Article - Coarse

French Connections, Ten Years After

By James, added on 25/10/2008

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After ten years waiting for another trip to a French carp lake you can imagine that the anticipation was high, expectation settings to maximum and excitement levels on a par with a 6 year old at Christmas. Packing was all done by the time Kev arrived at my place on Thursday and it wasn't long before we'd got his stuff into the van and were on our way to meet Jed at Heathrow before making our way to the south coast. The chat on the way to the ferry at Portsmouth varied from the usual 'I'm going to catch the biggest' to 'how much beer do we need' via 'music to drive to.'  

Arriving at the docks there was an interesting array of old/ancient sports cars. Kev and Jed being sports car nuts (Jed has a Lotus, Kev a Porsche), they were out of the van like lightening and chatting with the drivers like they were old mates. It turns out that they were all on the way to the 'Classic Car' Le Mons 24hr race that weekend.  

Safely on the ferry (now running an hour late because they couldn't get some of the old cars up the ramps - low ground clearance or something) we headed for the bar. More fishy chat and a Cornish pasty passed the time before we wandered off to find the 'Sleeper Chairs'. Finding that the ones we had paid for were crap, we mooched into the Club lounge acting all nonchalant and non-conspicuous and tried to get some kip... We were evicted in the early hours. Having snatched a couple of hours sleep on the floor, we were woken at 6am by an announcement that we were now an extra 2 hours late as there had been a man overboard in the middle of the night! Looking out of the window (porthole?) we could see ships of every shape and size, criss-crossing the area looking for the unfortunate soul. We never found out if he'd jumped/fallen from the ferry or a different vessel but after a while another announcement came that told us the search had been called off and we'd be on our way again soon. We were now running very late and I was becoming much less sympathetic towards our jumper's plight as time was moving on - we only had three nights at the venue for gawd's sake! It's shocking how quickly empathy evaporates when there's carp fishing to be done.  

The first view of the lake as we swung round the last bend of the private track was very promising. Closer inspection showed that that the water was very coloured, almost soup like. Looking from face to face we wondered if this might be a bad omen. The rain had been relentless over the last few days in Brittany so we wondered if that was the cause. There were no signs of fish on the surface so we hoped that this wasn’t an oxygen problem and started to unload he gear.

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Although the lake was just over three acres it looked a lot smaller due to the island that would become home for the next three nights. On the island was a ‘lodge’ that had basic cooking/washing facilities and three bunks should we wish to sleep there. All of us preferred to get the supplied bivvies from the tackle shed and sleep next to our rods.

The first job after setting up the gear, was for me to drive down to the local supermarket to get some more fuel for the generator. The info pack that the owners had sent me a few days before had said that each visiting group should make sure that the generator was full before they left so that the next group didn’t have to mess about fetching more. The previous group had obviously not bothered and the ‘gennie’ was empty. Now, the info pack also very clearly stated that it was a diesel generator... even going to the trouble of telling the reader what the French word is for diesel… I bought some diesel. While I was down at the supermarket Jed had had the first fish, a nice common of 10lb. On my return I filled the generator and settled down to some serious carping. Big mistake. Later that afternoon Kev tried to start the generator so we could use the cooker hob to make some dinner. It wouldn’t start. I tried. It wouldn’t start. Jed tried. It wouldn’t start. With rapped knuckles and curses we gave in and I called Greg the owner.

“Hi Greg, so what’s the secret to getting the generator started then?” I asked.

“No secret, just give it full choke and it starts first pull” he replied.

“Choke! Bugger, that explains it then, I filled it with diesel and it’s a petrol one isn’t it?”

So backwards and forwards the conversation went and before long the blame was well and truly placed on his partner Tracy for sending me the old information pack. They had swapped the diesel generator in May for a petrol one when the old one had packed up. The chances of getting someone to drain it and clean the carburettor were none existent so I told Greg I’d have a go and wandered off to ransack the van for any tools I might have.

A pair of Mole Grips, an electrician’s screwdriver and a socket set (minus most of the bits) were conjured up from the depths of the depleted toolbox and I set to work. Once the fuel tank was off it was so obviously a petrol generator it’s hard to believe I hadn’t noticed before I poured in the diesel – ho hum. An hour or so later with the tank and the carburettor drained I tried again. I hadn’t been able to remove the spark plug to clean it, and as I didn’t have any way of getting to it, I hoped that the bloody thing would start. It went first go.

