Darran Goulder strikes gold on a trip to a special French lake…

As soon as the words “road trip” were mentioned by my good friend Paul, it wasn’t long before we were tapping up our contacts in Europe, looking for a slice of heaven across the channel to spend some time fishing for his birthday.

It was my first carping trip overseas, often choosing to use what time I did have spare to try and achieve something closer to home, but this was going to be an adventure and well earned holiday too – we couldn’t wait.

We exhausted all our intel from our friends in foreign climates… but being late notice, a lot of the lakes were already well booked up in advance, or didn’t quite tick all the boxes. Well, until Steve found an absolute gem of a lake in France, that is - big, crystal clear and weedy with a stock of fish to almost rival some of the prized Oxfordshire strain I’ve often longed for. Fullys, lins and plated, these fish were on another level, and massive too!

With tackle loaded to the gunnels, we set off to catch an early morning crossing. Operation Stack was in full swing, a good section of the M20 closed, but we managed to board the shuttle with mere minutes to spare. With clear roads on the other side, we got to our destination late morning – but boy was it hot!

Upon setting foot on the venue, it was everything we had wished for and more. The lake is fairly large at around 70 acres of mature, tall tree-lined beauty hosting an array of points and islands, its sub-surface structure was very weedy. A bit of an algae bloom didn’t make the visibilty as clear as we’d hoped but it didn’t dampen our spirits.

There were already two Dutch and two English anglers fishing, so we had a scout about to find our bearings and a swim to settle for the night, in a bid to hopefully find the fish at first light the following morning. By the time we’d done a lap with no sun cream or fluids in 40-degree heat, it was time to find some much-needed shade!

We found some fish patrolling around a shallow point - with our polaroids donned we could make out a couple of hefty mirrors in amongst quite a few grassies. All three of us spread along the area, fishing naked chods into light weed along their patrol route. Two rods out each with minimum disturbance, we then sat back away from the water’s edge, dived into the cooler for a ice cold beer, and with the BBQ lit it was time to sit back for the first time that day and soak it all in.

As we assembled our nets we thought that the first fish of the holiday was imminent, but as we watched the sun rise the following morning it told a different story. Onto plan B pretty sharpish, we wrapped up, loaded the vehicles and made our way to the opposite corner, whereby I picked the longer straw and chose the corner swim, Paul and Steve settled a few hundred yards up the bank where we had all seen fish show.

Boat work in mid 40-degree heat with no engine is hard graft, but by mid afternoon four rods were angling, two of which were fished at different ranges along the tree line in shallow water amongst clear areas in the Canadian weed.

Fallen trees festooned the margins they certainly looked old and had a story to tell, I gathered the fish must patrol along here at some point or another. The other two rods were placed in open water, one on a big sandy plateaux near an Island and the last on top of a shallower gravel bar. With the aid of a garden cane I was able to fish the firmest areas of the feature, presentation was perfect – confidence at last!

Baiting up by boat was easy in comparison, I decided to err on the side of caution so didn’t go too OTT with the quantity; 1 jar of frenzied hemp, a tin of frenzied scopex corn and a kilo of either Dynamite’s The Source or Tiger Nut Red Amo boilies in mixed sizes. A simple meshed hook bait tipped with a piece of plastic corn was the hook bait.

Given the weed and size of the fish, I used a sharpened up Wide Gape X in size 4, fished blowback-style on 20lb Hybrid Stiff. Not too dissimilar to what I’d use at home, just beefed up for the continent.

Perhaps due to the disturbance, and now bowstring lines jutting through the water, the fish backed off to safer areas around the lake, and after two days of sitting it out, Paul and Steve decided to spread out, hoping the lines elsewhere would keep the fish on the move.

It paid off for me the following morning, around 6.30am something moved the 5oz gripper sitting on the shallow bar, so it was straight into the boat reeling frantically to see what it was. I didn’t feel anything till I got to around 15 yards from the spot, worried there was nothing on at all the whole time, until the line freed from a weedbed, and for the first time in the fight I was in contact with the fish. Game on!

