/]fter the ‘Roast Beefs’ had reigned victorious at our friendly England v France match earlier in the year we had discussed with David Dauchy and Professor Ludo the possibility of travelling over to Francais and having an informal friendly return match. Any excuse to go angling!
The guys had told us about a great venue in the North of France that they thought we would love and arrangements were left fairly loose until October when a date was proposed and details of the venue fully disclosed.
Being an interesting old gravel pit on the side of one of the northern French rivers the information we gleaned about the venue and its inhabitants made the prospect an exciting one and Mr Smarts (aka Martin Lewis) and I were getting more and more excited and exuberant about prospects in the weeks leading up to our trip to fish with the David Judo, Ginger James and Professional Patrice.
We new the rules and tailored the tackle to suit – minimum 0.35mm lines (15Ib 0.38mm Hydro Tuff) – no leaders – and barbless hooks. As the first English anglers to be allowed onto the venue stroke pulling was never going to be an option so everything had to kosher.
After an early exit from the office on Friday afternoon I took the works van home – squeezed my little BIC boat in the back and filled it with all the tackle I would need (and then some I’m sure I wouldn’t but decided to take anyway. Advice from our French friends was red fish meals were the choice of boilies to take, so that was an easy one – Carp Company ‘Ice Reds’ (the classic Caviar and Cranberry to be exact), a bait I have used for several years now and have 100% utter faith in.
Particle baits to go were tiger nuts soaked and cooked in Thaumatin –B, and a tin of good old ‘Scopex Maize’ that I ponced off my long suffering mate Lee! I also prepared a big old bucket of chilly hemp and some delicious groats to act as a carpet feed.
Down to Dover in good time, and by 11pm in the evening we were on French soil and a steady drive found us arrive at the locked gates to the venue at about 2am in early hours of Saturday morning. Sleep is for anglers that aren’t buzzed up on caffeine and despite some heavy drizzle we set about setting up in swims 1 and 2 – our allocated swims for the next few days. They looked good – in the dark – and when a fish crashed out somewhere in the misty darkness (and by ‘eck it was properly dark!) thoughts of setting the alarm and having a couple of hours sleep went out the bivvy window!
The baits were in with drops by about 4am, each set up on a dainty parachute stringer so that the hookbait would have a few 12mm Ice reds tight around the rig and eventually I drifted off to sleep as the light started to lighten.
At first light I awoke, brain slightly fried through the epic two hour sleep, to see Martin thrashing the water in front of him with his little ‘Drop-Shot’ rod. Oh well, I guess it’s better than veg’ing out so I asked to have a fling… First cast, first snag; so I went and hid in the bivvy with the Coleman on full bore and stuck the kettle on.
The water in front of me was clear and weedy and the bay was festooned with trees, both in and out the water – with the skeletal limbs of a huge fallen Oak in the middle of the finger bay about 70 meters from the swim. What a gorgeous lake!
Both Martin and I admired the scenery – wild and relatively unkempt – the lack of a manicure really added to the appeal of the lake…
Boats were allowed (including dropping hookbaits) so the rods were reeled in late morning and we donned our lifejackets and took to the water with my Aquascope to see what mouth watering features we could find. Being afloat is so much fun and I took my time to check out all of the visible bottom in the extreme shallows on the left hand side of the swim and around the island margins to my right. A couple of nice spots in the channel through to the reserve (on the back of the islands) were identified and sprinkled with a mixture of the ever faithful 12mm Carp Company Ice reds, tigers soaked and cooked in Thaumatin-B and Scopex Maize.
With that prep work done we had a wander round to chat with the team and have a proper look at the rest of the lake. The area between James and Ludo was a good couple of hundred metres of sweeping bank – whose high bank and over hung trees screamed carp. Having only fished a couple of hours a move already seemed a bit premature – but nevertheless both Martin and I identified this as being the zone we would be in if we were carp! The area had done a couple of bites recently, which reinforced the feeling the deep water here was a major holding area in the cooling late autumn conditions.
