On the other hand, there are scores of man-made lakes and dammed streams and rivers, and literally hundreds of small, artificial pits and sand workings, all of which are very likely to hold carp. This diversity is part and parcel of fishing enclosed French waterways as so many different problems are likely to present themselves on each type of lake.
First there are the massive glacial lakes such as the massive Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva if you are Swiss), or the smaller Lac de Bourget, Lac d'Annecey and the smaller still (smaller here being used comparatively), Lac de St Point, Lac de Joux or the Lac de Chalain. These Alpine lakes are often regarded as poor carp waters but in fact they all hold carp, some very big ones in fact, and have an advantage over many man-made lakes in that they are never emptied. In effect this allows the carp to get on with their lives naturally, which often results in lakes full of carp that have been allowed to breed uncontrolled.
Natural lakes are outnumbered by artificial lakes of which there are literally hundreds. They are known in France as lacs de barrage (barrage lakes), barrage being the French word for a dam. In effect these are simply dammed valleys or rivers. For instance, the famous Lac du Der-Chanteqoc is an artificial dammed reservoir, the largest man-made enclosed waterway in Europe. There are scores of these lacs de barrage throughout France, usually created to provide irrigation and drinking water to local towns and villages or as part of a hydro-electric scheme to provide supplementary power to the French nuclear-powered supply system. The building program was started as far back as the mid-nineteenth century - a few date from even earlier times (pre-Revolution in fact) - so some of these lakes are very old, with the potential for producing very big fish.
Other natural lakes are also very productive and the huge lakes on the west coast not far from Bordeaux are well known for producing huge carp. These lakes include the lakes known as Cazaux, Biscarosse, Mimizan and Leon.
Many barrage lakes are found along the course of rivers, thus creating still waters where there was once a defined flow. The length of these dammed areas of river varies from a few hundred metres to stretches of twenty or thirty kilometres in length, and not all are stocked with carp. Among the more well known rivers to feature such stretches is the River Lot which has been dammed in several spots to form large lake-like areas of river. One of the best known of these is the Lac de Castelnau-Lassouts (540 acres) where the town of St Geniez-d'Olt and the tiny village of Cabanac are rightly famous for their carp fishing. St Geniez was made famous in the late 80s by Rod Hutchinson and since his initial visit many UK visitors have visited the Lot and its many barrage lakes. Other well-known rivers which have been dammed in places include the Garonne, Dordogne, Loire, Tarn, Mosselle, Vilaine and the Thouet. In fact just about every river, stream or ditch has a dam somewhere along it on its course.
Other barrage lakes may be found in shallow valleys where what was really nothing more than a stream has been dammed to create a reservoir. Again there are hundreds of these and some of the most popular are the barrage lakes called La Liez, Charmes, St Cierge, Pareloup, Etienne-Cantales, Apremont, La Chapelle-Ebri, Vassiviere and countless others scattered all over France.
Estate lakes are numerous in France. The nation's chateaux are dotted about the countryside and most have their own lakes or rivers. Though many are private, some have come into public or club ownership. Generally these are very old, with all the attendant problems of an English estate lake - silt, uncontrolled weed growth, acres of lily pads and so on. These are seldom if ever emptied so the potential for big carp is there for the taking. A prime example of a very old estate lake is the Lac de la Poiteviniere, also known as the Chateau Lake. This 160 acre lake is situated near the town of Riaille, about 20 miles east of Nantes in the Loire-Atlantique region of France. It is situated in the grounds of a beautiful chateau (hence its UK name) and is well over three hundred years old. Over the years it has become incredibly rich in natural food and now holds a very good head of carp to well over 40lb in weight as well as catfish approaching the 100lb mark.
Sand and gravel pits abound in France. The former were excavated to provide concrete for motorways and other roads, while the gravel pits follow the course of the rivers. Sand pits such as the ones alongside the A6 Autoroute between Beaune and Macon are comparatively easy to read as they are usually bowl-shaped and the bottom is fairly featureless. Gravel pits are harder to fish, but they are no different from many English pits.
It would be impossible within the context of these articles alone to write about how to fish every type of French lake, but there are general rules that apply to all still waters, so I hope you will allow me to bulk them all together under a general title.
