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The delights of sea fishing off the Atlantic Coast

The delights of sea fishing off the Atlantic Coast

There's nothing like a trip to the seaside here in SW France. Ron Cousins, our angling expert, introduces us to the delights of sea fishing off the Atlantic Coast… 



With almost 3,500 kilometres of coastline available for piscatorial pleasure, sea fishing is taken seriously in France and every February, beach and boat anglers from all over the world descend on Nantes for the Salon Européen des Peches en Mer, a huge show featuring the latest sea fishing tackle, clothing, purpose built fishing boats and kayaks. The bass (bar) is king of the ocean for French anglers - who themselves are acknowledged leaders in catching these hard fighting silver beauties using artificial lures - and one of the stars of the show is Patrick Sebile, the man who designed lures like Magic Swimmer, Slender Eel and Koolie Minnow that are sold worldwide and rated the best for bass.   

Bass fever really gets a grip from mid summer to late autumn with the Labrax Tour, a series of eight competitions for two anglers in a boat, or a pair of kayak anglers, that moves along the South West coast complete with sponsored teams, tackle displays and media coverage. The events around La Rochelle and Île de Ré always produce good results and that’s where sea anglers should head at this time of year. Boat and beach fishing is first class for a variety of fish and one that is sure to get the adrenalin flowing is the croacker or giant sea bass. This is a member of the drum fish family - so named because of the repetitive throbbing sound the fish makes as the abdominal muscles press against the swim bladder - and is so sought after that several charter fishing boats concentrate solely on this tackle testing fish. Lure fishing, fly fishing, and bait fishing with a crab on the hook are the favourite ways to beat the drum fish.

Another resident of these waters to fire the angling imagination is the conger eel (congre). Muscle packed monsters to 30kg or more can be caught from around the piers of the 3km toll bridge that links Île de Ré to the mainland, with Rivedoux-Plage a noted hot spot. Fishing the harbours after dark, when the crowds have gone, is another way to get to grips with this fish which, despite its fearsome look, can rival bass when it comes to dining table ratings.

The great jaws of a conger have little interest in M Sebile’s plastic snacks; to catch them use a squid or mackerel as bait and tackle strong enough to withstand the tug-of-war that ensues if you hook one that has the body wrapped around a rock or other immovable underwater object.
A more delicate approach is required for the two other fish around at the moment, the sea bream (dorade) running to 1kg and wrasse (labre), which can reach 3kg. An ordinary coarse fishing rod and reel is quite adequate. Use garden worms, ragworms dug from the shoreline or small slivers of mackerel as bait, and concentrate on the edge of harbours where there are masses of sea weed or in gulleys along the beaches. One other species that can show up anywhere is the garfish (orphie), an eel-like needle fish with a long tooth-filled beak, which usually leaps out of the water when hooked. Don’t let the fact that the bones are green put you off because they are a barbecue favourite with French anglers.

Whether you are a keen angler or an occasional line wetter, it is the right time of year to enjoy a spot of fishing on this picturesque piece of Charente-Maritime’s Atlantic coast. Tackle requirements are simple, no licence is required and there’s the bonus of the freshest possible fish in the kitchen: but always treat the sea with respect.  Longfellow wrote “The tide rises and the tide falls” and just like in the poem it does that by up to 6 metres where you’ll be fishing, so check out the day’s tides on before heading for the beach.

If King Canute couldn’t do it, what chance has an angler stranded on a rock got of holding back the tide?

Ron’s tips

* Never worry about casting long distances, often the biggest fish will be in shallow water just a few metres out from the beach searching for worms, crabs and other food washed out of the sand by the waves.

* If you reel in to find a small sandy coloured fish with a protruding lower jaw and a long spiky dorsal fin on the hook, beware! This is a weever-named from the old French ‘wivre’ for serpent - the spines on its back and gill covers are venomous and can provide a painful sting. With no swim bladder, this fish sinks when it stops swimming and spends the daylight hours buried in the sand presenting more of a threat to bathers than anglers. If you do get stung, immerse the area in hot water to speed the breakdown of the protein based venom.

* Hiring a charter skipper or angling guide guarantees success and one of the most successful is Yannick Deslandes at La Rochelle – see .

* Check out the Federation Français des Pecheurs en Mer at or visit tackle shops like Atlantipeche in La Rochelle for more
information and up to the minute tips.


© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. Published Aug 2012.