Spring is such an exciting time for all anglers because, as the weather turns milder, the fish awake from their winter slumber and go on the feed. I am one of the most optimistic anglers you will ever wish to meet, but even I have to admit the possibility of catching a thirty or even forty pound carp is going to be tough task indeed, especially in England, where most of the big fish waters are either syndicate or tend to be pressured making my weekend fishing extremely hard going. I know what time and effort the well known names that catch the specimen carp put in and, unfortunately, my work commitments mean it's weekend fishing only for me, so, with this in mind, I decided to do what many other serious carp anglers will also possibly do for the first time this year and that is book a week's carp fishing in France the home of the real monster carp that have grown to record proportions of up to 94 lb. And there are hundreds of options to choose from, with plenty of venues on offer, ranging from just 5 and up to 100 acres in size generally, that are all pegged out with on-site facilities together with good stocks of fish between 25-60lb, rather than the tougher lakes with low numbers of super-sized specimens.
The thought of catching some of these specimen French carp became too much, so myself and a few friends decided to book a week's fishing at Castle Lakes in St Jeanvrin. Like most venues in France, and let's be honest there are plenty, it was evident that it had a good head of specimen mirror and common carp, not to mention the resident zander and pike which would offer a specimen hunter of all species the chance to diversify during the quiet periods of the week's fishing. But there was another reason we chose Castle Lakes; it has hardly any Poisson Chat which, for those of you that do not know, is a small cat fish with a spike on its back that can give you a nasty stab if you're not careful and they love boilies, especially fish based, and can become a real pain on some venues in France. I'm told they removed over 40 tons of these little buggers when they drained Castle Lakes a few years ago.
We travelled down to Folkestone and caught the Euro Star over to Calais then began the five hour drive to St Jeanvrin; I know it sounds like along time driving ,but the toll roads made up the majority of the journey, which are just long straight motorways, but it's not cheap and you're looking at about 60 euros each way.
We arrived at Castle Lakes at 10am on the Sunday morning. The weather was perfect, just like we had been anticipating; the sun was belting down and the temperature was around 26 Celsius with a warm breeze. On arrival, Ron met us and took us down to lake one, which is around 50 acres in size and has 19 swims on the main lake, of which 6 are doubles, each offering the angler a very large area of water to fish, including different ranges of fishing. Lake two is only 8 acres, but is a runs water stuffed with 15-30lb fish.
Ron went on to tell us more about the venue, explaining that there is a good head of carp present from the original stock of some 800 carp, plus the 700 new stock which was introduced in the winter of 2005. Most of these carp were 30lbs plus and are now growing fast in this well matured and natural lake. The new stock includes a large number of 40's and a few 50's up to 57lb 8oz. I was getting more excited by the second and couldn’t wait to get to our swims! As we arrived at our pegs, the wind was blowing straight down to our end of the lake. The conditions were looking favourable and we were all in high spirits.
After setting up our bivvies, it was time to introduce some bait. I had already had a feel around with the marker rod and decided to fish two areas, one being good silt and the other a hard spot to my right. Both areas were comfortable casting distances, at around 80 yards. The plan for the end gear was to fish using 15lb fluorocarbon hook lengths at varied lengths to a size 6 D7 Raptor hook with two 18mm boilies on the hair, incorporating a PVA stocking containing a mix of pellets and crushed boilies, mixed together with a few tins of tuna flake. I had brought 30kg of boilies with me, a mixture of both Nutrabaits Cream Cajouser and Dynamite baits The Source, which has never let me down in the past. They are both standard mixes, but two distinct flavours and contrasting colours. I like to mix it up a bit just to hedge my bets. I then boated out to the markers and proceeded to put in 5kg of boilies, together with a bucket full of pellets. This would be the ritual every morning for the next six days, with the occasional fifty boilies scattered in the vicinity with the throwing stick during the day.
As the light started to fade on our first night, the rods were put on the markers then settled on the alarms. I had also decided to back lead, so landing fish in the dead of night whilst having so many lines in one swim would, in theory, be easier, not to mention the benefits of keeping everything pinned down to the bottom. After an hour's social, I bedded down for the night and was out like a light, only to be woken at 4.45am by the sound of my Delkim screaming! I had a run! Bolting out of my bivvy, I lifted into my first French carp, but initially it felt small, so I applied the pressure and was soon slipping the net under a mirror. Still in winter colours, a stocky fish that turned the scales to 29lb; not quiet a thirty, but to my relief I was now off the mark. As morning broke, I pulled in the sack to have a better look at my first French carp and took a few shots of this distinctly French looking bug eyed fish, before slipping him back.
