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Sea fishing off the Poitou-Charentes Atlantic coast

Sea fishing off the Poitou-Charentes Atlantic coast

Ron Cousins takes us to the hot spots of the Charente Maritime coast, where sea fishing is on the programme...

If the poor exchange rate and the high price of bass on the fishmonger's counter are keeping this saltwater delicacy off your menu, here's some good news: the sea along the Charente Maritime coastline is the summer home to huge shoals of these fish, as well as other culinary delights such as sole, turbot, rays, mackerel and sea bream. All you have to do is catch them - and it's not as hard as you may think.

best-sea-fishing-atlantic-coastNo fishing licence is needed and even the non-angler can have a go because at La Rochelle, Île d'Oléron and Royan the cost of a boat fishing trip includes the use of all tackle and instruction from an experienced skipper. Regular walk-on trips go from Port Bourgenay, north of La Rochelle and Les Sables at Royan, while others require advance booking.

In the south of the department, the Pole Nature de Vitrezay Wetlands Centre, on the Gironde estuary, provides lessons in beach sea kayak fishing. And at Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, near Royan, 'Introduction to Fishing' sessions are held on the sea front.

The more experienced anglers can polish up their boat angling skills with top bass fishing guide Olivier Journaux, who speaks English and tracks down the bass shoals with his 27ft purpose-built boat that operates out of St Denis. Ile d'Oléron.

For most occasional sea anglers, however, the beach will be the choice - and for this, freshwater fishing tackle is quite adequate. Bass come close inshore into very shallow water as they feed on sand eels, small fish and crabs, so long casting isn't essential and a spinning rod or carp rod teamed with a fixed spool reel carrying a line of around 10lb breaking strain is ideal.

Using an artificial lure is the popular way of bass fishing in France, and in shallow surf the floating plug bait types work well. A range of the popular Rapalas or similar wooden body baits in silver and blue colours and sizes between 7cm and 13cm should cover all eventualities, while a few rubber sand eel lures are useful for deeper water: Also very effective are the soft bodied shad lures: these inexpensive im tation fish are a good choice when casting over rough ground where some fishing tackle is sure to be lost among the rocks. The same rod, reel and line can be quickly adapted for bait fishing by using a running lead stopped by a split shot and size 2 to 8 hooks to take pieces of crab, squid or worm as bait.

Even a confirmed fly fisherman doesn't have to miss out, as bass will take an artificial fly equally as enthusiastically as a trout, and they provide exciting sport on a light fly rod. Special bass-pattern flies, tied to look like small fish or sand eels when retrieved through the water, are available; but large reservoir lures such as Cat's Whisker and Ace of Spade will catch their share, as will sea trout flies and wet fly patterns like Alexandra and Bloody Butcher tied on large hooks.

Whatever freshwater tackle you take to the sea can be adapted to serve the purpose, but remember to wash everything down with fresh water when you return home to avoid salt damage. So, where are the places to fish? Local knowledge is useful, and a visit to one of the coastal fishing tackle shops will usually provide tips on the current hot spots and which lures or baits are catching most bass: but there are some beaches that provide consistent sport.

Pointe des Minimes and Chef de Baie at La Rochelle are good high-water marks, while spots under the tie de Re bridge are well fished by the local anglers. The bass come very close inshore when there is a good wind blowing at Chatelaillon Plage - where. if you do have a bad day, you can always be sure of seeing some fish by fitting in a visit to La Rochelle's impressive aquarium!

Near Rochefort, the 17th century military town - where the Corderie Royale and Transporter Bridge are well worth a visit between fishing sessions- the Fouras Peninsular offers good fishing opportunities. It has three harbours and live beaches, and you can glimpse the 19th century splendour in the villas built when this was a popular destination for city folk intent on sea bathing.

Oysters come to mind first when the Île d'Oléron is mentioned, but the bass fishing is excellent and the rocky outcrops are hot spots. One of the favourite marks is the headland at Pointe des Trois Pierres, where fish up to double figures can be caught. St-Palais-sur-Mer has a great morning market and although the beach can be busy, early morning and late evening usually offer the chance to catch some fish. If there's no luck with the bass, things might be better in the Casino Barriere.  handily located on the Esplanade de Pontaillac.


The long sandy beach at St-Georges-de-Didonne is good on evening tides, but be prepared for some surprises because this is as popular with naturists as it is with anglers: combining the two and strolling out into the sea to fish on a hot day could provide the best of both worlds!

 The sandy coves of the Gironde estuary provide comfortable fishing and. as well as bass. there are mullet running to 3kg or more willing to take a bait, lure or fly Meschers-sur-Gironde is always well fished and has the advantage of a bar and restaurant on the beach at Plage de Nonnes as well as being near Talmont. One of the most beautiful villages in France, with its 11th century fortified church, Talmont must be visited when the fishing tackle is packed away

All along the many kilometres of the beautiful coast that draws so many visitors to Charente Maritime there are great places to fish whenever and however you like; but there is one rule that must be obeyed. The minimum size for a bass to be retained in European waters is 36cm: but as a fish of this length would weigh only around 650g most bass anglers set their minimum size at 45cm, when the fish will weigh about 1kg.

One word of caution: the combination of sea, sand, bending rod and silver flanked bass splashing in the surf can be addictive. John Masefield's classic poem on the lure of the sea may be titled Sea Fever, but there's something else that makes young and old answer the call of the waves- it's called bass fever.

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. Published August 2009.