The exclusive story of Craig Runham's amazing French session

Craig Runham has had a great winter and spring on his UK waters but an amazing wild lake in France, that’s been occupying his overseas fishing time in recent seasons, was somewhere he just had to visit again. Here’s how the Reading-based angler got on in his latest search for some very special French carp…

The Great Lake at sunset

An incredible start to the trip - a 55lb mirror

This year’s French trip was to be a return to a lake that I held close to my heart, a lake that contains many special carp! Many of the fish have large plated armoury and are simply amazing to look at. The lake by no means is easy and at over 70 acres, gin clear and full of weed, it certainly is not for the faint hearted.

There is something very special about the Great Lake that grabs every visiting angler. It's as if the lake puts a hold on them, dragging them back time and time again! It certainly has a hold on me and keeps dragging me back every year. This year I had organised a party of eight friends to book the lake exclusively for the week. We had chosen the end of May for our week and hoped we would be judging the spawning and the weather right.

The time flew by since booking in the September and before we knew it we were driving along the dusty road that leads to the immense Great Lake. Our first view across the windswept pit was something special. I was like a kid at Christmas as I jumped out of the driving seat and strolled to the waters edge. Instantly I noticed the clarity - the water was tap clear and I could make out the Canadian pond weed growing high, reaching for the sun lit surface.

It was a glorious sunny afternoon as we took a stroll around the pit for the first time in what seemed like an age. We decided to team up in pairs for the week. This was for a few reasons, to be honest. One of the main reasons was the use of boats and the fact that it is a lot easier and safer with the use of two people. If anything was to happen, it’s always good to have someone there to help.

I was teamed up with a good friend Andrew smith for the week and we were both eager to get started. After a lap of the pit we had decided on an area we nicknamed The Swamp. The name was given for obvious reasons. After a lap, the four pairs met up for the draw, luckily Smithy drew second and we called out our first choice swim. We were both ecstatic with the draw and hoped we had picked the right swim.

had fished the swim in the past and had seen the area the fish enjoyed to spend there time showing and feeding. I had even managed a capture of a very nice 40lb-plus mirror, my first ever capture from the Great Lake four years previously. After what seemed like an age we set about going out into the boat to find spots. With the use of some good quality polarised lenses it was easy to make out every strand of week through the gin clear water. After dropping out the three H blocks onto some very likely looking areas the rods were then lowered down onto the sand covered clear areas in the weed.

All three rods were to be fished at ranges between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty yards. Over the top of the rigs was a mixture of hemp, corn, maize and chopped Mainline Cell. Rigs were kept simple with six inch Hybrid Stiff gravel coated hook links. Size six Wide Gape Xs were tied blow back-style with fishy fishy Fake Food dumbbells. I was using large 5oz flat pear leads on Hybrid lead clips dropping the lead on the take felt a necessity due to the weedy nature of the lake. Lead core is banned so I added four blobs of dark matter patty along the line to pin everything down.

It didn't take long to have the rods all out and into position. Smithy used identical rigs to myself, fishing out to a series of raised areas to our left. By the time the rods were finished the light was fading very quickly and it was time to retire to our beds for a well-earned sleep.

I fell asleep instantly and was woken up by one of the rods ripping off at an alarming rate despite the tight clutch. The right rod was bent and ready for my attention. I plucked the bent carbon from the rests and was instantly met with a heavy weight and a grating sensation. The fish then decided to go on a thirty yard run and lock up in weed. I knew the weed was not horrendous in the area so applied steady pressure and lead the heavyweight towards the bank.

Around forty yards out the fish picked up my left hand rod. I could tell by this point that this was not a small fish. The fish stayed deep the entire fight, going on slow but powerful runs after what must have been fifteen minutes it surfaced for the first time, bobbing up like a cork on the surface in the faded light. I could make out a big framed mirror and from Smithys position in his waders scooped up my prize first attempt.

We both peered into the net at one of the biggest and most stunning carp we had both ever seen laying in between the folds of the net. I knew this was without doubt the biggest fish I had ever caught. Smithy stayed with the fish in the net whilst I readied all the weigh gear. The hook hold on inspection was incredibly good with the size six Wide Gape X buried a good inch back in the lower mouth.

Up on the scales the fish registered a mind blowing 55lb. I was lost for words and couldn't believe my luck and on the first night too. My first ever fish over 50lb laying in the sling - an unbelievable feeling, that's for sure! A quick call to the lads opposite, Simon North and Mike Patrick, to come round and help with the photos. It’s a lot easier dealing and caring for big carp with more hands.

As the camera clicked away a big smile came across my face - catching a fish from this lake means a lot to me. They are old and extremely respected by many. The following day I managed to stalk a 32lb mirror from the gin clear margins, which was certainly a adrenalin rush.

The next two nights passed by without any action and I knew it was time to move. We reeled in the rods at 10am and walked the pit, hoping to see signs of their whereabouts. One corner of the pit hadn't been pressured since we all arrived - no boats had been out there. This is where I expected to find them sheltered from the pressure.

We both stood in the swim saying about how cold the wind felt, when out at a range of 160 yards a big old black head popped out through the white capped waves. That was enough for me and we were soon packing the gear out of the swamp and into the new corner swim. To be fair, although the wind was cold, it felt quite nice to be in a dry swim with more space to move.

