Modern carp fishing is still in its infancy over there but though the British influence has been a major factor in the development of French carp fishing, the French themselves have been quick to embrace the concept of the bivvy, bedchair and boilie approach to carp fishing and nowadays a widespread No-Kill policy is strictly enforced, something nobody could have dreamed off a few years ago.
In France, as in the UK, it is almost impossible to pick up a magazine or angling newspaper without seeing photos and stories of massive French carp. It is not surprising that we Brits are ever more keen to get over there and try our hand but just because carp fishing is still comparatively new to the country that does not mean the carp themselves are any easier to catch, nor does it mean that for some magical reason we have become better carp anglers overnight when we do happen to catch a monster.
As I learnt more about the hazards as well as the rewards of fishing in France, I soon discovered that carp fishing on publicly-owned lakes and rivers is not as easy as I first thought. Many Brits think it is simply a matter of getting off the boat and waiting for them to start dropping into the waiting arms of your landing net.
Many of the local French fishing authorities - often controlled by an elder generation that is strongly resistant to any change - still maintain an uneasy relationship with carp anglers. Night fishing, though becoming more widely accepted, may be banned on the lake you plan to visit. The lake may even have been drained recently and all the carp removed, as often the local authority grows tired of carp anglers cluttering up the banks and breaking all the rules. In their eyes the answer is simple: just remove all the carp, sell them to clubs and private individuals and then thumb your nose at the rule breakers, saying, "now get out of that!" to all the carp anglers who had tried their patience a bit too far.
Loca1 closed seasons appear, apparently at the drop of a hat, and all fishing may be stopped for some arbitrary reason that is incomprehensible to us. It is all too easy for things to go drastically wrong. Don't think I'm trying to put you off, however. Far from it. By the time you've finished reading I hope you'll have all the information you may possibly require in order to get over there and wind a few in. I'll deal with bait and tackle, advice on travelling to your destination, with continental motoring, insurance cover, the sort of equipment you're likely to need, and of course, the best ways to set a trap for those wily French carp.
THE PLANNING AND THE TIMING OF YOUR VISIT
It cannot be stressed enough just how important the pre-departure planning of your trip can be. Indeed, the entire holiday will probably stand or fall on the amount of planning and research that you have carried out. While this may not be quite so vital if you are going to fish one of the pay-to-fish lakes such as Chateau Lake (Lac de la Poiteviniere in dept 44 - Loire-Atlantique), Les Quis, Fishabil or Rainbow Lake, it becomes of paramount importance if you are thinking of fishing a public barrage or stretch of river. Every aspect of the trip must be considered well in advance in order to get the most out of your trip.
Unless you are absolutely certain that your chosen venue is up to scratch - in other words, that the carp are still in the lake, or that it won't be subject to a close season during your planned visit, you would be far better advised to visit a water like Chateau Lake. This is widely respected as one of the finest French pay-to-fish lakes in the country and is ideal for a first time angler.
One of the most important yet often largely neglected aspects of planning a French carp fishing trip is the actual timing of your visit. In the past most UK carp men preferred to take their trip abroad during the Close Season, but with its abolition, the summer and autumn months have become more popular. However, don't forget that nowadays many German, Dutch and of course French anglers fish all year round and with carp fishing in France growing in popularity every year, lakes that were once deserted for all but the most popular Continental holiday months, are now quite likely to be busy throughout the year.
Every season has its advantages and disadvantages. If you plan your trip for the Spring, say April to June, the ferries will be cheaper and less busy, the main roads less crowded and the camp sites practically empty. Also the lakes should be quieter and less likely to be infested with other water users such as sailboarders, water skiers and weekend sailors.
Don't forget the weather either. The French summers can be blisteringly hot and if you plan your trip for earlier in the season you may well enjoy the best of the weather. On the other hand, late autumn thunderstorms and torrential downpours are common and these too can turn your trip into a nightmare.
Bear in mind too that the entire population of France, Germany, Belgium and Holland seems to be on holiday in France from late July until the end of August and the traffic, especially at the toll booths on the more popular motorways can be horrendous. Those holiday makers who are not heading for the coast will probably make a beeline for the all major inland rivers and lakes and these will invariably be packed with holiday makers from dawn 'til dusk.
Fluctuating water levels can create many problems. In a long hot, dry summer the local towns and villages call upon nearby lakes and river for supplies of fresh water, while the electricity generating stations, often found at the dam on many French lakes, need to draw tons of water through their turbines. The levels can fall alarmingly fast; what might have been a comfy swim last year may be high and dry this year, requiring a route march through a hundred yards of mud simply to get from your bivvy down to the water's edge. The now-famous waters such as Lac Amance, Foret d'Orient and Lac de DerChanteqoc are typical examples illustrating the problem. Sure, there are loads of massive fish but there are also lots of anglers from all over Europe, all competing for their own stretch of knee-deep mud. This may be your cup of tea but it certainly isn't mine!
On the other hand, heavy rain may raise the water level in river or lake by inches, even feet in a very short time. Other lakes and rivers are swollen by melting snow each year. This steady flood of very cold water not only keeps levels above normal, it also puts the carp off the feed.
Another major aspect that needs to be considered are the nuts and bolts of actually arriving at your chosen destination. The ferry route, driving in France, the legal requirements and so on. However, for the moment I'll put these to one side for they really deserve a section in their own right so I'll be dealing with this aspect in a future piece. For the moment let's concentrate on the bait and the tackle and other assorted gear that you are going to need to actually put a fish on the bank.
