Ever since I was a kid, eagerly devouring the works of such anglers as Jack Hilton and Chris Yates, reading every article penned by Rod Hutchinson and knowing off by heart the account by Richard Walker of his famous record, I have been obsessed with catching carp and all that goes with it. the mystic, the cloak that seemed to cover carp fishing for all of my formative years was like a magnet.
With the passion for angling I always nurtured the idea of having my own lake, my own Redmire with leviathan carp. until January of 1999 this remained, as for most people, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. until, via a fellow photojournalist, I came to hear about a group of lakes up for sale. It started as a bit of a joke, but the more I thought about it the better the idea seemed to me. this revelation had my mind in a whirl, maybe , just maybe this was my Redmire pool.
On a cold, rainy January morning I pulled up outside the fence that surrounds the Etangs which were buffeted by the wind and covered in a layer of mist and drizzle – they didn’t, in all honesty, look too inspiring. A few minutes later the owner showed up in a large top-of-the-range Peugeot. He showed me around the property. I discovered two large waters of around 7-8 acres each, and a smaller pond as well.
A small chalet had been erected near the entrance on top of a concrete bunker that housed an kitchen, shower and toilet. this was in fact, the Peugeot man’s weekend garden, his own little Eden, where he could come and relax, swim and entertain, in his leisure time. But he no longer came here, and wanted to sell up.
A few minutes passed and a second car pulled in through the gate. A young man descended holding a photo album. He then proceeded to show me some of his carp captures from the last two years, and tell me about the waters and their fish. What fish they were, large broad mirrors, which even from the mediocre photography looked enormous. the largest over 40 pounds.
I parted company with these people sure that I had stumbled on a jewel in the French countryside, fished only by a handful of people since it was excavated and already producing huge fish. I just had to have them. this could be my chance to get out of the rat-race that Paris and journalism had become, and do something I’d always wanted to do. so we did indeed acquire the lakes, my wife as enthusiastic as myself.
The work involved only became apparent as we got into it. Only one proper swim existed, where the young man and his friends used to fish. I set about cutting pitches out of the willow jungle that surrounded the edges of each water. the waters themselves just got more and more beautiful as the seasons progressed, the water aqua green, tinted with blue, typical of chalk pits, and the green foliage of willows and birches that surrounded it.
The urge to fish was great though, and I started regular sessions, initially starting on the only swim. one of my first three-day stints saw me pulverize my personal best, three times in three fish, each one getting larger. the best over 36 pounds. by way of the Internet I was slowly getting word around about my lakes and a few people wanted to come to fish. the first of these arrived at my swim on the customary walk round the lake and my right hand rod tore off. A nicely scaled 27-pounder came to the net, my guests had been at the water for less than 15 minutes and were impressed. that night, better was in store. as darkness descended my right hand rod was off again and after a hard, arm aching fight, a mint forty pound mirror lay on the unhooking mat. I was, needless to say, over the moon, PB smashed to smithereens again
And so things progressed, swims were cut, a few eager beavers came to field test my waters, some went home having blanked, some with large fish under their belts. But that’s carp fishing, even in France. Then a chap from Hemel knocks out a 43 and a half, after a difficult week. Wow
In all so far, 30 fish have been caught, 11 thirties to 37lb 8oz (ten of which I’ve been lucky enough to catch) and 2 forty pounders. the rest have been good twenties, with just 6 doubles the smallest 16lb 8oz. this gives an average of nearly 28lb. I think you’ll agree the fish are quite outstanding.
I plan to stock more fish in November, not loads of doubles (some yes) but mostly good twenties and thirties and some giant catfish to spice things up a bit. If these fish do half as well as the original fish in a couple of years the average will be superb.
So this is where I’m at, right now.
For the second time in my life, as a carp angler I have been in a position to try out a water, before everyone else, in true pioneering style. There’s a special feeling, when you walk round a water knowing it has huge fish and that you have it to yourself, for a time at least.
And so it was that I set about discovering the secrets of the Etangs de la Croix Blanche, hoping that I could unlock them and reap the treasures.
