Beyond Cloud Nine

The fish kept a low profile during daylight, but come nightfall they started to put on a show

Iain Macmillan smashes two personal bests on a trip over the water.

I’d been fortunate to fish Pascale’s Lake in the Champagne region of France a couple of times before, so with all the necessary preparation involved the van was pointed south and off we trundled. The Lake is about 7-8 acres, weedy and not easy, but fish well and the prizes are more than worth the effort. It’s no runs water; in fact 10-15 bites in a week for the whole Lake can be classed as a very good result. This really is the kind of fishing that gets my blood flowing these days.

The party consisted of myself and three long-standing friends, Dave Beech, Clive Gibbins and Roger ‘Bullet’ Hind, and if nothing else we’d lark about an awful lot and eat well. With Rog being in poor health of late we allowed him to stay in Pascale’s luxurious log cabin where he could have his rods out from the decking, whilst having the luxuries of home. That left the three of us to draw for swims, and my run of terrible draws continued when I pulled number three… It’s not the fact that I doubt my ability from any swim on the lake, but I’m due a break from coming out last in the draw! Dave went for a top swim called the Sixties; the name tells the story and, given the choice, I’d have chosen it too. Clive surprised me and chose the Middles, which left me with the Gate, which I fished last August and did okay from. It gives plenty of options and it was obvious from the coloured water that fish had been rooting about in there in the morning, so my spirits rose a tad.

We laugh the weeks away in France, which is just as important as what we put in the bottom of our nets

After coming out last in the draw again, I ended up in a decent area with plenty of scope

I hiked the kit around in double quick time, got the bivvy up and the rods all baited and ready to go. Pascale supplies four boats, and I’d come armed with my engine, echo sounder and battery to make things easier; in fact I’d come with a plan following last year’s trip. The reason for the sounder was that I knew the weed had been treated slightly and the water wasn’t as clear as before, so I didn’t want to be fishing blind. I wanted to be sure of where I was dropping my rigs, as the likelihood was I’d be leaving them out for a couple of days or such time needed for a bite to occur. I nipped back to sort the boat out and grabbed my H-Bloks and set sail in search of spots. There were a lot, but some looked way too big and blatant. I could also see some smaller spots and the little maze of tunnels the fish were using to navigate their way about; these looked prime and were marked immediately. It was then a simple case of going back out with the rod and lowering the rig in the exact spot I wanted so the lead was slightly into the weed while the rig just nestled on the clear spot – perfect. I’d used smaller baits last year, chopped baits and particles, but I noticed the silver fish were clearing me out at times, so this year it was a liberal amount of hemp for attraction and lots of whole 18mm Dynamite Baits Complex-T boilies for the main meal. I’ve been having some fantastic fish on the new bait of late and my confidence in it is off the scale, so it was the natural choice to take it to this tricky lake.

We’d arranged to meet in the cabin around six o’clock for a spot of grub. As always Clive did us proud with his culinary skills, while I relished the washing up. None of us had seen anything even break the surface. Just into dark we all went back to the swims to do ‘carp stuff’ as we call it. The rods were put out and the waiting began. With most lakes in France it can take a couple of days to get over the commotion, but within an hour fish started to crash all over the place. It felt so good that surely a bite was on the cards, but as the morning fog lifted none of us had anything to show for our efforts. We weren’t deterred at all; we knew the job and deep down probably knew it was too much to ask to trip one up on the first night.

After a couple of painful losses, Clive opened his account with this absolute banger of a common at just over 51lb

I’ve done well everywhere I’ve taken the new Complex-T from Dynamite

It was Monday morning before I had the first bite, resulting in a mint scaly 32-pounder. I didn’t reset the rod for fear of spooking them with the boat; it was obvious fish were about so I left the rod against the bivvy. The gamble paid off when the middle rod tightened up and pinged out the clip, and a no-frills battle gave me a common just over 33lb. These were both way below the average size, but all bites are welcome and earned on here, so I was buzzing to be off the mark.

