Mike Linstead travelled out to French gravel pit Blue Lake on May 23rd this year. Here’s his account of the 7 days that followed…
Imagine your ideal French carp lake. What do you see?
For me it would be a natural and quiet water that is very picturesque with plenty of room, ideally between 10-20 acres. It needs to have a good variety of features, gravel bars, plateaus and little hidden bays.
It should have excellent facilities, great showers, freezers and everything you need to support a week-long trip to France. Most of all it has to have good quality, hard fighting fish with the chance of catching something special.
Imagine having all those boxes ticked and more. Well that happened to me just recently.
Pulling up to the gates of Blue Lake a short drive from the city of Chartres, my first look of the lake confirmed to me that this water fitted the bill and more.
At 15 acres in size and in the classic triangular style of many French lakes, I could see the lake was totally surrounded by deep, tree-lined margins and almost silent, but for the sounds of the wildlife going about the daily routine.
Being May the weather was pleasantly warm and comfortably in the 20Cs and, with a good westerly breeze blowing across the lake, conditions looked great.
After a brief chat with the two other anglers on the lake for the week, myself and my brother Matt did a lap of the lake and opted to fish in peg seven.
This would provide us with a good expanse of water to double up on and we knew from the research we’d done in advance, that there was a wealth of gravel bars in front of us and a depth of around 7ft.
After setting up camp we set to getting the marker rods out and, once we were satisfied with the spots we’d found, took to the water in Matt’s Seyvlor Fish Hunter inflatable boat to bait up.
We both know from experience of fishing a number of waters in France that keeping disturbance to an absolute minimum is key to a successful week. There’s no room for hammering in pegs with a mallet and slamming car doors as far as we’re concerned, this only serves to warn the carp of your presence and work against you.
So, as we knew a lot of anglers use bait boats on this water, we opted to mimic this approach by boating out our free offerings.
After a long drive through the night we were both feeling tired so had a quick bite to eat and got our heads down.
After what felt like hours of being asleep but was less than an hour one of Matt’s rods burst into life and after an unusual battle filled with reel-screaming runs the fish was ready for the net. We both prefer to keep our headlamps switched off during a fight so when I stuck my headlamp on to slip the net under the fish I was amazed to see the huge head of a Sturgeon waiting to greet me!
It was enormous and I had to struggle to get it into the waiting net. On the scales it went 56lb and was the first Sturgeon we’d ever seen on the bank. From that moment my mind was made up, I wanted to catch one and tick another species off my catch list!
The rest of the first night was quiet so the next day, after receiving word that a last minute booking was due to arrive, we opted to do what very few anglers do when fishing in France, move swims.
We’d seen a lot of fish showing during the previous evening on the bank directly opposite so we wound the rods in after breakfast and went for a look.
Confirming our suspicions, we saw lots of fish cruising just under the surface of peg two on a point and also within the small bay of peg one.
So, after an arduous couple of hours shifting all our gear and re-making camp, Matt settled into peg two and I went for the quiet bay in peg one.
The other party had arrived by this time and opted to the fish the bank to the right of my swim in pegs 10 and 11.
Remember my point about banging car doors? Well the theory was proved by the new guys slamming the side door of their van several times promptly followed by a mass exodus of the previously relaxed carp in peg two to the opposite end of the lake.
We fished on regardless but needless to say the next couple of days were slow.
Matt got into the fish first, landing a great 27lb common and another low 20lb Common, along with his second sturgeon of the week at around 45lb.
I on the other hand found myself struggling due to the line pressure in the front of my bay and only had one lost mirror at the net to speak of.
Things were made all the trickier when we realised that many of the carp had begun spawning further up the lake.
Despite this development we persisted and our patience was rewarded. I had a mid-double grass carp to get me off the mark. It was my first of the species so despite its modest size I was delighted to catch something new.
The evening drew in and as I lay snoozing on my bedchair I had a roaring take followed by a truly brutal fight. It was breathtaking and I knew immediately from our earlier encounter what it was. I slipped the net under my first ever Sturgeon and at 44lb 2oz I was absolutely elated. I know that for many anglers sturgeon are considered a nuisance but for me angling is about many things not just catching carp and this was a unique experience I will never forget.
The three late arrivals were on the move the next day into pegs seven, eight and nine which eased the pressure on the fish in our area and Matt added another to his tally.
The lake owner Sebastian Vasseur dropped in later in the afternoon and recommended we move from our current pegs when the next opportunity presented itself.
That opportunity didn’t take long to arrive as on the Wednesday afternoon the three late arrivals were already packing up and heading for home with just a couple of fish between them. If only they had been a bit quieter and thought a little more about how to approach the lake in a considered way, things could have been so much different for them.
