In December a friend mentioned he wasn’t able to go on his already booked French fishing holiday and said I should go instead. I didn’t need much arm twisting and off to Cretelakes, near Fismes in France I went.
In the run up to the trip I was like a child in a sweetshop, spending vast sums of money on all the latest tackle, bait and useless gadgets almost all of which I didn’t need but such was the prospect of landing some serious French whales I just couldn’t resist. As the weeks drew closer I must have written up to a thousand lists and packed my clothes bag twenty times.
The day finally arrived and my car was packed, not knowing I wouldn’t actually make it to the train! So, after missing the train and my holiday starting off as a bit of a disaster. I crawled back to London panicking about not being in the draw and possibly being in a non productive swim when I finally did get there.
After sorting the car out and getting back on the road I was itching to arrive. The mobile was buzzing every five minutes with news of yet more captures and here I was still not within sight of the lakes. The drive door to door took only 4.5 hours which is further than many drives in England.
Upon arrival I had now missed three nights and up to fifteen fish in some cases. It was 4pm and I had a few hours until dinner in which to walk around the five lakes ranging from six acres to near thirty. As soon as I arrived at Lake 1 I was met with the sight of my friend, Matty playing what was to be a lovely big mid 30lb fish – great!
Daylight was fading and I needed to get set up for the night. I chose peg 33 on Lake 5 as the nearest angler was 4 pegs up and I didn’t really have time to make a more informed decision. I wasn’t totally happy with the swim but it was as good a start as any. I erected my umbrella and threw my kit underneath it while I went off for dinner. Les the fishery manager doubles up as head chef and always made more than enough food for even the largest of male carnivores.
I returned to my bombsite of a temporary home and crashed out for the night straight away. An uneventful and cold night followed and, after nearly 12 hours sleep I arose to a beautiful sun drenched morning.
After my full English I decided to take another walk around the lakes. I turned the corner of Lake 1 and saw a lovely secluded swim with a small bay to the left and a long tree line extending out in front of the swim with open water to the right. This swim had my name all over it and the Baliffs were more than happy to move me round.
As I hadn’t properly unpacked the move was fairly painless and before I knew it I was in my new home for the next two nights. I put up my bivvy and emptied around 3 kilos of mixed size activate and sticky baits bloodworm boilies into a bucket. The margins would receive a regular trickle of boilies and I would create a large baited area in open water. With most anglers already committing large piles of bait using bait boats I decided to go against the grain and use my throwing stick to create a good spread of bait that would appear more natural than a concentrated area of bait. My chosen approach also meant I could place baits at different depths along anywhere along my area. I would also cast my baits despite having a bait boat with me.
After a few casts with the marker I found that there were mostly depths of 6-10 feet in the open water and 5-8 feet in the margins. I had spoken to all the other anglers and it seemed that most of the bites where coming in 7-8 foot of water so this was where I would start. I walked up and down the tree line throwing a few handfuls of bait up and down trying to get a nice food signal going through the water. I would rest the margin spot in the bay to the left of me as I felt this would be a productive spot if I allowed the fish to get confident in the area.
It was after lunch before I had all 3 rods placed on the spots and I sat back feeling happy and relaxed in my new swim. An hour or so later a mid 20 common launched itself out in the middle of the bay I had decided to rest. I couldn’t ignore this blatant sign and moved a rig onto the spot with a chopped down Cell boilie tipped with half a 10 mm pineapple pop up.
After 20 minutes the rod tip hooped round and I was doing battle with what felt like a nice fish. The fight was unspectacular with the fish barely scrapping. It felt as if it hadn’t really woken up yet and the leaches on its side suggested as much. The fish was a long muscular mirror that swung the needle to just over 27lbs. I was off the mark and felt confident I was in the right spot. As I walked round for dinner I again trickle bait up the tree lined margin hoping for the fish to get some confidence while I rested the swim for an hour or two.
The evening of day 2 began to cool down quickly and I was keen to get the rods out for the night. I cast the open water rod out and on first cast I hit the clip and felt a satisfying donk as the lead hit the 7.5 foot depth at the end of a sand bar. I fired another half kilo of boilies around the spot and set about casting my second rod to the tree lined margin and my third into the bay to my left.
The liners started fairly shortly after and I added some back leads to stop the fish spooking knowing that I had no major snags to contend with the lakes having been expertly de snagged over winter. The liners continued and I knew fish were moving down into the bay but were most likely mid water at this point. I couldn’t sleep as I was expecting a take any minute. Eventually the land of nod took hold and I awoke to my right hand buzzer begging for attention. I was on the rod quickly and can only describe the next 20 mins as incredible as I was towed round the lake by a very angry, heavy feeling Carp. This was the greatest fight I had ever experienced and I was glad when the fish was enveloped safely in the net. This fish had truly woken up after its winter slumber and gave me the fight of my life. At 1oz under 38lbs the brute of a mirror felt underweight and certainly I believe it would be 40+ at the right time of year. Upon speaking with Les he explained that there were 5 x 50’s in Lake 1 and numerous 40’s and literally tons of 30’s. The fish were growing at a rate of 3-6lbs a year and many were commons. What more can you want! Lake 1 is believed to be the hardest of the 5 lakes.
Happy now that I had netted my first 30 of the trip I went off to breakfast with a spring in my step. Once I’d calmed down I felt very surprised the rod in the bay had not produced given the activity the previous evening. My hook points were sharp, the leads were heavy and the fish were definitely accepted my bait.
