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Basic rules for fishing in France

Basic rules for fishing in France

The idea of spending languid summer afternoons in the cool shade of a riverbank can bring with it the desire to learn to fish or to dig out your dusty fishing tackle. So here, Ron Cousins explains the basic rules for fishing in France in the summertime...


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“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” wrote American author Henry James. But even more beautiful to my ears is: “Summer afternoon: fishing in Poitou Charentes,” and there are many who would agree with me. There is a wealth of summer fishing to be enjoyed in the region, from the harbours and beaches of Charente Maritime to the meandering river Thouet on the edge of Deux-Sèvres, the wide and mysterious river Vienne in the north east of the department that carries its name, and the deep and powerful rivers in the Charente area. So many opportunities and such wonderful weather tempt many a nonangler to buy a rod and head for the water, or re-kindle a forgotten interest in former fishermen of all ages. This is recognised by the sport’s governing body, the Association Agrée de Pêche et de Protection des Milieux Aquatiques (AAPPMA), who organise some 450 fishing school sessions and workshops throughout France. Indeed, last summer over 20,000 children and adults learned basic angling skills at an Ecole de Pêche or Atelier Pêche Nature. Two of the most popular places to learn the sport are Pescalis in Deux-Sèvres, where spinning, fly fishing and lure fishing are covered, and Pôle-Nature de Vitrezay in Charente Maritime, where carp and sea fishing are taught. Details of fishing schools and workshops in each area are available from any tourist office and many are free of charge.

Sea Fishing

To fish in the sea costs nothing, but there are rules. Firstly, fish caught are for personal consumption only and there are hefty fines for anyone found selling rod caught fish. It is also illegal to retain fish below the size limit for each species: Mackerel (Maquereau in French) must be over 20cm; Horse Mackerel (Chinchard) must be over 15cm; Bass (Bar) over 36cm; Mullet (Mulet) and Brill (Barbue) over 30cm, while Sole and Turbot, spelt the same in both languages, have limits of 24cm and 30cm.

There are good opportunities for boat fishing, with charter boats available at the Île de Ré, La Rochelle, Fouras, the Île d’Oleron, Royan and Meschers-sur-Gironde; and often tackle can be hired for the day so someone who has never fished before can have the thrill of catching their first fish. Freshwater fishing rights on all public domain waters – rivers, lakes and canals – belong to the State; anyone can fish here, but not before purchasing a Carte de Pêche. This is vitally important, as the waterways are patrolled by the Garde Pêche, whose officers, as well as having a pistol at the hip, can hand out eye watering fines and also confiscate fishing tackle if they catch someone fishing illegally. The Carte de Pêche can be bought from tackle shops, tabacs, supermarkets and other outlets displaying the sign ‘Votre Carte de Pêche en Vente’.

Carte Annuelle

A Carte Annuelle runs from 1st January to 31st December and under-12s fish for free with a Discovery Card. There is also a Carte Vacances covering 15 consecutive days which is handy for holidaymakers. When applying for any of these you will need two passport type photographs and a means of identification. If you are planning your fishing some time ahead it is possible to order the relevant carte on line at www.carte-depeche- When buying the carte, make sure you get the Guide de Pêche, which is a booklet with a map of the waters and a summary of the rules and regulations. Pay attention to the times when fishing is allowed because fishing after dark is illegal except on certain designated areas, where it is allowed for carp fishing; these sections of river or lake will be clearly signposted. Also clearly signposted are Reserve de Pêche stretches, where fishing is not allowed. These will always be found immediately above and below locks (écluses) on rivers and below all weirs. Some backwaters have a total ban on fishing, while certain areas of lakes may be closed to anglers so that other water sports can take place. Keep an eye out for temporary closure signs, which can cover a few weeks when fish congregate in huge numbers to spawn. The golden rule is obey the sign – remember the men with pistols have more fines to cover any infringements!

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All rivers are classed as either First or Second Category and, while both categories can be fished by a Carte de Pêche holder, there are a few important differences. There is a full close season on First Category rivers, so fishing is only allowed from 12th March to 18th September, and maggots (asticots) and other larva baits are banned. Second Category rivers can be fished all through the year; but there is a close season for pike (brochet) and zander (sandre) from 31st January to 1st May, and for these three months it is illegal to use live or dead fish baits, spinners or lures – although maggots and other larva baits can be used all year. First Category rivers are shown in red and Second Category rivers in blue on the map that comes with the Guide de Pêche. If you are an experienced angler who uses an echo sounder to find underwater features that could hold fish, there is something else to remember. This electronic aid is frowned upon in France and it is an offence to be in possession of an echo sounder and fishing tackle at the same time.

Endangered Eels

As in Britain, the eel is now an endangered species and fishing for them is forbidden. If one is hooked it must be carefully and immediately returned to the water. Again, the Garde Pêche will be keeping a lookout for anyone with a nostalgic hankering for jellied eels, so obey the rules.

Although they can look a bit intimidating; the officers of the Garde Pêche, who work for the AAPPMA, are generally anglers themselves with a love of the sport and a desire to protect the environment and they are often a good source of information on what is being caught, where to fish and what baits to use.

First time fishers in France can reel in to find fish unknown in the UK on the hook and the one to be wary of is the Poisson Chat. This is the American catfish and although it rarely grows heavier than half a kilo it can inflict a nasty wound with the needle sharp spikes on its head. If you reel in a small green fish with a huge mouth and whiskers, treat it carefully! The big catfish swimming in French waters is the silure and these can run to over 50kg.

Special tackle is needed for these monsters, so if one snaffles your bait on a sunny afternoon, hope the line snaps before the rod gives way.

The black bass looks like a British perch without the black stripes and is highly rated as a sport fish. A 2kg specimen is a good one and they are usually caught on spinning tackle. One look at the formidable teeth should tell you to remove the hook with care when you catch a zander. In France, where a 3kg fish is a good ‘un, they are highly rated as a table fish but must be over 40cm before they can be taken away. These pack-hunting predators are usually fished for with a live or dead fish as bait. New species to catch, new places to fish, new skills to learn. Summer afternoon: fishing in Poitou Charentes… what could be better?

Originally published in Living Magazine June 2011 - all rights reserved

Photos by Caroline Cousins

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Address book  – information on all freshwater fishing activities in all departments  – information on coarse fish activities  – information on lure and fly fishing activities  – information on sea fishing activities

Pescalis: +33 (0)5 49 72 00 01 Pôle-Nature de Vitrezay: +33 (0)5 46 49 89 89