Greg called back to see how we were getting on and was as delighted as I was that the generator was now all systems go, he even said he’d pay for the beer and a meal out for our trouble. Decent chap that Greg, I’ve always said so.

The lads had given me first choice of swim as I had organised the trip, so with much consideration I chose the swim that was to become known as ‘The Leeks’ due to the distinctive reeds opposite my bivvy. The rest of Friday passed quietly and the excitement of that first fish (10 minutes after his first cast) for Jed, slowly dwindled into reality.

My swim looked into a right angle corner of the lake, with only a simple punt of the rod required to reach any part of it. I chose at first to fish double 12mm boilies, hair rigged to an ESP Raptor size 6. To cover the options of carp with a savoury or a sweet tooth, shellfish was on the left hand rod and pineapple on the right. It became clear over the next four days that these carp were much more fond of shellfish than fruit as no fish came out to any other bait.

The new Fox carp rods were a delight to use (Many thanks G for the recommendation, a beer owed I think). They were definitely ‘tippier’ than the quoted 2.75lb test curve suggested and looked very stylish in their rests.

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Early Saturday morning, Kev decided that as there was a boat he’d have a paddle about and investigate the lake in a little more detail. This was to prove very useful indeed and I reckon indirectly (well, probably directly if I admit it) put all my fish on the bank. The lake varied in depth from about 18inches in ‘The Shallows’ to 7ft in front of ‘The Leeks’. There was a gravel band about three feet wide that followed the bank that sloped towards me. The rest of the bottom was clay with very little silt so I had no worries of a bolt-rig lead sinking and taking a bottom bait with it.

The sky looked threatening for a few hours after a beautiful sunny start to the day but we were spared a downpour and only had a little light rain for less than an hour or so.

The gravel band seemed a natural patrolling route so after breakfast (and after Kev had surveyed the rest of the lake) I recast both baits to within 2 ft of the far bank margins. No bites followed the initial placing of my baits and after four or five hours I decided to try a different tack. This time before re-casting I swapped the bottom bait for a pop-up and added a ‘Stringer’ of freebies to the sharp end. This did the trick as I very soon had my first fish in the net… 20lb 12oz

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Things livened up for Jed and I after this but poor old Kev didn’t get a touch. Jed was delighted that afternoon with a 24lb mirror that he had on float tackle and centre pin, something he’s wanted to do for a long while.

My second fish came at about half past six that evening, another mirror, this time going 21lb 4oz. There was an unusual fighting trait these fish displayed when hooked. Not having done a lot of carp fishing I don’t know whether this was unusual or not… I’ll leave that to the ‘carpists’ amongst you to let me know.

After an initial short run when the hook pricked home, these fish seemed to almost give up the fight and let themselves get reeled in. This then turned into a ferocious bid for freedom when they got within a few rod lengths of the bank. They took line off the tightened clutch at an amazing rate. Making them pay for every inch didn’t seem to tire them hardly at all and each fish put up a tremendous scrap, accounting for itself very well.

We ate like kings that evening, Jed providing a BBQ that wouldn’t have looked out of place on ‘Masterchef’. My abstinence from the booze over the last six months was relaxed in the form of an icy glass of bubbles with dinner followed by full bodied glass of red at the end of the day. I tottered back to my bivvy that night expecting to sleep like a log.

It wasn’t to be.

‘Line bites’ came thick and fast all night, the bite alarm piercing through my brain about every fifteen to twenty minutes. ‘Beep-Beep-Beep’ it would go, JT would then leap (Gazelle-like) from his slumbers only to have the night go silent as all rod activity stopped. I tried slackening the lines and dropping back leads on, all to no avail. I can only assume that something small was picking up the bait and dropping it almost immediately.

Relief from this sleepless torture came in the form of a fish of 20lb 8oz shortly followed by another of 19lb 4oz. Both these fish also did the strange; almost give in type response followed by blistering runs and hugely powerful dives.