After breakfast I again baited my margins and tree line and as I stealthily crept along the tree lined margin I noticed two fish milling about just ten or so feet closer to my swim than where I had my rig placed overnight. Heart thumping I quietly crept back to my peg and quickly cast near the spot I had seen the fish. I had changed the lead from a 4oz lead to a 2.5oz lead to avoid spooking the fish more than I needed to. As I always have a few identical rigs tied with the same baits and either a small mesh bag or a little stick mix pre tied I wasted no time and knowing I had a rig presented well, with an ultra sharp hook point gave me huge confidence.
No sooner had I placed the rod on my alarm did the bobbin smack into the rod blank and I was into another hard fighting Cretelakes Carp. Not quite as spirited as my previous capture yet still enough to raise my heart rate to an uncomfortable level. The fish went 32.10 and I was again a happy man. As with every fish one is lucky enough to hook I always keep a tight line with the fish and slow but steady pressure results in the hook staying locked in place and even a barbless hook will barely move. If your rigs are working correctly there is no need to aggressively strike into a fish, simply lifting the rod and raising it high is enough to cement what should already be a good hook hold. I see many anglers running to hit a rod and then strike it like their life depends on it, unsurprisingly they often then just reel in a rig that with no fish attached. Carp have relatively soft mouths in the grand scheme of things and hooks do pull out on the take if too much pressure is applied. Having the correct weight of lead and a sharp quick turning hook will hook even the hardest mouthed gravel pit Carp. Personally I never really go below a 2.5 ounce lead and prefer to go heavier. If there is deep silt I will lengthen my rig by 6-8 inches, but on a hard, relatively clear bottom a 5-7 inch rig with a heavy lead is the order of the day for me. If I feel like everything is plugged in the silt on the drop then I will simply recast till I’m happy.
So having been at Cretelakes for around 36 hours I was on three fish with another day, night and full day in front of me. The rest of the afternoon was spent trickling small amounts of bait on the spots and watching the water for signs of fish. In the bay to my left there were fish on the surface but they weren’t getting their heads down preferring to laze in the beautiful March sun. The temperature was around 20 degrees and they were loving this early spring heat having slowly woken up from a good rest.
The afternoon passed by and if I am honest I was happy just enjoying lying in the sun much like the Carp. In early evening I once again dropped a few handfuls of boilies up the margin at various points. Upon my return the temperature was up a little on the previous night and I got myself organised. Rods out I lay back watching the water and slowly drifted off to sleep. At around 1.30am I was sat up straight to my middle rod belting off along the tree line. I latched into the fish and again it felt nice and heavy. The Greys Prodigy SX 3lb TC Rod helped steer the fish away from the tree line with ease and slowly the fish begun to tire. The fight under the rod tip was fraught and the fish made a few breaks before it lay sulking in the bottom of my net. With it being the middle of the night I decided against waking up my neighbors’ especially as they hadn’t caught a lot of fish that week and opted to do some self takes. You can see a bleary eyed me holding a leathery 34lb Mirror, but please forgive the camera work! The rest of the night passed without incident and I awoke to a lovely sunny morning with the mist rising up off the lake.
After a good breakfast and a catch up with the guys I returned to my peg and having had my rods ready to go I wasted no time in placing my rigs carefully. Liners followed and an hour or so later the left hand rod fished deeper into the bay was away. A spirited fight resulted in a 26.08lb Mirror that, obviously knowing it was my final day, raised it’s dorsal for the shots and generally behaved very well. No more action followed during the afternoon and as I slowly packed up I reflected on what was a really enjoyable few days. So I hadn’t been there for the week I was meant to be and only managed three nights and four days but what a pleasure it was to be at Cretelakes.
Having fished at St Cassien a few times it was a totally different experience at Crete being able to charge the phone and have all the creature comforts within a stones throw. Getting fed excellent food each day meant the whole experience was relaxing and it really felt like a holiday. I recommend anyone who wants to go fishing in France but is unsure of what to expect, have a look at Cretelakes as you simply can’t go wrong. The fish are very catchable and Les, Mick and the other bailiffs are just great guys always helping you and never too tired to not be interested in what you need. All I know is the following Monday I booked a return trip for September this year and I can’t wait! I was unlucky in the size of my fish but others landed fish to 56lbs and plenty of 40lb fish came out during the week.
Many French venues seem to advocate huge baiting strategies therefore it is always worth taking upwards of 15kgs of boilies but don’t be surprised if you don’t use them all. In order to effectively use your time and resources a little and often strategy seems to work best and then you can fine tune your approach to you chosen swim. If you’ve lots of open water a bit more bait will likely be needed to hold the fish up, if you have snags and margins trickling bait in will be the best approach. Fish the way you do in England and do what you’re confident in doing. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we are told works and what in reality actually works. For example, I like using small hook baits as, despite Carp having large mouths they are feeding on micro organisms rather than 24mm boilies for most of their lives so in my mind it’s unnatural to throw a 20mm boilie at them and expect them to take that before the free offerings. This is not to say the bigger baits won’t be taken as they often are but it doesn’t suit my style of fishing and I really believe doing what works week in week out at home will work wherever you go as if you are catching on that method you will be very accomplished at presenting correctly.
Don’t forget these lakes are hammered all year and the fish will have seen everything so don’t be afraid of being different especially if the ‘going approach’ isn’t working. Good luck to everyone and enjoy your French fishing holiday.
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