Old School French Days
The late Alan Taylor was one of the first to wet a line in the now ultra famous Lac du Der/Chantecoq. Here's his account of what it was really like pioneering that inland sea.
I first started fishing in France in the 80’s. My first ever visit being to the famous Lac Cassien. This was a mammoth journey, often with the time taken on the ferry and an 800-mile trip the other side, sometimes taking a day at times and with an overnight stop for a bit of shuteye, a day and a half. Although the weather was great and the fishing fantastic this far south, short trips of a few days were out of the question. Most of my overseas fishing inthose days was done with Joe Taylor from the famous J&K Tackle shop in Bicester. Now any of you that know Joe will know how much he hates being away from the shop. Ha! Ha! And with myself working in the factory at the time, we seldom found time for a trip. Ha! Ha! But probably once a month for four or five days. Obviously with the close season in full swing over here, April to May was always a good time to get away. June, July, August, Sept etc., were also good. We had begun to fish within four to six hours of Calais, which meant that these short trips could often be fitted in. We started to fish the River Seine and Yonne, but the problems with these huge river systems was that due to the weather, fishing them at times was impossible so we then turned our attention to the lakes. We had run into a really nice French geezer who had put us on to some excellent lakes that had or were being fed by the River Seine or Yonne, doing fish to over 30kg, big fish this far north was an unexpected result. We actually fished the swim the record carp at the time came from – Mr. Rivere’s 80lb carp, killed and took home to feed his cats.
During this period, someone came into Joe’s shop and mentioned to him that on their way back from holiday they had called into a massive “inland sea”, as they described it, and had seen a carp jump while they were standing by a derelict church. We looked the place up on a map and at 14,000-acres and about 50 miles circumference it certainly seemed an impressive bit of water, and worth a look.Our first trip was planned for a short weekend – Thursday to Monday sort of thing, so a sicky was thrown at work, Joe was torn from his empire and the van was loaded. The lake was easy enough to find, as it was sign-posted all down the auto route, we soon found ourselves stood at the famous church peering over the huge expanse of water. The water level was very high at the time; we didn’t realise how much importance the water level had on the fishing or more so, the conditions you fished in. High water meant few swims where available, low water meant lots of swims, but in the horrendous mud that was the lakebed a few days before. We spent the rest of the day driving round the lake to find access to the water often driving from village to village, and losing sight of the lake completely for 20 minutes. At the time, the lake was absolutely huge, the dam wall with peche interdit, ran for about a quarter of its circumference. There seemed to be very little access to the place and the high water level making all the bank space un-fishable, most of it ending in flooded fields or high into the surrounding trees.
KICK OFF TIME!
Where to start? We pulled into a little shop with a tiny fishing tackle section that sold permits. The little old French lady in the shop didn’t speak any English and we spoke hardly any French. All we could get out of her was that we needed to talk to her son Jackie, he dealt with the fishing side, but he didn’t seem to be about. Eventually he showed up, but didn’t speak anymore English than his mum, however, he was a fisherman, and what a find he turned out to be.
We initially had a problem buying permits, as he had never sold one to anybody ever before to fish for carp. Pole fishing on the bank with one rod, spinning from the bank for pike and zander, or boat fishing for the same, no problem. Eventually he understood we wanted to carp fish from the bank. He explained to us that using a boat that was not registered for fishing, was a no-no, and night fishing, which was illegal throughout France – another serious no-no. He then got some maps of the lake out and explained to us how it was previously three villages that were demolished, and then the land was flooded to make a reservoir that supplied water to Paris.
We bought a few bottles of his homemade wine, and he told us he could sort us out with maize. He was a very nice, kind guy whom we became friendly with over our many trips that followed. He told us that there was a small island that we could wade to in front of the Dam at the top of his road that maybe worth a try, but he had not heard of anyone ever carp fishing the lake, although a few had been caught or hooked by pike/zander anglers, of which there were many.
We drove to the top of the road and sure enough, peering over the dam wall, we could see a clump of reeds were growing out of the lake, and several miles away across the lake we could just make out the church steeple. At this point we weren’t quite sure what we had let ourselves in for. Jackie had tried to explain to us what had been stocked, lots of small carp at regular intervals over the years gone by, but how many would need to be in 14,000-acres to catch one, crossed our minds. But this is how we got started on Lac du Der/Chantecoq.
We tried not to attract attention to ourselves, and always tried to keep a low profile. Once it was light, we used to hide all our bedchairs and bedding, so it didn’t look like we had been there overnight and keep our swim and kit as tidy as possible, with the boat hidden in the surrounding vegetation. People often looked at us as if we were from outer space: the English accents, and rods and buzzers, which they had never seen before. Often beachcombers or dog walkers would come across the rods, stop and have a play. If the buzzers went they would be startled or intrigued so either jump or begin to play with them.
The only anglers they were used to seeing fishing from the bank were usually thrashing the water to a foam with a spinner. The pike boat anglers, of which their were hundreds, were absolutely intrigued with a marker, if we used a float or poly ball, they would row miles or motor over to pick it up and pinch it. It was best to say nothing as we were often hiding – and an old bottle or something similar was used instead. Again, the pikies thought it was some kind of trap and no amount of shouting would stop them pulling at it once they found a weight on the other end. You could see them getting excited until they pulled a stone into their boat.
