The long wait of over a year had passed oh so slowly but at last we were back at Le Queroy. After last years impressive visit I was keen to repeat the prescription and fill my boots.
I was all the more excited by the prospect of trying to catch one of the very few fish in Nappy's Lake (aka The Napoleonic Lake) that I had not caught before, as apart from three or four fish I have landed them all in my many visits to the venue. I have said this before and I will say it again: Le Queroy is our favourite venue by a country mile and the views from the cottage are stunning.
Put simply, the accommodation and the lake is a combination unsurpassed in our experience and nowhere do we feel more relaxed than when ensconced in the warmth of the Cottage or wrapped up against the cold beside the lake. So what, if we have caught most of the carp in the lake before? What does it matter to anybody else how we chose to spend our hard-earned? That said, there was one particular fish that I was especially keen to catch.
Back in 2006 Carole landed a fish that was at the time new to us both, a forty pound mirror that had been nicknamed Triad by Penny, at the time the owner with husband George of Le Q. Penny loved to name her 'babies' and chart their progress as they grew and Triad had put on an impressive amount of weight in the past three years. No doubt this was due to the vast amount of bait she was capable of eating, as the old girl was a bit of a mug when it came to decent bait. As a consequence her mouth was getting rather damaged and so George and Penny decided to give her a rest in the small lake that was not fished much and was used as a stock pond.
And so we leap forward to 2014 when Jodie and Dan became the new owners and as part of their initial fishery management program netted the main lake - Nappy's - for a good look at just what they had got by way of stock in the lake. The fish were all transferred to the stock pond so that work could be done on constructing a monk on Nappy's and only when this was finished were the fish netted from the stock pond to be returned to Nappy's. One of the fish was the, by now, much bigger and well healed Triad at a highly impressive 60lb plus.
Now as I said earlier, we have caught all but a handful of the fish in nappy's before but I had never landed Triad myself, and at 60lb plus she would represent a new PB for me were I lucky enough to land her. Thus our October 2015 visit was lent added focus for me in particular as it was, in effect, my 'Hunt for Triad'.
Now before I go any further I want to say here and now that I am not specifically a big fish angler. I leave that to the dedicated likes of Tim Paisley, Bill Cottam and the like. No, I simply like to fish for what is there but if I happen to land a new PB - and from Le Queroy, my favourite venue - well, so much the better.
It was not always thus. I had embarked on a quest for my first fifty many years previously at a lake in eastern France called Maleon. It was there that I saw the most glorious looking mirror weighing 51lb in the arms of Jay, the Maleon bailiff at the time. I said to myself, I have just got to catch that fish. So a year later I went back to Maleon driven by the sole aim of landing that gorgeous beast at what would surely be a bigger weight and definitely my first fifty.
Well, to cut a long story short, I did catch that fish and another four forty plus mirrors to boot along with a dozen or more thirties. Unfortunately my target, far from gaining weight, had actually lost 10lb so when I weighed her at 41lb I was pretty gutted.
In fact I wrote an article for Carpworld titled Gutted, Or Not? describing the 'heaven or hell' feelings I experienced at the time. This article incurred the considerable wrath of fellow angling journalist Keith Jenkins who roundly condemned me for my attitude. I saw his point and vowed never again to be disappointed by a fish capture, be it a repeat or a know fish landed at a disappointing weight. Hence my laid back attitude towards repeats at le Q (though if I caught Triad at less than fifty I cannot say I would have been delighted!).
So that sets the scene. I arrived at le Q. with high hopes for a shed load of fish including my 'target'. Sadly those hopes were dashed on the shores of over confidence and presumptuous arrogance...but more of that later.
And so to the fishing...On arrival I found out that there had only been two on the lake in the week prior to our arrival. They had fished opposite each other in the swims next to the dam wall but the very high pressure that had prevailed throughout the first two weeks of October, coupled with unseasonably cold NE winds, meant that they has only limited success. I later found out that lakes across central and northern France had fished equally badly thanks in no small manner to the unseasonably cold and bitter weather.
This bitter weather continued as we arrived at Le Q with a nasty east wind blowing right at the dam. Undaunted I decided to start on the north bank Dam Swim fishing two rods to the dam wall and two to open water off to my left.
As always I set my traps carefully, laying small patches of bait with the bait boat and then fishing a single pop-up hookbait on the 360 Rig over the top of a carpet of mixed pellets, Red Band and hemp seed. This has never let me down, ever, but it did this time!
I spent the first two days shivering in my bivvy as the wind hacked into my face and I had to wrap up really warm to keep the cold at bay. Two days passed with little sign of fish and certainly no takes, but the next days I had a stuttery take on one of the rods fishing to the dam wall. It felt a good fish...until the hook pulled. You wait three days for a fish and then loose it? What a plonker!
Though the take gave me hope the weather did not. The lake looked as dead as I had ever seen it; no shows, no bubbles, nada. Even the birds were relatively subdued.
