I recently had a trip to France with some of the guys from work and some mutual friends, for a friends 50th birthday. The venue in question was Napoleon Lakes, just south of Reims. At 9 acres in size, it’s an intimate venue and ideal for the group of six anglers. As the swims were large enough for two anglers, we paired up and picked our plots from a hat. Carl and Ray (the birthday boy) decided to fish the house bank (where the food was), Adam and Sam chose the far end of the lake where lots of fish could be seen in the snags, and Ian and myself picked the middle, where we hoped to pick off any fish moving from one end of the lake to the other.

I walked the lake and found some nice clean areas tight to the far bank. The average depth was around five to six feet, so much shallower than the average of 15 feet which could be found in the areas of open water. Once back in my swim, I set up my rods and readied the bait boat (boo hiss I hear you cry). My rigs were the standard presentations that I use for all my carping if I can get away with it. 16lb Mirage Fluorocarbon main line, a 5oz drop off inline lead, to a short 5 inch hooklink tied with 25lb Silt Ultra Skin. This was finished off with either a size 4 Ronnie Rig and a Sticky Baits Signature pop up, or a size 4 Mugga with a long hair direct off the bend of the hook and a 16mm Manilla bottom bait straight out of the bag.

The rig was loaded into the boat and a handful of chopped and whole 16mm Krill and Manilla boilies, a bit of corn and some 4mm pellet were sprinkled into the hopper, before running the boat over until it was tight under the overhanging bushes opposite. I repeated the process with the other two rods. I know a lot of people will hoof a load of bait in in France, but with the weather being so hot (pushing 30 degrees every day) I thought the carp would just be picking at bits rather than getting their heads down properly and I baited for individual bites, rather than a big hit of fish.

I was hopeful of a quick bite as I had seen fish in the area, but unfortunately I had to wait around 36 hours before I had any action. At around midnight on the second night, I had a slow twitchy drop back, which was promptly struck. As soon as I hooked it, my first thought was it was only a small fish and it felt like a low double all the way in, until it suddenly woke up under the rod tip and decided to pull back a bit and turn into a heavy plodding lump. After a further 10 minutes of lumbering about under the rod tip, I finally slipped the net under a lovely chunky new PB common, which tipped the scales at 45lb. After the obligatory pics, she was soon back in her home. It was then about another 36 hour wait before I had my second fish, this time a lovely plump 32lb 12oz mirror that actually felt like a 30lber during the fight. This was soon followed by another mirror of 27lb.

I had been fishing two rods on Ronnie Rigs, but as all three fish had come to bottom baits, so I switched over to bottom baits on all three rods. However, my bobbins then proceeded to stay still for another two nights, whilst the others picked up a couple of fish on pop ups (including a lovely 49lb and 50lb brace of commons for Ray), so I decided to put a couple of the rods back onto the Ronnies. Within a few hours, I had had a two more fish, a long lean grass carp of 24lb, which as per normal did its best to beat me up on the mat and a mirror of 36lb 8oz. Would I have caught more if I hadn’t swapped them all onto bottom baits? Who knows, but at least I was catching again.

Over the next day or so, I picked up a couple of smaller fish, a 15lb mirror and a 22lb 8oz common, before my swim seemed to totally die. With absolutely nothing happening, I thought I would try and fulfil a long term ambition, and see if I could catch a carp off the surface in France. French carp often seem reluctant to take surface baits, so it would be quite some feat. I made my way round to the far bank and after around 30 minutes of quietly creeping about, I finally found some fish cruising around. I fired a small pouch full of mixers over the back of them and I sat back and waited for the wind to drift them over their heads. After what seemed like an eternity (in reality around 2 hours), a grass carp of around 30lb or so very tentatively sucked one in, around 3 feet from the bank. It took another few hours before I eventually had a group of fish confidently taking the mixers (5 grassies, a couple of commons and a mirror, all around the 25-30lb range).

Strangely the grassies seemed completely uninterested in any little bits of crust I had dropped in and only wanted to feed on the mixers. During this time, I could have dropped the hookbait onto one of the feeding fish, however there was a hoofing great mirror of certainly high 50’s, if not a 60lb+ cruising around a couple of feet below them. Despite patiently waiting and baiting for ages, the big fish just seemed totally reluctant to come up and feed, so eventually I decided to try for one of the grassies.

I lowered the hookbait straight down onto ones nose just feet from the bank as it slowly cruised by and it instantly tilted up and sucked in the hookbait and all hell broke loose. Grass carp always scrap well and they never fail to surprise me just how powerful they are when you hook them under the rod tip. After about 30 minutes and one of the most powerful battles I’ve had from a fish in years, I finally managed (at about the sixth attempt) to net her. Letting the fish rest in the net to get her breath back (and mine) I called Carl who kindly nipped round for the weighing and photographing. It wasn’t quite the 30lb I had estimated, but I was pleased with a weight of 29lb. After slipping her back, I returned to my swim and put the main rods back out again for the night.

I managed to winkle out a couple more commons of 20lb and 22lb 12oz on the pop ups again to round off the trip. We had planned to fish the full week and leave Saturday morning, however Carl’s wife went into labour early, so we all decided to leave on the Friday. By this time we had all caught PB’s and the weather was just getting hotter and hotter. Overall it was a very enjoyable if frustratingly challenging week.