When it comes to sorting out a fishing trip together we’re not really very organised my mates and I. We all have demanding jobs and family commitments so finding a mutually agreeable time is difficult. So in February when we finally managed to settle on a long weekend at the back end of April it wasn’t altogether surprising to find that our choice of venue was severely restricted.
Having booked with Angling Lines on several occasions before I felt confident they would be able to help us out and after exchanging a number of emails and phone calls with the helpful staff in the office we ultimately settled on Malvoisine in Normandy as our target venue.
When we fished there back in 2011 our results were not spectacular but we learnt a lot so felt well prepared to tackle the venue more effectively second time around. Back in 2011 our swim choice had been limited by the other anglers on the water but this time we were very pleasantly surprised to be offered an exclusive booking for our short Thursday to Sunday stay. Suffice to say we jumped at the opportunity which allowed us the chance to fish exactly as we wanted..
The journey over was uneventful but very pleasant. In 2011 we had taken the short ferry route from Dover to Calais but then had a drive of 5 or so hours to the venue. This time we opted for the longer overnight ferry crossing from Portsmouth the Caen with the shorter 2 hour drive to the lake. If you want to maximise your fishing time go via Calais but if you want a relaxed start to your holiday take the overnight ferry and enjoy a beer in the bar but be warned, the shutters come down on the bar around 1:00 am in the morning and breakfast doesn’t start until 5:30 am so you might do well to book a cabin or at the very least reclining seats in order to get some shut-eye before arrival..
After a drive through the stunning Normandy countryside we stopped in the typically beautiful French village of Alexain, just 5 km from the venue, to pick up essential provisions before heading to the lake in glorious warm spring sunshine. Once there we were greeted by Gigi and Pierre who own the lake and live on site in a caravan on the eastern bank. It’s difficult to adequately express the warmth of their welcome. Our woefully inadequate French and Gigi’s basic written English are no barrier to communication and over a much needed freshly brewed coffee we learnt that the lake had not been heavily fished in recent weeks due to the extended winter weather and heavy rain. However, those that had been brave enough to venture out had been rewarded with multiple catches of carp to over 30lb with an average weight over 20lb. OK maybe not the monsters available in some other lakes but Malvoisine has now produced fish over 40lb and they are packing on the weight every year so this really is a venue to watch in the coming years..
We were really impatient to take a look round so after bidding our hosts au revoir we donned our Polaroid glasses and went for a walk around the periphery of the lake. When we visited back in 2011 we barely saw a carp show but this time as we quietly walked the banks we could see clouds of silt being forced up by fish feeding in the margins around almost the entire lake.
Based on our prior knowledge we’d already decided where each of us was going to fish, at least to start with, so we all headed off to our pre-determined spots to get ourselves set up. I was so buzzed up by the fish I’d seen I quickly set up one rod and bait-boated a rig with a few freebies to the distant margin, slackened off the clutch and laid the rod on the ground whilst I sorted out my other kit. I swear not 10 minutes later the clutch started a steady click, click, click and on lifting the rod a good fish bow waved off the far margin and I was shouting for someone to get a landing net set up pronto! The fish in Malvosine fight incredibly hard and after an excellent battle my nephew Joe slipped the net under the first fish of the trip, and what a start! A pristine 27lb 4oz mirror was the first of many to pose for the camera. If you’re put off by the fact that I used a bait-boat please relax and let me tell you that was the one and only fish I caught using one. I’ll explain in more detail..
As far as we could determine there are really no significant holding areas in open water. Therefore most of the fish tend to stay close to the margins where there are countless fish attracting features in the form of overhanging trees, shallow and deep areas and thick reed beds. At the start of our session we did catch some fish, including the best of our trip at 36lb 12oz, right in the near-side margin but as the session progressed the bank-side activity pushed the majority of the fish to the distant margin.
