I’d been enjoying my boat on the river immensely but had also been very much looking forward to some autumn fishing on the continent. I often find myself torn between home and away, especially this year, but I fish a lot and always have done so it’s essential that I keep my angling diverse in order to keep me motivated. I’d penciled in several trips for the autumn and the first was just around the corner. I was off to fish with my good friend Mick who lives in France, close to the magnificent Lac Du Der and we intended to have a couple of days fishing from the bank on the great lake, and then go back to Mick’s for a break and to sort out the kit before heading back to do some boat fishing during the days, weather permitting.
It goes without saying that I was excited and in the days running up to my crossing I had a lot to sort out, from ordering big leads to doing all the little jobs, which there are many, like charging all the batteries for the trip, there’s just so many little things to get done so I found myself making lists to ensure I didn’t forget anything. Get done they did, thankfully, each job ticked off in turn and at four am on the Monday morning after a great weekend spent with my little girl, I left home in the dark on a wet and miserable morning headed for the tunnel, and France.
All went smoothly, a great start in itself and I found my way to Mick by early afternoon following the usual blast from Calais, which as always was fuelled by very loud music, anticipation and caffeine. He was in a lovely looking swim that looked out over a huge expanse of water in the south of the lake. As always it felt good to be back in France, I always feel a tangible sense of freedom once I arrive that has long been lost back at home. I was keen to chill out for a night or two as I’d been super busy of late and as a result I was in absolutely no rush to get set up whatsoever, and instead sat chatting to Mick as I hadn’t seen him since the previous summers adventures in the south of the country when we’d had the best time. We enjoyed a catch up, drinking tea and taking in my new surroundings. Mick was into his second week in the swim and had been catching consistently with fish up to 50 odd pound so it was looking good for a bite or two.
As the afternoon wore on I eventually set up my rods and got myself comfortable. Big winds and rain were forecast to arrive in the early hours so I set up my brolly and used my car as a windbreak to give me maximum protection from the approaching storm, which I was assured was on its way and would make big-water carping testing to say the least. Now I’ve sat through plenty of storms in France and some have been nothing short of bloody terrifying so I never ever take anything for granted and made sure I was well shielded and well prepared.
By evening I was ready so I donned my lifejacket and set about dropping a few rigs before the light faded. Would you believe it, I’d only just got my third rod out when the first was away, the 10 foot Extricator bent right round at full test curve in the rest and ripping. It was on a couple of big tigers on a spot just off the reeds a couple of hundred yards down the left hand margin in eight feet of water at the foot of the marginal shelf, the line going round a pole and the rod out on long sticks maybe twenty yards out in the lake so I had to don my chesties first to get to the rod which is never a smooth operation when the buzzer is one-toning.
It obviously wasn’t a big fish from its tuna like high speed runs. It darted erratically this way and that and fell off before I even got close to it, oh well, an encouraging start none-the-less. I rebaited the rig while I was out there then rebaited the spot with a couple of handfuls of tigers and Manilla boilies and re dropped the rig on the spot which was firm and sandy. As always on reservoirs, which are usually pretty featureless for the most part, any topographical variation should be investigated as a likely bite spot. As I boated back to the swim the smell of burgers drifted on the breeze and I rounded the reeds to see Mick busily cooking dinner, who looked dismayed at the sight of an empty net, "fell off" I muttered, feigning sadness and we both laughed.
It proved to be a busy night for us both but more so for Mick who had one spot really working which was atop an old road way out in the lake and this rod was doing most of the bites. Of course half a dozen or more bites a night is hard work anywhere but when you are fishing at 300 yards it requires serious commitment to keep going and I could only marvel at Micks keenness. In good weather it’s hard enough but in big wind and rain it all becomes that much harder and that was exactly what was going to happen as the weather arrived with a vengeance. We enjoyed a nice bacon and egg baguette for breakfast cooked by Mick in his make shift field kitchen in the back of his van and then once galvanised for the day with mugs of tea we set about photographing the night’s spoils which included a nice brace shot of 40’s – a great first night on the lake!
The weather had arrived as predicted in the early hours. I awoke to branches hitting the brolly and lay there as the rain began to pound down and the wind increased to a roar, and then I heard one of Mick’s buzzers. All warm and comfortable in my bag I laughed out load at the thought of Mick heading out in such conditions to do battle. I’m not joking when I say that it took him a good ten minutes to get out to the fish at such range and in atrocious weather –I didn’t envy him one bit, but being the good angler he is, out there he went, and an hour or so later I saw his torch. "Got it" he shouted over the wind. "Looks a nice 40" he said as he waded out to secure it in the retainer.
An hour later he had another take as the wind increased and I barely stirred before immediately nodding off again, chuckling to myself that I was all warm and cosy and poor Mick was heading out again. By the morning I could see several retainers in the edge and a bleary eyed Mick appeared from the back of the van, hot tea in hand, and one for me, lovely, good old Mick. Now the wind had increased to gale force and during the day Mick got a call from another friend Sam on the lake for help to get off. His bivvy had been destroyed and he and his girlfriend needed help getting the van from the main port of giffaumont as it was too rough to boat back across the expanse. Mick set off early afternoon. He’d not long been gone when I had a single bleep on one of the long rods so I went to investigate as a bleep usually means a bite. In the big wind I stared at the tip a while and was sure I saw a tap so I wound down and there was a fish on. I jumped into the boat, unclipped the anchors and after negotiating the other lines I set off at full tilt into the teeth of the big blow. I’m guessing it was ten minutes or more before I got out near the fish with waves crashing over the bow, a mega battle ensued and it was a good 30 minutes before I returned soaked to the skin back to base camp with my prize. Next time I’ll remember to put on my waterproofs I thought to myself. I grabbed a retainer and slipped the angry common into it, it was another good fish, upper thirties, low forties I guessed from the weight. After I’d sorted the fish I got changed into my waterproof’s and re-baited and headed out there again to drop the rig on the sunken roadway spot way out in the middle of the 1000+ acre basin.
