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Back In The Day

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Following a successful trip to Lac Desire during July 2009, it didn’t take too long before we were discussing plans for 2010 to spend a week at Andy & Marie’s premier big-carp water Lac Des Lesmont. Whilst Desire was primarily a runs water & social venue, Lesmont was going to be a completely different proposition. Reports suggested that this was not an easy water & there was a very real prospect of spending a full week without receiving a single bite. With this in mind, I made my preparations early ensuring nothing was left to chance. Ben adopted the role of organiser & after seeking permission again from my very understanding wife; I paid my deposit to Ben in readiness for our trip planned for mid-July, 2010.


The lake is situated in close proximity to Lac Desire, in the Champagne region of France & is very mature with plenty of tree's and bushes surrounding it. The fifteen acres of water is a fantastic blue colour during the height of summer, with depths of up to 24ft in places, the lake bed is of a sand / gravel consistency with lots of interesting features. The Carp stock consists of three to four hundred fish that have grown in excess of 50lbs & another ton of thirties have been added since, with the lake now holding fifty different forties & fifteen different fifties including mirror's up to 64lb 12oz, common's up to 61lb 2oz, and grass carp weighing up to 45lb, along with catfish weighing up to 100lb!

My first job was to sort out bait requirements. Fortunately, with Ben’s close association with established bait company Five Star Baits, we had been helping test out a new bait during the 2009 / 2010 season at our home water, Oakwood that was looking every bit a winning formula. We’d played around with the original mix, choosing to drop the peach & black pepper food label for a more subtle chocolate type flavour & by adding a critical ingredient to reduce the bitterness of the bait, we had both got lots of confidence in it. Although at the time, we’d failed to bank any of the cagey Oakwood residents on it, I’d managed to sneak a few fish out of my local canal that showed a liking for it along with a few of Bob Brown’s field testers that had had some very good results using it too. So after placing my order, twenty kilos of ‘APF’ were being lovingly rolled in readiness for the trip.


I’d spent the rest of my time making sure that the mistakes that I’d made at Desire the year before weren’t repeated this time around… Simple things like carrying a proper food set & a tub of ant powder (my bivvy became a home to a colony of red ants at Desire) were the first things put into my carryall. My SS3000’s were loaded up with fresh 16lb GLT Pro Clear mono & I made certain I’d got a plentiful supply of leads, leaders, hooks & terminal tackle for my week ahead. Although I am a huge fan of leadcore, its use is banned on all the Carpe d’Or lakes so after spending a lot of time & effort looking for a suitable replacement, I opted to make my own fluorocarbon leaders using 30lb FOX Illusion. These I’d used to good effect before, so I had every confidence in them. New batteries were installed in my Delkims & receiver & I’d painstakingly tied up lots of hinged stiff link rigs in preparation!


Before we knew it, Ben, Chris, Rich & myself had seen in the start of the regular season at Oakwood & just four weeks later, we were all ready to go. On Friday 16th July, Ben arrived at my house at around midday & he had managed to loan a VW Transporter van from his place of work & this made life considerably easier than being restricted to an estate car. It didn’t take us long to load the ‘bus’ up & after giving the wife a hug & a goodbye kiss, we paid Ben’s dad a quick visit before nipping into McDonalds for a quick bite-to-eat. With full bellies we made our way down the M6, then Eastwards on the A14 to Felixstowe to meet up with Wayne Kobielusz – a mate of Ben’s. After his lovely wife Liz has served us up a wonderful lasagne supper & kept our glasses topped up, we eventually continued our journey to Dover to meet up with the rest of our group – Andy Harris, Tom Court, Chris Naylor & Rich Kane, before boarding the 2:00am ferry to Dunkerque.

The Lads - Chris, Tom, Andy, Wayne, Me (Neil), Ben & Rich

On arrival in France, Ben & I changed shifts driving & on leaving the port we began the arduous 250-mile plus journey to the lake. Although I was really tired after spending a night without sleep, I managed to do around 100 miles of the trip while Ben got some rest before it was time to swap over again for Ben to complete the last 150 miles of the journey. It was around 11:00am when we arrived at the fishery & Ben soon dragged his ‘brew kit’ from the back of the van to make a much-needed hot drink… what happened next was quite unbelievable – the valve on one of the front tyres exploded leaving us with a flat tyre on the side of the road. Having completed over six-hundred miles in the van, that could have gone at any time & left us in a bit of a state! Ben quickly got straight to work switching it for the spare wheel & we planned to get it sorted during the week.

