By far the easiest way of taking them over to the continent is in the form of ready-mades.
These probably account for the downfall of more big French carp than any other type of bait. They are convenient, smell and taste good, and are relatively cheap if purchased in bulk. However, always buy good quality baits from one of the reputable UK bait companies. There are some very poor quality ready-mades on the market at present so please make sure you know what you are getting for you money. Ready-mades from firms such as Nutrabaits or Richworth are always reliable and offer top quality boilies at a reasonable price.
The inferior boilies floating about Europe at present are very cheap but they represent a false economy. They are usually too soft to withstand the attentions of small fish such as roach and small bream, as well as crayfish and the bullhead catfish - the French refer to these are "poison-chats". These infest many lakes and rivers, have voracious appetites and will eat boilies for a pastime. They inhabit many French lakes in their hundreds of thousands and soft ready-mades last about ten minutes when the PCs are on the rampage.
Cheap ready-mades are often made out of 100% soya flour and the flavour is spray-dried onto the finished baits. It is not surprising therefore that they go soft very quickly and the flavour leaks out of them in less than a couple of hours.
To my mind, the best ready-made boilies on the market at present are those from the Nutrabaits range. They are made with top quality ingredients and all contain, not just a single flavour, as in the case of most other ready-mades, but a complete flavour blend, often incorporating flavours and essential oils and even a liquid food ingredient, in some cases. They are tough and uniform and will stand up to the attentions of the most aggressive bait robbers. I have been using them for many years and have total confidence in them. The new Trigga readymade is awesome, by the way! I was involved in testing the prototypes of this amazing bait so I can recommend them wholeheartedly. In three trips to the Chateau Lake in 2000 I caught over 120 twenties, 39 thirties and 3 forties on Trigga.
Some anglers may want to make their own baits at home before they leave, preferring to use their favourite flavours, attractors and base mixes. No problem! I have developed a product just for you! Nutrabaits Preservabait allows you to do just this. Simply put 25mls of Preservabait in with the eggs and add a pound of bait; boil the rolled baits as normal, then dry them thoroughly for a week to ten days. In this form they should keep for at least three months. It is vitally important to pay careful attention to the drying and storage of your finished baits and I would refer you to the Nutrabaits catalogue or to their excellent bait video for further details.
Storing baits in uncooked rice will draw out the moisture and preserve them for a considerable length of time. So too will storing them in sugar. However they do get rather sticky!
An alternative to making up your own home made boilies before you leave is to make them up on the bank while you are fishing. Though many would consider this chore to be a right bind, it is one of the most effective ways of fishing abroad. Base mixes incorporating egg substitutes such as the Fish Food Mix or Enervite Gold can be taken to the lake in their dry powder form and then made up as necessary using lake water instead of eggs. Mind you, that's assuming you and your party are prepared to make up nearly a thousand baits a day for each angler on the trip. And it is as well to remember that in some of the hottest parts of France, mainly in the south, fires and stoves are forbidden due to the risk of forest fires.
It is a good idea to take some highly flavoured hook baits and pop-ups to use over the bait carpet. I make mine from Nutrabaits Pop-Up Mix which I roll into a variety of sizes. The mix is dead easy to use and is 100% reliable. You can count on them staying buoyant for at least 48 hours without loosing any buoyancy. Simply roll out the baits as normal, then dry fry them for four or five minutes. Keep the pan on the move continuously or the baits will suffer.
Once I have made my pop-ups I like to store them in a tub of the dedicated Bait Soak Complex or a soak of my own making usually made with neat flavour and Multimino. The baits can be stored indefinitely in a soak as long as it does not contain any water.
Finally, make sure you take plenty of neat liquid attractors, flavours or liquid food additives with which to prepare your seeds and groats. None of this comes cheap, but I'm afraid there are no short cuts when it comes to carp fishing in France. And, after all, you may only be able to make that one trip of a lifetime so don't cut corners by trying to save on the essentials. Your tackle dealer may well be able to offer you a very favourable deal once he knows that you and your mates are after more than just the odd bag of bait and one or two bottles of flavour. His eyes will light up once you start talking about kilos and litres!
