Total Carp

Total Carp article by Dave Lane

Our next trip was planned for France, two weeks later, and I was looking forward to a whole week of no work, laptops, computer screens, e-mails or phone calls; just to the sound of birdsong, bite alarms and the occasional pop of the lid on an ice cold beer.

I'd booked a lake in the Champagne region called Etang du Bois, which apparently means Lake In The Wood and not lake for the boys as we had worked out using our dubious translation skills. The journey was interesting to say the least; we had hired an 18 seats and rammed it to the gunwales with fishing gear, leaving just enough room for the five of us at the front. We'd brought the crossing time forward to a night sailing, which meant a 4 Hour Drive across France during the early hours. Due to a slight navigator error and a missed junction (or three) we ended up near Metz and the German border. The weather was atrocious with sheets of rain driving into the windscreen and it was all I could do to hold a steady course. At one stage it was more like sailing than driving. Eventually, though, with a bit of cross-country navigation we found the lake in the early hours of the morning. Had we actually followed the directions I reckon it would have been just under four hours from the ferry but I am not even going to admit to the real journey time.

In the half-light of dawn we took our first walk around Etang du Bois and it looked lovely with big, overhanging trees in most swims, lush green grass and an island adorned with weeping willows. It was like a pretty, ornamental English lake, but full of great big French fish. We had drawn lots to see who chose first and for once I had won. So I put the little inside info I had gleaned into effect and chose a known big-fish area called The Lawn. My parting shot to Lindsey, who had drawn second, was to look at the far-end swim on the shallows where the bulk of the fish had been caught in recent weeks.

As I was setting up, a fish rolled to my left in a small bay and I flicked a bait on the ripples. The rod had barely settled and I was away, hooking into a hard-fighting mirror of just over 301b. What a start!

All the swims were pretty and the features all at close range, which made everything nice and easy. In fact, the furthest cast was at the far end in Lindsey’s swim, where he was fishing the far tree line at about 60 or 70 yards, I resisted the temptation to pile a load of bait into the lake, figuring that it was a lot easier to top it up later than to take it out again, particularly as my bite had come to a single hook bait. Bait choice was easy because Kev Knight at Mainline had recommended the lake and I knew that the fish had seen plenty of his finest over the previous few months.

After a few hours I decided that I was too excited to sleep so I went for a stroll around the lake, walking into Lindsey’s swim just as he upped his French PB to 27lb, which we were assured was a small fish for the venue. Each of us seemed to have a different scenario in front us, and the bites were slow to start with, which made it a nice challenge to sort out the better spots in each swim.

Often, French angling consists of simply rowing out with an echo sounder, dropping an H-Block on the best-looking feature and tipping a bucket of bait over the side. However, this is a lot more like fishing at home, looking for little gravel patches and overhanging bushes and so on. As we were a party of five and there are eight swims on the lake, this left me a little scope to go off exploring on the second day.

I soon found a small swim in a channel by the island that looked perfect. I had seen ripples coming back from there at first light and as I crept in and peered around the bush a great big mirror slid out of the water in front of me, sending up a sheet of bubbles as he returned to his feast in the silt below. That was all the encouragement that I needed and a single rod flicked on the spot was soon bent into full fighting curve as one very surprised carp tried everything he knew to avoid having his photo taken. At 37lb this fish seemed to flick the switch for the bigger specimens to come on the feed.

We had booked a local woman to cook breakfast and dinner for us each day so it was us that fed first, shortly followed by a 40lb mirror for Lindsey and a 41 pounder for me. It seemed as though everything was suddenly hungry and our mates Wilson and Chrisa had fish of 38lb and 44lb respectively. In fact, it was only Freddy that hadn’t caught one by the time the afternoon sun had kicked in and started to turn the lake into full summer mode.

If the day had started well then it ended fantastically, particularly up in the shallows where, in front of a full audience, Lindsey obliterated his new French PB twice on the trot with a fantastic brace of leviathans. It's worth mentioning that, on the whole, the fish in this lake fight harder and longer than any that I've ever fished all before.