Social done it was back to swims 1 & 2 and time to get the baits out. The 3 spots I had identified earlier all had hookbaits dropped on them and a few morsels of bait. The spot at the channel looked even more promising as the water appeared slightly coloured, as if a carp had been in turning it over already.
I also took the opportunity to bait a fourth area heavily with 10 litres of hempseed as, despite our hosts advise that the carp didn’t eat hemp, I was keen to see if I could insight a feeding response over the oily seeds of loveliness…
As I sat in the swim and everything was done I was becoming increasingly nervous about how on earth I would bank any carp I hooked. The amount of obstacles in the bay meant I would certainly need to take to the boat if anything was hooked and this made me feel a little uneasy – preferring to be able to land fish from the bank (it seems that our continental counterparts, being much more used to boat work don’t worry about this and they just said they agreed a boat would be necessary to land any fish).
My bivvy (with the Coleman heat) unsurprising became social central and we chatted with James and Ludo quite late into the evening, all the while listening for fish movement (1 ‘possible’), and when I woke up at dawn on Sunday morning bite-less I was almost a little relieved…
Late morning I nipped out in the boat and all the bait appeared to still be in place. One and bit nights gone and two left now I was seriously getting itchy feet. The weather was forecast to stay overcast and as far as I was concerned, if the fish weren’t in the bay now they wouldn’t be. Martin was in the same boat (though his area was slightly deeper) as most, if not all his bait appeared to still be there.
Tentatively we mentioned the two vacant swims between Ludo and James, and weren’t surprised when the response was a resounding no – after all the guys were boating their baits long along this margin – and having a couple of Roast Beef’s set up in between would not help their chances.
Enter our Knight in shinning armour, Christophe the lake owner. It seems that the sanctuary was fished at least once a month so the fish didn’t stay in there all the time (feasting on the plethora of natural food that flourished in the snaggy channels and shallow bay – and he had no problem allowing us in there for a night or two.
The swim we were being pointed at was a treacherous slope, but on an earlier exploratory paddle another smaller point swim had been noted and I asked if it was possible if we could fish in there? Christophe very kindly agreed to our pleas to move in on his personal swim (after a lot of banter about sordid acts we had to concede for permission to be in there) and once we had the go ahead I was off like a rat up a drain pipe…
The line angle to the hot spots was much nicer from our new swim, and we would hopefully be able to set up nice and tight to the rods. When we packed down all the gear and boated it into the peaceful seclusion of our new abode we realised just how tight the new swim would be! It would tight for one, let alone two of us!
We looked at this tiny strip of land scratching our heads. The swim was well flooded due to high water levels and there would be no chance of putting any kind f shelters up. ‘Hell Yeah!’. We’d squeeze in somehow and sleep under the stars. If it rained we would have to worry about keeping our stuff dry then (as it was we were really lucky and despite pretty consistent cloud cover the rain held off for the duration)
Smarts was happy for me to go on the right hand side for the first night, as we had already agreed to swap for the second night whatever the outcome, so I set about tying 4 ounce Bolt Bombs on with 3Ib Hydroflo line so that the leads would break off if the fish hit any submerged wood or weed. Rigs comprised 25Ib brown Disruption, beasty size 4 Incizors and ring on the shank mountings. The rigs were also tweaked with the addition of one our new Covert Hook Aligner kickers and the point of the hook was given a polish with a Point Doctor. Each finished rig was positively razor sharp!
The finished presentation was about seven inches long and the three rods each had a different hook bait mounted on them. The left rod had two grains of Scopex Maize and a couple of grains of Enterprise buoyant Maize; the middle rod had one of my special super sweet Tigers balanced with an Enterprise Tiger nut – whilst the right hand had a Carp Company snowman of a white 12mm pop up balancing a 12mm Caviar and Cranberry hookbait. All of them were as good as I could get them.
