The perfect French carp fishing holiday

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I’ll never go carp fishing in France!

By Kevin Green

“I’ll never go carp fishing in France” I once told one of my fishing mates. As a keen-as-mustard teenage carper with time to burn and almost nothing to get in the way of exploring a mass of local lakes, a jaunt across the channel seemed a needless exercise when there was so much to enjoy in Blighty. Well let me hold my hands up, in the annuls of garbage statements my pronouncement on the absurdity of French carping ranks pretty high.

Over 15 years on and with deadlines, phone calls, meetings and long hours that make up my day (and night!) job as Editor of Britain’s biggest selling angling magazine, Improve Your Coarse Fishing, the fishing trip I now MOST look forward to is my all too infrequent forays to France.

More specifically the journey that sets my pulse racing more than any other is the route from East Anglia to Etang Meunier. If I could teleport myself - Star Trek style - to a single lake in the entire world Meunier would be the place I’d head for.

Nestling in a secluded wooded valley in the Limousin region of France this lake really is my piece of heaven. Not only is the water a sanctuary far, far away from the daily craziness of my deadline driven world (which no doubt sounds familiar to many of you too), but this lake also offers a delightful and rewarding fishing challenge.

The big fish that roam its weirdly tea stained waters can be tempted in many different ways from just about all corners of the lake and you can make your holiday there as interesting or simple as the mood takes you.

Quest for Carp Crew

Kevin Green with a chestnut coloured twenty

My fascination with Meunier began in 2006 under rather more pressing circumstances than is ideal for a first visit to a lake. At the time I was filming one of my Carp Crew TV shows for the Discovery Channel and for one of the programmes I wanted to chart the adventures of two mates going on a typical holiday carp trip to France.

My long time partner for my Gallic escapades is Hull carper and Daiwa consultant Brian Skoyles, for most of the last decade we’ve teamed up each spring to spend a week by a French carp lake to blow away the winter rustiness and gear up for the summer to come. On a variety of waters we’ve enjoyed some memorable sessions but this trip was going to be unique - we were going to capture it on film forever!

As a previous visitor to Meunier Bri briefed me on the lake and had recounted tales of great sport amid superb scenery. The sheer quantity of big fish available sounded great and with the added bonus of the quiet surroundings and the facilities in the lakeside house it was the perfect location.

As anyone who has seen the show will already know the project went swimmingly. Brian had the biggest fish of the trip at almost 50lb and I’d like to think we pulled off a half-decent show that mixed the key elements of instruction, action and humour.

Certainly the response Bri and I have had since gave evidence to how many typical British carpers identified with the laid back and productive style of fishing Meunier provided us with. But just ‘doing the job’ I visited Meunier for wasn’t the thing that laid the real foundation of my love for the lake. I’ve visited countless lakes over the years and while I often have fond memories of waters that were kind enough to deliver a good magazine feature or TV show, none grabbed me in the same way as Meunier was about to.

Fishing the tree line

After the cameras departed, leaving us to enjoy the final two days of the trip, I was able to switch off and enjoy a snatched holiday. With the film ‘in the can’ I was free to explore the lake and focus my attention on the shallow end of the lake away from the main body of water where we’d been catching our fish for the show.

As the first warming rays of spring sun filtered through the trees and warmed the shallow water I noticed one, two then more carp drifting into the shallows to feel the warmth on their backs after suffering months of winters grip.

Dribbling bits of Nutrabaits Trigga Ice freezer boilies and matching pellets in the margins and placing identical hookbaits just a few yards from the bank my shallow water sortie paid off in style when I hooked a fish that appeared to take its impending capture very seriously.

Kev with a mid forty mirror

The 42-pounder I eventually coaxed into the net was and still is one of my most memorable captures due to the sheer power of the fight. It was an incredible battle. Tempting such an impressive fish so close to the bank sealed the deal on Meunier – a water that had already been burrowing under my skin was now implanted in my fishing DNA.

