By Rob Stubbs
We had originally intended to travel to Madine, but had decided on Orient as Gareth had been a few times previously and had a pretty decent session on his last trip - about a month previously.
Gareth owns his own lakes in France which he runs as a commercial fishery - Etang de la Croix Blanche. He has also lived there for about ten years and so he has some very useful French fishing contacts.
The plan was to meet up at Gareth’s lakes as they were about midway to Orient from Calais. I got an overnight crossing and after a couple of hours shut-eye in a lay-by I carried on to the lakes, arriving there about 10am. There I met up with Gareth and the other two guys, Martyn and George. We had a cuppa and a chat and eventually set off at about midday, with a veritable mountain of gear. Something like 40 Kg of boilies and closer to 100Kg of hemp and maize - and I had 25Kg of 'carp nuggets' for good measure!
The trip down took just under two hours as Gareth was towing a boat on a trailer so had to keep his speed down. As the rest of us didn't know where we were going we had to follow close behind.
We arrived in 'Geraudot' at a little cafe where we were to get tickets and whilst we couldn't see the lake we were told it was only about a mile away. It took us a while to actually get all the correct tickets/stamps and if Gareth hadn't have been with us we would have probably got it all wrong. Essentially you need a fishing permit as well as a carp night fishing stamp and a boat stamp; the total cost was about 40 pounds and a full year’s worth only takes it up to about 60 pounds - a small price to pay, in my humble opinion.
At the cafe we had a beer and some food - a nice set meal & wine, and that only came to about six quid each. We set off from the cafe a couple of hours after getting there and stopped off at a little general store for some provisions. A little further on and we turned off down a dirt track that had a small night fishing carp sign. The track was pretty well worn and fairly well cut up.
At the end of the track was a fairly obvious swim so we got out and had a look around. There was the swim in front of us and a scene which reminded me of the swamps in Vietnam war movies to the left. Gareth had heard from one of his French friends that most of the night sections were full or unfishable due to weed so we decided to fish this area. I was fortunate as Gareth and Martyn fancied the swamp, so George and I were relieved to be left with the relative comfort of the swim. Neither of us had any real preference so I suggested I took the right and George the left side of the swim.
I had my Titan as well as an Oval Profile so I decided to use the latter as the weather looked quite good. It turned out that Martyn had packed everything he could think of except his bivvy! So I leant him my Titan. We blew up the Zodiac inflatable, connected up the echo sounder to the other boat and set about having a look around the water in front of us. After a few hours all four of us had a couple of markers out, at various distances beyond the extensive weed beds, and so we started to sort out some rods. I managed to get a few rods out whilst George just got a couple out before darkness descended. All baits were rowed out and we were fishing 180 to about 240 yards out so it took a fair bit of time to do the rods. We later estimated it took us about 4-5 hours to get all the rods sorted out, and so we soon switched to doing a pair of rods each day i.e. leaving the rods out for 48 hours unless of course we caught.
The baits were fished as pop-ups as whilst we tried to clear the weed it was obvious that the lakebed was at least slightly weedy all over. Bottom baits also suffered attention from crayfish, which the pop-ups overcame to a degree.
Rigs were stiff(ish) rigs fished either popped straight up off the lead or anything from 5 to 8 inches off bottom. Baits were 18 or 20mm and were fished singly or as double baits. I decided to fish a cork ball above my pop-ups so as to ensure they remained popped up for the full 48 hours, as I had wound in some sunken pop-ups after 48 hours.
The baits we used were a mixture of Stour Valley and Mistral baits with their own pop-ups. These baits had been used by Gareth on his previous successful trip so we knew they worked there. In general our baiting plan was to scatter a pound or two of boilies around each marker (2 rods) and about twice that amount of particles. I was also placing about a pound of nuggets around each marker. The plan was to adjust the baiting if fish were seen in our vicinity or if weather conditions looked favourable where we were fishing.
We had decent weather for our first day and night and then it blew up and the weather turned wetter, soon to be followed by thunder and lightening storms which continued on and off for the duration of our trip. On the second night I was getting battered by wind and rain and eventually had to wake George up to help my turn my Profile around (this was at about 3am!). We re-sited the bivvie, and I managed to tuck everything under cover and get some much-needed sleep.
The third day still looked promising with a wind blowing towards us and the odd fish showing itself - mainly in the vicinity of George’s close in marker. That and the fact it was no longer the weekend meant we no longer had to watch out for the nutters on pedalos going through our lines or picking up our markers. Mind you watching the half-naked young women to make sure they weren't picking up our markers hadn't been too much of a chore!
We had sorted out the rods in the early afternoon and once again we were happy that we'd done what we could to set the traps for any fish that picked up our baits. The night was typically getting wetter and at about 1.30am George was just zipping his bivvy door down to keep out the rain when he had a couple of bleeps. This was shortly followed by that most exhilarating sound of a buzzer in full voice. George donned his waterproofs and got out to his rods, at the same time shouting for me.
