Team Image matchmen developed this deadly method on the Grand Union Canal in the early 1980s. Among them was Rob Hewison, who sets out the basics of the technique here.
The right squatts
Accurate loosefeeding is essential to success with this method, so you need good quality squatts of uniform size. Some tackle shops sell squatts that are a mixture of sizes, both large and small. While these might be fine for adding to groundbait for bream, they aren’t really suitable for loose-feeding because they spread out over too wide an area when you catapult them in. It’s worth making the effort, therefore, to find a tackle shop that sells squatts of a consistent size.
Although traditionally associated with groundbaiting for bream, squatts are now also recognized as a very good bait on their own for small roach – and to a lesser extent small skimmers and perch – on canals with large heads of these fish.
Being small, squatts sink slowly, and don’t fill up small fish. By loosefeeding squatts constantly and lightly, therefore, you can gather large numbers ofsmall fish into your swim and keep them there, competing for the bait, for a long time. Fishing squatts on the hook with light float tackle you can catch fish one after the other and amass quite a big bag – a double-figure weight is possible on a good day.
This works best in summer and early autumn, when fish are active and willing to feed up in the water – though it can work in mild spells in late autumn and winter.
Whip, waggler or pole?
You can fish squatts with a whip, a waggler or a long pole/short line. Knowing which to use on the day is the key to a big catch. The whip is fastest and easiest. When pleasure fishing you might find you can catch on it throughout the session. In matches most anglers start on the whip, but after a while bites on it usually dry up as the fish grow wary and drift over to the far side of the canal. When this happens you have the choice of fishing either the waggler or the long pole.
The waggler is almost as fast as the whip, and works best when the fish are biting freely and perfect bait presentation isn’t essential. It should also be your first choice when the water is clear and the fish are likely to be put off by a long pole waving about over their heads. When you are fishing a particularly wide swim and the fish are beyond the reach of your pole, you have no choice but to use a waggler. The long pole is slower than the waggler, but because it allows improved bait presentation it works better when conditions are bad or the fish cagey. On some days, too, the fish shy away from the slight splash made by a waggler. Also, sometimes in a match you find yourself drawn on a peg with overhanging trees on one or both sides of the canal, which can make it awkward to cast a waggler.
For minimum disturbance and maximum sensitivity, use the lightest float you can get away with, depending on the conditions. The best wagglers for squatt fishing are short, tapered, all-balsa ones with very thin tips. Their design is such that they don’t dive under the surface on landing, yet they are so slim that they register the slightest of bites. You need a range from three no.4 to four BB. By choosing one just heavy enough to cast the required distance you can make it land like fluff – as long as you have the right rod and line.
A rod with a very soft spliced tip, matched with reel line of only 1 ½lb (0.68kg), allows you to flick out such a light float easily and accurately. Treat your reel line with washing-up liquid the night before you go fishing so that it sinks of its own accord the instant the float lands.
Light hooklengths of 12oz-llb (0.34-0.45kg) and small (size 20-24), micro-barbed, fine-wire hooks are the order of the day. A very soft rod prevents crack-offs and bumped fish on the strike when fishing with such fine end-tackle in shallow water at close range.
Correct shotting is very important and it’s worth taking the time and trouble to get it right. You want the float to settle in distinct stages so that you know the instant a fish takes the bait on the drop .
Another very important point is to use a soft float adaptor, not only so that you can change floats easily, but so that the float collapses cleanly on the strike.
Getting down to it
Now you are ready to start fishing. Bait requirements for a five-hour session are one pint of squatts, a quarter of a pint of mixed pinkies for a change of hookbait, half a pint of hemp and a little cloud groundbait. Position these by your side, with your catapult, level with the top of your box. This way you can tuck your rod between your legs and feed your swim without having to turn round and stretch to reach the catapult and baits.
Plumbing up, you find the bottom of the far shelf and set your rig at full depth. A few casts with no bait serve to fix in your mind how long the float takes to settle.
In go two golf balls of groundbait and three pouches of hemp, to form an initial carpet on the bottom. From now on you loosefeed about 30 squatts every minute — this way you have a constant stream of them dropping through your swim.
Start with one squatt on the hook, through it’s always worth trying double squatt or even single pinkie at intervals throughout the session. Should a fish not take your bait on the drop, don’t leave it out there for more than a minute or so before winding in and recasting. This is the most important aspect of squatt fishing – to be active, constantly feeding and casting, feeding and casting.
Out on the long pole
As with the waggler, the aim with the long pole is to get into a smooth rhythm of feeding and catching, and this definitely takes a lot more practice.
You need a selection of floats taking from 0.2-0.3g, with different body shapes for different conditions. Hooks and hooklengths are the same as with the waggler, and these are balanced nicely to No. 2 or 3 elastic through one section.
As with the waggler, set the rig to fish at full depth at the bottom of the far shelf, and look to catch on the drop. The main thing to remember here is to swing the rig to one side of the pole so that you lay it on the water in a straight line, then hold the pole still so the bait sinks slowly and naturally and the float cocks against a tight line to the pole tip.
The most difficult part of squatt fishing with the long pole is to keep a regular stream of loosefeed going in. To feed every minute you have to master using a catapult without putting the pole down, and this only comes with constant practice.
The way of the whip
With the whip you are looking to catch over the bottom of the near shelf. Depending on water and weather conditions, use a small balsa waggler or a small top and bottom pole float, with shotting down the line to match, and feed and fish as with the waggler and long pole.