Unfortunately the success of the TV show did have one negative side-effect for me. Shown soon after we returned from France at a time when I was immersed in a punishing filming schedule, the viewers of the programme showed far more intelligence than me! They booked the lake solid for three years within weeks of the programme airing and by the time I got round to booking a return trip the nearest availability was April 2009.

Return to heaven

So it was that after a three year wait I finally drove across Meunier’s dam wall for my long overdue return. With Brian for company again I was pleased to see the lake looking as magnificent as I remembered it, some swim reconstruction and renovation of the lodge actually making the venue even better than it had been previously.
Rods were soon rigged up and cast out.

Early morning over the rods

If I’d written the script I’d have no doubt had the carp responding to me like long lost sheep and the following morning I would have been cradling a 50-pounder for the cameras after a sleepless night of action…well that didn’t happen!

Meunier is a proper carp lake. Yes it’s got lots of fish in it, yes they are catchable, but what I like about the place is that they don’t hurl themselves on the bank like trained seals. You have to fish for these beasts. Following one of the coldest winters of recent years in France, that had lasted until just a couple of weeks before our visit, the lake’s carp were reluctant feeders and despite seeing a few ‘shows’ we both blanked for the opening 48 hours.

After the success of our ‘Team Fishing’ approach while filming the TV show three years earlier, Brian and I had adopted similar tactics again. Baiting one central area in the main bowl of the lake we hoped to pool our resources and keep the carp concentrated over one large area of feed that we could both catch from.

Unfortunately, after two days without a knock it seemed that the fish had wised up to this, ‘Plan B’ was called for. The challenge of Meunier was becoming ever more interesting. After a thorough work through a number of options a slightly altered plan of attack was formulated. While we’d keep the faith with the joint baiting plan we also agreed to branch out round the lake to locate carp that were more willing to feed.

Principle target was a row of far bank trees we would target in daily rotation – Brian would fish there one afternoon, I’d take the next. Drawing on Bri’s extensive knowledge of the lake the decision was a masterstroke and that afternoon he banked a couple of cracking fish to get the ball rolling.

58lb 8oz personal best mirror

Day three dawned with the same signs of fish activity over our baited area as we’d seen each previous morning but once again our bite alarms stayed silent. But as anyone can see by lookong in the catch record in the lodge mornings are often ‘bite time’ at Meunier and an out-of-the-blue run at 10am saw me hook the first fish off the baited area.

After a cracking fight a 41lb common carp was eventually presented to the camera, this started a run-a-day pattern that happened for me during the remainder of the week. The highlight of these daily bites was the capture of a thumping 58lb 8oz mirror – a gargantuan fish providing me with a new personal best. With our far bank tree relay also chipping in with runs on each day we steadily accumulated a tidy haul of big fish, including several 40’s and another 50-pounder to Brian.

But the later part of the week held in store a bizarre string of strange occurrences. First I broke a rod for only the second time in over 25 years as a fisherman (don’t ask how, it was a moment of utter stupidity!!), next in the line of odd occurrences was a fish I ‘landed’ but didn’t ‘catch’. Let me explain. On this particular afternoon it was my turn to hit the tree line so at lunchtime I wound in my rods ready to take a couple of them up the lake for the afternoon. The only problem was I forgot to clip up one of the rods so that I’d be able to recast on the money when I returned for the evening session. Doh!

Quickly flicking out the rig to my pole elastic marker on the line, I duly clipped up at the right spot and started to wind in the rig again. With around 10 yards of line back on my reel and the reel handle cranking quickly, everything suddenly came to a jarring halt. I couldn’t understand it. The line pulled bow string tight and my rod locked into an unmoving arc yet I’d wound rigs past that spot dozens of times without snagging. The fact that my rig was well off the deck when it locked up added to the mystery.