(There has always been one or more thieving robins at Le Q. and normally these are on the verge of being a menace as you cannot leave a bait box, bag or bucket open for a second while your back is turned. And then there are the famous hovering kingfishers of le Q. - unique in my experience. These two were conspicuous by their absence.)
Finally the wind got to much for me and I packed up early and legged it for the warmth of the Cottage and a few beers, putting a bit of bait - Liquid Yeast-glugged Trigga and Blue Oyster boilies - and a light scattering of Haith's hemp seed cooked overnight in Thermos flasks - along the dam wall before I left.
Next day dawned as cold and miserable as before. The conditions were identical and the water temperature steady at 8 degrees but as the day progressed a definite warmth touched the lake as the wind swung into the south. It was positively balmy! I was sure this would trigger a feeding spell and so it turned out. One of the dam wall rods gave a few bleeps and I watched as the line picked up and the rod tip banged around. A dour scrap ensued but eventually I slipped the net under a nice fish which weighed 41lb 12oz.
I set the camera up on the tripod and settled down to do the pix. It was then that I discovered that the self timer function on the camera had stopped...functioning, that is! I keep an intervalometer as a stand by so I attached this to the camera only to find that it too had gone on the blink. Curses! I had no option but to do a couple of quick shots of the fish on the mat before slipping her back.
No sooner had she gone back than I had another take off the dam wall, this time a 38lb common. I recognised her as one of the dumpy commons I had caught before, including on the previous years visit so with the camera playing up I put her straight back. Incidentally, the fish had put on three pounds since 2014.
If I thought that these two fish were the herald of much more to come, my hopes were dashed. Though the weather continued to improve and the water temperature to climb slowly past the 10 degree mark, the fish still played hard to get, though I did have another mid forty.
The next day the weather returned to the cold and miserable easterlies we had arrived with and again the lake looked mostly dead. However, I heard quite a few boshes from way down to my left near the point. Worth a move? Maybe tomorrow unless something happens up here, I said to myself.
Well nothing did happen so I moved to the point before packing up for the day (I don't do nights, probably a big mistake on this trip as I felt sure they were feeding mainly after dark. However, I was not equipped for the nights so that was that!). I Introduced some bait to some inviting looking gaps in the bush line.
I had not fished this swim before so it was all a matter of guesswork and intuition and the later told me that the fish would surely get into the margins under the bushes to my right or the trees to my left. I also noticed just how much open water I could cover from the point. Makes me wonder why I had not fished it before!
I was again using hemp seed to feed the swims and also used Red Band to augment the hemp. As mentioned previously I use Thermos flasks to prepare the tiny particles.
You simply soak the seeds and/or Red Band in water overnight, then bring to the boil before filling the flasks with hemp seed, Red Band or a 50/50 blend of both. Thus the retained heat inside the Thermos flasks cooks the bait to perfection. This is the Red Band/hemp seed blend .
Talking of hemp seed, I have always followed Rod Hutchinson's advice. Back in the day Rod argued that hemp seed is much more effective when spread out, as that keeps the carp in the area searching for every last seed. This makes them more susceptible to tripping up on a nearby hookbait . I remember his advice about a pint of hemp seed scattered over an area the size of a tennis court was better by far than a tight bait carpet, which tends to get them over-preoccupied on the seed. Great advice from one of the greatest thinkers of his or any other era. Hence why I limit myself to just two Thermos flasks full of hemp seed a day.
While on the subject of bait, I have not mentioned the boilie component much as yet. Well, to be honest I was not really sure of they were 'on' boiled baits with any enthusiasm. Yes, they were happy to graze over the soft stuff, the SuperSoft Pellets and the slow-breakdown Frolic but it was proving harder to get a pick up on boiled baits. I had not put in much by way of boilies up 'til now, but having moved to the point I wondered if they might be a bit more keen on them in areas that had not been fished for three weeks or so. Consequently I introduced a few light scatterings of mixed boiled baits, a combination of boosted Blue Oyster and Trigga, along with some Robin Red & Fishmeal boosted with a couple of attractors from Feed Stimulants, namely hydrolysed goose liver and Liquid Betaine.
I must again give a hearty plug to the amazing Frolic dog biscuits, which I use every time I go fishing in France. They have a slow but steady breakdown rate that makes them ideal for use in a mixed bait carpet. Here the Frolic is part of a Blue Oyster barrels, hemp seed, Supersoft Pellet and Blue Oyster Pellet combo.
The Point swim covers a lot of water which make me ask myself why I have not fished here before! The dam wall can still be covered as it is only about 130m away and at the same time the bays both sides of the swim and the treelines left and right can also be covered. Of course, it is much easier to fish the dam from one of the nearer swims but at least it can be covered from the point if you are a good caster. I am not, but luckily I had a bait boat!
As always I use a Fox Paste Bomb to increase attraction around the hookbait and this visit was no exception. I had made up some paste using Haith's MarineRed again including some attractors from the Feed Stimulants range, namely Krill Amino Compound and their Liquid Oyster Extract, a product I have been banging on about since the dawn of time, though not always the FS's version.
