Sunday, 16 August 2015

If at first you don't succeed...

On my birthday I like to go fishing with my wife. The only problem with this is that, my birthday being in February, she invariably ends up cold and wet and not enjoying the experience. This year she suggested instead of pike fishing on the Stour in February, why not do a few days carping in France in August. I had never fished in France as an adult, though remember catching some variety of small catfish on a float fished worm in the Sein on holiday as a nipper.
So I set about finding the right venue - it had to provide the opportunity to catch something special without being a runs water. Equally, I didn't want to rock up at the French equivalent of Fordwich which following last years relative success, seems to be beating me once more. It was also important that the venue had some facilities to make the stay more comfortable for my wife who I knew was going above and beyond by volunteering to rough it for a few days on the bank.
Lake 2 at Le Val Dore was recommended by a mate and seemed to fulfil all of these criteria. The only potential downside was having to book swims in advance and not being able to decide where you are going to fish on arrival.
In the weeks running up to the trip I kept a fearful eye on social media which consistently reported that the lake was not fishing well and that peg 9 where I was set to fish was not exactly a hotspot!
Furthermore, on arrival I read inscriptions previous anglers had left on the pegs wooded bin lid - some reporting catches but most were quite derogatory and used some very vibrant language to emphasise their sentiments! If I was going to catch here I was sure to face some challenges and have to learn the lake quickly as with only 4 days to fish, time was not on my side.


On arrival at the lake I set about feature finding with the marker rod. I had been told there was a gravel bar coming out from an opposite peg at about 75 yards. After a couple of chucks revealing only deep troughs of silt I reduced the radius and found a very thin strip of clear gravel at 60 yards at a depth of 6.5ft descending to lows of 8ft either side.
The recommendation of the lake's bailiff, as well as others who fish there regularly, was to use small hookbaits, preferably particals, and size 6 or 8 hooks. I had no doubt that I could catch on a boilie approach provided I didn't over feed them, so offered no whole boilies in my loose feed but presented my bait over a bed of boilie crumb and a handful of 4mm pellet and sweetcorn. I decided not to take the advice about small hook baits and tied up an 18mm snowman - my attitude being 'if they are hungry, they will eat it'.  Given the potential size of the fish I could catch I used a size 6 hook, believing at the time that this would be adequate.

I'm prepared to take a bit of stick for confessing to using a boat to position my left and right hand rods under overhanging trees, but casting to the edge of the tree line would still result in being a couple of rod lengths from the margin, which drops off very quickly. If I were to fish these spots at all, delivering the rig by boat was the only option. I've never used a boat in my fishing before and would normally frown upon it but I considered this an exception. Not to mention that I was one of only a couple of anglers who cast a single line 'manually' the whole time I was there!

At 3am I had a run on my middle rod. I lifted into it and felt the fish as the line tightened up. I was expecting it to take line as the clutch was not tight but before I knew what was going on the fish had gone. I was far from discouraged however - it was my first night and I had already found a feeding spot though I was baffled about why the fish came off.

DAY 2 

It would've been easier to use a pod but worth going with
single sticks when locked up to snags.
The next afternoon I decided to have another exploratory session with the marker rod. I found depths of 9ft at 80 yards out to the left with a silty bottom which I decided to fish a zig over with my left hand rod. I also found a continuation of the gravel strip at 50 yards which raised to 5 foot so I duly repositioned my middle rod to this spot and, now knowing that this was on a feeding patrol route, put a bit more of a spread of bait across the area with the spomb. Once again, at 3am came a bite, this time on the right hand rod which was still presenting a single bright pink popup over a bed of boilie crumb. I picked up the rod as the alarm was screaming but felt no response from the culprit on the other end. At 3:20am the middle alarm started jittering which suggested to me that the fish was using the weight of the lead to shake the hook. Sure enough, it was all over before I reacted. 3:35am and the left hand rod fishing the zig screamed off. Once more, I picked up but there was no connection. 
It felt great to have had so much action in the swim - three different approaches on three far removed locations but why had they not resulted in a decent connection? I was now halfway through my trip and starting to worry I might be going home empty handed. 

