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Carp fishing in France

Carp fishing in France

Ron Cousins shares the allure of carp fishing on a hot summer’s day...

At this time of year catching carp becomes uppermost in many anglers’ minds. As you sit on the bank willing those elusive fish that tantalisingly roll on the surface or gulp weed in the margins to take an interest in your bait, it is well to remember how much 21st century anglers owe to medieval monks.


Cyprinus carpio - such a magnificent fish surely deserves to be addressed by its Latin name - was never a native of Europe but originated in central Asia. The Romans, who always knew a good thing when they saw it, were responsible for introducing carp to Italy but it was much later, during the rise in monastic life when monasteries and abbeys were being established throughout Europe that the carp came into its own. The reinforcing of St Benedict’s rules, which banned eating meat at Lent, Advent and on Fridays, resulted in the creation of monastery stew ponds where carp, a fish that can reach 3kg in the same number of years, were raised for food. Some idea of when carp first appeared in Britain can be gathered from Izaak Walton’s writing in the Complete Angler where he states “Hops and Turkies, Carps and Beer came into England all in a year” suggesting the early 1400s. The original fish were fully scaled wild carp - today’s common carp - but by the end of the 19th century mirror carp, bearing just a few large scales, and leather carp, without any scales at all, were in Europe’s waterways.

Today’s carp are big and getting bigger. The new British record fish caught last year weighed 62lb 4oz (28.2kg) and came from a Berkshire lake where there is a 10-year waiting list to join the syndicate and have a try for the big ‘un. In France, most rivers hold fish that size and you can be on their trail as soon as you have purchased a carte de pêche.

France holds the world record for a carp after Englishman Colin Smith landed one weighing 100lb 8oz (45.6kg) at Etang la Saussaie in the Champagne region last year and the heaviest carp ever landed by a lady angler weighed 84lb 5oz (38.2kg) and was caught by Lizette Beunders, from Holland, when she visited Les Etangs de L’Abbaye in Picardy.

These and the two carp over 90lb (40.8kg) caught from Rainbow Lake near Bordeaux, have come from specialised fisheries where carp anglers spend a week or more at the waterside with their baits in the water all the time as they stay in lakeside bivvy tents waiting for an electronic bite alarm to let them know that the carp of their dreams is taking the bait.


If your sights are set on a slightly less impressive fish, here in the south west of France there are hundreds of lakes where, for the price of the carte de pêche and the Club Halieutique stamp that allows inter-departmental fishing, you are in with a real chance of a carp of 70lb or more.

Lac Vassiveriere in the Haute Vienne is a massive 1,000 hectares water with depths to 35m and it boasts a causeway-linked island that has a chateau, sculpture park, menagerie and lighthouse. It is home to very large carp but the sheer size of the lake means that the 50lb to 60lb fish that are caught could be dwarfed by monsters that have lived their lives without ever coming across an angler’s bait.

A little less awe inspiring is Lac de Lavaud Gelade in the same area which is 285 hectares. It is regularly used for fishing competitions so more bait goes into the water, encouraging the residents to vary their diet and become more likely to get a taste for something with a hook in it. A good way to bag a big carp here is using a swim feeder (a plastic tube packed with fish-attracting morsels attached to the line) with a couple of grains of sweetcorn as bait.

In the Vendée, Lac Mervent is located in the heart of a forest and looked after by the local angling association. It is 130 hectares and up to 20m deep with dedicated night fishing areas. The carp average over 20lb and the lake record is over 60lb with the favourite bait being a piece of luncheon meat.

Coming down in size, the 30 hectares Plan d’eau de la Grande Prairie Saint Yrieix at Angoulême draws carp fans from a wide area as it is quite shallow and easy to fish. Here the bait to use is a boilie - the hard high protein and often exotically flavoured balls sold packed in various sizes in the tackle shops. Thrown in as groundbait the carp, running to well over 40lb, become accustomed to feeding on them.

Plan d eau de St Yrieix

An even smaller water is Lac Plaisance at Saint-Hilaire-les-Places in the Dordogne.Fishing is allowed at specific times on the 7 hectares lake and carp to 30lb are caught, mainly on natural baits like worms and bread.
Those are just a tiny sample of the waters waiting to be fished in this part of France with many others having the same potential to turn up a carp so big that its capture will outshine every other achievement of the fortunate angler’s life.

Even at the rate of one a day, fishing your way through the lacs and etangs of the departments could take years and, unless there’s a “Privée” sign, they are all covered by the carte de pêche.

Fishing can be hit or miss on these big lakes because the fish move around and may very well be nowhere near where you decide to fish. A good idea is to follow the crowds and fish the areas where you see other anglers. The constant introduction of groundbait in whatever form will draw fish to these areas and save a lot of fishless hours. Alternatively, pick a spot and fish it over several days, putting in a good helping of sweetcorn, boilies, boiled hempseed or groundbait each time and you should reap the rewards as the carp home in for free feed.
Catching old Cyprinus isn’t easy. The rewards come from hard work and hoping for the best or as the medieval monks who started all this off in the first place would say “Ora et Labora”, pray and work.


** Also see our Great Lakes of Poitou-Charentes feature

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. First published in Living Magazine in June 14