After a couple of seconds looking quizzically at the bent rod I felt a brief kick then a split second later the rod was almost torn from my grasp. With the drag tightened down – after all I was only casting out to clip up – my line was grinding as it ripped from the reel. With the spool transformed into a spinning blur I tried to throw the anchors on whatever I’d been attached to. Even using Daiwa’s 16lb Infinity Duo line and a 3lb test curve rod, I couldn’t do a thing to slow the fish down, never mind stop it.

Then I remembered – THE CLIPPED UP LINE!!!! Too late. Within a second of remembering the line was clipped up it was slammed tight against the stop – it was curtains. Wrenching the rod into a frightening curve the taught line sung in the breeze, how the line held firm I simply do not know. Such was the pressure on the rod that I was slowly sliding across the gravelled platform towards the water!

Line clip gone!

There was no way I could get enough ‘give’ in the line to unclip it – then it went with a resounding BANG! followed by a quiet plop 10 yards into the lake. Surely the line had snapped…but no! As the brief slack of line was snatched up the spool spun into life again as the fish kicked in the afterburners and motored down the lake – the line had somehow held firm.

Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the line clip on my reel, it had been torn out of the spool and it was this that had plopped into the lake. But with one disaster averted another impending one took its place. With the beast still ripping line off a tight drag I could see it heading straight for a part-submerged tree some 170 yards from where I’d hooked it.

If the fish reached the branches I was done for, there was only one thing for it. Bracing myself I tucked the rod butt under my arm, clamped my hand over the spool (which burnt my fingers!) and locked up the rod into a full battle curve.

After every bit of stretch in the line and every inch of bend in the rod was exhausted it locked up…the mainline slowly lifted in the water as the fish headed to the surface.

In a flurry of spray the fish exploded on the surface and thrashed the water, it was no more than 10 feet from the tree. For fully 25 seconds me and the fish were locked in stalemate – I was clinging on for dear life, it was thrashing the water as it tried to reach the snags. Eventually the pressure told and the bend in the rod slowly relaxed, for the first time in the battle of my life I had control.

Slowly pumping the line back onto my reel I guided the fish towards the bank, even though the beast had ceased all-out-war it still took quite some time to coax it such a long way across the lake.

Now the speculation began. Brian and I guessed at what I’d hooked and how I’d come to get a ‘pick up’ as I wound the rig in.

As the fish closed in on the bank we got a brief glimpse – a black, pointy dorsal fin flashed the surface. Then it sounded and in unison we both shouted – it’s a big head!!

No we weren’t abusing the fish for a lack of modesty this was one of a handful of uncaught big head carp that can occasionally be seen cruising the surface on a sunny day at Meunier.

The reason why none of these carp have been caught before is simple – they are filter feeders that sift algae and microscopic food items from the water as they swim. Boilies are not on their menu. Coaxing the fish into the net the mystery surrounding hooking the carp was revealed – my hook was firmly lodged in its leathery tail! As I said – I ‘landed’ this awesomely powerful fish but certainly didn’t ‘catch’ it.

Two big mouths!  
Kevin Green with a 59lb big head!

Weighing the fish to see what had produced such violent power we recorded a tally of 59lb – truly an incredible fish that had tested me and my kit to the absolute maximum. But more oddity was still to come.

They don't come better than this!

After an afternoon fishing in the shallows where I tempted two cracking carp a few yards from the bank, I returned to the main swim by the house and recast to the baited area for the last few hours. As I slowly packed away my gear one of the rods roared off.

After a characteristically dogged fight in the deep water another giant slid into the net. “Hang on a minute…” said Brian, “that’s your 58-pounder from a couple of days ago…” He was spot on, it was as if one of Meunier’s biggies just couldn’t allow me to leave without gluing an even bigger smile on my face, a last-knockings fifty put the final nail in that stupid statement I made about French carping all those years ago.

Never go carp fishing in France? Don’t be daft, one of the best lakes in the world is there and it’s called Etang Meunier!

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