If you watch a DVD or read an article about fishing small commercial French waters it is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking they are easy!
Well, sometimes they can be but for the most part such venues usually pose a number of problems for the hidebound angler who isn't prepared to listen or to change his tactics if things are not going as well as he would have liked.
People think that just because there are, say, a hundred or so carp in a six acre lake, that they will be easy to catch; just cast out and then sit back and chill until the they make a mistake. This is one way of fishing but it is certainly not the best way. The mistake many people make when fishing a small French lake is to approach it as they would a typical UK lake of a similar size. This is flawed thinking! No two lakes are the same and what works for one may not work on another and at the heart of this conundrum lies angler pressure.
The best small commercials in France are usually booked up at least a year or more in advance so as a result they are under virtually constant angling pressure for thirty-five to forty weeks of the year. Such pressure is of a kind seldom seen on an English venue, so it follows that the fishing will at times be rock hard!
And the great leveller here is bait and how you apply it and to illustrate my point I want to take as an example the two lakes - Elba and Nappy's (aka the Napoleonic Lake) - on the Le Queroy complex situated not far from the town of Confolens in the Charente Limousine. This is one of my favourite swims on Nappy's photographed in the early autumn of 2014. Incidentally in my opinion late September is the best time to be carp fishing both at home or abroad.
I am 100% certain in my own mind that carp under pressure spook off big beds of bait, be it a bed of boilies, seeds or particles and I know that at times too much bait can be the kiss of death. On the other hand you can’t catch a lot of carp without using bait! It’s a classic Catch-22 situation. You want to use bait to attract and then hold carp in your swim but you don’t want to use so much that they spook. Accordingly you don’t need to set out your stall as if you were going after hundreds of fish at a time, as if you were fishing, say, for a shoal of bream.
I have written enough about Nappy's over the years and have I think most of the features on the lake are well known both by anglers and carp. The latter are accustomed to visiting these hot spots, as they know there will be food there provided for them by kindly carp anglers! However, they are not silly and they are generally cautious and suspicious when they feed. Big fish need to eat to maintain their body weight, so as far as they are concerned life is a constant juggling act between the need to eat and the risks of getting caught.
I have fished several times with my good mate Bill Cottam, boss of Nutrabaits and we often discuss baiting strategies for pressured carp. One thing we agree on is the concept of fishing for one fish at a time. It is a simple concept but it is highly effective on pressured lakes. Basically the tactic is to introduce only enough bait to induce one take. You catch that one fish, then set out your stall along identical lines to try to tempt another fish, and a third, fourth and so on. It is not a tactic that generates loads of action, but it certainly seems to sort out bigger and thus possibly more cautious, more suspicious carp.
So how do you save a blank on a small French commercial venues where the fish have been under constant angling pressure day after day, week after week? Well here are a few general rules that you should follow.
Rule number one:
When you arrive at the lake always bear in mind that you will almost certainly be following someone into the swim. Maybe not into the same swim exactly but you may well be fishing to the same general area as the guys who were on the lake the week before you (and the fortnight before their predecessors, and so on and so on). The smaller the venue the more likely this will be the case so never assume that nobody has fished your chosen swim before you, maybe as recently as the previous day.
It is always a good idea when fishing a busy lake to keep baiting to a minimum. Remember, it is easy to put bait in, but impossible to take it out again. Only once I have got a feel for the lake and how it is fishing do I risk putting in more bait. I need to be sure that the carp are a) in my swim and b) eating bait but once I am certain they are visiting the swim in good numbers I increase the baiting quantity and frequency a little. If you are using a top class food bait (and if you aren't, why not?) and handful of freebies per rod is all that's needed initially.
Rule number two:
Listen to the owners. They know what has been caught and from where. They will also know what has been the most successful bait and tactic and will also have a fair idea of how much bait has been going into which swims.
I recall one year being booked on Nappy's for a week. I had arrived a day early so I wandered down to the lake for a chat to the guys already on there and what I found out made me pretty uneasy. The guys on the point swim had caught nothing. This was not good as two guys on the point can cover the whole lake with six rods between them. Their two friends fishing to the dam from the north and south banks respectively had caught only four fish between them. Four carp out in a week to a total of twelve rods. That ain't good!
In the course of our chat one of the guys casually mentioned that they had put in around ten kilos of boilies each along with many kilos of other bits and pieces of bait - hempseed, dog biscuits etc. That's a lot of bait! As if that wasn’t bad enough it appeared that the group on before them had introduced roughly the same amount…and they hadn't even had a run!
So with some 100kg of bait going into the lake in the two weeks prior to my arrival, it followed that to put in still more bait on top of the previous occupants' would be a total waste of time. I decided to fish single hookbaits and stringers but for the first three days I caught nothing Then slowly but surely I started to get a bit of interest by fishing for one fish at a time. Eventually I ended with a couple of dozen carp but I used only two kilos of bait the whole week.
Rule number three:
On many French lakes one particular bait tends to rule supreme. The lakes at Le Queroy are no different. I am not saying that you have to use the going bait, but you'd be silly not to at least give it a go. OK, you may have a bait that conquers all that comes across it but even your reliable Old Faithful may not cut the mustard when up against a lake's 'house baits'.
So even if you've never used it before you’d be silly to use anything other than the established bait, even if it's only on one rod. After all, you are there to catch carp aren’t you? By all means take bait of your own but don’t be surprised if you don’t get out-fished by anglers fishing the established bait. In my limited experience you could be asking for trouble if you try to go it alone. Trigga is hugely successful bait on both the Le Queroy lakes and the owners sell it at a very reasonable price.