I’d been told the Croix Blanche lake itself held the most fish, but that the Tortue had probably the biggest. Observation of this water showed that there were indeed some real whackers swimming around in the clear, limpid water. But the lure of larger numbers to try for saw me opt for the Croix Blanche, to begin with at least.
Early in April I set up for a three-day session with my eight year-old son, William. I chose a swim half way along the Croix Blanche lake where it narrows, and is around 5 feet deep, offering a good opportunity to intercept fish. I baited with soaked maize, hemp and boilies near the far bank trees, placing three lines, one balanced snowman style, one popped up and one bottom bait in the area. things were looking good when I started to see some very big swirls coming from the baited zone. as darkness fell I eagerly anticipated the night. up until midnight no takes were forthcoming so I climbed into my sleeping bag. Around 4:30 am I was awoken by a fast run on my left-hand rod. Dashing past my carefully placed boots I ran in stocking feet out to strike the run. the fish moved to my right and after several minutes I was able to gain enough line to bring it into the margins, unfortunately the line snagged a branch hanging in the water to my right, which I was unable to free. Pulling hard simply lifted the fish’s head up towards the tree. I called for my son, who was asleep in the bivvy. after what seemed like ages he staggered out into the night. I asked him to grab the rod as I went in for the fish. On my command he heaved on the line to bring the fish back up to the branch and I scooped her up in the net, pulling hard to break the branch off. On the scales she went 33 lb 4oz. I was soaking wet and cold, but very pleased indeed. A new personal best.
The rest of the night and early morning was uneventful so I recast around 10 am and sat back to reflect on the night’s action. first fish a good thirty this certainly was promising. all was calm until mid-afternoon, when out of the blue the left rod dropped back. I struck into another heavy weight. this one did very little as I pumped her towards me. Avoiding the dreaded tree, I netted her easily and staggered up the bank with my prize. A fat mirror similar in shape to the first one was weighed in at 34lb 5oz. two thirties for two fish – wow
The weather was by now none too good, drizzly rain and quite chilly. Typical April. I baited again and recast my rods in preparation for my last night. as the rain came down I hit the hay early awakened by an enormous swirl over my baited area. the anticipation grew, I felt sure I would get a run. sure enough at 2:45 am the middle rod with the popped up bait took off and immediately I felt a heavier harder fighting fish. the others had given rather disappointing accounts of themselves, this one, however, made up for that. after ten minutes or so it was still cruising around the margins reluctant to come up to the surface. with aching arms I finally slipped the net under a gorgeous fish. It was longer than the others with a big hump on its shoulders and a much larger tail. It took the scales down to 36lb 6oz, a new personal best, for the third time in 3 fish.
As the Spring gave way to Summer I continued to catch a good number of the biggies in the water. one of the stars of the waters is a broad shouldered mirror. this fish was to grace my net for the first time in may at 40lb and again in August when it had gained three pounds in weight. It also holds the lake record at 43lb 8oz caught by a visiting angler, also in August.
My tally of thirties is at present up to eleven and the forty has fallen twice to my lines. to say that the waters have surpassed my expectations is an understatement
And so I have turned my attentions to the Tortue. the water was beginning to fascinate me, anyway. I had seen a real lump swimming around on several occasions. by far the biggest fish in the complex. I therefore decided to set my stall for the rest of the summer for this fish.
One day as I stood on the edge of the water contemplating on where to start. I called out loud Carp where are you? as if to answer my question, a fish crashed out over a gravel bar in the centre of the water. this then was where I placed my marker. I baited with maize and boilies for ten days every other day. My first night session passed quietly, but the second saw a fast run on the middle rod. I was soon looking at a pristine mirror a shade over 27lb. the next night at almost exactly the same hour, 11:15 pm, the same rod roared off and I was fortunate to be graced by another of the jewels of the Croix Blanche complex, a linear a tad under 36lb. A magnificent fish.
This brings us to September and despite a couple of three-day sessions I’m still to take another fish. I’ve seen the big’un several times in a very impressive group of eight fish. all over 35lb, I’m sure. I hope with a bit of patience and good fortune I shall soon be able to recount the capture of this giant carp.