In some swims extremely good casting or the use of a bait-boat would seem the obvious answer but learning from our trip in 2011 I came prepared with an alternative which, although it took some effort, proved to be very effective. The idea was to remove the rig and use a distance casting lead to cast the line across to the nearest section of the far bank. Then, armed with the baited rig, a bag of 20 – 30 freebies and a baiting spoon on a long handle I walked round to find the lead, attach the rig with the use of a quick-link and then walk the rig down to my target feature. Using the baiting spoon I accurately dropped the rig exactly where I wanted, surrounded it with a few carefully introduced freebies then returned to the rod to set the bobbin and await the next run! It was easier to do this with a friend on the rod to help straighten the line etc but with a little care I performed the whole process single-handedly without too much difficulty.
During the first afternoon we caught some good fish between us, including an upper 20 for brother Adam. On one of my excursions round the lake to position my rigs Gigi informed me that she and Pierre would cook a BBQ for us that evening, so at 6:00 pm Pierre lit the BBQ and one hour later Gigi invited us to one of the picnic tables for a very welcome meal of typical French fare accompanied with a choice of wine. Simply stunning and a further example of what great hosts they are.
During this feast my middle rod was away and I covered the short distance from the picnic table to my swim in double quick time to connect with another hard fighting fish. Not surprisingly nobody was very motivated to leave the BBQ to come to my aid so they continued to enjoy the hospitality whist I provided the entertainment. I could tell this was a good fish as it took an age to work it back across the lake to my near margin where it stayed deep, sending up huge swirls as it twisted and turned under the rod top. Eventually I managed to manoeuvre it into my waiting net to applause from my spectators. Hoisting the fish onto the unhooking mat it was obvious I’d caught a good 30+ common which was sufficient to finally cause some interest from my fellow diners. The fish bottomed out my Avons so I had to fall back on the Rubens to settle on a final weight of 35lb 4oz, a scale perfect deep bodied specimen with beautiful chestnut brown colouration. Once the photos were taken and the fish slipped back I returned to polish off what little was left of the red wine..!
Overnight most of us continued to catch well including two good fish, one of which was the afore mentioned 36lb 12oz mirror to Den, caught against the near bank. Clearly the comparative quiet overnight encouraged the fish to forage in close so it’s always worth dropping a rod in the near margin during the hours of darkness. Unfortunately my nephew Joe was yet to catch and being as how we’d promised him his first 20, at first light I agreed to move swim and let him get baits in the productive areas.
I moved out of the swim and we moved Joe’s rods in, taking the time to get his baits in exactly the right spots using the baiting spoon technique. Brother Adam (Joe’s dad) moved in alongside him to be hands-on support whilst I moved to the other end of the island to fish a new area adjacent to some reed beds. Murphy’s Law was clearly at play because Joe’s first run produced our only single figure fish of the trip at 8lb and his second run produced a 13lb 12oz mirror. In contrast my first two runs in the new swim resulted in mirrors of 27lb 14oz and 28lb 2oz. Despite this we were all convinced Joe was in the right spot and it would just be a matter of time so we all settled down for the rest of the day.
By the early hours of Saturday morning the air temperature was well below freezing and unhooking mats, weigh slings and landing nets were stiff with ice. During these distinctly unpleasant conditions I was summonsed from my warm sleeping bag by another hard fighting fish on my left hand rod. Concentration on the matter in hand took my mind off the cold and after a battle of epic proportions I was eventually near to netting the fish when my right hand rod signalled a take and the rod tip wrapped round. I had no choice but to complete the netting of the first fish before securing the net in the margins and picking up the second rod with aching arms to do it all again. The fish had kited sharply to the right and I had to walk round the bank and halfway down the causeway to make sure I kept it clear of the near bank snags. All well and good but my nearest spare landing net was now 30 meters away with no prospect of me steering the fish back round to where it was no doubt frozen to the ground. Nothing for it but to start yelling for some help. The motivation to get out of a warm sleeping bag to come to my aid was not high but eventually Adam pulled on his wellies to come and sort me out. Both fish turned out to be commons, the first of which was the same 35lb 4oz specimen from the day before and the ‘bonus’ fish was a very long lean fish of 26lb 1oz.By Friday afternoon the weather had taken a distinct turn for the worse with much cooler temperatures, intermittent showers and strengthening easterly winds. It didn’t seem to stop the fish feeding but it curtailed our socialising a little and made us less inclined to have communal weigh-ins, instead opting for the relative comfort of our bivvies and a chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. We did manage to come together for dinner and a quick exchange of catches before bidding each other good luck and retiring for the night.