We were greeted by the bailiff (Carl) who quickly explained to us that the fishing had been particularly difficult during the previous weeks, & sent us on our way around the lake before doing the draw for swims. Having done some minor research before the trip, I knew that swim No.4 had the best form by far, but had made my mind up that after that, I would like to go in either swims 2 or 3, followed by 5, 6 & 7. As it happened, I got the first draw so I had no other option than to go for swim 4 & although I was pleased about getting the option to go in which ever swim I fancied, that choice was technically taken out of my hands by getting the first draw. Ben went in swim 2, Wayne in 3, Rich opted for swim 5, Tom went in swim 6, Andy in swim 7 & Chris went for swim 9. Once Carl had introduced himself properly, he gave us a quick ‘brush-up’ on the rules, gave us a little bit of advice on how the lake had been fishing & sent us on our way to continue setting up. Once Ben had dropped Wayne’s & my gear off at our relevant swims, I got my bivvy up straight away as there were enough signs to suggest that rain might be on its way. I also ‘dosed’ the area with ant powder having been made aware of the problem earlier & I positioned my rods on stage stands on the boards directly in front of the swim.

The swim itself looked very ‘carpy’, being a small bay that received the bulk of any southerly winds. There was a small bush about twenty yards to the right of the swim where in five feet of water, a sandy / gravel bar sloped away to around eight foot in depth until it met a fine layer of weed. The far bank tree line looked most inviting, & was at about fifty yards range. Once I’d had a few casts I realised that the average depth was around thirteen feet in that area & after getting the marker setup snagged on a few occasions, I soon realised that extracting fish from the swim was going to be far from easy. I located a soft silty area some twenty yards or so off the tree line that seemed the perfect place to position a rig & once I’d made my mind up to fish all three rods to this area I went for a trip around the lake to visit the other lads, as I was in no real hurry to get fishing – after all this was a holiday! Throughout the day, the carp put on a great show leaping & ‘boshing’ out all over the lake & Tom even managed to hook & lose a big ‘grassie’ at the net during the afternoon. Being too tired to fish, I decided to get my head down for a couple of hours before casting out & it was around 7:00pm when I set up three hinged stiff links, about eight inches in length, with three ounce leads & 30lb fluorocarbon leaders & cast them into position. I didn’t want to just blindly fill it in with lots of bait – especially because there were plenty of fish in the area anyway, so I opted to feed just two kilos of freebies - & enjoyed my first night by the lakeside with a chicken curry & a couple of cans of ‘liquid lifesaver’. Before I knew it was time to get into the bag & after barely an hours sleep, I awoke at 1:00am to carp crashing all over the bay… it sounded as if it was raining cannonballs! Unable to contain my excitement & although I was extremely tired I just had to get up & watch the show. As the darkness within the bay made it difficult to see the fish & pinpoint exactly where they were showing most, I was sure that the bulk of the shows were at close range, & a large proportion were just off the edge of the bush to the right of the swim. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep again when sometime around 4:00am a one-noter from my middle Delkim had me scrambling out of the bivvy. Once I’d lifted the rod, I felt a couple of kicks from the fish before everything locked up solid… one – nil to the carp. In the morning, it transpired that Wayne had also lost a fish to a snag during the night, so following the first night, three fish had been hooked, but all had been lost. As the day progressed, the sun rose higher & higher in the sky until the heat was almost unbearable. We spent most of the day watching the carp underneath the snag trees in front of swim No.4.  It seemed almost crazy to be standing literally feet away from commons, mirrors & grass carp that were up to & over fifty pounds just cruising about below our feet! Later that day, a big common – over forty pounds in weight, turned up in a bad way under the trees (the extreme heat almost certainly a factor in its demise) & the lads moved it to the shade of the lodge swim in order to try & save it. After standing in the water with it for over an hour, it finally passed away in Ben’s arms, which was a sad moment. Once the heat had subsided in the late afternoon, everyone’s thoughts turned back to fishing & we all departed back to our swims to make preparations for the night ahead. The usual pattern would see the fish showing down the far end of the lake around dusk, then any activity would slowly become more pronounced towards the other end, around the early swims in the early hours of the morning. After the bulk of the shows during the previous night were at close range, just off the bush to the right of the swim, I opted to fish all three rods in this area & spread around three kilos of bait over the spot. Right on cue, the ‘boshing’ begun again at around 1:00am & I knew they were right on the spot. The take came at 2:30am & again it hammered off at speed, ripping line from a tight clutch & when I reached the rod, I lifted it to feel a savage kick, then everything fell slack. Gutted, I reeled in to find the leader had disintegrated & was almost certainly cut-off on the gravel. Nothing else happened during the night & the activity had all but ceased by dawn. During the night, news had reached me that both Chris & Tom had lost fish due to hook-pulls & Rich had banked his first fish, a mirror of 19lb. Whilst I sat back to enjoy my early morning caffeine fix, Wayne banked his first fish of the trip & I reeled in my rods to witness the capture of his 26lb mirror. Whilst Wayne, Chris, Ben & I were sitting in the lodge swim following the capture, Rich received a blazing run on one of his rods on the opposite bank.


