Carp Lakes are strange places, some you enjoy but know you will not return, and others grab your imagination and keep you going back for more. Sapphire is like that, I‘ve just returned from my third visit in twelve months and the magic is still there.
To me it represents what a French fishery should be; deep in rural Mayenne it’s agricultural, beautiful and peaceful. You certainly won’t find any motorways close by. It is resolutely French; from the Colonel who bailiffs it to the local farmer Gerard who will drink any of your wine given the chance. In what was essentially a week’s winter fishing my mate Dan and I enjoyed some fabulous food and wine and landed 41 carp and around twenty grass carp. They ranged from 20lbs to 35lbs and included 8 thirties and 33 good twenties, all prime young Bigot stock in immaculate fighting condition. A great result for a wet cold March.
Sapphire is a young fishery and still developing. The position of all the swims has been finally resolved, with fishing along the whole length of the East bank including a luxurious pontoon swim in the previously unfishable end of the lake. The net has also been removed ensuring that there are no refuges for the fish and already the effect is visible as the carp move and show all over the lake. Patrol routes are becoming established and I’m sure they will continue changing over the coming months as angling pressure moulds them. The potential of the place is incredible, it’s a rich lake with a massive store of natural food, the size of the bloodworm have to been seen to be believed and there are also large hatches pointing to a rich store of larvae for the fish to feed on. As I’ve said the stock is young, there is a large head of upper twenties, thirties and forties plus a few bonus fifties, many are still uncaught and with this store of food at their disposal and now the anglers bait the future for Sapphire is very bright.
You have only to look at the catch returns to see that Sapphire is capable of producing some very special sessions, but perhaps because Sapphire is a natural store of carp food it can be difficult at times. Although Dan and I have fished together in France for over twenty years our approach to fishing, our rigs and our baits remains different. Never the less we do achieve the same levels of success and generally match each other fish for fish on our French visits’. I thought it would be useful to future Sapphire anglers to describe how we tackled the lake on this trip.
Dan selected Swim 1, bivvying up on the flat grassy bank next to the old boat house. After casting around with his marker rod he located a rough rocky area which we guessed was the old stream bed. The lake was created many years ago as a feeder for the mill at the end of the lake and remains of the original stream can still be located. Carp love features; and continue to follow the courses of long flooded rivers and streams. Dan decided to fish on the smooth ground on the near side of the rocky area at around fifty to sixty yards which made baiting up with a catapult an easy option. He baited fairly heavily at
first pulting out 2 or three kilos each day of boilies and spodding a little hemp. Dan’s strategy was to draw the fish into his area of the lake, then gradually reduce the feed and focus the carp’s attention on his hookbait by casting out a PVA mesh bag packed with T1 stick mix and crumbed T1 boilie. His approach to end tackle is stealthy, employing flying backleads, and also pinning down his 12 to 15” hooklink. The business end is a snowman rig with two 15mm T1 boilies and a longshank hook fished blowback style. The blowback presentation is the only area our methods are similar. He uses his own gadget made from stiff mono and shrink tube for lassoing the bags of stick mix below the knot and he hooks his rig into the bottom of the bag to avoid tangles on casting. The result is a tight bed of fine particles with a hookbait sat right on top of it.
The effectiveness of his plan didn’t take long to show itself. Sunday produced a twenty, the next day two more along with a rake of grass carp that had taken a liking to his bait. The next day produced three thirties, and a very hectic Wednesday nine carp including three 29’s and a thirty. The Bordeaux that night was fruity, ample and well balanced, which was probably more than could be said of us. Four more twenties on Thursday, on Friday Dan claimed another thirty and a 28, and Saturday morning saw him happy on his way home with a 27 and 29 under his belt plus two more large grass carp.
The shallow margins in front of his swim were complicated by the random bushes in the water. This made landing fish at times a bit of pantomime. Dan led the fish around them passing rods over the bushes and under his rods and then was confounded as a turbo powered carp charged towards him. It’s worth saying at this point that swims 1 – 4 really do need wellies or waders, although shorts and flip flops will do the job in the summer. He had to endure a few crossed and plaited lines in the dark but he didn’t loose a fish, landing 22 carp including 5 thirties plus many uncounted grass carp. At least three of the grass carp were good twenties, although trying to get them into a weigh sling is something to be avoided at all costs I think.
The first night saw me fishing from the new pontoon in the shallow end of the lake. It is clean and comfortable fishing but you will need to be very quiet to get the benefit from it. Stealth is the name of the game. It’s also worth considering before you travel that fishing from a platform requires extra equipment. You will need a rod pod, platform stands or some very long banksticks to support your rods, and a couple of packs of large screw-in cup hooks will come in very useful for pegging your bivvy down.
