The secret to a good fishing trip to France is preparation and being well equipped. This necessarily means a certain expense, but if you want to enjoy your trip and not have it turn into an unpleasant fiasco: like the boy scouts say “Be Prepared”. Keeping warm, dry and well fed will go a long way to making your trip a success. So what are the six things that can make your trip awful?
1. Get wet and cold: As we often fish in the winter, spring and autumn, keeping dry and warm is of prime importance if we are to enjoy our fishing and fish effectively.
Hat: Twenty percent of you body heat is lost through you head, so a hat is pretty much essential in colder months. There are now a whole host of snug fleecy hats available that are comfortable warm and cheap. Most have some brand logo adorning them.
Coats: A good warm, waterproof coat is again a must. Some of the trendy fishing ones, especially the cheap nylon affairs are not the best choice. These will cause you to sweat and ultimately get cold, you often pay over the odds to have a fishing brand on it. In the purpose designed fishing wear there is a wide choice of Goretex type equipment available such as the Carpy Storm Jacket by Free Spirit, who offer some quality clothing for as little as £90. Otherwise check out the camping and army surplus stores where there is some top quality, hardwearing clothing are more affordable prices.
Fleeces, layers cotton: Fleece-type under garments are the ones to choose, as these wick away the sweat from the body and help the Goretex type over layers to work. Avoid cotton which will simply get wet, soak up the sweat and make you cold. The same applies to trousers and undergarments. Jeans are not a good choice, as you’ll be too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
Poncho: One item that can make fishing in heavy rain bearable is a military style poncho. Available from most good Surplus stores or on line these thick nylon garments will simply pull over your head quickly to both put them on and to remove them and keep you dry in the worst conditions.
Shoes: Good footwear will help keep your feet warm and dry. I remember as a boy sitting on the banks of the local canal in Doc Martens and feeling I had blocks of ice under my toes. Nowadays there are lots of breathable and lined boots that offer protection from the wet and cold. See below.
Gloves: I like the Damart fingerless gloves as they are warm & thin yet let you fish properly. Thicker gloves are not easy to manage while fishing, as you need a certain feel to cast, play and land a fish. We often use wet and dirty baits and particles which makes using gloves awkward. However between takes I use a pair of green ‘Thinsulate’ gloves.
Hand-warmers:Something I used a lot as a boy, I now find modern materials and gloves better. However, one of these dropped in your coat pocket is not a bad idea. There are several types either the boil up ones or the solid fuel variety that keep warm for up to 8 hours.
Sleeping bags: A proper five season sleeping bag is important for those cold winter nights. The addition of a Goretex, lined cover increases the thermal qualities of the bag.
Heaters: Shaun Harrison showed me a small Coleman heater that ran off gas, last year. We were able to sit out in November and enjoy the evening and a glass of wine without getting cold. I was much impressed by these items. (Note: Some of these have recently been recalled due to a manufacturing fault )
2. Bring inappropriate sleeping gear: You need to be well equipped on the camping side if you are to get the most out of an early or late season trip. Go ill-prepared and a pleasant holiday quickly becomes a nightmare. Again the secret is to remain warm and dry.
Sleeping bag: As I said above a good warm sleeping bag will help you enjoy a goodnight’s sleep. If you are cold you’ll simply get tired and not fish well at all. Modern fishing bags are excellent and the choice is huge. I have used the fleece lined versions from Trakker and Fishrite, but found it hard to use if you sleep dressed and ready for an eventual fish. Your clothes stick to the fabric and it is hard to turn over without tying yourself in knots. I prefer the cotton or nylon lined bags as I can sleep in my clothes and get comfortable. The sepcialist fishing bags give you the room you need, where as camping bags are generally too narrow to sleep in fully clothed and are often of the mummy shape. Military bags are better but make sure they have crash zips. As I mentioned above a Goretex cover will substantially increase the thermal qualities of your bag and improve your comfort.
Bedchair: A good bedchair is a must too. The modern ones by Nash, Fox, Chub and JRC for example offer lightweight comfortable beds. Many now are six leg jobs that are more stable and stronger for the larger carp anglers amongst us. Make sure your elastic is pulled as tight as possible to give you a firm and comfortable mattress.