As we watched, I was becoming increasingly convinced that it was a big fish, so I grabbed the video camera & headed round to see the drama unfold. At one point, the fish came close to the surface off a weedbed in the margin & it looked huge – certainly bigger than any other carp I’d ever seen in the water! I explained to Rich that it was a real ‘chunk’ & that he should take his time & make sure that he didn’t lose it! One at a time, the lads appeared to see what all the fuss was about & Carl also came down to check on proceedings. When it rolled into the net, Carl suggested we look for a large scale at the wrist of the tale – he knew exactly which fish it was… With the photo session done in the early morning sun, Rich did well to hoist up his magnificent prize for us all to see – the fish known as ‘the Fat Controller’ weighed in at 58lb 12oz & was an absolutely awesome sight for us all.


The lads appeared to see what all the fuss was about...

Once Rich had returned the leviathan, we all congratulated him & slowly drifted of to our swim to leave Rich alone to reflect on his moment of glory & we were all really made-up for him! Just as the day before had been, the sun blazed down on the lake rendering any notion of fishing almost pointless & the lads spent the day drifting from swim to swim engaging in carpy chat & enjoying a few beers in the sun. In the evening, the usual bait bombardment begun & I repositioned two rods to the left of the swim where there had been fish showing in one particular spot for the previous two days. The marker revealed this spot to be the front edge of a gravel bar that sloped down from nine to thirteen feet deep at around forty five yards range. Again, both rigs were 8” hinged stiff rigs with three-ounce leads tied onto a large rig ring on the fluorocarbon leader so that the lead could break away in the event of it snagging. Two kilos of Five Star Baits ‘APF’ were liberally catapulted over the area to give a decent spread of bait & the right rod was cast to the base of the sandy / gravel spot where I’d hooked & lost the fish the previous night. At 11:00pm Wayne filled his swim in with several large groundbait balls, & just as I was thinking what a great tactic that could turn out to be, less then half an hour later he banked a 39lb 10oz mirror off that very spot – good angling!


What a great tactic that could turn out to be...

The activity that had materialised the two previous nights had ground to a halt & it was a very quiet night in my part of the lake. At 3:00am my left hand Delkim signalled a single bleep & I looked out at the rod to see the hanger locked against the rod butt & the tip bent right over towards the lead. As soon as I lifted the rod, it was almost wrenched from my grasp as whatever I’d hooked simply had no intention of allowing me to gain any ground on it. Each time I felt I was beginning to gain line, it would just power off in the opposite direction, stripping line from the clutch & after around fifteen minutes, I was convinced I was into a catfish as it was just far too powerful to have been a carp. I peered down at my watch again – it was 3:30am - I’d had this fish on for half an hour & it wasn’t even close. I’d got the rod virtually doubled-over & was giving the 16lb Pro-Clear mono & the size five Stiff-Rigger all the pressure that I dared, until eventually I felt the sickening grating sensation as I began to drag the fish from the back of the bar. After a few seconds, everything went slack & I was sure the hook had pulled. When I eventually retrieved the rig, the leader was heavily scored & it turned out that the amnesia boom section had been ‘destroyed’ on the gravel – I felt sick. Three fish hooked & three fish lost. I woke in the morning & reeled in my remaining two rods to see what events had unfolded during the night. Andy had lost a fish off the far bank snag, Tom had landed his first fish of the trip at 26lb, Rich had banked a 32lb common & a 27lb 12oz grass carp & Chris had moved into swim No.10 after seeing a lot of fish show in ‘stalkers corner’. The daytime became even hotter than the two previous days & with temperatures peaking at 36°C again, not much fishing was done during the daytime. With no takes forthcoming during the night, I awoke to grey skies & the rain arrived sometime around 8:00am. Ben had landed his first fish of the trip at 29lb & Andy had lost his second fish off the far bank bush during the night. I spent much of the day playing around with leaders, lead clips & rigs in order to enable me to fish towards the trees & snags in front of my swim. At 3:45pm as Ben & Carl were standing in my swim, my right Delkim bleeped once & we watched the line fall slack. As soon as I lifted the rod everything was solid & Carl commented that I was almost certainly fishing beyond the snag & the fish had simply picked up the rig & swam straight into it…four – nil to the carp. Eventually the rain relented at around 9:00pm & Wayne banked a 30lb 12oz mirror around 11:00pm followed by a 32lb mirror somewhere around 1:00am. Andy was having just as bad a time as I was, losing his third & fourth fish off the far bank feature. I decided to change my rigs to 10” coated hooklinks, std pop-up rigs with two ounce swivel leads mounted on a lead clip with a 30lb fluorocarbon leader – simple but tough & reliable, & my next take came at 2:30am where after making ground to get to the rod quickly in the pouring rain, the hook pulled just a few seconds into the fight. At this point, with five fish hooked & all five lost, I really was fed up. I woke the following morning at around 6:00am & decided to recast the rod that I’d lost the fish on earlier that night, then I’d planned to go back to bed. Around fifteen minutes after casting the rod back out, the middle Delkim bleeped once & I looked up to see the tip bending round steadily. I was on it in a flash & after the lead had instantly discharged, I soon had the fish in the margins which turned out to be a small common of 17lb. Against my better judgement, I decided that I might as well get a couple of trophy shots as I figured it could well turn out to be my only fish of the trip! Once the fish was returned, I tied on a fresh rig & after critically balancing the pop-up in the margin, I recast the rig back out to the same spot. Barely ten minutes later, the middle rod repeated the procedure as before – a single bleep followed by the tip hammering over & holding firm. Again I was on it in a flash & the fish was soon up on the surface after the lead had again discharged on the take. Tom quickly arrived to net the fish & after a few pictures, a weight of 41lb 8oz was recorded – a new PB!