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Saturday didn’t result in any more for me but Jed was still doing very nicely with a fish of 23lb but as before Kev was struggling and getting more than a little concerned that a blank might be raising it’s ugly head.

Sunday morning produced a fish ‘guesstimated’ at around 10lb for me and Jed had a ‘belter’ of a take that resulted in a 21lb 4oz – very deep bodied but short in length. He later had two more, both 20lb 4oz.

Kev was getting desperate.

I suggested that as ‘The Leeks’ was producing well, I recast to a different area and he tucked in to the ‘hot-spot’. While shifting his kit over the bridge, an enormous crash was heard in his swim. The resulting language was choice to say the least and the fist waving entertained Jed and I for some time.

Kev decided to fish ‘The Leeks’ that night but persevered in his original swim that afternoon, after Greg called to see how we were getting on. It turns out that a common of 27lb had been caught there and a larger one brought almost to the net but lost. But it wasn’t to be and Kev finished his move later that afternoon ready for the last night.

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That night I got into a tussle with my best fish of the trip. 11.30pm there was a couple of bleeps from the alarms (no change there as they’d been doing that all weekend) that I assumed would develop into a big fat zero again. I got up anyway and stood by the rods in the dark and sparked up a fag. Jed had heard the bite alarm and joined me for a chat as we looked up to a spectacular star filled night sky. Every two mins there was a single bleep from the right hand rod that was no longer in ‘The Leeks’ (as Kev was ‘fishin’ ‘ard’ in that swim) but cast to a clear patch about 30 yards to my right.

As we were chatting the alarm suddenly produced a much more satisfactory sound and screamed the arrival of a blistering run. The fish went straight for the overhanging bushes to my right and as I picked up the rod to wind down on him I very foolishly lifted it upwards instead of to the left. The resulting tangle as the rod tip crashed into the foliage was a nightmare. I could feel the line pinging and scraping through the thorn-filled bushes. Jed, forsaking all personal safety, thrust his hands into the thorns and snags and managed to free things off a little just as the carp changed direction and headed into open water. Relief all round.

Kev could be heard in the dark, howling with laughter at the Laurel and Hardy school of carp fishing he was witnessing from the opposite bank.

Once in open water the fight followed the established pattern of the fish seemingly giving up the ghost followed by long powerful runs as soon as you thought it was all over.

The resulting carp turned out to be my best of the trip, weighing in at 22lb 6oz. If Jed hadn’t been there to sort out the bush debacle I don’t think I would have landed it.

I tied on a new hook link and recast (cleverly avoiding the trees/bushes to my right) and settled down to a good kip for the rest of the night, no more ‘liners’ to disturb my sleep. When I examined the hook at first light, I was more than a little surprised to find how bent out of shape it was.

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Thankfully Kev had two fish on Sunday night. Certainly not monsters at estimated weights of 6lb and 10lb but very welcome none the less. As it turns out, the 1olber was very well received as his new ‘largest carp’.

No more fish were caught on the last day and it was with very heavy hearts that we packed up for the long drive home. We really didn’t want to leave but work and families were calling and it was time to go. A last look round the place to make sure all was well, no litter etc, and we were off.

A great trip with good pals, fine dining, lots of laughs and a few carp – what more could we have wished for?

JT

Postscript:

Now, I have in the van a number of compilation CDs I’ve made, one of which is labeled ‘Play Loud’. Kev flipped through the assorted discs and selected this one from the many others in the wallet and put the CD in the player as we hit the motorway. I’ve not listened to this CD for some time and had no idea what would be the first track.

As some of you may remember (if you’ve read my earlier ‘French Connections’) the last time I went to France carp fishing was a year to the day after my brother John had died. Where as at that time he was in my thoughts virtually every day, ten years later during this trip the wound was obviously not quite so raw.

In a ‘mind-melding’ moment of extremely spooky hippy consciousness that first track on the CD blasted out…

The Rolling Stones – Like a Rolling Stone from the ‘Stripped’ album. Not only his favourite track but the one his wife Clare had chosen to play him out of the church at his funeral.

“Rest assured Bro, I’ve not forgotten you” I thought

I smiled to myself as I cranked up the volume to 11.

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