As I paddled out to the spots I did so as quietly as I could and upon reaching the spots carefully viewed the lake bed to see the spots the fish had fed on most recently. WOW, using the Aquascope was an eye opener.
The first (middle rod) had a tiny spot amongst leaves, no bigger than eight inches in diameter and as I lowered the rig onto it, the Disruption hooklink disappearing perfectly. I dropped 3 small handfuls of mixed Caviar and Cranberry boilies, tigers and maize and then repeated the process on the left hand rod. This time there wasn’t a spot as such, just a slight thinning of the leaves on the marginal slope so I could just make out a little of the sandy bottom showing between the leaves.
The last rod was round to the right in a different section of the bay, in a snaggy channel leading through a gap between two islands tight round to the right of the swim. This spot was golden and looked well fed on and I was most confident on this rod – the presentation and bait was perfect. I mentioned to my compatriot that I was most confident on that rod and least confident on the left. Smarts quickly towed his baits down into the bay but the light was fading and he really made do with spots in shallow water. In reality we both knew I was in pole position and we were on tender hooks as dusk drew in (god it was so tense I had to have a power nap for an hour or so! LOL).
I heard click and a bleep from the ATTx receiver, as the left hand rod bent over and the line was out the clip. No line was taken as the reel was locked and I leant beck into a heavy weight that kited slowly and ponderously off of the island. Fortunately the fish stayed out in front of the swim away from the other lines, occasionally surging powerfully off forcing me to concede line under maximum pressure. Excitement was building as the fish swirled just beyond the beam of Martins head torch and then a couple of moments he swooped the net under the fish (from the end of our moored boat which was easier said than done) and the fish was ours! ‘Bloody hell – look at the size of that head’ I heard and I took a moment to steady the boat for him and look at the prize.
‘Please be bigger than Maltby’s, please be bigger than Maltby’s….’ I murmered, chortling as we both laughed at our good fortune.
On the scales the beast weighed in at 46Ib 4oz – by far my best French carp, and the trip was made. I shouted ‘Roast Beef’ (which is the French nickname equivalent to our references to ‘Frog’s Legs’) and we sacked up the old girl safely round to the right. Unfortunately in doing so I dragged the right hand lead out of position and was left in a quandary. We had been told not to use the boat to replace our hook baits but there was no way I could leave just one rod out… Night time mission on!
Again the little boat glided silently into the darkness and both rods were redone and positioned as good as it could be in the darkness.
Three hours later we were just getting ready for bed and I turned away from the rods and click – the middle rod was bent over and I was in again. This fish weeded me solidly and I was glad that the lead broke away and the fish came free. A plump little 26Ib’er rolled into the net and we snapped off a couple of flash shots. Jobs a good’un!
That was the action for the night (I really should have stayed out that boat!) and as dawn arrived the bay was quiet. Mid morning I popped out to check the spots – the left hand spot now had a lovely dinner plate clear spot on the lake bed whilst the middle rod spot was like a gravel beach. They’d smashed it!
After a nice social with the French team – eating fine cheese, wine, and sausages we headed back to the rods and this time is was Martins time to take the prime side and get the baits in first. Everything went to plan and he was brimming with confidence. The rods were on the spots and all that was needed was for Mr. Carp to come calling.
My rods went on open water spots that we had seen a little bit of bubbling and I was happy to try something a little different after the previous nights result.
That night I slept soundly (died!)and it was Martinis turn be a nervous fruit jelly (the side effect of snag fishing!), and despite a huge 120Kg Wild-bore making a hell of a racket and virtually stampeding us, I slept like a baby and woke up dazed and confused by the lack of activity. A couple of fish showed very close to Martins hookbaits during the morning and we hung it out until the last moment before breaking camp.
I think I was more gutted than Martin at the lack of second night action (honestly – he’s far too laid back sometimes) and I hope that next time we go to France the books will be balanced. Well a little bit anyway.
P.S – thanks to the French team for arranging the trip, and a BIG thanks to Christophe for not only allowing us on his lovely lake, but for letting us fish in his swim.