A weight of 41lb 8oz was recorded - a new PB!

Whilst I had been playing the big mirror, I noticed Ben had also been in action, & this turned out to be a mid-twenty mirror that he released back to the water without photographing. The remainder of the day was very quiet, with nothing being caught & we all reeled our rods in & made our way round to Ben’s swim at 6:00pm to celebrate Rich’s twenty-seventh birthday with a cup of champagne! The night again proved to be somewhat uneventful, with only a few liners to speak of. Chris had lost two fish during the night, but had managed to bank a 33lb 12oz mirror. Ben also managed to bank a mid twenty common & Tom had chosen to relocate to swim No.11 (stalkers corner), after seeing lots of activity in there during the previous evening. Whilst round in Wayne’s swim, sometime around 10:15am, he had a fast take on his left hand rod that turned out to be ‘two-toned’ fish known as ‘Baby Ronnie’ & weighed in at 29lb 14oz.


He had a fast take on his left hand rod...

The only other take during that day was when Rich hooked his final fish of the trip – another grass carp at 28lb. With the day drawing to a close & with the imminent arrival of the final night of our trip, I sat in my swim staring at the rods questioning what I was doing… Here I was on the final night of my ‘holiday’, why was I sitting alone in my swim where nothing had happened for over thirty-six hours & all signs of activity in my part of the lake had literally ground to a halt? With that, I clipped up all three of my rods, reeled them in & went round to spend the evening with Ben & Wayne. After a few beers, we had a laugh & reflected on our weeks fishing before I made my way back to my swim to recast my rods & get an early night in preparation for the long day ahead. My alarm unceremoniously woke me from my slumber at 7:00am & following a much needed brew & a bacon, egg & mushroom ‘breakfast stick’ delivered to my swim from Carl’s wife Hayley, I begun to pack my gear away in readiness to vacate the lake for 10:00am. Ben managed to land a pretty mid-twenty mirror during the early morning & after we said our goodbye’s to Carl & Hayley, we made our way to the local town to repair the van tyre & pick up a few supplies for the journey from the ‘Super Marché’ before making our way back to the return ferry to Dover at Dunkerque.


In reflection, a good week was had by all & there was some great fish caught – in particular Rich’s capture of the ‘Fat Controller’. Ultimately, the fishing was far from easy & each capture had to be worked hard for. I definitely learned a few lessons in my own approach… I’ve never really been a fan of lead-clip arrangements & I thought I’d have the fish queuing up by employing hinged stiff rigs. The main problem was that the lead would not always discharge from the helicopter rig & the amnesia boom section of the hinged stiff rig would simply not withstand the abrasiveness of the gravel features. By employing cut-down lead-clips, strong fluorocarbon leaders, a tough coated hooklink & a big reliable hook, I managed to land two out of my last three takes. Certainly, I’d overcomplicated the situation when in hindsight a simple, structured approach was all that was required. I also felt that the use of washed-out baits was a serious edge. After a couple of days, many of the lads were commenting that there were fish showing over their baited areas from the previous day. Ben was quick to observe this & suggested we tried washing-out our baits before feeding them & this was without doubt a very useful tactic, along with Wayne’s groundbait & pellet approach. 

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