This is one of my all-time favourite commercial lakes, the Secret Garden lake near Limoges. This is luxury fishing of the finest kind and as such it is much in demand.
However, the choice is wide as there are a lot of pay lakes across the pond, many being owned by Brits. The good ones will survive, the bad ones will go to the wall. Chose carefully and be guided by the opinions of others. The carp fishing forums are a good place to start. The very best of these lakes are booked up a year or more in advance; don't be put off! These lakes are well worth waiting for. Lakes such as The Secret Garden are currently booked well into the year 2023 so if you are the patient sort, get booked in as soon as possible.
When you set out to catch carp from across the pond you should first decided what you are after. Are you targeting known big fish in a ‘circuit’ water, or are you simply fishing for whatever is there? Or perhaps you are a pioneer, fishing a lake that may never have been fished before. Whatever your pleasure each approach demands a different baiting technique, as one that is suitable for one type of fishing may be totally unsuitable for another.
I have neither the time nor the patience to go chasing target fish. I have never done so in the UK and my attitude is the same when I fish abroad. My whole approach to carping is to catch fish, as many as possibly, and if a big one comes along, all well and good. Nor do I deliberately set out to catch the biggest fish in a lake. Again, life’s too short! If it happens to come my way that’s great, but it isn’t something I plan on. You may find this attitude strange; after all, we all like to catch big fish, don’t we? Yes, of course we do, and I am no different, but when I go fishing I simply want to catch fish; as many as possible! This has a bearing on how I bait up and it may well differ from how others do it. I have always liked trying new waters and facing new challenges.
The way you apply bait depends on a number of factors not least the type of water you are fishing. Whatever takes your fancy you may need to approach each one with a different baiting strategy.
Commercial venues can be found all over the continent and they come in all shapes and sizes and can range from two or three acres to vast inland seas of a thousand or more. However, the latter are in the minority and most commercial venues vary between five and thirty-five acres in size. This photo is of Lake Elba, part of the Le Queroy complex. It is about six acres in size and is full of features including bars, gullies, pads and stalking areas.
I have fished quite a few small private lakes in France. For many years I fished a small lake called Maleon, a gravel pit near Epernay in eastern France, where I caught the lake's biggest resident - a sheer fluke, I assure you. I was also lucky to catch the biggie from Angel Lake, this chubby fifty pound plus beauty.
More recently I have been visiting the gorgeous Secret Garden, where my missus regularly outshines me in the carp catching stakes. She caught this 52lb common in 2019.
I have also been a regular visitor to Le Queroy where I was lucky to catch the big mirror called Triad, at a PB weight of 65lb 8oz shown here. Look at the size of her shoulders!
None of these lakes is bigger than about six acres, but that does not mean they are easy; far from it! On a slightly bigger scale I should mention the Chateau Lake. My association with the Lac de la Poiteviniere (the lakes real name) goes back to 1995. No matter how big the venue is there are always a few general rules that you should follow.
Rule number one: When you arrive at your chosen venue you should always remember that you may be following someone into the swim. The smaller the venue the more likely this will be the case. Never assume that nobody has fished your chosen swim before you arrived, 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 virtually 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 that I am certain they are visiting the swim in good numbers, I tend to bait up quite heavily usually using compacted balls of SuperRed groundbait laced with 12-15mm boilies. If you feed them, they will come!
Let me just give you an example of how Rule 1 can affect your chances. I recall arriving at the Chateau Lake a few years back lake with a bunch of friends. We did a draw for our swims and I drew a very good one. The conditions were ideal with a strong wind blowing the length of the lake towards me. Yet despite everything apparently looking favourable, I did not have a run for the first three days.
Then a local angler told me that the previous occupant had put in a hell of a lot of bait, but hadn’t had a single carp. I decided that to put in still more bait on top of the previous occupant’s would be a waste of time so I just fished hookbaits and stringers for the next four days. I caught steadily from the word go but I used only 2kg of bait the whole week!
Rule number two: And don't forget to watch the water at every opportunity.
Rule number three: Get local advice and listen to other more experienced anglers who may have fished the venue much more often than you. Best source of advice will always be the owners of the lake. This is Dan and Jodie (plus kids), owners of the Le Query complex my first port of call when looking for the most up to date advice. They know what has been caught and from where, as well as how much bait has been going into which swims.