DAY 3 

I was up early, watching the water whilst my head whirred trying to figure out what I was doing wrong when two lads who work at the club house came round to chat. They laughed when I told them I was using 3oz leads and 8" links and recommended I stepped up the weight and cut down the link to really nail the fish! 
On my way back from the tackle shop later that morning with a hefty supply of 4oz leads I had a chat with the guys on the opposite peg to me. They had had some success on particles but were using much bigger hooks. Although one of them had returned a 40lber to the water that morning, he was disappointed that he wasn't getting more bites and quizzed me about what I was doing to get so much action, having heard all three of my alarms going in such quick succession. Whilst flattered, I felt a bit out of place passing on advice and felt quite stupid admitting to having now let four opportunities to bank a carp slip through my fingers. 
At 1:20am, my right hand rod in the tree line with a single popup now above a size 4 hook gave me a very positive take. I picked up the rod and finally connected with what felt like a very angry fish determined to take me into the snags. It was a true 'hit and hold' situation. I managed to steer it away from danger fairly rapidly but whilst playing it in open water only a few yards in front of me it simply came off leaving me totally bewildered. 
The middle rod also experienced a several short-lived series of bite-alarm blips at regular enough intervals to make it impossible for me to get any sleep but each time not sustained enough for me to feel confident about striking. 
Having had no attention on the zig rig I decided that for the final night I would return a bottom bait to the left hand tree line where I had heard fish 'boshing' and most likely enjoying the freebies I had continued to trickle into this spot to build their confidence in feeding here. 

The rest of the night passed with no bites and no sleep. Questions and anxieties racing through my mind.


'VF' - the bait that did the business
It was clear that even with the stepped-up tackle I wasn't getting good hook holds. I didn't have time to fine-tune rigs through a process of trial and error - this was my last day and last night. I sharpened each of my hooks to an extreme point and decided that striking a little harder couldn't do any harm either! The day passed quick enough and at 11pm, the left hand rod in tree line received a proper take. I picked up and hit it hard. As per the right hand rod the night before, this fish powered into the trees. I heard branches snapping as I applied side-strain to steer the fish away from danger. After a hairy moment, I got the fish clear of the snags and back out in open water. The dorsal broke the surface just in front of me as I held my breath in anticipation of catching a first glimpse of my capture. Surely now a netting was inevitable? Of course not! Without any indication or additional struggle, the fish suddenly swam free and my line went slack. 

It is impossible to articulate my emotions at this stage. Distraught. Broken. There isn't a word which encapsulates the juxtaposition of being tantalisingly close to success and then so painfully denied. 

Insomnia ensued in silence until 5am when that trusty strip of gravel where my middle rod was positioned came up with the goods once more. As the alarm sang I struck hard and stepped back. Holding the rod tip high I felt the fish pulling back so I loosened the clutch and let it take line whilst maintaining a gentle pressure, safe in the knowledge that, aside from the bar and oyster beds on the bottom, there were no major snags within at least 100 yards. It took line for some time before slowing and as soon as I reclaimed any, it took twice as much again! Knowing full-well that this was most probably my last chance of any success in this session I became aware of a mild tremble setting into my arms. I called to wake my wife and asked her to help net the fish as I could not afford to be complacent about anything. Eventually the fish tired and I brought it to the net where it obliged with the traditional last bid for freedom before finally submitting. After releasing a primal 'whoop' I lifted the fish from the water and was surprised by how heavy it felt given how it had appeared in the water. As I placed it on the mat I could see that this was bigger than anything I had caught before and whilst I know it is a mere baby compared to other fish in this lake, I was overjoyed to have my first fish over the magic 30 mark at 31lb 6oz!!!! 

I think the things I got right from the outset were to find good spots and not overfeed them. 'Fishing for a bite' was certainly a winning tactic especially given I had no way of knowing how much bait had been put in by the previous occupant of the swim. I learnt that bigger, sharper hooks and a firm hand initially help acquire a better hook hold but perhaps some of my losses were due to bullying them too much, though I'm not sure what else I could have done so close to snags.
If only I could start again with this experience behind me, perhaps I could capitalise on a few of those opportunities I missed. That said, I do feel proud that I persevered through one of the steepest learning curves I've faced so far and reaped some rewards.

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