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Preparing for the start of the fishing season

Preparing for the start of the fishing season

With the arrival of the new fishing season, Ron Cousins gives us an insight into what to expect on the opening day…

Had the poet Shelley been an angler, his Ode to the West Wind would probably have included “If winter comes, can the new trout fishing season be far behind?” instead of heralding the approach of spring. After all, the second Saturday in March is when anglers throughout France return to the waterside in pursuit of truite arc-en-ciel (rainbow trout) and truite fario (brown trout).

rainbow-trout-france-fishingThere is a worldwide magic to the start of a new fishing season. In Pennsylvania half a million American fly fishermen are expected to be ready for the 8am kick off to their new season, while in England eager anglers will be sleeping at the lakeside in their cars ready for a dawn cast at Somerset’s Chew Valley Lake. It really is a big thing in Scotland where the salmon season opens in some style, particularly on the River Tay at Kenmore in highland Perthshire. There, a large number of anglers gather at 9am in front of the Kenmore Hotel where each year a different dignitary mounts a rostrum to perform the opening day ceremony. The fishermen and their supporters then march to the river behind a pipe band and glasses of whiskey are raised to toast the river. The dignitary in charge is rowed out to mid river to make the first cast and then the fishing starts with every fisherman, of the hundreds lining the banks, hoping for the gallon of whiskey that will go to the captor of the day’s biggest salmon.

There may not be pipe bands or even the odd accordionist but at dawn on 8 March - this year’s opening day - pretty well everyone in south-west France who has a fishing rod will be at the waterside in search of the thousands of trout that have been released into rivers large and small in the weeks leading up to the big day. Expectations are high and often the local press are there hoping to catch the captor of the first or biggest trout on camera.

For most of the year, rivers like the Vienne, Boutonne, Charente and Sèvre are the domain of the coarse fisherman intent of catching roach, bream, carp and pike. But, for a few heady days in March, they are also home to the trout released from the tanks in the fishery officers’ vans that have been dashing to various points along the banks.

Finding where the trout are is the problem, because even if fish were introduced at one place only a week before, they could well have spread out and moved up or downstream to an entirely different area. Bridges seem to be a favourite choice for the locals as, in towns like Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, opening day hopefuls are often shoulder to shoulder dropping their baits into the water.

It is tempting to join them, but best avoided. Trying to winch up a fish only to have it fall back into the river just as you reached out to it is about as frustrating as fishing can be.

Nearly-2kg-of-fighting-rainbow-trout.jpgEven worse is to hook a trout that then swims through other anglers lines. Sorting out the ensuing tangle without perfect French can certainly put a strain on the entente cordiale.

I prefer to find where a stream or other tributary enters the main river because the trout often move into these and travel quite a long way upstream. This is why you find people happily fishing and actually catching trout in tiny brooks that were bone dry in the summer.

The elusive trout everyone is chasing have been raised on fish farms, fed on pellet foods and know little about life in the wild. By now they are probably hungry and if there are no bites in half an hour’s fishing it is safe to assume none are about and move to another area. Opening day involves a lot of walking, a lot of casting and if you are lucky the occasional catching.

Like everything else in France, opening day fishing stops for lunch and this is a great opportunity to find out what is happening on the river bank. Most bars near the water will have groups of anglers discussing their luck, or lack of it, so a little listening-in can pay dividends.

Some of us ex-pats associate trout fishing with tweed jackets and a gracefully cast artificial fly but this March madness is all about bait fishing. The humble garden worm really is king of the river and accounts for the majority of trout that are caught although meal worms are a favourite in some areas. Many French anglers swear by Powerbait, a curious dough-like product sold in tackle shops in a variety of bright colours. Moulded on the hook, it resembles the pellet diet the trout were raised on and aficionados swear by the glittering dough as it reflects the light and is very visible.

Tackle requirements are also minimal. Any spinning or float fishing rod teamed up with a fixed spool reel and line around 6lb breaking strain will do the job. Float fishing or legering a stationary bait are equally likely to lead to a trout in the bag.

It is essential to remember that no trout under 23cm can be taken and if you fish the popular River Touvre near Angoulême that is increased to 30cm. A maximum of six fish can be taken away in one day. The garde de pêche will be out in force, so make sure you have a tape measure as well as the 2014 carte de pêche.

One other thing to bear in mind is that with a once-a-year-only stocking, the chances of catching a trout reduce dramatically day by day. Don’t delay. Get your fishing tackle ready and join the crowds on the Glorious 8th because a week later at the Ides of March most of those thousands of trout will have gone the way of Julius Caesar back in 44BC.




Tips on trout fishing

Trout fishing tackle in France

Fishing in the Vendée

Fishing in Dordogne

Fishing in Limousin

Fishing in Deux-Sèvres

Fishing in Vienne

Fishing in Charente-Maritime

Fishing in Charente


© Living Magazine. All rights reserved. First published in Living Magazine February 14