And just as well I did for no sooner had I got down to the lake the next day than the fish started showing along the dam wall! I've just moved off there, for pity's sake! I got busy with the bait boat and laid a couple of tiny traps just off the wall comprising glugged Robin Red & Fishmeal chops with a Pineapple and Butyric Pop-Up over the top. Within an hour had a take and once again it turned out to be a fish I had caught in 2014, a mid-forty.
A decent enough fish and very welcome given the slow fishing, but the tail damage that had been caused by a careless angler in 2014 was still evident and she did not put up much of a scrap if I am honest.
Luckily the next fish fought like a mad thing and somehow I knew it would be a common...and yes it was, a nice fish of 38lb.
The autumn was coming on fast with the trees on the dam wall getting more orange by the day. They soon became a bit of a pain to be honest as they formed quite a raft of fallen leaves on the surface. These blocked the intakes of my bait boat and it soon became impossible to use it. In the end I used the lake's own rowing boat to take the baits down to the dam and scatter small amounts of bait over each hookbait.
Mother Nature has some incredible ways of expressing her beauty. For instance, you can tell when autumn is here and winter approaching in this part of France by witnessing one of her most spectacular phenomena. Each year thousands of cranes make their way from their summer feeding grounds in the low countries to the warm climes of Africa where they find warmth and food aplenty. To get there they make a non-stop flight from northern Europe to north Africa in huge flocks, many hundreds strong. You can hear them coming from miles away as they fly high overhead, honking and squawking as they go. It really is an incredible sight.
The weather had warmed up considerably and the water temperature had risen almost 5 degrees. It was positively balmy, T-shirt and shorts weather. Bliss after the bitterly cold start to the trip. A brisk southerly breeze coming up from the Med made it feel almost like summer again but it brought its own problems by blowing many hundreds of leaves off the trees. These formed an almost insurmountable raft on the surface and it was almost impossible to sink the line. In the end I switched to 8oz drop-off leads in a clip and these allowed me to tighten up at my end without disturbing the hookbaits 130m away at the dam wall.
By the following day the leaves had covered well over half the pool and fish were showing well along the dam. I was going to move back to my original swim when I had a blistering take on a single rod fished tight to the margins of the northern bay area opposite the point. Straight away I it was a good fish; in fact I almost knew which fish it was! While every fish in Le Q. fights like a hero, none fight so hard as Silver Victory, and this scrap had SV's name written all over it. Sure enough as she rolled into the net I knew my guess was correct. Silver Victory...welcome old friend.
I first caught her in 1999 at 12lb and she scrapped like the devil then. Somehow we seem to have an affinity and I tend to catch the old girl each time I visit, so I have been able to watch her grow like Topsy! I caught her in 2014 at 43lb 12 and she weighed the same this year. No point in taking a photo on the mat; I knew exactly how she looked. So here is a photo of the lovely lady from 2010, the first time she passed the forty pound mark.
Last few days coming up and the weather still held fair. That said, nothing seemed to be able to stir the carp from their stupor and takes were few and far between. I found out later than lakes all over central France had fished much the same and my old mate Bill Cottam, not 40 miles away at Priory was suffering similar slow action. However, there was sufficient movement up by the dam again to keep the spirits up.
Suddenly a run on one of the dam wall rods. The fish felt ponderous, dour and yet powerful. This was a biggie! It fought hard for every meter of ground between me and the dam wall but eventually it tumbled into the net. It too was an old friend but I had not caught her for a few years. Last time I had caught her she weighed 40lb 2oz, this time she was nine pounds heavier: 49lb 2oz, a new Le Q. personal best.
I got the camera to do a photo on the mat and on switching it on suddenly discovered that the self timer had come back to life. Why I'll never know, but I had put a fresh battery in the camera the previous evening and I can only surmise this had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, I was now able to do trophy shots again. And just as well. After a frustrating couple of blank days, I had another fish off the dam, another of Le Q's. forty pluses. This one weighed 47lb on the nose.
And so the trip drew to a close. It is true that compared to 2014 we had not pulled up any trees but seven forties and two big thirties is not to be sneezed at, and with a PB to boot I'm not complaining. Not one bit.
We spent our last night in the Cottage with Jodie and Dan and the girls. They came bearing gifts, bless 'em. They know how much we like a nice drop of red. Strange name though.
Next year we are returning to Le Q. in May to fish the new Lac Elba. This will be a new challenge as the lake has not been fished hard since it was created 12 years ago. The stock comprises of the 'babies' that have been netted from Nappy's lake over the years. That is to say, any fish under twenty pounds (babies indeed!). Knowing their progeny I am certain that once the bait starts going in Elba will do a sixty in the not to distant future. You read it here first!
Then next September we will return to Nappy's and once again take up the 'Hunt for Triad'.
See you next year :-)