It all started very well and I landed a twenty and just as the light faded a chunky fish of 34lb 8oz, although it became obvious very quickly that the action this week was to be in the main body of the lake signalled by the fish crashing through the night. Next morning Dan helped me break camp and haul all my gear along the bank. Swim 3 was where I eventually set up my home for the rest of the week. A few casts with the marker quickly located the stream bed being fished by Dan. It was a little further out in front of me as it meandered across the lake to the outflow at the mill. Although this presented me with an easy fishing option, the main event
was located on the far margin some 160 yards away. The carp were obviously moving along the bank between the shallows and the old lily beds at the other end of the lake. They made no effort to disguise themselves as they crashed and rolled with twenties, thirties and forties clearing the water completely. I knew it would be impossible to cast all the way to the showing carp with the rods I had with me. If I could get bait in reasonable amounts as close as possible to them at say 120 to 125 yards I had a chance of drawing them closer to me and holding their attention long enough to hook them.
In the end I covered all the options. I have a powerful 13ft rod and a reel spooled up with 30lb braid and a 65lb Powerpro braid leader. This combined with a Spomb and some effort on my part would get the bait where I wanted it, and so every day 2 to 3 kilos of Quest Baits Chilli Chocolate in 10, 15 and 20mm boilies was forced unwillingly through the air to the marker float in my catching area. I went for strength and simplicity in my rigs, to avoid tangles on the cast and to ensure if I hooked one I landed one. I’d had a snapped hooklink and a straightened hook in my last swim, so Fox Reflex fast sinking braid hooklinks in
25lb breaking strain and Gamakatsu G Point hooks in size 4 would hopefully avoid a repeat of that. A simple no-knot knot and blow back ring mounted on the shank of the hook, an ultrabright Quest Baits Chilli Chocolate Fluoro pop-up balanced with a small shot on the line created my rig. A lead clip, very heavy tungsten tubing to pin the line down and I was good to go. There was a deep V in the stand of pines on the horizon which lined up nicely with my marker and would give me a casting target on the darkest of night. The lines were slackened until much of the line was on the lake bed and the clipped-up line just supported the light indicator bobbins. Once I was happy with the position of my hookbait to the right of my marker float, I tied a piece of bright yellow pole elastic to my line just in front
of the rods butt ring to ensure that the range could be repeated when a recast was needed. Baitboats are allowed at Sapphire now that there is single bank fishing and they certainly save a lot of effort and energy in this style of fishing.
Slightly concerned about hooklinks tangling on the long cast I decided to hedge my bets and tied up a chod rig for the first time in my life. My favourite Quest Baits Fruity Trifle Fluoro pop up this time in a lurid Day-Glo red was tied on and launched towards the far bank and then recast at regular intervals to try and locate moving carp. Finally I spodded a mix of Quest Baits Chilli Chocolate and Ghurkka Spice boilies and hemp into the river bed and a Chilli Chocolate pop up went on top attached to a mesh PVA bag of Maximum Action Pellets.
At 6-30 on Tuesday morning the gamble paid off and my Chilli Chocolate Fluoro popup tricked a 33lb 8oz on the long range baited area, and two hours later produced a 26+ mirror. 1am the next morning and the Chilli Chocolate strikes
again in the form of a 32lb mirror. I Spombed out a couple more kilos at first light and within seconds was in again. This time a bit of a surprise as an orange and black Koi zipped about just below the surface. Just after lunch my first ever fish on a chod rig, a mirror at 29lb 8oz what a result. Only minutes later the long range rod is off again, 24lb 8oz in the net! My catches slowed for the rest of the day but at least it gave me time to help out with Dan’s Wednesday bonanza. Thursday started early for me with a carp of 28lb 8oz at 2-30am, don’t they ever sleep, and a 25lber fifteen minutes later.
The heavy rain that had been bugging us all week intervened again and luckily the runs eased until the rain had stopped.
8-45am another 28lber followed quickly by a 25plus my first and only fish from Dan’s stream bed. Lunchtime provided the most spectacular fish of the week for me in the shape of a long golden 28lb12oz common and then a 27lb 12oz mirror all on the long range baited area. Then disaster struck, the last bottle of Bordeaux had gone and the wine cellar was empty. Too late to replenish stocks; the dinner jackets went back in the wardrobe; celebrations would definitely be muted tonight. Three more twenties at range on Friday and then a couple more on Saturday morning as I was packing up completed a fantastic week for me.
The most successful method by far for me was the long range Spombing tactic, although the success of the roaming single hookbait on the chod rig did surprise me. After my last couple of years fishing experiences I continue to be convinced and surprised by the effectiveness of extremely hi viz “in yer face” hookbaits. Dan’s winner was trickling the bait into the stream bed and using his stick mix to focus the fish on his hookbait, pipping me at the post this trip with 22 carp to my 19. A very successful and enjoyable trip especially when you consider the time of the year and the terrible weather, proving that with observation and a little effort and application the Sapphire carp are very catchable and from everywhere on the lake.