My First Trip to France

A lovely torpedo mirror

James Walker recalls a memorable trip to Le Val Dore, resulting in a new personal best.

In November last year I was asked if I was up for a trip to Le Val Dore in France. I’d never fished in France before so I snapped up the opportunity immediately. To say I was exited was an understatement. I dread to think how many hours I spent prior to the trip looking through the website and scrolling through the Facebook page looking at photos of the fish and reading visitor catch reports. The nine months leading up to the trip seemed to last forever.

I spent all of Thursday and Friday cooking up particles and preparing all my tackle to try and make sure I was prepared for every possible angling situation I was faced with. The weather was absolutely appalling as we loaded my gear into the van. I said my goodbyes and we set off into the pouring rain. In spite of the appalling driving conditions we made good progress down the motorways towards Folkestone due to the roads being nearly empty. The Sat-Nav said we were estimated to arrive nearly two hours early so after about two hours we stopped off in the services for a McDonalds and picked up a few energy drinks to keep us going for the next leg of the journey.

Our swim with my rods on the right
A cracking 23lb common caught in the night

We made good time and arrived at the Tunnel at around 3.20am; we were given the option to get on an early train but decided against it because we couldn’t check in until 12 o’clock at the lake anyway. I managed to get half an hours sleep on the tunnel until it was time to get driving again. We set the Sat- Nav up and set off into France. We got to the village that the lake is set in but it was only 6.30am so we had a lot of time to pass until we could check in. We pulled up outside the reception and left the van in the car park whilst we had a walk around the complex.

At 12 o’clock we drove down to the peg and decided it would be fair to flip a coin to decide who had left or right. I got the right-hand side which gave me a nice tree-lined bay and the far margin which was also tree-lined. On my first cast with my marker rod I found what turned out to be a gravel bar which went to 2ft deep on the top which was 4ft shallower than the rest of what I could find with the marker. I decided to fish a rod up to the gravel bar because fishing on top of it would end up causing problems with bird life picking baits up. My second rod was fished to an overhanging tree down my righ-hand margin and I decided to fish the third rod to the far margin tree line.

The first night wasn’t much to talk about but on the second evening there was a lot of fish showing tight to the tree line, further to the left than I could fish; more in front of my mate’s side. That night my mate landed the first fish of the trip which turned out to be a 25lb grass carp. Previous to the trip I had only ever seen one grass carp on the bank which was considerably smaller than this one. Once we got it on the mat it went absolutely nuts, and by the end of the photographs both me and my mate were completely soaked and covered in fish slime!

My first grass carp put a smile on my face

My first three nights passed uneventfully but on the fourth day my mate moved one of his rods which allowed me to fish a rod a bit further left tight to the far margin tree line which is where he’d been picking up his fish from. Every bite that he’d had came in the very last light or during the night so we were both very surprised at 6pm when the tip of my left-hand rod bent round slowly. I knew straight away it wasn’t big. It was a small grass carp of around 8lb, but my first ever grass carp! I was off the mark at last.

That night at around 11.30pm the left-hand rod went round again. The bite was only a couple of bleeps because I was fishing completely locked up. I hit into the rod and could feel the line grating on the trees but I slowly walked back and felt the fish come free into open water. This felt like a much better fish. It kited left over my other two rods but after a bit of ‘knit one pearl one’ we managed to get the line free from the other lines and guided the very long, wild looking common over the net chord. I was buzzing; this was the first common and what turned out to be the only common of the trip. It went 23lb on the scales and I was over the moon.

Our sleeping pattern had now adjusted to sleeping until around 12 o’clock in the day due to photographing fish and getting rods back out until the early hours of each morning. I was using a bait boat fishing as tight to the tree line as possible with small beds of bait. In the hopper I was putting whole, half and crushed Captive boilies along with a bit of sweetcorn and a small amount of tiger nuts. On my rig I fished 16mm Captive Hard Hookers topped with one of the pink 12mm Milky Toffee Specials.

The bigest carp I have ever caught at 30lb 6oz

To our surprise at around 4pm the tip of my right-hand rod bent round again and I hit into my third fish of the trip. This fish fought very hard going on big powerful runs down the margins so I was very surprised when it turned out to be a mid-double mirror. It was only an hour and a half before the alarm lit up again. It became clear quite early that this was a grass carp. It didn’t put up much of a scrap at all. This one was slightly larger than the one that I had before.

I was full of confidence as we went into the night and it wasn’t long after dusk until the rod was off again. This fish felt extremely powerful. I really did think it was a catfish. As I got it closer in it ran down the left-hand margin going over one of my mate’s lines and underneath the other two and carried on straight through a set of overhanging trees. After a bit of ‘knit one pearl one’ again I was free of my mate’s lines but now had to deal with the marginal snags the fish had ran through. I could feel the line grating and the clutch, which was almost locked up, was still slowly ticking away. I managed to gain a bit of line and pull it back through the snags but I could feel something was still wrong. We flicked a torch down the margin and the fish had managed to run through some loose line that was stuck in the branches. There was no other option but to strip down to my pants and swim down the margin with my rod in hand. My mate followed me down the bank with the net.

We reached the snags where the line was caught and I managed to slip the net under the carp which I still hadn’t got a proper view of yet. I cut all the line free so the fish was no longer tethered to the branch. I was surprised to see it was again only a mid-double mirror. I unhooked the fish in the net and transferred it to the sack whilst I got the rod back out. We got the photographs done and tried to get our heads down for the night.

In the early hours of the morning I was woken up to see my mate playing a very powerful fish. It turned out to be a 41lb diamond backed sturgeon. It wasn’t what we were after but it was very impressive nonetheless.

We caught fish of all shapes and sizes

The next day I woke up at around 11am. I wasn’t awake long and out of the blue my left-hand rod bent round again. The fish was in the trees but a bit of slow pressure walking back it came free. It went on a few powerful run and went into a small patch of weed but came out with no issues. As it surfaced I could see it was a good fish and guided it gently over the net chord. I looked at my prize and I knew it was definitely a high twenty at least. It went 30lb 6oz on the scales and I was over the moon. Although not a massive fish for France it was the biggest fish I had ever caught.

As we were doing photos I heard my receiver bleep again. I looked towards my rods to see the tip of my middle rod bending round. I ran to the rod whilst my mate zipped the sack up and put the fish back into the margins. It felt a good fish but unfortunately the hook pulled close in before I could see it. Although slightly gutted after losing that fish, I was absolutely made up with the thirty.

Going in to the last night my rods stayed silent until the early hours of the morning. My right-hand rod, which I’d placed on the trees for the last night, sprung into life. I knew it was a smaller fish but it still put up a good account of itself. I was quite surprised when I saw it was a catfish but I was fairly pleased because I’d never caught a catfish before so it was a nice way to end the trip. Although I hadn’t caught that many carp I was pleased with the results and it was an experience I will never forget.

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