Guest Blog By Phil Beret
Having been brought up in London, my formative years as an angler were in the crowded southeast of England. Here you were not just competing against the fish, but also against an army of other anglers, too. The pressure on the fish and fisheries was constant.
It was therefore something of a revelation for me when I moved to France in the late 1990s. I was confronted with miles upon mile of pristine lakes and rivers, without another angler in sight. I found myself racing to get to a prime swim, only to find that not only was the swim inevitably free, I was also unlikely to see another angler for the entire day.
At first glance, this appeared to be some sort of paradise. No longer having the disappointment of arriving at your favourite spot only to find someone else in it. No longer having to fish shoulder to shoulder on well-known venues for known fish with names. It was just me against the fish, perfect, it would seem. Well, kind of…
While there is no doubting that the angling pressure in France is nothing like as high as it is in the UK (France is five times the size of England with the same number of people) the reality is that there is also a lot less information. There is little to guide you on where to fish, and a lot more water for the fish to hide away in. To put it another way, for the specimen hunter the old adage that you cannot catch a fish that is not there, has never been more true. While the pressure on the fish is a lot less, locating the bigger ones can be a lot more difficult.
The other big challenge is that outside of carp and catfish, there is a lot less specialisation when it comes to fishing for individual species in France. While you will come across pleasure anglers fishing for roach, perch, or tench, very few are specifically fishing for specimens. Specialist groups such as those found in the UK like The Chub Study Group, the Perch fishers or Tench fishers do not exist.
The result of this is that information can be very thin on the ground on where to go to target the larger fish. Much of the groundwork in finding them must be done off your own back. There are no shortcuts.
The situation, however, is slowly changing, specialisation in individual species and even the term “Specimen Hunting” is slowly starting to creep into the French angling vocabulary. However, the specimen scene is still in its early days and the fishing in France still retains a huge element of mystery for many species.
Outside of carp, fish will not have names, specific individual fish are not targeted, and superb venues remain unexplored. For the angler who likes a bit of the unknown, France has that in abundance. However, this also means that contrary to popular opinion, it is not just a case of turning up, and you are guaranteed to catch monsters. While France offers some superb fishing and some huge uncaught fish, often it will be a case of quantity rather than size. Barbel are a prime example of this. While there are some superb venues where you can catch a lot of fish, if you are looking to catch double figure barbel, then the UK is a far better prospect than France. A double is still a superb fish, and in France, these are few and far between. The point here being that anglers should be realistic about their targets and set them accordingly based on the waters and the species they are fishing for. Monsters do not exist everywhere.
All that said, the mystery of not knowing what the next bite may be, adds to the buzz and sense of anticipation. This has certainly been the case with some of my recent fishing whilst targeting large roach on the rivers. It’s not uncommon for barbel, chub, ide, and large carp to turn up and for this reason, my tackle is often a compromise. I never know if my next fish could be anything from a 2lb+ roach to large carp which can top 40lb. You may think this is an impossible ask, but on correctly balanced tackle, it’s surprising what can be done.
For that reason, my typical setup for roach on the bigger rivers would be a 1 and a quarter pound test curve rod with a nice, forgiving action. This will cope with the juddering, twisting fight of a large roach, but also the backbone to turn a big river carp powering off downstream. The Cadence CR10 12ft Specimen 1.25lb rod is tailor-made for this, which I match with 6lb line and a size 10 hook. Using balanced tackle like this, I lose very few fish and know I have both subtlety and strength in reserve for whatever the river may bring.
Obviously, I am only scratching the surface here of the French specimen scene, which while still in its infancy. The scene is growing as more and more anglers take advantage of the unbelievably good fishing in magnificent surroundings. The sky really is the limit when it comes to the potential for all the species. Yes, it can be a struggle to try to locate the larger fish at times. There is something rewarding about catching a fish you have found yourself, and perhaps even the first person to catch that fish.