Mick (International rescue) eventually returned a few hours later and when we went to do the pics the fish was gone, it had escaped through a big hole in the mesh, oh how we laughed, all that effort and not even a pic. Easy come easy go as they say and I didn’t dwell on it, the bite and the excitement of the fight was enough, there was plenty more fish in the sea to catch.
Now, fishing in big autumn weather on such a huge piece of water can be amazing and inspiring but the front that moved in on us, which was no doubt driven by the remnants of the lethal hurricane Irma on the other side of the world actually slowed down the action as it dropped the air temperature by ten degrees or so in less than 24 hours. As the front came over us, before we knew it it was time to head back to Mick’s to recharge for a day or so, dry everything out and ready the boat kit as the swim we were in was booked for the following week. Indeed, the day before we packed up a nice Dutch man arrived to fish it and brought us a beer and we chatted and filled him in on events. Mick explained his session and where he had caught them and even left markers on the primmest spots to save the Dutch angler wasting time. I have no doubt he would have caught a few after we left and hopefully a big one amongst them.
Now day fishing from the boats is no mean feat, the lake is vast, open and potentially a very dangerous place to be and in the autumn you can be faced with impenetrable fog one day and be literally blown off the lake the next so the kit needed is next level. We were of course only too well aware of the danger but this was sternly reinforced to us by the terrible news that two young German anglers had drowned on another big lake to the east of us that very day. It only served to remind us just how easy it can go from a fun filled fishing adventure to tragedy in the blink of an eye so we made doubly sure that we left nothing to chance.
On many of the big waters in Europe (but not all) petrol engines while fishing is strictly not allowed and if your caught using one you face big fines. We have always used electric outboards and leisure batteries as our source of power. On chantecoq however you simply couldn’t carry enough batteries to make some of the huge journeys and even then the time involved makes it pointless, a huge amount of time spent travelling for barely a few hours fishing. (its not unusual to have to travel 15+ kilometres a day to reach some spots and get back to give you some idea)
Of course there are plenty of slipways around the lake but car break ins on the more remote or shallow water make using the main slips or ports the only viable and truly safe option in the autumn so its best to launch from the ports where the cars are safe and you can launch and recover all the kit so much more easily.
Mick had invested in a 2 horse power 24v electric engine that has huge torque, is super fast compared to traditional 12v electric outboards and runs on lithium batteries for the long runs out and back as these are the safest and best option, but still hugely expensive. The big engine powers the big rib as well as towing two 3 metre deployment boats (which are used to drop rigs and go after hooked fish), these carry traditional 55lb outboards, sounders etc. and the whole ‘camel train’ as Mick calls it is quite an outfit to tow so lithium power is really the only way if you want to fish effectively and more importantly safely, put simply this style of fishing is very expensive due to all the kit you need.
Thankfully by the time we were ready to go the weather had abated and the following days, although wet and blowy, were nothing like the start of the trip thankfully and so the following morning with all the boats on the trailer and the van loaded we were up at 5.30am and off on the short drive to the lake from Mick’s home in a nearby village. As usual there were quite a few pecheurs at the ramp launching their boats and catching up on what was being caught and where, and while they are not carp anglers it is prudent and good angling to keep an eye on where they all head as it can give you a good idea on the movement of fish in general around the lake. I heard ‘la breche’ mentioned more than a few times and this made sense as it was this area that had received the bulk of the big winds, obviously lots of food fish had been blown that way and of course followed by the predators which are the main target to eat. The bookable night swims in this area were not doing much from what we were hearing and our instincts told us that this was not the area to head as it would be a spider’s web of lines and best avoided, so instead we decided to head off to the centre of the lake and fish in the lea of one of the islands where it made sense to start and watch.
Mick had got hold of the nautical maps of the lake which showed all the depths and topography and he had spent lots of time learning the various deep channels, a hugely important aspect to this sort of fishing and one that becomes even more so as the water starts to drop. You see the lake is drained before the winter and is used as a back up a reservoir to stop Paris flooding and to take the pressure off the Seine and Marne rivers. Of course understanding the routes the fish take as the water drops and they come out of the reserves etc. and head to deeper water is pivotal to good autumn fishing and takes out much of the guesswork. Up until this point however the lake was still relatively full but it had started to drop, anything up to six inches or more a day. We were actually a little early and the fishing will improve immensely as the water disappears from under them so I arranged to return for round two in a fortnights time when the water should be much, much lower and the fishing much better.
We did a few days on the boat with only one bite to Mick to show for our efforts, a mid 20 common that got us all excited on our first day. Despite the recent weather stirring things up the fish stayed quiet and apart from seeing a few in the north of the lake on our last evening, we couldn’t find them anywhere else in our short day fishing ‘window’. Day fishing is not easy, its tiring and hard work and you definitely earn everything you are lucky enough to catch, but I can’t wait to return in a fortnight for round two, I’ll of course fill you in on my return from the big lake on how it went.
Until then, be lucky and I hope you’re out there chasing your own autumn dreams.