All was going well. The conditions remained good and the scenery was simply stunning, as the swallows and swifts gracefully hunted the margins for insects. It really was all going to plan, so as I put the rods on the markers for the second night, I was feeling very confident and full of optimism. I retired to the comfort of my bed chair to get some sleep, but it was short lived when, again at 4.45am, the left hand rod over the silt screamed off. Shooting out of my bivvy and lifting into my second fish of the of the session, this fish kited off to the right and was already fighting better than the last one, but again gave up and was in the net within 5 minutes. It was a nice looking common carp that was quickly sacked up 'til morning. I recast my rod and got my head down for a few hours before breakfast. Once up and about, the fish was weighed and again went just a touch over 29lb, so I had still not had a thirty-pounder, but it was a lovely looking fish all the same, with the longest barbules I have ever seen on any carp. It was almost oriental looking in appearance.
It was now Tuesday and the wind had suddenly changed direction and, with it, so did the weather conditions. It was spring, after all, but none of us expected such a dramatic change. The temperature went from being a steady 24 Celsius in the day, down to 6 Celsius and then came the rain. And, boy, did it rain?! It was relentless, with no signs of stopping and the night was even colder, going down to zero. It was a good job I had packed a few extra layers and waterproofs and not just the shorts and T-shits we were expecting to be wearing.
The rain continued to pour down all through Wednesday, but I kept the bait going in even though our morale had taken a knock. I knew it could not possibly keep this up for the remainder of the week, so as I retired to my bed listening to the rain pounding my bivvy, I raised a toast to the carp gods and prayed that the rain would stop by morning. I was soon off to sleep and did not expect to be woken at 4am to the sound of the left hand rod again screaming off...
I ran out into the pitch black and lifted into my fish, but this time it felt different. It was solid, for a start, and the usual pressure I apply had little effect. Then it decided to power off and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For the first time, I had a fish taking line from my reel. My mate looked at me and said, “This could be a big one!”. My heart was pounding; I finally had a real fight on my hands. The fish had already taken 100-yards of line, before finally turning, enabling me to slowly haul him towards me, but again the fish surged off with incredible power the like of which I have never experienced, taking line for fun with the clutch set tight. I could feel every flip of the line over its fins as this fish was trying every trick in the book, rolling over the line, trying desperately to dislodge the hook. Several times, it felt like the fish had managed to shed the hook, but to my relief I eventually managed to get his head up and gulping in air. After such a tense 20-minute battle that I will never forget, this hard fighting fish had finally succumbed to the pressure and was in the net at last.
Looking down at this specimen mirror carp now resting in the net, that had just taken me all over the lake, had my arms aching and nearly given me palpitations on several hear stopping occasions, it was feeling like no other. So, filled with excitement, it was onto the mat then into the weigh sling. As we lifted the scales, they settled on 42lb 9oz. I was over the moon! The fish was quickly sacked . Even the rain had stopped. It was 5am, but I thought a celebration was in order, so out came the last two bottles of wine and a few toasts to the carp gods proceeded. As morning broke, the word spread along the lake to the disappointment of the Dutch lads, who had caught nothing all week.
After preparing the unhooking mat and getting the camera ready, I then brought in the sack and carefully unzipped my fish of a life time. I could only look in amazement at the sheer size of it; the width of the shoulders, its head, everything about this good-looking specimen was breath taking. I was a lucky lad indeed, so after taking a few trophy shots, it was my privilege to return this beautiful creature back to the lake.
My 42lb 9oz French beauty!
It was now Thursday and the rain had finally stopped. I decided to set up the lure rod and have a play, as this lake has both pike and zander. There were some obvious ambush points and I kept getting takes, but for some reason was unable to hit them, so I scaled things down to a Tasmanian Devil lure and nailed the culprit, which turned out to be a game jack pike of about 8oz, which got a few laughs and surprised us all!
My luck on the carp front had run out and, although conditions improved, I had no more runs. The time seemed to go nowhere and it was Saturday morning and time to go home. On reflection, I had done alright, landing three carp in very diverse weather conditions. It had not been as easy as everyone expected, me included, so be under no illusions when you do decide to go to France because, even though the fish are there, you can still blank. Believe me, just stick to your baiting plan and eventually during the week, the fish will come feeding and, who knows, you to could catch that fish of a lifetime.
MEMORIES OF FRANCE