During the winter months I do the winter show circuit with my own “A” Baits stand or helping out friends. It never ceases to surprise me how many people would love to go to France but feel a bit intimidated by it! The channel tunnel train comes out on the motorway and in most cases nearly all the driving is done on these, there is very little to worry about driving on the wrong side of the road. I never begrudge paying the toll charges on these as you are guaranteed a great road surface and very light traffic. Twenty euros will take you into the Champaign area where there are hundreds of fantastic lakes with only a simple 4 hour drive. You will need headlight deflectors if travelling at night and the French driving laws state you need; high viz vests, a warning triangle and a medical kit.
France does of course contain lakes that hold truly massive fish but if you are targeting fish over 60lbs you will need to fish a lake that contains a number of them and these are exceptional venues rather than the norm. As a rule I would say that the fish average 10-15lbs bigger on average but they are not necessarily easier to catch. In fact some swims are occupied constantly for 9 months of the year and are under considerable pressure. I have been crossing the channel for 15 years now and have definitely blanked on more than one occasion but on the flip side of this I have caught 6 forties in a day before!
Drive and survive trips are probably the most common. You book your week and make your own way there and generally sort out your own food. Other lakes will offer food packages and some will even offer coaches to get you there. For a first trip I would recommend taking your car, you will get a better taste for it and I really like to have a look around the neighbourhood. The coach trips are all well and good but it can feel a bit like you are fishing a lake in England and you are also limited with the amount of tackle and bait you can take. Most English owned venues can be tackled with the same kit you use back home on your usual venues; I would recommend using the same bait as well. A mistake a lot of people make is in thinking they need to take a ton of bait and stock up with poor quality “euro boilies”. The fish can tell the difference and I don’t think the fishery owner will thank you for putting them in either. I very rarely put in any bait on the first day as tiredness can easily cloud your judgement, once it is in you cannot take it out again. A week is a long session if you are not used to it and it is a better strategy to build up the swim gradually by introducing just enough bait for a handful of fish. Also keep your eye on vacant swims and if the opportunity arises there is no harm in introducing a bit of bait in these for later on in the week or a bit of stalking.
When choosing your first water it might be a good idea to inquire if the water holds poisson chat. These are small almost blind catfish of a few ounces that can make your life difficult. They are common in France and swim in shoals that number thousands and they will decimate a bed of boilies in minutes. To get around them you need to mesh up your baits in tights or use plastic shrink wrap and feed very hard boilies very regularly. At the height of summer when they are most active the only way to fish is with particles in which they have little interest. Crayfish are a lesser problem but once again they can ruin your day if you are not prepared and the summer is when they are at their most annoying. If the lake contains crayfish it is always worth putting a stop behind your bait as they will slide it down the hair toward the hook. Pop-ups are often the first bait to be targeted by the crays as their eyes are on the top of their head looking up and they will have no problem dragging your rig down.
As I said before there is really no need for specialist tackle but a bait boat can be an advantage if it is allowed and if the fishery has a boat, make sure you take a life jacket and make use of it. It can get very hot in France and sun block is a definite must take as is cold weather clothing; I have experienced -6 in June before! One thing that I cannot stress enough is care of fish on the bank. If the mat has been in the sun all day a bucket of cold water is not going to cool it down at all. Keep the mat in the shade and turn it over before wetting down, I have seen more than enough dead fish as I direct result of poor care. Make sure you have your scales and camera ready before removing the net from the water and get the fish back as soon as possible in really high temperatures.
France has some fantastic rivers and public lakes that can be fished very cheaply but these are best left until you have a few trips under your belt. The internet and Google earth are great for uncovering these and the various forums can be a goldmine of information.
To sum up I would recommend choosing a water with a good head of fish with some reasonable facilities. Try to find out as much information as you can and if you can talk to people who have been before. Treat it as a holiday and do not expect too much at the start. A word of warning though, it can be very addictive!
Best wishes, Jason Rider