Catching Big French River Carp

Why aren’t more anglers going to France fishing the rivers, both the big river systems and the smaller streams?? It seems a little strange to someone like myself, who has spent an awful lot of time fishing extensively throughout France, that these areas are often ignored. I still firmly believe that the full potential of big carp in the French river system has not yet been realised, you need only consider that the official French record mirror carp, at over 80 pounds, was caught from a river!

I guess it is the reason that moving water can create more difficulties to overcome than fishing a lake or reservoir and that rivers seem to fish totally differently at various intervals along their length, even if it’s only a few hundred yards down the bank! River carp can often be difficult to locate as well, although many stay localised, most move significant distances in relatively short periods of time. In my experience, it’s not easy to beat a river on a one off short visit, unless of course you’ve had a hot tip off !!

If you are prepared to persevere, it’s odds on you will succeed and you may even land a whacker beyond your wildest dreams, they’re out there…. In the course of the next couple of pages hopefully, I can share some of mine and my colleagues experiences with you on how best to tackle the rivers and a few "well kept secret" locations where it might just be worth a look.

Location

Of course this is of primary importance, if you can’t find the fish then there is really no point in waiting for them to come to you on a river as they could literally be miles away. On a virgin venue on part of the river network, where you’ve got no prior information from previous visits by yourself or colleges, then it is first worth looking at bridges, snaggy areas and basically any area where there is some kind of obstruction to disrupt the flow and catch / harbour food. An echo sounder is very necessary in my opinion so as you can search out sunken snags, features and obviously gauge the depth of water you are planning to fish in.

So how do you go about selecting a river to fish ? Well, nearly all of the big rivers hold carp over 50lbs, good bets are the Rivers Loire, Seine, Saone, Tarne, Rhone, Marne, Moselle and Petit Rhone. We will look in more detail at specific locations on some of these rivers later on in this article.

Areas where two large rivers join are well worth a look, often this creates a big open expanse of water where carp moving through will hold up for lengthy periods to feed before moving back into the main river.

I’ve found that when the current is strong the bigger fish tend to move to deeper areas, say 14 feet plus, where they hold up and often a scattering of baits in this area can have devastating results. When the current is slower the fish tend to move and feed regularly in the shallower areas close to the bank. Most of my big river carp have come from snags, or sharp bends in the river, in 6 feet plus of water close to the bank.

The flow and water level can vary considerably on the big rivers, especially during the winter but, even during the summer months after a heavy down pour of rain. It is essential to have a back up venue in case of this making the river unfishable when you arrive. In the higher, more mountainous areas, river conditions can often be very unpredictable and it is thus very important to keep a regular check on the weather forecasts for the area prior to departure with special emphasis on rainfall. A venue should not be finalised unless conditions look OK.

In many areas there are small lakes which connect to the rivers and during the early season carp will move into them to spawn before moving back to the river, some ‘big hits’ have been had if you can catch it just right in May / June time,especially in the lakes around the Paris Seine area.

Warm water outflows from power plants and factories are another excellent option, this may mean fishing in fairly unattractive surroundings, but for sure these are the areas where some very big fish have been caught from. Fish in these areas will often remain in the same vicinity for significant periods and many remain localised with several repeat captures of fish 60 lb plus over the space of several weeks confirming this.

Don’t sit it out in one area too long, if you are not catching or seeing signs of decent size fish, move on. It will pay to keep a couple of options open on the same stretch of river, with a few free offerings at regular intervals and lots of observation. It can be difficult to hear fish during the daylight hours due to the obvious noise, night is a good time to listen out for fish lunking out and a move upstream from the area of activity the following day may well intercept them and result in multiple catches.

Location is the key to success, do not make the mistake of jumping into the first nice flat comfortable swim you come across, take your time and put all the factors into the equation before swim selection.

Tackle

Let’s be realistic and agree that your not going to go out and buy a whole bunch of new kit just for the fact you are going to fish a river. I would hazard a guess and say that 90% of carp anglers have only got one set of rods and reels for all situations, so this will suffice. It definitely is advantageous to step up your gear if at all possible though or at least use the heaviest kit you have, river carp in the main are powerful fish and will test tackle to the limits.

It’s likely you will be fishing areas close to or tight against snags so, line should be a minimum 15lb breaking strain with 25lb hooklinks. We must also ensure that only safety rigs are used with the high risk of becoming snagged up.

Personally, I like heavy leads, my favourite for river fishing are 4 oz flat sided Korda leads or the flat leads manufactured by Essential (up to 5oz). For smaller, slower flowing situations a 3 oz lead is quite adequate. 99% of the time I fish with an in-line set up and no tubing due to the limited casting of big distances required in most river situations.

Stalking can be another very effective method, I use exactly the same kit except reduce the lead size to keep disturbance to an absolute minimum.

The other important item of equipment which is often overlooked is a rod pod. River banks can often be rocky, steep sided or concrete. A decent rod pod takes away the aggro of mucking around with rod rests. We should also mention that rod tips need to be kept well back from the edge if we’re fishing close range to avoid any unnecessary possibility of spooking bankside feeding fish.

Bait

As always in the world of b
ait, lots of misleading information is banded about. For me, on rivers you can’t beat a good scattering of hemp and groats, adding pin head oatmeal makes a nice milky type ground bait. Mostly I fish boilies over the top or a good old tiger nut. Tiger nuts are effective for obvious reasons due to their shape in a slow moving situation, chopped or cubed boilies have the same effect. A few maggots thrown into the concoction can, and does often, prove irresistible.

Most of the big rivers are rich in natural food so afford a big menu to the carp, hence the size some of the fish reach.

I like to use a couple of kilos of the above mix every 6 – 8 hours going in to the swim, as it is quickly devoured by smaller fish if the carp don’t get to it first.

Possible Destinations

River Petit Rhone

Near the small village of Beaucaire, above the town of Arles. Come off route A9 at Nimes and onto the A54 towards Arles, turn off onto D38 to Beaucaire and D15 to Saujean. Any stretch of the river here is an excellent choice, with many very big lumps to its credit.

River Lot

Not the damned stretch at Cabanac that most carpers automatically assume when you are talking about the River Lot, but the stretch between Cahors and St-Cirq Lapopie.

Follow the N20 to Cahors and then the D653 or D911 to Arcambal. Excellent fishing anywhere along this stretch.

River Loire

Near to the town of Angers, not the prettiest location but some big commons caught from here in the last couple of seasons. Follow A11 to Angers and D111 to Bouchemaine or Ste-Gemme.

River Dordogne

Near the town of Bassignac Le Haut, to the left of the town of Tulle. Follow the N20 to Brive La Gallarde and then the N121 towards St Chamant, D18 to St Martin La Meanne.

Fishing the big river system in France is an exciting experience, you never know quite what will come along next…..a double, a sixty, an eighty…..the fishing is tough and sometimes difficult to cope with, but the rewards make it all the more worthwhile.

If it’s some real pioneering type stuff you’re after, give the rivers a bash.

Tight Lines,

Chris ‘Essex Man’ Woodrow