Carp Fishing in France: How to Plan For Success
As travel restrictions ease across Europe, you may be thinking about planning a trip to a carp water in France. After all, what could be better than a few days of fishing for large carp in the sun? This article is aimed at providing you with advice on how to select a suitable water and appropriately plan your trip to the land of big carp and wine.
The key to any successful session is planning – Benjamin Franklin famously said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. A literal message that should not be ignored in most situations in life and certainly not when considering a fishing trip abroad. I remember all the questions I had before I started to plan for my first France trip, the night before I was due to travel!
Trust me, I haven’t made the same mistake since and hopefully, from the lessons I have learnt and included in this article, you won’t either.
Before I cover the various points to consider when it comes to lake selection, I think it is important to say that if you’re looking to go carp fishing in France, it is imperative that you already have some UK carp fishing experience under your belt. If not, I strongly recommend that you get some experience on a lake this side of the channel before venturing out to the continent.
With the above in mind, it is important to do your homework and bear in mind the following when planning your trip and selecting a suitable venue for your French adventure:
1. Lake size
There are a multitude of day ticket waters and commercial venues available to the carp angler nowadays. In the UK for example, we have large reservoirs and gravel pits with depths varying from a few feet to 25+ feet. The choice can sometimes be daunting, from silty estate lakes with an abundance of natural food sources, to commercial lakes that have been dug out and turned into prolific day ticket waters.
In France there is even more choice, due not only to the sheer size of the country, but also because there are carp present in almost all water courses, i.e. lakes, canals and rivers. There are thousands of venues to choose from, making lake selection even more challenging.
It is worth keeping in mind that all lakes are different, and this is true regardless of the country you are fishing in. When selecting a lake, it is important to be honest with yourself and your mates about your ability levels, otherwise you risk ending up on a lake that you are simply not ready or prepared for.
In the UK on a typical day ticket water, you will be lucky if you have more than an acre of water to fish in front of you. In France on the other hand, it is more likely you will have two to three acres staring back at you. This can appear intimidating to those who haven’t fished in France before, as for starters, it will probably mean that need to cast further than you tend to back home.
I suggest you keep things simple and opt for a venue that is a similar or slightly larger size to what you have fished in the UK and suits your fishing experience. If you have never tackled a gravel pit, fished in silt, or targeted a very weedy water, then France is not the place to be cutting your teeth on such venues.
A typical swim on an average-sized French carp lake
2. Purpose of the trip
Before reserving your spot on a lake in France, you need to be clear about what you are looking to get from the trip. We all want to catch carp, I know, but you may be travelling as a group of friends who would also like to have a degree of social interaction whilst on the bank – a social.
Conversely, you may be a group or an individual angler that is purely focussed on fishing hard and getting results. In this scenario you’re probably looking to have some seclusion and isolation away from it all. Fishing on your own can be a great experience and with less pressure (both angling and social) you can approach the venue at your own pace, with the flexibility to do what you want, when you want.
Whatever it is you are looking for, there will be a French lake that suits your needs. But it is really important to be open and honest about what you’re looking for from the get go, so you can find the right fit for you and your fishing buddies.
Fishing on my own and with a group of friends in France
There are several commercial venues in France that cater for large groups of anglers with varying levels of ability. Most of these venues are easily accessible, have plenty of facilities on site and offer some sort of food and drinks package on the bank and in a restaurant setting. These types of venues therefore lend themselves to the social carp angler. They provide a break from the fishing when required and an opportunity to interact with your mates and other anglers who are fishing the lake/complex.
Alternatively, if you are looking for something a little more private, then you may wish to consider a ‘drive and survive’ package. As the name suggests, these offer the fishing without the food or drink. At this type of venue, the bailiff will meet you on the first day to show you around. Afterwards, you are left to it for a few days, with the bailiff periodically checking in to see if you need anything until it’s time to say au revoir.