Tuesday saw Clive somehow lose a couple, but Rog opened his account with fish of 67½lb and 42lb; the former was simply epic, nearly as big as Rog. He was struggling with his joints so he donned the chesties and did everything in the water, as he finds it easier that way. I was well into the session and a pattern was emerging whereby the fish kept a very low profile during daylight, but came out of the weed for a play during darkness. Certainly in my swim the time they dropped their guard enough to pick up a rig was just before or on first light. That’s perfect for me, as I get my shut-eye in.

The aptly named Perfect Common at 60¼lb – the most amazing carp I’ve ever had the pleasure of catching

I love fishing from a boat – you just know everything’s cock on

Wednesday saw me have a bite out the blue around 5pm. Dave was about so with no hassle from the weed a chunky 47lb mirror was added to my tally. Little did I know what the following morning had in store for me. I was up early, well before first light, as I get very restless when I think I’ve sussed the bite times and I like to be alert and awake well before they come. When a slow take happened on the left-hand rod I was on it before the line pulled out the clip. The weed in Pascale’s used to be savage; so bad that it was pointless trying to play them from the bank. It was always a case of jumping straight in the boat and going out to the fish to extract it from the heavy green stuff, so to be able to play them from the bank was an absolute joy. This fight was heavy though, and I actually thought the fish had picked up some weed, masking its face and keeping it somewhat subdued, but this wasn’t the case when it surfaced: it was just a whole long lump of common carp. I tried to remain calm, but it was so massive that I completely lost my head and almost had a panic attack – I wanted this fish in the net badly! It buried itself in some light weed right under the rod tip a couple of times, and I prayed it wouldn’t loosen the hook hold. When it popped out of the weed for the second time I netted the whole lot. I shouted Dave to bring his big scales and the tripod, as I knew it would possibly bottom my 60lb set. With everything set we got it on the bank. What a carp! Scale perfect, long and bulky, it’s simply the best looking fish I’ve ever caught, and a new PB common at 60¼lb. I was buzzing my socks off.

The commotion died down and I managed to get the rods back on the spots with no disturbance at all. The water was really coloured up, so I knew there were a few still about, but it was surprising to get another bite only half hour later. This was a boat job for sure; initially I’d got it moving, but then it locked up solid so out I went. I didn’t want to risk losing anything and the boat was right there in front of me. It came out of the weed easily once I was above it, but that was when the fun began. It was an intense tussle, weedbed to weedbed, twisting and turning, and trying every trick in the book to rid the hook. It was obviously one of the wily old characters to fight like this, but when it eventually surfaced I nearly fell out of the boat – it was big! I bundled it into the net along with a load of weed and headed back to dry land where the lads took over. It was only when they laid the fish on the mat that I saw its bulk and just how thick it was across the back. It was definitely close to smashing my PB, and smash it it did at 68lb. That was back to back sixties and two new PBs in a few hours. Cloud nine doesn’t even come close – I was surely in dreamland. Even Rog got out of bed to see them, and it must have been special for him to do that!

Two PBs smashed in no time – what a carp, what a lake, and what a moment for me

The rest of the day was spent in a bit of a haze, but who cares? I was the happiest man alive! There was one bite for me on the Friday, again out the blue around 6pm, and it weighed 53lb – the stamp of fish in this lake is different gravy. It’s not easy, but the rewards are there if you get it right and I’d managed six bites with no losses. There were a few massive positives to take from this: they love the new Complex-T, the rigs are working a treat, and I managed to get my serious fishing head on whilst still larking around with the lads on a very exclusive lake to ourselves. I can’t wait for October 2017 when we return.

Guess what bait I’ll be taking?

A couple of huge fish banked on my trusty X-Aero Baitrunner/2¾lb Velocity combo – just shows you don’t need broom handles and big pits to tame whackers

The 68lb mirror going back – it was at least 12 inches across!

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