Rule number four:
Remembering rule two I would advise you to start slowly, fishing only tiny patches of bait. Once you start getting takes then you can build up the swim and extend the bait carpet. I always start my campaign the same way offering just a single high-attract hookbait with a stringer of Frolic, half a dozen freebies and a pinch, yes, just a pinch of hempseed. This is perfect as far as I am concerned. Pellets and carpet feed can come later but to start with keep baiting to a minimum.
I use a couple of Thermos flasks to prepare a small amount of hemp overnight. Simply half fill the flasks with seed and pour on boiling water. Screw on the cap and leave over night.
Next morning, if the hemp is any good, which it always is if it is from Haith's Baits! you should have perfectly prepared hemp. Don't chuck away the hemp water, you can use it as a bait soak or to dampen carpet feed, or use it to scald pellets if you fancy fishing The Method.
Rule number five.
Never assume that the fishing is going to be easy! Remember that lakes of this type Queroy are under intense pressure throughout the season and bait application is very important…think before you act.
Rule number six.
Use the best bait (boilies) money can buy, which in my case means Nutrabaits Trigga or Blue Oyster, or Rollin' Baits' Optimum for early spring or late autumn.
I simply do not believe that you can achieve the same degree of competitive, aggressive feeding if you are using a poor quality bait. I have written about the importance of good food baits till my typing fingers have grown numb, but despite my efforts many of you stubbornly refuse to listen to the message. Here is a key piece of advice that applies to all carp lakes, large or small, pressured or virgin. It is as follows: The better your bait the more you are likely to catch! That is not a fiction, some imagined piece of dogma without basis. It is a fact. Whether you chose to believe it or not is up to you, but I can assure you it is true.
Rule number seven.
Never neglect the margins (and this applies to huge lakes as well as small ones). I have lost count of the carp I have caught from marginal areas, especially corners of the lake or under overhanging trees and bushes. This swim on Lac Elba is virtually neglected week in and week out, which is odd as it is a very productive area, a point I have made to others many a time.
On my first visit to the lake I caught this mid-forty twice in a week from this same swim, and not just the same swim, from the same spot too, under the yellow gorse bush.
Similarly on Nappy's where the margins are in fact more productive than the open water. Those overhanging branches on the dam wall are just crying out for a bait to be put under them.
In fact this gorgeous fifty pound mirror was caught from that exact spot!.
So let’s assume that you have just arrived at the lake and have set up in a swim that you know had been occupied prior to your arrival. You are faced with three choices:
• Try to establish your own bait as quickly as possible by piling it in and praying.
• Bait up lightly with the established bait.
• Fish single high attract hookbaits, perhaps with a PVA bag or stringer attached. This option leaves the door open for an increase in the amount of bait you introduce if circumstances so dictate.
Invariably I choose number the last option to begin with as it is the cautious option. If you fill the lake in with your own bait - option one - you may be chucking good bait after bad as the previous occupant of the swim may have completely ruined it by over-baiting. Even if you start off with a very light scattering of the established bait - option two - that may be a light scattering too many! Fishing single hookbaits/PVA mesh bags/stringers etc. leaves you room to experiment without excessive baiting. If carp are present they will probably have it, or at least give you some indication of their presence.
If after a couple of days you are still fishless then it could be time for a rethink. I am not necessarily unduly worried if, say, 48 hours pass without a take. Provided the bait previously introduced is of decent quality it will break down after a few days and these washed out baits may well arouse less suspicion that newly introduced ones.
A great bait for small French lake is the dog food Frolic. For some inexplicable reason carp seem to love it…no idea why! Perhaps it is because it breaks down to a mush in about four hours so it is impossible to over-bait with it as the small fry will clean up anything the carp don't eat. You can buy it in small village shops or huge out-of-town hypermarkets and it costs about €8 a four kilo bag.
One of the prime reasons why a swim receives too much bait is because the use of a boat is permitted. Anglers tend to over-bait simply because they can. They don’t need to spend hours with a throwing stick or spod rod. No…It’s out in the boat and dump a couple of bucket loads over the side followed by kilo after kilo of boilies. It is far too easy to over-bait when you are in the boat so why not try this little trick?
Place a restriction on yourself by only taking a small container of bait into the boat. If, say, you are baiting up with pellets don’t take a bucketful in the boat if you only want to top up the swim with a couple of scoops from a baiting spoon. Make up your mind how many scoops you are going to put in before you even set foot in the boat and put that amount in a smaller container. That way when the container is empty the only way you can put more bait in (and risk putting too much in) is to return to the bank for more, and by the time you’ve done that common sense should have prevailed!
To a lesser extent the same applies if you are using a bait boat. I tend to put enough feed in the hopper to catch one fish (there it is again!) and so do not run the risk of over-baiting. My prime intent is to use free offerings of bait simply to draw attention to the hookbait, not to over-feed the inhabitants. In this regard I also use paste a great deal, primarily as a wrap to envelope the lead.
This bait boat hopper load is just about enough to attract and hopefully catch a big carp. It consists of a tiny amount of cooked hemp seed , some boiled baits, a few glugged Frolic biscuits and some paste.
Patience is the name of the game on these types of small French commercial waters, especially if you are told that the fishing has been slow the week before. Sit on your hands and resist most firmly the temptation to pile in the bait. Most of all, don't forget to have fun
Not too long now before we head off to Le Q again for a late winter session. Just got to get Christmas out of the way first.
Thanks a bundle for reading my Blog articles.
In the meantime can Tat and myself and all the boys and girls at Haith's Baits wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Written by Ken Townley