Whatever the situation, it is important that you check the location of the lake in advance. France is a huge country and some venues can be a long drive from the ferry ports. You may want to break your trip up by having an overnight stay halfway between your venue and the port, or alternatively it may be easier to just select a venue that is closer to the transport hub you’re using.
When I was younger, I had no problem driving for eight hours to then arrive at the lake and fish for a week straight. As I have grown older, I now prefer to take a much more leisurely approach to my regular weeklong trips to France.
With that in mind, a group of friends and I will often do the four-hour trip to Dover or Folkestone on a Friday, followed by a further two-hour drive on the other side. Only after this, will we stop off about an hour away from our chosen venue for a good night’s rest, waking up on Saturday morning ready for a week’s fishing ahead.
The time of year that you choose to fish is also a major consideration. The warmer climate in France means that, compared to the UK, the fish spawn at different times of the year. This is needs to be kept in mind. The last you want is to turn up to your venue, only to find that the carp are otherwise engaged with each other! Spawning in France usually happens towards the end of May, unlike in the UK where it generally takes place mid-June.
A general rule of thumb to follow is if you want to catch some larger residents of a French lake, then April to mid-May is the time to go, as they won’t have spawned yet. You will of course catch big carp at other times of the year, but they are at their peak weights prior to spawning.
This climate difference also means that weed growth is more prolific at different points of the year. Weed is likely to start growing sooner in French lakes, generally starting in early April. As the most effective weed killers have been banned across Europe, the weed is likely to be present in abundance by mid-May/early June!
Stunning views over a French lake in early May
What gear do I need?
Now you’ve decided on a French carp lake that fits your needs, let’s take a look at the gear you’re going to need to be successful, as this will form a crucial part of your preparation.
Make sure you check the size of the fish that are present in the lake you will be fishing, so you can tailor your equipment to suit the venue. In the UK there are a number of weedy day ticket waters which hold 40lb fish, these waters call for strong line and big hooks. Compare this to France however, where you will commonly find venues with 80lb fish, and it becomes clear that you may need to step up your gear a notch or two.
50lb + fish are not uncommon in France
In my opinion, when it comes to gear and having success in France, the two key components that you need to focus on are the line and the hooks that you use.
There are several options when it comes to line – with braided mainline, monofilament and fluorocarbon being the main three.
Firstly, you need to check which mainline is permitted on your venue. Most of the venues I fish in France do not allow braid, this is common in both France and the UK. Plenty of others also specify the minimum breaking strain requirements of the monofilament or fluorocarbon lines that must be used when fishing their lakes.
My home fishing is almost entirely monofilament, I don’t really use fluorocarbon any more due to the advancements in modern monofilament line. The only time I do use fluorocarbon is when I’m targeting winter/clearer waters, or when I’m on those especially challenging venues where the fish are wary of tight lines.
Fluorocarbon generally sinks a lot better than most monofilaments and therefore provides greater concealment. I think this quality, under the right circumstances, can provide you with an advantage in those clearer, harder waters where you are targeting wily carp.
When fishing in France, always analyse the layout of the venue to inform which type of line is most appropriate. For example, if I am fishing a shallow gravel pit which has very few snags or weed, and has an even bottom, I will reach for a low diameter line of around 0.33mm or 0.35mm. This is roughly equivalent to 15lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line. My choice will also depend on the time of the year and other factors previously mentioned, such as the size of fish present.
Whilst 0.35mm or 15lb mono/fluorocarbon may seem a little heavy to some, I believe this increase is totally necessary when fishing in France, simply because of the presence and opportunity to hook into a “lump”.
Equally, if I am targeting a weedy gravel pit which varies in depth considerably, suggesting that I am likely to come across drop offs and bars, then a different approach is called for. Here, I will step up my line choice to braid (if the venue permits it) or opt for a thicker and stronger monofilament line, around 0.40mm diameter. Again, this is to cope in the scenario that a considerably large French carp ends up on the end.