Every single fight ends in an epic margin battle that has to be experienced to be believed and these two fish were no exception. The first was big enough, weighing in at 42lb, but the second one just blew it away - 52lb 12oz. Talk about on a roll! We had a bit to talk about over dinner, so much in fact that we stayed for a bit longer and drank a toast to Lindsey's whackers. we also made plans for Freddy, who seemed to be in the slowest area of the lake on the other side of the island.

A move up to the shallows was in order for the next morning. We had arranged to have a midweek redraw anyway but it would be good if we were all off the mark before then. There is nothing worse than watching everyone else catching when you are not, it was only a holiday after all. The next day after breakfast, and with Freddy installed in Lindsey's swim, we all set about resetting the tracks.

The weather was becoming increasingly hotter and at one stage we even set up a badminton net, until Lindsey beat all of us and we gave it up as a bad job. Freddy got off the mark early in the afternoon with a scaly mid-thirty. Lindsay had a 46 and a couple of thirties and Wilson and Chrisa had another one each. It was like the land of the Giants and they all fought like demons. Not being the sort of person who could contemplate spending a whole week in one swim I was soon on the move, flicking bait out in the empty swims.

Tuesday lunchtime we decided to do the redraw and Chrisa bagged the going swim on the shallows. Freddie had my swim. Lindsey picked a nice little intimate swim by the island and I'd moved into Freddy's old plot behind the island. Only Wilson stayed put, determined to get his just reward from the point swim where fish had been showing since we arrived.

Freddie fished well in the new swim and ended up with three more big thirties, the best being only 2 ounces shy of 40lbs. the best story of the week also came from a very queasy looking frayed one morning when he recounted the tale of his force teeth and the slug that had taken up residence in the plate that holds them together. He had even hidden them in his hat overnight to keep the beasties off but had somehow forgotten to check them in the morning. As he popped them in his mouth he found a thick, slimy slug acting like a natural air of Denta-fix gluing them into place. How he didn't throw them straight back up and into the lake I'll never know!

The days became even hotter and the fish started to drift into my swim up the back of the islands, using a narrow gravel bar that could just be seen glowing yellow through the water. The more I watched the fish, the more a definite pattern was emerging. The carp seemed to drift up and down the bar all morning and then, in the heat of the day, they congregated on the end of the bar on a small plateau area. although it was well over 30° C. at this time of day the carp stayed low and looked as if they might feed.

Rather than give them any amount of baits to get through I decided to fish for one bite at a time using single active-8 boilies, topped with a piece of plastic corn to add a visual aspect and balance the rig. Over the next three afternoons I had three bites, all from the little plateau, and all came in the blazing sunshine when you would normally be wound in and sitting in the shade drinking cold beer.

The first was a torpedo shaped common of 41lb that ran me ragged for ages before we managed to net it. the next day, roughly the same time produced a 40lb plus mirror, but Thursday afternoon really put the icing on the cake. I had just climbed down from a small tree in the margins and, having declared there were no fish in my swim, I walked up to the next area where I could look out over the water and plan my next move. I could not have been looking hard enough because there was obviously one fish lurking near my bait, as a single-tone melting take soon pointed out.

I legged it back to the rod and tried in vain to stop the fish making it around the island but it just kept going and going. I looked on in horror as the line cut through the water and whipped behind the end of the islands as he made the other side. There is a boat at the lake for just such an eventuality but luckily, just as they were launching it, the fish decided to turn around and swim back out of the channel. I was giving no quarter this time and I held on as hard as I dared, bringing him ever closer to the net as he surged and twisted in the deep margins. I knew that it was a big fish from the moment that I hooked it but it kept getting bigger and bigger the closer it got, until eventually it kissed the spreader block before pinging the scales around 52lb!

This topped off my week. I was so pleased that everyone had caught this year, and all caught good fish as well, it really was a fantastic holiday. We finished with 35 fish between us, just over 1300lb in weight, including two fifties, 10 forties, 18 thirties and a handful of twenties! God knows what we are going to do to try and beat that next year.