Trout pellets are firm favourite with UK anglers travelling to France. However, make sure you take UKmade pellets as the ones you can buy in France are awful. They smell and taste nothing like British pellets and they break down in seconds flat. You can soak most trout pellets in a light coating of liquid food such as Multimino-PPC and they are best fished as a widespread bait carpet with a bright, strong-smelling boilie fished over the top of the carpet.
So to sum up the subject of bait and groundbait, I have to say that you really cannot take too much bait. It is far better to over-estimate than to under-estimate. The photo here shows the amount of bait that you should be considering for a three or four day trip. In fact you may well need even more.
I don't know if it is my imagination but French carp seem to scrap ten times better than their UK counterparts. They just don't know the meaning of "give up!". Though there are a great many small carp in French lakes and rivers, as a rule French carp are of a bigger average size that you'll find over here. So too are the lakes and the rivers. This means that your tackle needs to be beefy and man enough for the job of handling big fish in big waters or in fast flowing, powerful rivers. It is no use taking rods and reels that are under-gunned for the job. Your delicate through-action, 21b test curve rods will be lost on a thousand acres!
My own rods are all from the Fox stable, from the Evolution range in particular. I have two sets of twelve foot rods in tests curves of 2.251b and 2.51b and two sets of twelve foot six inch rods in 2.751b and 3.251b tests. All feature top-of-the-range luxuries like Fuji S.I.C. rings and N.P.S. style reel seats. The rods are beautifully made and they look terrific with their high gloss burgundy finish, custom design butt whippings and stylish graphics. They all cast well and the strongest model allows me to reach 130m plus in the right conditions, when matched with a big pit reel. The line pick up is good enough to handle takes on baits that may have been rowed out two hundred yards or more into the lake.
Reels need to be big and beefy too. Any of the big reels with spools the size of a coffee cup will do. My personal favourite is the now out-of-production Daiwa 3000SS model. This Rolls Royce of a reel holds around 300m of fifteen pound test nylon, or 900m of 20lb Fox Submerge Sinking Braid. Other suitable reels include the Emblem range from Daiwa and the excellent Big Baitrunner from Shimano.
When my wife Carole and I fish together she finds the big reels like the 3000SS too bulky and she far prefers the standard sized 8101GT Baitrunner from Shimano. On the right waters these are fine but they are a bit small for big water use.
Hooks need to be meaty and strong. A brilliant pattern is the Series 2 XS from Fox International. (XS stands for extra strong, by the way). This superb hook is without doubt the most effective hooker I have ever used and the point is so sharp it invariably finds a hold. In fact its point is practically indestructible and I have been known to use the same hook for fish after fish without finding the need to change it. I like the size 4 version as it combines strength with delicacy and the rig permutations it allows are countless. The Series 2 XS is a tough beast that cannot be bettered for just about every carp fishing situation.
Another favourite pattern, especially for pop-ups, is the Fox Series 5. This is a long-shanked pattern with a curved shank along the lines of the old Partridge Piggy Back hook. Quite simply, this pattern of hook is perfect for pop-ups. Some anglers say that they cause mouth damage but I have to say, I have never damaged a fish's mouth while using one, nor have I found that they turn and re-hook like the bent hooks of old. I fish them barbless in sizes 4 and 6, attaching them by a whipping knot along the shank rather than by tying direct to the eye. I shall look at rigs in a little more detail in my next contribution but for the moment I will simply say that I seldom need to use anything fancy or complicated, which will come as something of a relief to those of you who find they get confused by the plethora of gimmicks and gizmos that form part of the current rig scene.