There are few more daunting challenges than fishing a virgin French lake. It matters not if you are a beginner or an old hand, the sight of a huge expanse of water stretching away into the distance can be mind-numbing. Yet who knows what the challenge may produce. It could be that you are about to cast out into the next French paradise. On the other hand, perhaps the lake is absolutely stuffed with small carp: which might just be your idea of paradise anyway! I once was recommended to visit a lake in Brittany which was rumoured to hold massive carp. In fact it turned out to hold a massive amount of carp! My friends and I caught forty in a morning, but the biggest was only a fraction over ten pounds in weight. Mind you, as I say, this may be exactly the kind of sport you are after.
Sadly many of the lakes are emptied on a regular basis in order to carry out maintenance work on the dam itself or on the pumps and machinery installed to provide hydro-electric power. In many cases in the past the carp were simply left to die, or they were netted and turned into fish meal for use as a fertiliser. Only the lucky few were sold to clubs and individuals who wished to supplement their fisheries with big carp. Even today, particularly on some artificial lakes in north and north west France carp are still being killed and removed.
However, these days, due to the increasing popularity of carp fishing in France, many authorities are taking a more sympathetic and benign attitude towards their carp stocks. Though many carp continue to be removed when the lake is emptied, these days they are not usually killed, but are bought by dealers or clubs to stock into their own waters. At one time it was possible to buy these "nuisance fish" as the French regarded them for a song. Nowadays, however, the cost has soared as the fish farmers, breeders and the local authorities in charge of the barrages have discovered the true value of large carp.
Whatever it is you are looking for in French fishing, in order to get the best from any lake you first have to find out as much as you can about it, both above and below the surface, so I hope that these articles may give you a few ideas about the right way to tackle a water that you have never seen before and about which you know very little.
I suppose I could simplify things a great deal by saying that if you can read an English water and get into the minds of its carp, you'll be able to do the same in France, but that would make for a very short chapter. However, to a large extent, that statement is perfectly true, as well as being glaringly obvious. The problem that most often raises its ugly head is one of personal uncertainty and a general lack of confidence on the part of the angler. It is no good tackling a new lake, about which you know little or nothing, on a wing and a prayer with fingers firmly crossed. Good intentions are rarely enough. They may reassure you, but they won't help you find your fish. First you need to do your research and that is a matter purely of foot-slogging and hard work.
The first stage in any successful campaign consists of finding an area of France that catches your interest. It could be that you have been given the name of a specific lake, or you might be drawn to that area by nothing more than instinct, or by a nearby holiday complex, a gite or a camp site. Whatever the reason, once you have chosen a likely spot you must research its potential thoroughly. Working from the maps that I've mentioned before, isolate either the lake or the region that has caught your eye, keeping in mind various factors.
For instance, say you are going over early in the year. Will the weather have warmed up sufficiently to stir the carp from their winter lethargy? Will the levels have gone down far enough to permit unrestricted access? Are the carp likely to be spawning in inaccessible parts of the lake or river system? These are all questions you should ask yourself.
Or maybe you fancy fishing at the height of the summer, when it seems like the world and his wife are visiting France. If so remember that the lakes and rivers France will be packed with holiday makers all, it seems, determined to practice their own favourite water sport. If there is a camp site nearby, or worse, right beside the water, the lake will be chaotic for most of the daylight hours. And are you prepared for the often overpowering heat of a French summer? Do you fancy fighting your way to your chosen lake along crowded motorways packed with traffic?
On the other hand, maybe you fancy a late autumn trip. Did you know that many parts of France are prone to prolonged periods of violent thunderstorms and heavy rain throughout late September and October? What effect will the influx of rainwater have on the lake? These are factors that you must take into account while you are planning your trip.
Having chosen a region and a lake that you fancy, the next step is to find out as much as you can about its history. Before you do anything else you must find out if the water you plan to visit has been emptied recently. As previously mentioned, the French drain many of their waters on a fairly regular basis in order to carry out maintenance on the barrages. While they are at it, they also net and sell many of the carp to private dealers, clubs and fish markets. The sale of live or dead fish is an important source of revenue to the region. These days, some more enlightened authorities are returning their stocks of carp, recognising the fact that carp are now a bit of gravy train for local villages due to the business that flows into the local community from European carp anglers. However, there are still plenty of ill-informed regulatory bodies to whom carp are anathema. If this is the case that oh-so-special lake that gave up its precious secrets last year may now be devoid of carp this year.
Try to discover the actual age of the lake itself. A few years ago I picked up a detailed road map of France at a local flea market. Dated 1978 it covers the whole of France showing lakes and barrages. You'd be surprised how many new lakes have sprung up in the following years and if a lake is marked on my 1978 map, and assuming that it hasn't been emptied recently, there is every chance that the lake holds good carp and is worth investigating further.