and Darran almost always feeds it along with his squatts.
The next feeding aspect that you need to figure out is how many squatts to feed. There are no hard and fast rules about this, and the amount you feed may vary throughout the day. A ‘pinch’ of squatts is usually my starting point. I simply pinch my finger and thumb into the bait box and get around 30 squatts.
Some days, however, there are loads of small fish around, and this simply isn’t enough bait. Small fish will gobble all the squatts before they even get to the bottom. You can tell when this is happening as you’ll get fast bites on the drop from small fish, which will annoyingly hold up the float. I’ll happily double the amount of squatts I feed if this is happening, to try and ensure some bait gets to the bottom in hope of attracting bigger fish.
At the opposite end of the scale, there may also be days when feeding far fewer squatts is better. If you’re getting very few bites and it’s obvious that there aren’t that many fish around, try feeding just a dozen squatts to create more competition. When the going is hard like this, you will often find that the stamp of fish you catch is much better, and you won’t need as many to build a weight.
No matter how many squatts you are feeding, regularity is the key to drawing in fish, and keeping them there. A constant stream of squatts falling through the water keeps the fish searching and hunting around the swim, where you can catch them. I feed quite literally every time I lay my rig in. On a timescale, I’d say once every 90 seconds is perfect.
Building your swim up via loose feed is the key to big squatt weights.
I assemble two rigs to do different jobs when fishing squatts. One is for catching fish as the bait is falling through the water, and the other for getting the bait down fast and catching fish on the bottom. Both feature my favourite squatt float, a Sensas Serge, with the light rig hosting a 4x12 version and the heavier rig a 4x14. The hooks, line and elastic are the same on both rigs, it is just the shotting that differs to give two forms of presentation.
The lighter 4x12 float has a spread bulk of No11 shot just below half depth, and then three No12s strung out equally below. The spread bulk takes the bait to the bottom third of the water column, while the three small droppers allow a very slow, natural fall in the killing zone. It is important that you place this rig in the swim properly to get the best presentation from it.
To give a slow fall, ship out and lift the pole up, laying the hook bait in the direction of the tow before pulling the whole rig in a straight line flat on the water upstream of the tow. You can then hold the pole tip low and let the rig settle really slowly, as the hook bait falls in a smooth arc to give fish lots of opportunity to take the bait on the drop.
Sometimes, this kind of presentation simply isn’t positive enough, and to get through the small fish I like to use my heavier rig. The shotting on this is a solid bulk of No10 shot placed 12 inches from the hook, with two No11 shot between the bulk and the hook.
The idea of this rig is to catch the fish that are feeding on the squatts that have settled on the bottom, and I try and place the rig into the swim in a manner that allows me to avoid the attention of small fish feeding in the upper layers. I simply ship out and lift the rig up out of the water. I will be able to see the bulk of shot and can simply place this accurately over the feed area, lowering it straight down as quickly as possible. It’s then a case of letting the float set, and letting the rig settle on its own very quickly.
A spread bulk offers less resistance than a tighter bulk, so Darran opts for this on his light rig.
When To Fish The Swim?
The key to winning matches on canals is to manage your swim. The squatt line that I’ve talked about here is normally my banker swim, and I’ll use this to constantly put fish in the net. If bigger fish are being caught around me, perhaps once every hour or so I will happily have a look on another swim such as the caster line or lobworm swim. If you’re going to get one, it’s normally very instant, so you don’t need to waste time on these other lines.
When you’re not fishing the squatt swim, make sure you keep feeding it. Sometimes dropping in on another line will help fish settle on the squatt swim, and when you drop back in on it, you’ll enjoy a good run of fish. Get the squatt right, and you’re sure to have a consistent bag of fish, which nearly always gains you a brown envelope!
Feeding a good area of your peg regularly helps bring fish into your peg and gets them competing.
Darran’s Top Five Squatt Tricks…
Never stop feeding! Even if you’re not catching, keep a stream of squatts falling through the water. If you work on a 90-second rule, you won’t go far wrong.
When a boat goes past, make sure you top up by potting in a small nugget of groundbait containing some squatts. If the fish have scattered, this helps to regroup them where you are fishing.
When you get your squatts from the tackle shop, place a piece of white bread soaked in milk on top of them and leave them overnight. This keeps them moist and often they will eat the bread and plump up, making them bigger, juicy and extra attractive.
If bites dry up, try fishing around your feed area. Your loose feed will be landing over quite a large area, and sometimes fish will follow bait to the left, right, and even shorter and longer than where you are fishing. Sometimes, fishing a metre to the left of right in the direction of the tow will result in some bigger fish.
Just because you’re feeding squatts doesn’t mean that you have to use them on the hook. Other baits such as a fluoro pinkie or a maggot stand out from the loose feed and you can get a bite even quicker from a bigger fish.
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