BAIT - GROUNDBAIT
The question of just how much, and what kind of bait is needed can be a tricky one to answer. I must admit that on our first trip we were woefully under-gunned and ran out of bait before the trip was even half over. If memory serves me right, I think we took something like ten kilos of boilies and a 25kg sack of groats for three anglers fishing for eight days. Nowadays I can see how inadequate this was but at the time I thought we'd taken too much.
I suppose it is stating the obvious to say that it is better to take too much bait than too little. But that is easy to say, harder to do, given that space in your transport will almost certainly be limited. A lot also will depend on how much you can afford. Boilies are not cheap and maybe a particle approach may suit your pocket better. That said, I have to stress that the last thing on which to skimp and save is your bait. So, as a guide I'd suggest that you take no less than 20kg of boilies and 25kg of mini particles such as Haith's Carpticle, Bravo Blend , hempseed or oat groats per person, per week. Sound a lot? Let me assure you that that is the bare minimum I would take. I often take twice that, if there's room. When a couple of dozen thirty pound carp start making inroads into your precious bait stocks, you will quickly realise that lots of bait is usually needed.
If you are limited by the amount of room in your car or van you might like to consider actually buying some of your bait in France. Not the boilies, obviously for these are horrendously expensive over there, but certainly you will be able to buy seeds. Millet and maize are readily available throughout France, mostly bought direct from the huge agricultural co-ops that are liberally scattered all over France. A 25kg bag of top quality maize should cost you about £15. At a push or as a last resort if you've run out of boilies and that is all they are taking, you can buy ready made boilies in many tackle shops. However, French boilies and ingredients are not cheap so it really is better to take plenty with you. You will also find some wonderful instant bait in the supermarkets. Look in the dog food section for a product called Frolic. This round shaped biscuit is a semi-soft dog food that contains a good balance of foods that also appeal to carp. They have a central hole which makes mounting them on a hair rig easy and if you attach a stringer of four or five Frolic biscuits to each hook bait, you will not go far wrong. Once on the lake bed, Frolic breaks down to a mush in about two hours. Brilliant instant bait for less than a pound a kilo.
An excellent alternative to seeds, nuts and other particles is to use trout pellets, Boilie Crumb or Micro Mass mini-boilies. These are just as effective, if not more so. However, once again if cost is a major consideration, these can work out expensive and, as it is important to create an effective bait carpet, seeds such as millet, maize, hemp or groats will be cheaper.
I know that I differ from some of the accepted wisdom when I state that in my opinion attracting feeding fish, of all kinds, into the baited area is of prime importance. Many top-flight French carp anglers disagree and advocate using just a few 30-40mm boilies with absolutely no groundbait whatsoever, their thinking being that this approach will only attract monster carp, those capable of getting a such a monster bait between their lips. These anglers don't want nuisance carp taking their baits, and while that may be fine for those mainly French, German or Dutch anglers who are prepared to sit it out in the hope of one of two 20kg carp a session, you will probably be less choosy, and with less time at your disposal than European anglers may set your sights realistically somewhat lower. I know as far as I am concerned I want to fish for carp, regardless of size - well, up to a point anyway and bait my swim so as to encourage carp of all sizes (and other cyprinids) into the swim.
So let me stress again that for me the most important aspect of groundbaiting with mass baits is to get the swim full of feeding fish. The first arrivals may not necessarily be carp, in fact, it is more likely they'll be bream, tench, small fry or even crayfish, it doesn't matter. Your primary aim is to get the swim boiling and the best way to do this is with mini-baits, seed blends like Carpticle or Bravo Blend, specially designed carp groundbait, boilie crumb, flaked maize or seeds, NOT with just a few huge boilies intended only for monster carp.
Remember that even if the carp don't show an instant interest in the groundbait, the feeding activity of the smaller fish should attract them onto your baited area sooner rather than later.
By far the best mass bait is Haith's Carpticle, due in no small part to their ease of preparation. While Carpticle will work bit better if it is soaked and boiled, it will also work almost as well with just an overnight soak. Some of my friends use a similar approach to me, but make up their groundbait to their own recipe. It consists of one third groats, one third flaked maize and one third Carpticle. This blend too needs only an overnight soak to prepare it.
Lately I have been experimenting with yet another blended groundbait. This one consists of crushed hemp from Haith's of Cleethorpes, peanut granules, also from Haith's, mini trout pellets and oat groats which I also get from Haith's. This blend, like all mass bait groundbaits benefits from the addition of a generous dollop of neat flavour and/or liquid food additive such as Multimino, Nutramino or Corn Steep Liquor. To prepare the groundbait simply place 10kg of your dry mix in a large 25kg bucket and add water so that it covers the dry ingredients by two or three inches. Add 20ml of Strawberry Nutrafruit, 5ml of Sweet Cajouser and 50ml of any liquid food. Stir well and allow to stand overnight or for at least eight hours (the longer the better). As the dry ingredients swell and take on water, so the bucket fills almost to the brim providing enough groundbait for you and two mates for a couple of days fishing.
I cannot leave the subject of groundbait without mentioning an ingredient that will turn a very good mix into a superb one.
All groundbait mixes will most definitely benefit from the addition of one or two (or as many as you can afford) jars of fish eggs. My favourites are black lumpfish eggs, but red trout and salmon eggs will do just as well. These are readily available in supermarkets in France, and while they may appear to be a bit costly, they are without doubt, the best cyprinid attractor I have ever used. Even if you can only afford a 100g jar, believe me, it will transform your groundbait at a stroke. Next time I'll be looking at other types of bait as well as discussing tactics for tackling your first French water.