Tight lines/high rod tips which were required to keep the lines out of the snags were often a pain as the “Frenchies” would come close into the bank in their boats and motor through our lines as we were often “hidden away”. Often, if they saw us catch a big carp, they were amazed by it. We had one on the mat once sorting out the scales, one of us holding it down to stop it flapping. Pierre comes along and thinks we are trying to despatch it (kill it), he jumped in and shows us how he would do it by putting his hands behind its gills and ripping its head off. His face when we photographed and returned it – with him shouting, “Monja! Monja!” – (food food) was a picture.
Nothing much got returned out there. Pike, roach, bream and even poission chat making an appetizing snack washed down with a nice bottle of vino. You could tell the best pike angler in the village by how many pike heads he had nailed to his shed wall, but often they would just stand and stare at us like we were from out of space. The mask used to move ‘em on sharpish!
PRATLEY. MARSH PRATLEY. 008!
One particular night we were fishing from the island in front of the dam. The water was dropping, so we could get on to the island by foot, but obviously if we could get there on foot so could the Guarde De Peche or gendarmes.
Anyway, as darkness fell, the four of us that were fishing had a plan, it was for three of us to fish and one to sit on the dam wall and keep watch. Marsh Pratley from Orchid Lake was in first watch. Now Marsh used to be a bit of a James Bond, but the navy version, they say never judge a book by its cover, although you have to with porn mags as they are wrapped in plastic. I digress.
The first time I saw Marsh (008) in action this trip was as we unloaded the boat. It was a matter of carrying it up the dam and down the other side, which comprised large rocks piled high. This was very awkward, even to walk down on your own, so carrying a bit of kit, one foot wrong on the slippery rocks could easy result in a broken bone or two. The boat was usually all hands together job, difficult enough up the steep side – let alone down the steep side. Joe was sorting out his armoury of rods and I was picking out a few bits for my first trip to the island. Marsh tossed the boat on to his back, ran up the steps, paused momentarily at the top and ran down the other side. Our jaws dropped in amazement.
So keeping watch shouldn’t have been any problem for Pratley – Marsh Pratley – 008. The plan was quite simple: one flash on his torch, people on the way. Two flashes it’s trouble: gendarme/guard. We thought we had been spotted during the day, as one of the many boats on the water had continually passed in front of the island, showing a lot of interest in what we were up to. There was only one way of detracting their attention, that was to apply our MASKS. Anyway, 008 was sitting on the wall, Joe, Burtus and myself were fishing away when Joe says Marsh is flashing once, twice and then the torch was on continually.
Panic stations ensued, Burtus was first to his rods. He picked up his rod pod, buzzers, indicators and all three rods together and launched them into the lake. That was all right for him, he was a millionaire (truthfully). By now I was in full panic mode, snatching my rods from their rests and launching them in to the reeds behind me along with my banksticks and buzzers. Joe was his normal laid back self and began to wind in some of his armoury of rods (when Joe was fishing, there weren’t many rods left in the shop). By now the torch is getting closer and coming towards us, but I could only make out one figure – 008.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Oh! Nothing, it was a couple of lovers out for a stroll,” said 008.
“What’s happening with you?” he asks.
“What’s ****ing happening,” I said, “What’s happening?”
“We ain’t got any rods left, that’s what’s happening!” I exclaimed.
We weren’t so impressed with 008 now. I had to wait till morning to hunt for my gear, Burtus was up to his waist in water trying to retrieve his from 14,000-acres and Joe just recast.
It was always risky using the boat, but at times necessary. We used it for baiting up on dark and for snagged fish; the lakebed being covered in old tree stumps left over from the woodlands that were cleared before the flooding. Obviously some areas were a lot worse than others, but with a bit of patience and working out which way your line had gone under the snag (by pushing your rod right under the water and pulling at the correct angle), not many fish were lost with two of us in the boat.
We soon became quite proficient. A sounder in the boat going over the snag also soon told you how big the snag was and often the fish could be picked up indicating it was still on. I also put together a long unhooking pole that came in sections, a bit like drain rods, a coat hook type attachment was added. This was fed down the line until the snag was reached, then pulling the line, which had generally only run under a branch from the snag. A bit Heath Robinson, but it worked.
The lake was fantastic and for almost a year we had it to ourselves. People got to hear about some of the fantastic catches we were having, and did their utmost to find out where we were fishing. One of the lads who came on a trip with us had his flat turned over while he was away on holiday – looking for his permit!
We had a couple of Dutch guys watch us for three days once. The Germans were the worst, although they wouldn’t risk night fishing, their reserving of swims by putting towels on their bedchairs was a joke.
By the time we made the videos about the place, ‘Ton up Lac de Der’, and ‘Lac de Der The Facts’, the lake was getting very busy, but we certainly had a great time on the place, and although the fish were young and still growing, in one 12 month period, I had well over 100 carp over 30lb, 30 over 30lb in one trip alone! The place was absolutely tremendous.
TRIP DOWN TO JACKIE’S...
On one trip down to Jackie’s after a particular hectic session, as often they were, we had run out of hookbaits/boilies completely, so I volunteered to make up some hookbaits. I went down to get the eggs, but he only had these huge ones on the shelf. He explained they were organic eggs with a chuckle.
Anyway, by the time I had got back from the shop it was almost dark. A hectic night was had, and the next day was red hot. The eggs had been left in the full sun and when I went to use them for bait making, I couldn’t believe my eyes!