A modest upper thirty from a weedy French venue in early June
You may have noticed that I haven’t been specific about the actual breaking strain of the line. This is because when it comes to line selection, I am more interested in the diameter than I am the breaking strain. The diameter provides me with a guide as to the casting capabilities of the line and the situations where I may need to use it. As a general rule I would use thicker (stronger) line for snag fishing where I need to set the drag tight and “hit and haul” the fish away from marginal snags or underwater obstructions.
However, for distance work in open water I would opt for a thinner, low diameter line. A thinner line will assist me when it comes to hitting the longer distances for this style of fishing, whilst still providing sufficient strength to land a carp or two.
It is worth remembering that a low diameter line is simply a thicker line that has been stretched to achieve the thinner diameters. This means that their abrasion resistance and capability for casting longer distances without a leader is compromised. For example, a 20lb line will typically be 0.40mm whereas a 15lb line around 0.33mm. Low diameter lines have their place, but the process used to achieve this thinner diameter can weaken them.
In the case of France, I like to have a variety of options available for my mainline. I will therefore generally have two sets of spools (6 spools in total) loaded with 0.40mm monofilament and 0.35mm monofilament. At the start of each session, I will select which set I think is the most suitable for the situation I am in. For example, if I am snag fishing at less than about 100 yds, I will opt for the 0.40mm. Compare this to when I’m fishing in open water at say 120yds with relatively few snags and I’ll probably reach for the 0.35mm. Diversifying my lines like this gives me the capability to handle most carp fishing situations in France.
We all have our favourite pattern of hook, and I’m no exception. But, the carp in France are much larger than those in the UK and the last thing you want is to hook a fish and lose it because of the use of an inadequate hook.
My general rule of thumb is to go one size larger in France than you would when in the UK. If you are used to fishing with size 4 hooks in the UK, then opt for a size 2 in France. In my opinion and experience, using anything smaller than a size 4 in France is a recipe for disaster.
Size 4 wide gapes are my favourite pattern of hook
Bait and hook combinations should always be matched together. I prefer to fish large baits in France during the warmer months, as this is when the fish are most active and are unlikely to shy away from two 20mm boilies on the back of a hair. Regardless, ensuring that the bait is appropriate for the size of hook being used is crucial. For example, if I’m using a size 2 hook then I won’t hesitate to put two 20mm boilies on the hair. Compare this to when I’m fishing a single or a slightly smaller bait, for example a 15mm, then I will drop the hook down to a size 4.
Spod and a marker rod?
Whilst having both can be useful, it is more of a convenience and most anglers can find features and estimate the depth by counting down the lead. If you are limited on space, or you want to keep your gear to a minimum, then I suggest leaving the marker rod at home and using your spod rod for both tasks.
There are many types and sizes of leads available, all with specific purposes. It is important to have a good selection with you on your trip in order to take on the almost infinite number of fishing situations you may find yourself in.
When looking at my lead options for France I will generally select leads for distance, fishing on slopes (and/or in silt) and for PVA bag fishing.
Pear Leads are generally my number one choice, mainly because there are so many varieties, such as flat, round, square etc. This makes them extremely versatile, and they can be used in plenty of situations, including fishing on slopes or in silt when you don’t want the lead to plug in too much. They are not as good when casting at distance but are ideal when stalking the margins in clear water. In addition, the inline versions are practically a requirement for use inside solid PVA bags with a short hook length. 3oz for general casting and 2.5oz for PVA bags are my preferred options.
For distance fishing in France, I opt for a tournament or distance lead (with 3oz and 4oz being my preferred weights). These are generally slim, long, and shaped like a torpedo to aid aerodynamics when casting at distance. They are, however, not suitable for fishing on clean slopes like gravel, as they will roll down the underwater shelf. So, if you do like to use them in your fishing, keep them for those flatter, even bottoms.