Smithy and I tossed a coin for sides of the swim with him winning, he chose left which offered a island to fish, leaving me some open water and a shallow tree line. Once again the boat became invaluable as the wind was so strong. Gladly I had taken my engine with me making searching spots out much easier. After much searching I found that there were very little clean gravel areas but more silt and sandy spots.

I decided that a change of rigs on all four rods. I decided to go with a stiff hinge rig as I know I could present this on a weedy or silty bottom. I decided on a Dark Matter boom section to lay over the weed and silt. Size 6 Choddy hooks on three inch Mouth Trap sections completed the new rig change. Hook baits also needed to be changed so I chose a selection of Mark Dean’s Kodapops cork ball Cell pop-ups. I chose the cork balls as I needed a reliable pop up that would be consistent in buoyancy if left in the water for up to seventy two hours. I still chose to stick with the hybrid lead clips and heavy leads as the wind and tow was so strong.

At around 8pm the move was made worthwhile with me slipping the net under a 37lb stunning, near fully-scaled mirror for Smithy. A truly stunning fish and the first fish for Smithy in two trips to the Great Lake. Well done mate.

It wasn't until the following evening it was my turn - a stunning scaly 34lb linear rested in the folds after a awesome boat battle due to the fish weeding me up instantly. The choice of rigs seeming a good choice as the hook holds on both fish were extremely good. The next take resulted in a 34lb half linear. Again I was made up with the capture and felt that it was hopefully a matter of time before one of the better fish showed up.

Time was ticking and with just two nights left, I felt confident that one or two fish would be forthcoming yet! The rods were redone for the last forty eight hours. A check of all the spots with an Aqua Scope revealed that the fish had got away with it on two of Smithys spots. These were his particle spots, both had been turned over with nothing but his rigs left. A change of tactic again was on the cards for the last two nights, changing his last two rods to a hinge stiff rig as they had been so successful since the change. With only two nights left we were hoping we still had the chance of a few more fish turning up.

The next morning, around nine am, Smithy’s left hand rod pulled up tight resulting in a long boat battle and a lovely 44lb mirror in the net – his first ever forty pounder. A special moment and one he will never forget, I'm sure! What a trip we were having, that's for sure.
The day flew past as we headed into the last night of the trip for some reason I just knew something was going to happen. The evening had an electric feeling to it. Something had to happen we were so confident as we retired to our beds for the last sleep of the trip.

Sometime in the early hours my left rod signalled a steady take with line pouring from the spool. I picked up the rod and was soon forced to the boat as the fish locked up in the weed once more. Eventually, after getting above the fish, it rose through the illuminated crystal clear margins. A upper twenty was seen twisting and turning beneath the boat. My heart dropped as the fish felt so much heavier from the bank. The fish was soon beaten and laid in the folded net on its journey back to the bank.

Just as we finished weighing the 28lb mirror the middle rod was away. I left Smithy to place the fish in the water whilst I grabbed the alarming rod! Straight away the fish felt heavier but after making back thirty yards of line everything came to a halt as the fish found sanctuary in one of the many weed beds. Once again we drifted off out into the darkness in the boat to hopefully recover my prize!

Once located I trusted the 15lb Touchdown mono and wound down to the solid weeded up fish. After a few heads shakes the fish was once more moving. I could tell I was connected to a better fish from the off. The fish was so powerful and managed to tow the boat over one hundred yards from were I had hooked it. Eventually the fish began tiring and a deep-framed fish with large scales perfectly placed on its flanks raised from the bottom looking to be certainly over the forty pound mark.

The fish had no intensions of giving up yet and a further five minutes were spent getting pulled along by the mirror. It was simply amazing the power of this fish. Eventually the fish slowed and I slipped the net under a beautiful scaly Great Lake stunner. Once on the bank we got to admire a simply stunning mirror all 42lb of perfection. This is why we returned to the Great Lake, for fish like this.

It wasn't over yet we slipped the mirror into a sling to recover the moment the fish was safely in the confines of the deep margins, Smithy’s right rod pulled up tight and out of the clip. He was actually stood beside the rod when it went so simply leant over a grabbed the rod. Once again we were soon out into the boat as the fish had him weeded up yet again. This time it was as if it was stuck on a snag no amount of pulling was freeing the fish.

We couldn't see the fish so I decided to hand line it up to see if I could apply more safe pressure. After a few pulls I felt something give then a rather angry looking carp glided out of the weed bed. Without further problems a nice wide upper thirty looked back up at us from the confines of the net.

What a night we were having it was due to get light very soon, so after weighing the fish at 38lb we decide to slip the tired-out fish into the recovery sling. We both had a beer or two to celebrate the successful trip we were having. We sat watching the sunrise before returning to the slings to recover our prizes for the photos. Somehow Smithy’s fish had escaped from the sling with the zip busted on one side. He was totally gutted, of course.

Glad to say my fish was still in the sling and looked incredible in the early morning light!
That was the last of the action for the trip with ten fish in total for the two of us, myself with seven and Smithy with three. What a week and what a place.

Thanks to Pascale Briallart for the hospitality and being a great host, as always.

The trip got off to a great start for Smithy

An amazing 42lb mirror for Craig