It is as well to remember that top class hooks are hard to track down in France so take a good stock for all the party. And the same goes for lead weights and for nylon line. I have been using Fox Combi Leads for four years now and cannot fault them. I prefer to use them in their in-line guise but they are equally as efficient when fished pendulum style. I like to use the Fox run rings and beads to present a fully free-running lead system and the photo illustrates the way I prefer to fish pendulum leads. Remember, leads and all other items of carp tackle are expensive in France so take plenty and make sure you won't be caught out.
Choice of line is up to you, but make sure it is up to the job of tackling the size of carp and the sort of snags you are likely to find in French lakes and rivers. Personally I have yet to be convinced that some of the lines on the market really do perform the miracles that are claimed for them and I continue to use the nylon lines that have stood me in good stead over the years. These are Fox Soft Steel, Fox Barbuster and Fox Submerge.
Many of the lakes you are likely to encounter were once thickly wooded forests and the underwater terrain may be strewn with tree stumps left behind when the valley was flooded. These make short work of ordinary main line and nylon snag leaders. Quicksilver Braided Shock Leader is a good material to counteract snags and bars. I use braids a lot in my continental fishing, in particular the braids from the Kryston stable. In fact, I use Super Nova or Merlin for 90% of my fishing, the exception being when I feel that a stiff link might be more suitable. That's when I turn to Fox 241b Illusion Fluorocarbon line. We'll deal more fully with hook link material when we deal with rigs.
A rod pod may or may not be needed on your chosen water, but it's as well to take one, just in case. Once the French summer gets a grip, the banks of some carp waters quickly dry out until they've become as solid as concrete. I use a Fox Quatro Pod or a French-designed and manufactured Amiaud Peche Pod. Both are very robust, the Amiaud being a stainless steel model. Though rather on the heavy side, it is ideal in big winds.
And hard banks brings me on nicely to un-hooking mats. Is there anyone around these days who doesn't use one? The French fish fight hard and don't stop acting up once they're out of the water. Please make sure you take a decent sized un-hooking mat, whatever you do. You may not be allowed to fish if you haven't got one, especially on the private and pay-to-fish lakes.
You will find that a boat will make life considerably easier for baiting up and sometimes for landing fish. For me a boat is as indispensable as the rods. As a rule, the French lakes tend to be much bigger than ours and you may even find that you will have to row the baits out well beyond casting range. It would be a crying shame if you arrived at your chosen venue to discover that the fish were all feeding at 250 yards, and you had no boat! So be sure to take one, even if it's only one of those awful plastic play-things meant for the kids to use at the beach. ANYTHING that floats will be better than nothing, even a LiLo! Of course, an inflatable or a solid fibreglass dingy will be a lot more sturdy and reliable, but do be sure to take a boat of SOME kind. And don't forget a life jacket either. Even if you can swim like a fish, that accident that NEVER happens to you sometimes does.
Though not as important as the boat itself, an echo sounder to use aboard the boat will come in very handy. Not only will it help you chart the lake bed but with practice you'll be able to identify snags, weedbeds, the course of an old river bed, even feeding fish.
Many anglers seem to think that it never rains and it's always thirty degrees in France. I wish that were so! In fact, French summer and autumn thunderstorms are pretty awesome affairs and even at the height of the season the nights can suddenly turn bitterly cold. Make sure that your bivvy, sleeping bag and thermal/wet weather gear are up to scratch. Pack plenty of spare clothes against the eventuality of getting soaked while out in a torrential cloudburst, caught out in the middle of the night, by a demented demon that doesn't know when to give up. I have been using a brilliant Gore-Tex suit which comes from the Fox stable. It isn't cheap but it is totally 100% waterproof, windproof and it looks good to boot.
Boots, waders, chesties they may all be needed at some point during your trip so if you can find room in the already crowded transport, leave nothing behind. You never know when you might want it.
So now that we've looked at the planning, the bait and the tackle we can move on to the important bits; actually getting to the lake, buying permits and then, finally wetting a line. Talk to you next time.