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The banks of the Charente

The banks of the Charente

Raising a glass on the banks of the Charente is becoming a tradition for Ron Cousins…


This is the time of year when I find that the preparation for, and enjoyment of, Christmas and New Year seriously curtail my fishing but it’s not the same everywhere. In Poland and the Czech Republic a carp is the centrepiece of the Christmas meal so anglers are out in force. Many catch their carp well ahead of the big day and keep them in the bath, fed on sweetcorn, to be fresh for the table. Italian anglers seek the eel to make up part of the traditional seven separate fish dishes served on Christmas Eve, and parts of Canada also have eels on the festive menu. Coastal fishermen in Finland chase pike so they can present the Christmas Pike to the country’s President. Angling clubs in England and Wales have their pre-Christmas fur and feather competitions, where the successful competitors can win the family turkey, and many of the big English estates throw their rivers and lakes open to anglers for the traditional Boxing Day pike competition.

Recreating any of these in France would be difficult but I have managed to start my own tradition in the small Charente village where I live just a short cast from the river. Every year as my wife is preparing the Christmas lunch, I fish outside until at midday she steps through the door carrying glasses and a bottle of whisky from her home country of Scotland and we drink a toast together on the river bank. Already it’s catching on and our French neighbours are joining in although most of the fishing part is left to me. Who knows? In years to come the St Simon Cast and Clink Christmas Morning Celebration may have slipped into the village’s calendar of annual events.

Piscatorialy, Yuletide is a bit low key in the Fifth Republic where the major fishing topic at this time of year is what Christmas present to buy for the angler in the family. There are so many variations on the sport that the safest bet is to go along to the tackle shop, buy a gift voucher and let the recipient choose exactly what he or she needs. There are, however, a few things that can be given safely. If the angler in question sits on the bank watching a float, it is a safe bet that he would love to receive a continental seat box to hold all the tackle and provide armchair comfort whilst fishing. Tackle shops have big displays over a wide range of prices. If the present is for a fly fisherman, a new fly box is always welcome as would be a selection of flies. If pike and zander are the angler’s quarry a range of lures and plug baits, together with a purpose designed box to hold them, would be just right for the Christmas stocking. As there is no weekly angling newspaper in France, a subscription to the UK’s Angler’s Mail should go down well as, along with news about what is happening on familiar rivers and fisheries across the channel, there are articles and tips that will help to improve catches on French waters.

If you can slip away to the waterside, fishing at the turn of the year can be good. But before you head out, remember that the Carte de Pêche must be renewed on January 1 and a Garde de Pêche will probably be clean out of Christmas spirit if he catches you a few days into 2014 without that date on your carte.

This is the time of year when les carnassiers - pike, zander and perch that feed on smaller fish - are uppermost in most French anglers’ thoughts. The weeds have died down, and frosts and dropping temperatures have made the water clear - ideal hunting conditions for these fish that spawn in early spring and need to pack on the weight at the start of the year. At least one, and probably all three species, will be in any water you fish but it often needs some legwork to track them down.

Leger tackle with a good sized worm on the hook will find the perch and the best approach is to work along the bank, casting out and retrieving slowly. Any debris in the water is likely to be where perch are living and don’t forget to try right under the near bank.
If you catch one fish, carry on for a while in the same spot because there should be a shoal around.

Pike are generally loners and harder to find. Moving along with a spinner or lure and covering as much water as possible or using float tackle to allow a dead bait to flow in the river’s current gives the best chance. The remainders of weed beds, fallen trees in the water, around the points of islands and where boats are moored are all likely spots.

Zander generally hunt in groups and the favourite way to fish for them is with a small live bait, either on leger tackle or using a float. A good alternative is to buy some sprats and fish them the same way.

Being observant can be a short cut to success. If you see small fish rising, it’s likely predators will be nearby and if you see small fish jumping along the surface they are definitely around.

As US author Garrison Keillor said; “The lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory and we all go through it together.” I will drink to you all when I raise that waterside glass.



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