On many lakes you will almost certainly find that there is one particular bait that dominates a lake to such an extent that it is hard to get a take on anything else. If you find yourself in such a situation then you’d be silly to use anything other than the established bait. 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.
There are lots of mass baits that will bring results and top of my list is crushed hempseed. I like to fish boiled baits over the top of a tight carpet of bait so these this bait is perfect as far as I am concerned. Pellets and groundbait are also worth taking and a big caret of crushed hempseed, and pellets bound together in a groundbaits will bring rewards on most lakes.
Hemp seed can be a bit of a bugger to prepare at the lakeside but here is one method that may help you out. I expect you all know that you can use a Thermos flask to prepare a small amount of hemp overnight, but have you tried using a freezer box? You’ll need 5kg of Hempseed, a medium size freezer box with a well-designed tight fitting lid, and plenty of boiling water.
• Empty the dry seed into the freezer box.
• Now fill a kettle (the larger the better) with lake water and bring to the boil.
• Once the water is boiling pour it over the hempseed. Stir briefly the pot on the lid of the freezer box and seal it.
• Boil more kettles of water until the water just covers the hempseed.
• Allow the hempseed to stand in the freezer box overnight.
• In the morning the hempseed will be cooked to perfection and the water should still be hot to the touch.
• You can either bait up direct from the freezer box, leaving the seed to continue to steep in the liquor, or you can drain off the liquor and use it as a dampening agent for groundbaits.
Never assume that the fishing is going to be easy! Remember that most of the best lakes are often fished 12 months of the year and the pressure they receive is often very intense. Bait application is important so think before you act. On the various commercial venues that I have fished my tactics don't differ much from one to another. I tend to use more bait on bigger lakes and possibly spread it out a bit more, but generally speaking I follow the same pattern wherever I am fishing.
So let’s assume that you have just arrived at a lake and have set up in a swim that you know had someone in it prior to your arrival. You are faced with three choices:
1. Try to establish your own bait as quickly as possible.
2. Bait up lightly with the established bait.
3. Fish single high attract hookbaits, perhaps with a PVA bag or stringer attached.
This last option leaves the door open for an increase in the amount of bait you introduce if circumstances so dictate.
Invariably I choose number the this last option when I first arrive on a small commercial venue. Why? Well for one thing it is the cautious option. If you fill the lake in with your own bait 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, that may be one 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, hopefully on the end of your line!
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 and loose its flavour after a few days and these washed out baits may well arouse less suspicion that newly introduced ones. The smaller the venue, the greater the prospect of over-baiting becomes. I can remember arriving at le Queroy one year to be told by the Dan that my favourite swim had fished really badly the previous week. Though he could not be certain, he thought this was due to the over zealous baiting campaign undertaken by the previous week’s anglers. The weather had not been ideal, very hot, calm and oppressive with hardly a breath of wind. Clearly the fish were not going to be charging around all over the place searching for massive carpets of bait. However, despite the owner’s advice the six anglers who had preceded me decided to fill the place in with pellet, particles and boilies. The lake fished really badly as a result and my swim had been one of the poorest of them all.
Le Queroy is a well-stocked lake but there are times when the carp simply switch off completely if they are bombarded with an excess of bait. In time, however, the bait goes soft and breaks down, the crayfish and small fry eat some of it and the carp eat the rest. You are left with a clean sheet and can start to build the swim up again. On this occasion I caught just three carp in the first two days, all on single high attract hookbaits. Then on the third day I caught three fish in quick succession and straight away I knew that the carp were starting to look for a bit more food. I started to trickle the bait in with two to three kilos of boilies a day. Gradually the action increased until by the time I had to leave I was catching half a dozen fish a day, one was this much-prized koi of 26lb.
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, so 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 take a leaf out of my book.
I place a self-imposed restriction on myself by only taking a small amount of bait into the boat with me. A handful of boilies can often be ample. If you are baiting up with mass bait such as hemp don’t take a bucketful in the boat when you set off from the swim. A widespread yet sparse carpet of seeds can often work better than a dense one. Remember, Hutchy is quoted as saying that when baiting with hemp seed he preferred to use a couple of kilos of bait spread out over an area the size of a tennis court. Make up your mind how much bait 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!
In this photo it is clear to see that the carp have arrived in numbers, as I am baiting up with loads of bait, quite the opposite of the advice given above!
Here's the proof!