A weekend off the beaten track in France

A weekend off the beaten track in France

If you’re planning a French fishing road trip this summer this tale of hidden river giants from MATT VELAMAIL should whet your appetite. The 26-year-old and his friend JAMES MORLEY set off from Rotherham in search of untapped carp in south-west France and weren’t disappointed…

What fishing road trips should all be about!

What fishing road trips should all be about!

Almost a year in the planning, we decided we wanted to go carp fishing in France, but not to one of many well-publicised ‘commercial’ venues, but to somewhere wild and relatively untouched, a river adventure.

Much like our UK fishing, where we live for venues that few others fish, this trip would take that ethos to a new level and require an immense amount of effort.

We found a stretch of river where a boat would be needed to reach the otherwise-inaccessible peninsula, and booked our cross-Channel ferry. With four days for the bank holiday, this would be a research trip before a return later in the year with a better idea of what to expect.

Following the ferry and a gruelling five-hour drive through France in the early hours, sharing the driving to maximise our time on the bank, we arrived at what could only be described as the most idyllic river location just as the sun rose.

Nestled at the foot of lush mountains, aqua green water poured over a rocky riverbed into a deep back eddy. Fish were topping all over through the rising mist.

We proceeded to unload the van and load the boat up, and after two trips and a momentous effort hauling the laden boat over shallow gravel runs we had accomplished our mission, knees and backs much worse off.

By mid-afternoon, in blistering heat, we had chosen our swims, set up camps and started placing our baits. We could see what looked to be small carp boshing in the flow on the far side, so we boated the first rod out over 150 yards away and got a firm donk as the 6oz lead hit the hard bottom.

Four handfuls of bait were scattered over a large area to tempt any passing carp and we rowed back. However, by the time we placed the rod, a huge bow had developed in the line caused by the back eddy and the stretch in the mono. Several attempts with a variety of methods later, we resigned ourselves to casting at 80 yards, which was not an easy feat with 6oz leads, long rigs and heavy baits. For this trip, we had brought 30kg of the ever-faithful Redemption test bait from 3FT in 18mm and 24mm as there was a big population of bream, chub and barbel present.

The first bite came to James in the early evening – an immaculate 2lb barbel slipped over the spreader block with an 18mm bait firmly lodged in its mouth. From now on it would be 24mm only! Although the barbel would have been great sport, they weren’t what we were here for and it’s not so sporting on 3lb carp rods.

An hour later, James’s right-hand rod, placed at the bottom of a 16ft shelf, melted off. He clamped down only to find the fish was making a mockery of his clutch and powering away. He shouted for the boat and we chased after what felt like a leviathan. With headtorches off and accompanied by the sound of the screaming clutch and the moonlight illuminating the water this was exactly what we had come for. The fish surfaced and James called catfish due to the length of it, but after tiring the river monster, a long, deep-bodied mirror was sulking in the net.

We couldn’t believe it, this was beyond our dreams. We had to save this immense fish for the morning light to do her justice so she was placed in the retainer in a deep pool of oxygenated water until the early hours.

To cut a long story short, what followed can only be described as the finest few hours of fishing we have ever had.

Neither of us had slept properly in 48 hours but sleep was the last thing on our mind. With only three retainers with us, landing nets had to be used and as light broke we had five captive carp.  James had landed an immense 45lb mirror, a 32lb 14oz almost-identical fish and a 26lb common while I had landed a 33lb 8oz mirror and a 31lb 8oz football-shaped common with not a scale out of place.

James's 45-pounder was the best of the trip

James's 45-pounder was the best of the trip

The Redemption had selected the big fish in a river stuffed with doubles and they had mopped it up – the retainers were full of the excreted bait. We had a great hour or two taking pictures of our quarry amid the amazing scenery and were relishing the next few days.

A 33lb mirror for Matt

A 33lb mirror for Matt

Unfortunately, the three days that followed could not compare to the first night. The river level dropped nearly 4ft and the water almost stagnated. It was evident the main group of fish had largely left the area.

We tried heavy baiting to bring them back, but ultimately the lack of oxygen and cooler temperatures moved the fish to pastures new. There were still odd fish in the area, however, and James proceeded to land 29lb and 24lb commons, with a small mirror for me.

A 29LB common for James

A 29LB common for James

I also ended up losing what felt like two big fish. The latter came when we we’re making dinner – one bleep, two bleeps and then a one-toner, a sure sign of a big fish. I ran to the rod and tightened the clutch gently; the 3lb rod buckled over and the clutch sang its song before the line parted.

Absolutely gutted does not describe it. Having discussed this, we think it was due to the back leads washing the line up against the side of a snag. As the slack had been taken out of the line, it made contact with the snag and parted. In the future we may have to use the bubble float or balloon method often used on these snaggy French venues like Rainbow.

James also spectacularly landed a 57lb catfish following an epic boat battle. This fish, which had hoovered up 2-3kg of Redemption, was small for the area where 150lb ‘silure’ are ever present, but I still managed an even smaller fish of around 10lb.

A 57lb catfish added to the adventure 

A 57lb catfish added to the adventure 

We had planned to do a full video of the trip, but we never really got the footage we wanted to put out due to the lack of daytime action, but there will be a few highlights of the fish we caught.

All in all, following the immense effort of packing away we can reflect on an extremely successful ‘exploratory’ trip. If someone had offered us a 45, three thirties, three twenties and two catfish we would have bitten their hand off, though it’s hard not to feel there is unfinished business and we are already planning to return and fish some of the other areas of the river and the large natural lakes where carp up to 80lbs reside.

We have learned an immense amount and this will be the first of many in our quest for massive natural, wild carp.

James cradles his chunky 45-pounder

James cradles his chunky 45-pounder

RIGS AND BAIT

James

  • Standard hair rigs
  • Hookbaits: 24mm 3 Foot Twitch Redemption bottom baits
  • Hooks: Size 4 Fox Edges SSBP
  • Hooklink: 20lb Korda N-Trap Semi Stiff
  • Leads: 6oz on safety clips

Matt

  • Blowback rigs
  • Hookbaits: 24mm 3 Foot Twitch Redemption bottom baits
  • Hooks: Gardner Longshank Mugga
  • Hooklinks: 30lb Korda N-Trap Semi Stiff
  • Leads: 6oz on safety clips
Matt's rotund common of 31lb 

Matt's rotund common of 31lb 

Back goes a thirty

Back goes a thirty