by Gareth Watkins
As more and more UK carp anglers venture abroad to France they are confronted with a huge choice of waters and fishing conditions. The giant fish we read about in the magazines, the success stories of leviathan carp all sound very attractive. These fish do exist and the potential of some large waters is outstanding. For this very reason, France has been the number one destination for the travelling angler for a number of years.
Smaller pits and lakes don’t usually pose too much of a problem for anyone who has the usual armoury of techniques and tactics at his disposal, and the usual UK approach will cope without any problem. Those who fancy having a go at one of the big French waters should only do so if they have done their home work and are well prepared for such a venue.
Lakes like the Der Chantecoq, the Foret de l’Orient, Salagou and Madine all hold massive fish, but all are, by English standards very big waters.
Approaching such a venue cannot be taken lightly, adequate tackle and equipment is a must if your fishing to be as enjoyable as it should and your chances of catching optimised.
First of all you need to do you ground work. Large scale maps of the various waters can be obtained from specialist shops and show the access roads to the bankside. These are edited by IGN and can be obtained in the UK or once you arrive in France.
1) Make Sure you are Legal:
A visit to a French tackle shop near your chosen water is a necessity for the various “Permits de Pêche” and information on the night sectors. On most of the waters, even the very large ones, the oppressive French angling laws make night fishing very difficult. Huge waters like the Orient have only a few areas one can fish, and these are often occupied for the major part of the season. One is often faced with the paradoxical situation of being on one of the largest waters in Europe an nowhere to fish. Don’t be put off by this, as most of these areas regularly produce. Fishing without a permit or outside the legal night areas can see you get a heavy fine and your tackle confiscated. So be warned!!
With so much water in front of you it is little wonder a lot of people don’t know where to start. But the water can be broken down into smaller more manageable areas. This still leaves a vast surface area to cover and a suitable boat and echosounder are virtually indispensable if you want to have a realistic chance of a fish.
2) Make Sure you are safe:
A word of caution here. Every year anglers are drowned on these waters, some trying to row out baits in kiddies, inflatable boats. This is obviously stupid and the use of the obligatory life jacket is to be taken seriously. No fish however big is worth losing your life for.
The use of an echosounder is, while not essential, extremely useful. Not for finding fish, but for discovering features on the lake bed. Many areas of these waters are over flooded vineyards, or strewn with trees stumps. Fishing in these areas would be fraught with disaster. However, fishing close by in a clear area can prove very effective. Weedbeds are another feature that attracts fish and can be identified by the echosounder.
Time spent sounding the swim is never wasted. A map can be drawn up from say 60 to 250 yards from the bank. Any likely looking feature marked with a small buoy or large marker float. Rods placed thus, cover a lot of the lake area and have a better chance of producing a fish. Four rods is the norm in France so it is wise to use them to the full.
3) Make Sure you have the right Tackle:
Tackle too has to be upto the job. Rods of 3lb to 3.75lb TC and big pit style reels with at least 300 yards of 15lb line are essential. I use Berkley Big Game, but I have friends who have used various braids. These often have the habit of floating and I do not favour them. A Quicksilver snag leader, however, is a useful addition to the set up.
I use large hooks 1’s or 2’s my favourite being the Drennan Continental boilie hook. Leads need to be heavy too, around 4 – 6oz as there is often drift on the bottom which can easily move you rig into a snag, especially at long distance.
Distance from the bank is important, one doesn’t fish at 300 yards for fun. However such distances are often no more than margin areas on a water that is 3-4 miles across. The immediate margin should not be neglected however, especially in rough weather when the carp can come right into the bank. Many a time when the guys fishing at mega distance have blanked, a judiciously placed margin rod placed by a close in feature, has seen action.
4) Make Sure you have enough Bait:
Some waters like the Der have enormous shoals of big fish. If one moves in on your area it can eat as much bait as you can carry. Some anglers add 25kgs of maize and 5 kilos of boilies a day to keep shoals in the swim. While it is a good idea to have a good reserve of bait just in case you are lucky enough to hit a big shoal, it is foolish to fill the swim in from the off. The rigs, placed by boat, at different distances should receive a small amount of bait around each. A small bucket of maize and a handful of boilies is ample. If this rods gets action then the other rods can be placed at the same distance and more bait added. But one has to be sure the fish are there.
It is usually necessary to play the fish out from a boat, unless you have a snag free swim. Fishing at mega distance this is very rarely the case. As water levels drop in autumn the margins are often very muddy and shallow and landing a big carp impossible. One has to be careful in a boat especially at night, a lost oar or a forgotten lamp can be disastrous. A light of some kind left in the swim is advantageous too, as getting disorientated at night is very easily done. The lonely vigil of waiting for dawn to arrive interminable. I think it goes without saying such sessions are not to be tackled alone.
Bait is rarely of prime importance in French waters, a good quality ready-made and some maize is all you really need. The carp will rarely have seen a hook and are anything except fussy. Fish location and good stout tackle are more important.
5) Don’t Neglect the Snags Totally:
Fishing near snags was mentioned earlier. Various tactics make this less perilous than it may at first seem. Obviously a line in the middle of a snag is no good, but in the vicinity can often be worth a shot. A breakaway lead is a good way to avoid getting caught up. Another little trick is to slide a ping-pong ball or a bubble float a metre or so above your lead. This lifts the line clear of the bottom and hopefully the snaggy area and should keep it in mid water during a take. As you will not be casting, this set up works very well. if the snags still prove troublesome, but you are getting takes, a second bubble float further up the line will help keep the line well off the bottom over a good distance. (See diagram)
6) Make Sure you Use Your Eyes:
Observation is very important , and any fish sightings reacted on. As I said previously, finding the fish in so much water is the key. A good pair of binoculars can help here and any fish topping, crashing or rolling merits a rod placed on the spot.
If you are fortunate to see a number of fish topping, it could be that they are on the move. Try to see which way they are going and intercept them. A bucket of bait on their path may be enough to get them down to feed, provided it is in place before they pass through. A big shoal may need a considerable amount of bait to hold them for any time.
This is how the big bags of fish are taken on waters like the Der.
Armed with the above you should find your first session on a big French water less daunting. In any case good luck.