When the sun finally came up the ice slowly melted away, feeling returned to my finger tips and we came together to have breakfast and talk about events overnight. Unbelievably although Joe had caught another fish it was still not a 20 and we were running out of time. My second swim was still fishing well so I suggested that Joe move again. Same procedure as the previous morning had Joe with three baits all on the going spots and I moved just down the bank to another new spot facing the lake outflow and a large tree on the far bank. Thankfully this move proved fruitful for Joe and after a couple more doubles he landed a cracking 23lb 14oz mirror – mission accomplished!
My new swim posed some new challenges for me. Since the first fish of the session I’d not used a bait-boat and didn’t really want to have to rely on one now but the far-bank features were much further away, the baiting spoon technique was not an option and I needed a re-think to get to what I assumed would be the going areas. To achieve this I changed from the fluorocarbon main line I’d been using and put on spools of Korda Adrenaline paired with distance pendant leads, shorter hook-links and shorter lead-core above the lead. The change worked and with my best casts I was able to drop baits within a meter or so of the features I was aiming to reach. A walk round to the opposite bank enabled me to bait-up accurately. The move again proved worthwhile and my first fish from in front of the distant tree turned out to be a most beautifully proportioned 30lb 10oz common with big, bold scales and deep orange colouration to it’s anal and caudal fins.
Again the weather went crazy during Saturday afternoon but this time for added enjoyment we first had sleet followed by marble sized hail stones. Adam and Joe had wisely abandoned their roach fishing excursion and retreated to the kitchen block, Denis and Ive had not emerged from their bivvies for several hours and as I sat on the edge of my bed-chair watching the water explode with each icy impact I thought surely this would be the kiss of death for the remaining hours of our visit. Yet again I was to be proven wrong as my forth ‘experimental’ rod burst into life and I was forced to break cover to do battle. It was clear the fish was no monster but it stubbornly refused to give in and seemed determined to get me a thorough soaking. As the fish neared the net one of my distance rods signalled a take. Same as the previous night I had no choice but to net the first fish before securing the net and grabbing the other rod. Fortunately this fish had chosen to run into open water so I was able to play it without incident into my second net.
By this time the hail had abated and given way to rain so Adam and Joe emerged from the kitchen and came to take photos. The first fish turned out to be an upper double but the two-tone colouration on the second mirror we recognised as one of the target fish from the photos we’d seen of the venue. Not the prettiest fish in the lake but very welcome at 32lb 4oz. The crazy weather stimulated a mini feeding frenzy because in the space of 30 minutes or so we had 6 carp from different areas of the lake before it slowed down again…
Weather wise Saturday night was a repeat of the previous one with freezing temperatures and cardboard stiff weigh slings. Best fish of the night fell to Denis at 30lb 8oz from his reliable hot-spot under the trees on the far bank directly in front of Pierre and Gigi’s caravan. We had to be packed up and on our way by 10:00 am so we set about the tedious task as soon as the sun came up over the horizon. Of course rods were left out until the last possible moment which proved to be a good decision, particularly for Adam as he had his best fish of the trip at 28lb 12oz on a bait dropped into the very furthest corner of the north-east bay.
I cannot recommend Malvoisine highly enough. The facilities are great – clean hot shower and toilet, plenty of fridge/freezer space, charging points (don’t forget adaptor plugs) and a welcome that’s second to none. So if you’re looking for the ultimate social venue with excellent conditioned, hard fighting fish and beautiful surroundings Malvoisine has to be the venue for you.
Chatting on the ferry on the way home we decided that although my motives for moving Joe into my going swims were good enough, in retrospect I was accessing un-pressured areas which is why each move maybe proved more fruitful for me than Joe. The fish also ‘follow the wind’ and were clearly stimulated to feed each time the weather changed. So don’t despair if it clouds over and starts to rain but do be prepared to move if bites dry up. Simple but efficient rigs are the recommended approach. Most of the bottom is clear of debris so provided hooks are sharp there should be no problem with secure hook-holds (we only lost two fish between us the whole time we were there). A final piece of advice, don’t use pellets in your baiting campaign as they only seemed to attract bream.