In pursuit of ‘le plus grand’

Gearing up for your next French PB carp…

We all have our reasons for ‘crossing the pond’.

For some it’s all about the ‘R&R’: first and foremost, a holiday; a break from the mundane; a precious chance to chill in the enchanting French countryside; either in blissful solitude or in a luxurious gite with family and friends.

Others take to the channel in search of an all-too-rare bend in the rod: to blow away the cobwebs of a gruelling UK season with an epic haul of 20-, 30- and maybe even 40-pound carp, from one of the country’s more prolific ‘runs waters’.

Augustin is a 17 acre French lake holding many 50 and 60lb carp.

Others still target real big fish waters; fully expecting to work hard for their results – maybe even risking a week-long blank – in the hope of returning with something rather special for their Facebook feed.

To each their own. Do the potential rewards of big fish angling justify the all-too-real possibility of a fruitless trip?  Only you can answer that one.

But if you do decide to target your first 60- or even 70lber – on one of the trickier French venues – there are a few little tips and tricks you can employ to stack the odds in your favour.

And one really big one: choosing the right venue.

Lest we forget, the old adage: if they ain’t in front of you, you can’t catch them.

Fortunately, Angling Lines offers a whole host of options for big-carp hunters – making a great place to start your search.

Here, you’ll find more than 20 lakes offering you the best possible chance of a whacker.

Villefond for example offers carp to over 76lb, plus ‘consolation prize’ 50s and 60s.

It’s no pushover. The residents of this mature eight-acre venue will test your angling acumen to the max. But carp are carp, wherever they swim. So get your location, baiting and presentation right, and you’ve every chance of nailing the fish of your dreams at Villefond.

Many big-carp lakes contain crayfish; so meshed baits are advised…

Also a firm favourite with hardcore specimen hunters,  the 15-acre Laroussi gravel pit boasts a truly mouth-watering stock of fish, including fully-scaleds, ghosties and linears to mid-70s. Not to mention grass carp to 50lbs+; and cats to 100lb+. 

So, whatever your interest – be it pounds and ounces, or proper old characters – Laroussi’s got you covered.

(For the record, Laroussi’s owner, Mehdi Daho, has subsequently opened a second lake, Old Oaks, with 50’s gracing the banks seemingly each week.)

Stocking levels aside, your chosen venue should also reflect your preferred style of fishing, and your angling strengths. So if, for example, you’re neither a big caster nor terribly confident in a boat, the larger gravel pits may not be the right choice for you.

Rather, you may prefer one of the trickier, more intimate pools, where stalking tactics account for the real gems.

If taking to the water is not your thing,  a Smartcast or Deeper – and/or a remote-controlled boat, where such things are allowed – offer a fast track to fish location.

Whatever you decide, accepting that ‘an hour in the right place is worth a week in the wrong’, a little desk research now could save you hours lapping the bank; and/or ensure you make an informed choice, if your swim has to be pre-booked.

Carp are creatures of habit; so looking back at previous catch results – speaking to the owners, bailiffs, the Angling Lines team and previous visitors to the lake (via the forums, and other social media) will help you pin down areas on which to concentrate at given times of year. 

Similarly, if you have a specific ‘target’ fish in mind, it would pay you to look into its past captures; the areas of the lake it favours, and the bait and approaches that have proven successful.

Big French gravel pits like Laroussi can offer big rewards.

But be prepared for all your prior planning to go out the window, if conditions dictate…

If there’s a south-westerly wind blowing (or forecast), you’ll certainly want to factor this into your thinking – possibly graduating to the northeast corner of the lake, which will bear the brunt of a big, warm wind.

On the other hand, if the majority of anglers are congregated in a particular area, you might consider heading for the other end of the lake: to get away from the inevitable disturbance and go about your business in as stealthy a manner as possible.

Wherever your instinct, watercraft and research lead you, having committed to an area – for the first day or two at least – you’ll want to  get your tactics straight, and your baits in the water, in short order. So waste no time either in launching the boat; or casting around with a lead or sonar – locating likely ‘spots’ to position your hook baits.

Investigate different depths, distances and features – silty gulleys, gravel bars, weed beds, snags and so on; eyes permanently peeled for ‘signs’ of showing, maybe even feeding, fish.

That done, and spots sorted, experiment with different bait options – bottom baits, wafters, pop ups, snowman presentations and (often overlooked, and thus a pronounced edge) natural baits too; including – if ‘nuisance’ fish permit – maggots, mussels, worms, corn and the like.

This is not the time to ‘fill it in’: apart from anything else, you can’t know how much bait the previous occupant of the swim has deposited on the lakebed.

So kick proceedings off with singles, stringers and/or small mesh bags: get a feel for the mood of the carp; remain alert to liners and other signs. Then if you catch right away, start introducing a little bait – and build from there.

Bait choice is critical when targeting wily carp; do your homework to determine what’s working.

If there’s a ‘lake boilie’ – which is fed regularly by the anglers and owners (and thus may be deemed a ‘natural’ food source by the carp) – it makes sense to try this on at least one rod.

Bear in mind though that many of these French venues are home to sometimes prodigious numbers of crayfish; and these voracious creatures love boilies too – so hardened, meshed and even artificial hookbaits should all have a place in your armoury.

Of course, if you do have crayfish feeding in your swim, chances are the carp won’t be far behind.

But the last thing you want to do is spend hours locating those dinner plate ‘spots within spots’, baiting up, watching carp crash and boil with gusto – then winding in a bare hook the following morning.

The lakes are rich in snails, shrimps and other naturals; so selecting a bait that mirrors the carp’s normal diet can be a real advantage…

As the session draws on, you could choose to sit it out in your chosen ‘big fish swim’ – one of the pegs that has produced the big fish in the past – or, if you start to get itchy feet, you might elect to ‘play the percentages’: to track down and move on to showing fish, resolving to catch whatever is in front of you; the theory being: every fish you catch will lead you a little bit closer to catching the one(s) you really want. Statistically speaking.

In this scenario you will probably decide to ‘give ‘em some’ – which is fine. Just bear in mind, the bigger, wilier fish will, often, hold back; leaving their smaller brethren to act as cannon fodder, hoovering-up your bait whilst they forage cautiously around the edges.

With this in mind, a bait cast a short distance from the main baited area can often account for the larger specimens. And in the meantime, there’s no better confidence booster than banking fish – validating the effectiveness of your rigs and baits.

A  boat with sonar and electric outboard can be invaluable, both for feature finding and baiting up.

Confidence is key, when targeting big carp.

Inevitably, the temptation, after a few blank days, is to chop and change. Do this only with good reason; and even then only incrementally tweaking, rather than fundamentally altering, your approach and presentation.

All of which leads us to the final piece of the jigsaw: rigs.

And the inevitable question: what constitutes a big fish rig?

The answer, in my humble opinion, is: there’s really no such thing.

Rather, a dependable, tangle-free presentation – utilising a strong, sharp hook – is all that’s really needed to get the job done.

Put the right bait in the right place – in the carp’s natural larder (where they feel most confident getting their heads down) – and you’re in with the best possible shout of achieving your goal: nailing that coveted French PB; and maybe bagging a few bonus ‘special ones’ for the album.

Your best next step to your French PB:

Check out the Angling Lines website, where you’ll find a definitive list of proven big carp waters, together with detailed venue descriptions, pics,  maps, and independent reviews from previous visitors.

Steve Calder


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