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Go fishing in Poitou-Charentes!

Go fishing in Poitou-Charentes!

With days getting longer and warmer why not pack up the picnic hamper, head for the river and try your hand at fishing. Our fishing expert Ron Cousins helps us get to grips with fishing in Poitou-Charentes...

angling-sw-franceIt's impossible not to be captivated by the vast Poitou-Charentes region as it sweeps from upland pastures through forests, vineyards and seas of golden sunflowers raising their heads to savour the fabulous light. Romanesque churches and ancient villages tanned by the famed climate decorate the countryside until the land runs out at the welcoming Atlantic. Cognac, pineau, wine and fine food immediately come to mind: but for anyone who has ever ventured to the waterside with bamboo pole and bent pin, the four départements of Charente, Charente-Maritime. Deux-Sèvres and Vienne offer endless possibilities.

The region boasts some of the finest fishing in Europe and the chance to catch huge silure catfish over 100lb, carp over 601b and zander and pike way over 20lb. For those who like a little less physical effort battling with their catches, there are trout. barbel. bream, chub, roach, perch and bleak - and if more exotic species are an attraction you can target black bass, sun perch and sturgeon. If sand underfoot and salt in the air is what you want, there are conger, cod and bass to make chefs drool among the species to be caught off the Charente-Maritime shores.

Local Rivers

You don't have to look far for somewhere to cast a line. The deep and powerful river Charente, which provides the region's name and was called 'the most beautiful stream in the kingdom' by Cognac-born François I, is well stocked throughout its length, as are the two dozen tributaries. The river Vienne, wide, shallow and abounding with lean, hard-fighting wild carp, is another of the region's fishing gems as it sweeps through the east before leaving the département that bears its name and rushing to join the Loire. To the north there's the river Sèvre, which divides to form the Sèvre-Niorraise and Sèvre-Nantaise waterway duo, which give the Deux-Sèvres department its name and provide great all-round sport, particularly for bream.

There are many smaller rivers, numerous lakes and, in Charente-Maritime, a network of canals from La Rochelle to the Marais Poitevin - the region's 'Green Venice' that reminds many of Britain's Norfolk Broads. To fish in the sea costs nothing, but before tackling-up inland, a Carte de Pêche must be purchased from a fishing tackle shop, supermarket or other retailer displaying the sign.

The price is higher than the British rod Licence, but while that merely licenses the rod and requires the holder to join a club or buy a day ticket to actually fish, the French equivalent gives immediate access to the region's hundreds of miles of public domain water. An additional payment buys a club halieutique stamp. which allows fishing in lakes and rivers throughout over sixty additional départements.

The map and list of rules provided with the card give all the information needed - basically, rivers are divided into first and second categories. First category rivers are generally the smaller ones: they offer trout fishing and usually have a season that runs from the second Saturday of March through to 21st September. Second category rivers are stocked only with coarse fish and can be fished all through the year, although the season closes for the predatory pike and zander species from 28th January to 18th April.

Fishing Tackle

The same fishing tackle as that used in Britain will adequately deal with the waters of Poitou-Charentes, though the locals generally favour the grande canne - up to 13 metres of carbon or glass pole wielded with amazing dexterity. For first-time anglers, a 7-metre glass whip and a selection of rigs combining float, weight and hook, ready to attach, can be bought for around 20€. Specialist fishing shops, sports shops and supermarkets stock this equipment, along with an amazing variety of baits and ground baits.

Those already competent in Isaac Walton’s 'contemplative man's recreation' should consider joining one of the angling clubs in the region’s towns; throughout the summer there are well attended Concours de Pêche with many prizes and the chance to take home a handsome winner's trophy. Going fishing is a great way to relax and enjoy the wonderful Poitou-Charentes countryside - it can also help ex-pat residents to integrate. If your French is weak, don't worry. Fishermen share an interest that knows no cultural or linguistic boundaries. By the waterside, everyone understands 'Angler-ais'.

First published in Living Poitou-Charentes magazine 2008