A selection of distance casting and pear shaped leads with a variety of coatings
I usually tie up my rigs before I leave home. That way I have them ready to go once I am all set up on the bank. Using this approach, you therefore only need to take a few spools of top-quality braided hook link with, just in case you need to tie up any additional rigs. I also don’t recommend that you fish anywhere in France with hook link lighter than 25lb.
As in the UK, there are plenty of different baits you can use in France to get carp on the bank. Boilies, hemp, sweetcorn, other particles, maggots, casters, worms – the list is pretty much endless.
You should be able to tell by now, I like to keep it simple with my fishing. If I could only take one bait to France, then it would have to be a high-quality boilie. Nutrient rich boilies are an excellent food source for carp and are extremely versatile. They can be used in a variety of forms; whole, halved, chopped etc. and so can be transported to your spots through various methods from a catapult to a PVA bag.
Remember though, whatever you decide to use you are probably going to need quite a lot of it, especially if the fish get on the munch during your session. When you combine big French carp with that French summer weather, you get a group of hungry, hefty fish.
A selection of two flavoured boilies
It is not uncommon on some lakes to get through 50 kg of boilie in a single week. For this reason, I also recommend checking to see if you can pre-order your bait from the venue or a local bait supplier and have it delivered to your swim. Plenty of venues offer this service and ordering in bulk often means it is less expensive than buying it over in the UK and transporting it with you – I’m sure your car will thank you for it too!
Whatever you do, before you decide on anything bait-wise, speak to the venue a couple of weeks before your trip. Most venues in France will have a list of baits that are allowed, so you need to check that whatever you’re planning to use is permitted (some even require you to use their own bait and only allow you to bring your own hook bait). Secondly, speaking to the venue in advance gives you a golden opportunity to find out what the fish are taking to. Sometimes it might be that the fish are not responding to heavy baiting, so you might only need 20kg of boilie. Other times, they can let you know in advance if the fish are responding better to particles, which may be the way to go instead.
Over the years, I’ve refined my selection of hook baits down to only a few options. Most of the time, I like to keep things simple, opting to fish either a couple of pop ups or a couple of wafters, depending on how and what I’m fishing over. Regardless of what you’re fishing, having confidence in your hook bait is the key to success. Have two or three different options available and identify which colour/flavour the fish are favouring. Once you have it worked out, you can switch up the rods as you see fit.
If you’ve taken boilies with you as your primary bait, it’s worth considering using those same boilies as your hook baits. Two of the most popular ways this is done is by using a ‘match the hatch’ approach or fishing snowman rigs.
I have confidence using certain flavours/colours from experience. If you’re new to fishing in France, I encourage you to experiment with the flavours and colours that you use as hook baits so as ti find the ones which suit you and produce results. The hook baits shown in the image below all started out as white until I added my favourite pink and orange flavours – pity this isn’t smellavision!
A selection of my three favourite colours, pink, orange and white
A word of warning. Crayfish inhabit most lakes across France, so it’s likely you’re going to encounter them on the venue you have selected. To ensure that your baits don’t get destroyed, I would recommend taking a small selection of artificial baits and some shrink wrap to counter those little critters.
A final consideration
We all do it – I’ll just put that in “just in case”! But the more you take, the less mobile you’re going to be, and that will likely prove to be a hindrance when you’re bankside.
I recall a session on a large French lake, where I’d been on the “hotspot” for some time (or at least I thought it was the “hotspot”). After three days of blanking, I made the move to the opposite side, where there had been a few fish showing. Lo and behold, a few moments later and an absolute banger was on the bank. I doubt if I had taken everything and the kitchen sink with me on the trip, I would have been able to make that move. Had I stayed put and blanked for another three days, I would only have had myself to blame. Moving keeps you ahead of the fish and provides the results we all look for from a trip to France.
One of my favourite French carp lakes in all its glory
I hope this article has provided you with some useful advice about planning your next French adventure and some food for thought to make the whole thing more enjoyable. You are only there for a limited amount of time, so make sure you’re prepared and enjoy it… bon voyage & lignes serrées!