I slackened the clutch a little and drifted around, following her about plodding around deep below the water. As calm as I could be, which wasn’t easy, I gained line slowly and pumped her up from the depths until a dark, wide back rose to just under the boat before one of the biggest fish I’d seen waddled into another weedbed… my legs were well and truly knocking for another 10 minutes before she was mine. She looked long, not like your typical French strain and I punched the air before rowing her back to shore.

Phone call and expletives made, Paul was soon round for photo duties, a proper beast of a carp sporting a huge mouth I could easily fit my fist into laid calmly on the mat whilst being swathed with buckets of cold water. Totally blown away, I hoisted her up with straining arms and took a few shots in and out of the lake, the blank saver was in the bag!

By now the temperatures were starting to soar, so I nipped back out to get the rod in place with the same amount of bait, spread liberally around the feature in the hope of some more action.

We said before we arrived that a fish each given the conditions and difficulty of the lake would be a big result, so whilst I was hungry for more, realistically I’d had my turn. I’d unfortunately lost one during the night in the weed, so replaced the rig on the tree line just as it was light enough to see where to drop it the next morning, and as I sat down with a coffee back at shore, the same rod as yesterday hooped over and within seconds I was already afloat again, winding my way back out on autopilot.

The line picked up off the surface with little interference from the forest of suspended weed and the eruption on the surface 100 yards away left me in no doubt that I was battling another carp. Soon enough I was slackening off the clutch again just in-case it decided to make a lunge for freedom on a short line, as I paddled around for what seemed like and age in big circles!

I could see a massive set of golden scales whilst it twisted and turned under the water and at the first attempt of her being ready for netting I scooped her up at full reach. Most definitely one we had come for, we’d seen fish like this in the albums, very scaly and a massive relief for it not to come off!

It was Steve’s turn to come and do the honours, and as we peeled back the mesh from the net there was a silence as we both admired the creature, totally in awe of its scale pattern. A true mix of coral and gold apple slice scales shimmering in the early morning sun, she was perfect.

The rest of day flew by quickly, there wasn’t much else to do aside from sip on a cold beer and pick on a selection of cheese, ham and French stick - this was the life!

Going into the last night of the trip I was confident there was another fish to be had between us, Paul and Steve were seeing plenty of fish in their area, and whilst I wasn’t seeing much in the way of actual shows they were clearly visiting my spots. Sure enough, in the early hours of the following morning, the rod positioned four days ago along the treeline, let out a series of bleeps, and the heavy bobbin danced. It was pretty windy by now, and being pitch black too, was going to be testing!

The mosquitos were attracted to my head torch, so squinting my eyes and breathing through a closed mouth I zig zagged out against the wind, admittedly putting the rod down in order to row in the right direction. Amazingly – the hook held firm and after what felt like an age I was above the fish prising it out of one weedbed to the next.

The fresh strong wind was blowing me into the marginal trees I’d been fishing up to, so one hand was used to push myself away from the skeletal branches, and the other to hold onto the rod. No sooner had I made some headway, I was back prised against the snags minus my net which has managed to fall out of the boat! This was total carnage, I could see the end of the handle poking up from the bottom, so steered my way back to get that whilst thankfully the fish then towed me out to safety in open water.

I’d been playing this fish a fair while now, and finally as it took its last few gulps of air in the moonlight, the was mirror sliding into my reacquainted net. Deep sigh of relief, I’d been well and truly beaten up by both fish and mother nature here! Grazes on arms and back, it mattered not a jot, another fish a little smaller than the others lay beaten at the side of the boat ready to be secured for a short while back at the shoreline whilst I waited for it to get light.

Pictures were done just as the sun rose, and that was the last of the action as a now a slow pack up was needed before the drive back to Calais to catch our shuttle. We hadn’t even left and I was already plotting out my plan for our return. I’m not sure why it took me so long to cross the channel but I’ve got the bug for it now!