18.11.15

Ben Hervey-Murray bags some French brutes!

Heading deep into the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, Korda’s Ben Hervey-Murray tackles a big pit with little angling history by the name of Etang 52 – what surprises lay waiting in its azure blue depths?

The unknown. Undiscovered territory. This fires my imagination more than anything else in the carp-angling world. When a rod melts off, it could be a single-figure common or a monster mirror – the feeling of mystery and excitement when the fish first shows in the crystal clear depths of waters unknown is addictive.

So when my friend Ross Denny, owner of French holiday carping venue Lac De Laneuville, mentioned that he’d taken on a brand-new lake, the contents of which are largely undiscovered, I jumped at the offer of an exploratory session.

Winding my way round the copse-lined country roads of Champagne in a tackle and bait-laden car, some four hours drive from Calais, you could tell that any lake in the region is likely to be a bit special. Lilly-strewn arms of the River Seine and glimpses of giant canals that would take a lifetime to explore fired my imagination as the sat nav counted down the miles, eventually crossing the Seine once more and driving up a short gravel road to be greeted by a stunning aqua-blue lake.

About 50 acres in size, Etang 52 is a big pit made in heaven. The even, grassy banks bely the lake’s geography – after a rod length of shallow margins, the bottom drops off into a deep gully and then forms a wealth of carpy contours, bars, humps and holes that offer an underwater paradise for the resident carp, tench, perch and zander.

A former gravel and sand quarry, Ross had recently secured the lake for angling and a few test sessions had revealed a good stock of fish – a mix of newer stockies and older originals to upper-40s - with a lot of potential.

Arriving late in the evening, I quickly found a solid plateau about 80m out from a swim on a subtle point and got the rods out along with a few kilos of whole and chopped boilies. However, arriving late meant I’d had little chance to watch the water for signs of carp in daylight and it wasn’t until the morning, when I cast to a showing fish to the far left of my area, that the recast rod burst into life.

Playing the unknown quarry in the morning sunlight, knowing I was the only angler on the lake, reminded me why I’d chosen this path for the next few days. Soon, a solid set of shoulders and a scaly back came into view, twisting and turning as the rod cushioned its attempts at escape. A solid 20lb-plus mirror with a dorsal more like a sailfish and huge, angry fins soon lay in my landing net and I was off the mark.

With a full day to work it out, I soon had the next fish in the net and as the warm afternoon melted into the evening and an amazing sunset, Ross joined me and was soon into a fish. A bucket of maize on a spot with a home made wafter hook bait fished over the top produced that fish and several more that night – simple but very effective.

The next few days were consistently busy, with several more 20s falling to my rods along with a couple of double-figure fish plus a brace of 30s. Night-time was productive and I rarely slept much before 6am, when I finally left the rods out and got some proper sleep, resting the swim in the process.

One afternoon, with Ross taking a break between building swims around the other side of the roughly oblong-shaped lake, we took the boat up the shallows – the opposite end to the one I was now catching consistently from – and found dozens of fish basking in the warm water.

Spot after spot revealed itself between small weed beds and bars, with numerous room-size plateaus dotted around the shallows. The spots that had been fed on by carp in search of the lake’s massive larder of natural food stood out like beacons in the midday sun and we both laughed at how many weeks it would take to fish them all. Pods of thick-set mirrors and long, lean commons glided off as we got too close and it was obvious that this is where the fish liked to spend their afternoons, moving into the deeper water for a serious feed as the sun went down and returning the next day when the water heated up again.

With my session on Etang 52 divided into two stints between a friend’s wedding down south, it was soon time to depart. I was looking forward to a rest – the action had been consistent throughout and my arms ached from dealing with numerous powerful fish and some incredible fights in the deep water. With a long drive ahead, it gave me a chance to reflect on the first half of my session.

Tackle-wise, I was confident I had it spot on with strong, simple rigs leading to zero loses. The 15lb Touchdown main line had taken some serious abuse but it was still intact and good for another session whilst the combination of 4oz distance leads connected to a Heli-Safe system and Durakord leaders plus 30lb Kamo links and size 4 Kontinentals was working perfectly. Every hook hold was solid.

In the weeks before, I’d spent several evenings rolling kilo after kilo of 20mm baits, using a Mainline Activ-8 base mix with a few tweaks, and the fish were straight on it. Various hook baits had scored well with homemade, off-white wafters picking up most of the fish and double or triple 20mm bottom baits accounting for the larger stamp of carp. However, the size of the fish I’d been catching bothered me. There had to be bigger in there and I knew Ross, in his exploratory sessions, had caught and seen fish that were truly ancient – the kings and queens of the lake.

Fishing over large quantities of the bait was producing the numbers of fish but maybe that was the problem – the older, more wary fish just didn’t seem to want to be part of these packs of hungry mirrors. They were loners; solitary in their daily lives and probably escapees from the nearby River Seine when it flooded years ago. I decided on different tact on my return the next week.

After a boozy wedding weekend in the company of good friends I was soon on my back to Champagne with a new, subtly different plan. Single, one-bite traps with handfuls of bait and big hook baits were soon set on a bar, plateau and in a marginal drop-off. An older, big-shouldered mirror that would be comfortably over 35lb given a consistent boilie-base diet soon tripped up and I knew I was on the right track with this approach.

Two days and more chunky mirrors and commons, plus a couple of tench came my way as the last evening approached. Just before dinnertime, my right rod signalled a take and I was on it in a flash, but this one felt very different to all the other fish of the trip so far, not least because it was taking line from a near-solid clutch on the rest. I’d manage to bully all the others away from the marker I was using but this powered off, way beyond it, and I took to the boat to follow it into the middle of the abyss.

I was soon on top of the fish in 20ft of water but it stayed deep and towed me around like a dog on a lead for a few minutes before a long, dark back appeared and a massive tail flopped on the surface. The wily old fish torpedoed back out of sight again.

A few minutes more and now 250m from shore, the game was up and one of the longest carp I’ve ever caught was in the net. It was no giant in the general scheme of things but it was obviously an old, wild creature with a slender, spawned-out frame - beautifully scaled and so different to the younger fish that had dominated previously.

As I slowly made my way back to shore, I had that great feeling when a plan comes together and you can just savour the moment. Clear, blue skies and a stunning big pit all to myself with a fantastic looking carp alongside me – all my efforts in rolling all my own bait, driving hundreds of miles solo, angling hard and getting very little sleep were justified.

The only negative part of the whole trip was getting the news that my grandfather had passed away on my second day. But having time to reflect on the passing of someone who was so significant in my family’s life in such tranquil surroundings was refreshing and I felt like he was sending me a little parting gift - this wonderful old creature sitting alongside me in my landing net. Just like him, it was a handsome old thing and full of character.

That was my penultimate fish of the trip and, driving back exhausted, I was already planning my next trip there in 2016 to find out what else resides in the depths of Etang 52.

For more information on Etang 52, which will be open for group bookings soon, search for the lake name on Facebook, go to http://lacdelaneuville.com or email ross.denny@orange.fr

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