Nevertheless we didn’t stand on ceremony and took the chance to move again. After seeing fish cruising in the corner of peg 10 we had made up our minds and swiftly set about breaking camp and moving onto the fish.
This proved to be a wise move.
After quietly positioning our baits via the boat once again we settled down for the evening to enjoy a game of cards and a bit of a catch up, as we’d been split up for the previous few days.
As darkness fell Matt was into the action. His first run came at just after 10pm and was the opening fish in a string of incredibly hard fighting and beautifully conditioned carp, including some fantastic commons during a busy and sleepless night.
I was still to get off the mark in peg 10 but I knew by being patient and helping Matt whilst he was on the fish that my chance would eventually present itself.
I did have another almighty take during the early hours which was undoubtedly an incredibly large sturgeon. Judging by the sound of the crash when it jumped clear of the surface it was clearly in a different league to the one I landed earlier in the week. And so it proved when I had the fish seemingly in my control under the rod tip in the margins as it decided to show off its true power and almost rip the rod clear of my hand. Inevitably the line parted and I was left wondering what might have been!
Thursday was a hazy and very warm day so the action was slow in the heat. Setting our traps again in the evening we sat in anticipation of the action during the night ahead.
Matt was first to receive some action again, and banked another bruising 34lb common that had a taste for a good fight!
Wondering if I was going to be left on netting duties again all night, my thoughts were quickly broken by a take on my right hand rod. The fight felt typical of a big fish filled with long, steady runs as the carp on the other end used it nous and experience to counteract my efforts. Line steadily ticked off the reel as it used its weight to try and gain the upper hand.
Thankfully the fight began to swing in my favour and, when Matt slipped the net under the fish, he immediately knew something big was sulking in the mesh. It was only when we flicked on our headlamps that I saw the true size of the fish I’d just battled.
It looked massive, with huge shoulders and very deep flanks. Matt was unusually quiet and coy about putting a size to the fish. So, when the dial on the scales swung round to 43lb 8oz, I just stood in total amazement. I’d landed my first 40lb carp!
I wish I was able to bottle the feeling in the minutes that followed. I was totally elated. Not only had I reached the magical 40lb milestone, I had surpassed my previous personal best by a considerable distance.
Composing myself as Matt prepared the photography gear I looked at the awesome fish lying in the cradle before taking a few photos then promptly slipping it back into the inky black waters, releasing it ready to do battle again another day. I just hope the next angler who catches that incredible fish enjoys the same feeling I did in that moment. It was almost indescribable.
I didn’t sleep for one minute that night, instead laying quietly on my bedchair with a smile of total satisfaction. Without the earlier effort during the week I know I wouldn’t have achieved such a momentous capture.
On Friday we opted to have an easier day in preparation of the drive home early on the Saturday. Having a pizza to celebrate in the local town of Illiers-Combray we arrived back at the lake for mid-afternoon and prepared our swim for the final night.
After an hour of the rods being out I was into another hard fighting Blue Lake carp which was followed shortly after by another fantastic 26lb mirror.
We had started to string together some really nice fish and it was clear that the fish were finishing their annual spawning ritual and were returning to the feed.
Another mirror was added to my tally shortly after releasing this fish and I had a wry smile to myself at my late arrival to the party!
We decided we would fish until 5am before packing down ready to make the return journey home.
Matt had a take at just after 4am which unfortunately pulled the hook at the net and I followed suit by losing another fish at the net at just before 5am. If only we’d have had a few more days we would have almost certainly added a lot more fish to our tally!
Regardless of this, when the time came to go through the gates of Blue Lake I was left to reflect on what had been a challenging but incredibly rewarding week.
If someone had offered me the option at the beginning of the week of catching a steady string of fish or working hard and being rewarded with the ultimate prize of a new PB along with my first capture of two new species I would have chosen the latter option without hesitation.
It just proves what I have experienced on all of my trips to France. Just because you’re on holiday it doesn’t mean the fish are! These carp are fished for almost more than many of the carp in our UK waters and demand as much effort to catch as their British counterparts.
You reap what you sew in fishing and by working hard, keeping your approach as quiet and stealthy as possible and being prepared to move onto fish, the rewards are yours to take. Arriving with an attitude of complacency and an expectation that you have a right to catch something will only end in disappointment.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that you have to work yourself into the ground to succeed, after all for many of us it is still a holiday. But by being willing to apply the same watercraft we afford the fish in our home waters you can achieve your ambitions.
As for Blue Lake, if you want a quality drive and survive venue with all the facilities you require to make a week in France comfortable and successful then this place is well worth a look.
It is very reminiscent to St John’s Lake on the Richworth Linear complex and I don’t draw this comparison lightly.
With the right approach and at the right time of year, this water has the potential to throw up a serious hit of really big fish.
I just wish I had another week there to prove it myself!