I awoke to George's shout and asked him if he had a run. He replied yep and I quickly put on my own coat and got my headlamp on before going out into the near torrential rain. The boat was already ready for action so I helped George get in before giving the boat a push out. I tried to guide him out between the lines and as it happened he got out without any trouble, just pulling himself out slowly using the rod. I was standing out with my headlamp on so he knew where our swim was and I also called out to him every couple of minutes, which apparently he couldn't hear above the constant rain.
After what seemed an eternity, but was probably only ten minutes, I heard him call out - he'd managed to net the fish. Now all he had to do was get safely back into the swim - thankfully the fish hadn't taken him too far away and he ended up in pretty much the s
ame place that he had started. I guided him back in between the other lines without too much hassle and he was obviously elated to have a fish in the net. We had a quick look and it looked like a pretty 30 mirror. We got the others up and weighed and photographed the fish - it went 31lb and ounces. Everyone was made up for George and our first fish, but the constant rain and the fact that it was only a little after 2am meant that our sleeping bags were beckoning.
The following morning we discussed the previous night’s action and all hoped it was a sign of things to come. Unfortunately the only action we had for the next few days was from the millions of mosquitoes which had a real passion for English blood! I'm not sure what stops them biting as everything we tried failed.
We did a bit of shopping for fresh bread and other provisions and as our last night loomed we were still hopeful of some action, even though the weather was not quite as 'fishy' as it had been earlier in the week. We had tidied things away ready for a prompt get away the next morning and settled down for our last night. Gareth had to return home that afternoon as his wife was not well and so as we had only one boat, and Martyn had decided to join us in our swim.
As darkness descended we sat around chatting, ever hopeful of some last minute action. Then one of my close in rods bleeped indicating a drop back, which it did again a few seconds later. I went to investigate and it was apparent that my line had slackened, although at 150 yards or so and over weed it was anyone’s guess as to when it had occurred. I tightened up the line which involved winding in 20-30 yards and since I felt nothing, and it was dark, decided to not try and go out to boat anything, assuming anything was still there.
The following morning, about 6am, I had a couple of bleeps on one of my long rods, which was shortly followed by a slow run. I quickly jumped in the boat with Martyn, leaving George on the bank. We slowly went out to where the fish should be by pulling on the rod. Once over the weed I could feel a fish on and as we got further out and directly over the fish we could see the fish in the clear water. It was obvious that it had picked up another line somewhere and this made it difficult to play the fish in to the waiting net. We got it closer to the net a couple of times but unfortunately the line parted before we could net it. Suprisingly though I wasn't as upset as I imagined I would have been, even though we'd seen it was only a mid-double - it was my first take from Orient and I'd lost it!
We knew it would take a while to pack everything away so we started bringing the rods in at about 6.30am. My 'drop back' rod latter proved to have a ball of weed on which was found to have a carp about 20lb on the end, which George managed to handline up and lift into the boat (no net this time). So I guess I didn't completely blank, but I can't really call it my fish.
After a long pack up we eventually set of up the muddy track which wasn't in good condition as it once again rained. I managed to get stuck and despite much pushing and shoving (and a fair bit of mud spraying) was stuck fast. Thankfully Martyn’s hire van was better than my car and he managed to tow me out. We headed back to Gareth’s lakes where we had a much needed shower and some grub before we went our own separate ways. Martyn & George headed back to the Channel Tunnel whilst I stayed a night on Gareth’s lake. Meanwhile Gareth turned around and went back to Orient for another couple of nights with his French friend who'd found an interesting swim!
The Technical Side
The requirements for fishing a large French water like Orient are extremely different to those used in ordinary UK waters. You need at least one boat between two and it should really be large and stable in the winds you can realistically expect to encounter. Obviously you'd be foolish to use a boat without a life-jacket.
An echo sounder is pretty much essential, but you can get away with 1 per group since it is only used to put out the markers. An electric motor is less essential but makes life much easier. The markers can be anything from large sea floats to beach type footballs. We found the best to be plastic ballcocks as these are easily visible, and unlike the footballs, less attractive to the boaters and swimmers on the pedalos. Oh and don't forget the binocular, they are very handy to watch your markers and ensure the swimmers don't remove them (or all their clothes!).
You will also need to have rod rests capable of getting the rods as high as possible - just like beach fishing style. This is to keep as much line as possible out of the water and weed or snags.
Reels need to be able to hold 300 yards of line (at least 15lb BS) and, as I found out, some kind of leader is a good idea. Rods need to be man enough to pull you out in the boat and I would suggest at least a beefy 2 3/4 or 3lb TC rod.
Indicators should be able to register a drop back at the extreme distances so I would suggest at least a couple of ounces. This shouldn't move the 5 or 6oz leads you’ll need to hold bottom. Finally, on the rig end you need a big hook and we found stiff rigs to be fine. They won't tangle on the drop or be tangled by the crays. We used rigs popped up anything from a few inches to a foot or so.
Rob Stubbs - 2000