Bivvy: A bivvy of sufficient size to allow you to remain warm, dry and comfortable is recommended. I would suggest using a two-man version for just one person, so you have room for your bed and room to sit and remain dry and warm. The addition of a winter skin on the single skin type bivvies is a good idea as it will avoid to a large extent the condensation problems you can get and make the bivvy far warmer, while also improving its water proof qualities.
3. Run out of food: Assuming you are on a Drive and Survive and have to do your own cooking, it is no fun to go hungry. If you are to fish well and enjoy your trip, you need regular meals.
Cooking on the bank can be a bit of a chore, but with the right equipment it is possible to knock up excellent bank side grub. Get a good stove, either gas of petrol. There are two camps here, Coleman vs Gas. I used a Coleman both the Sportster and the Double Burner for years and they work very well, especially the Double burner. They are great for boiling water and cooking things that need loads of heat, but less good if you need to simmer. The other down side is they blacken all you pans and you have to deal with smelly unleaded fuel which can taint you bait if you don’t wash you hands thoroughly. Gas is the alternative and is cleaner and easier to use. I had a Double gas burner that used the 1.8kg Campingaz bottles. This works very well. Ok so what food should you take?
Tins: These are practical, cheap, last for ever and are quick to heart up for a meal. The quality is often somewhat dubious, as they are not made from prime ingredients and often have a strong taste of preservatives. In the UK now you can get all sorts of foods in tins, from all-in-One Breakfasts to deserts. I often mix stews, potatoes and veg in one pan.
Packets: These have similar advantages to the tinned foods, in that they keep for a long time and can easily be cooked up on the bank. Most require water to be added though. You can get any number of stews, soups, pasta and deserts in packet form. They have the added advantage of taking up far less room than tins and weigh far less. Quality varies, but again this is not Haute Cuisine.
Fresh: My choice on the bank is for fresh food. France has excellent supermarkets and fresh meat, chicken, patés, fruit, veg and cheese can be easily purchased. Some kind of cool box will be needed if you want to keep if for more than a day or so. I find steaks, sausages and chops for instance quick easy and tasty to cook up on the bank, and rice, pasta or potatoes can be cooked in minutes to accompany it. Fresh fruit and veg is also easy to prepare and more healthy than fried food.
Supermarkets what to look for: If you want English bacon, sausages and beans, then bring them with you as the French don’t eat them. Otherwise the amount of French & European type food available in say Tesco’s now should leave no one stumped for what to buy. But don’t go out of your way to find English food, you are in France so try the paté, cheese and other specialities.
The other alternative and one I favour more and more is simply to reel in at around 11am and go to the local restaurant for a hot meal. This saves not only on the cooking but the washing up and shopping too. In the evening I get by with a baguette and some cheese and cold meats or paté.
4. Wear bad footwear: As I’ve mentioned above good warm footwear is not just a luxury if you want to enjoy your fishing in the colder months.
Wellies: These are fine in the warmer months as they are cheap, 100% waterproof and practical for paddling in the margins and walking along muddy or water logged terrain. They don’t offer any real insulation so you feet get cold very quickly or you start to sweat in the summer. The fact that they cause you to sweat will make your feet very cold in the colder months. Not the best choice for an all round fishing boot.
Laced Boots: Many hunting and fishing stores now offer these high ankle boots that offer waterproof protection as they are often made with a Goretex type membrane. The thick lining and breathable quality should see you keep dry and therefore warm feet. They take longer to put on though.
Padded boots: There are a number of these Moonboot type boots on the market. I had a pair of Sundridge Hotfoots, which were waterproof, very warm and comfortable and I can honestly say I never once had cold feet. Their major weakness though is that they are very hard to walk in, and hike around to your peg. If you do wear them for this you’ll certainly have hot sweaty feet by the time you reach your swim. I would recommend they are used solely for static fishing.
Socks: Again an important item, to avoid your feet sweating and chaffing in your boots. I like the modern fleecy materials that prevent too much sweating, but are thick enough to offer sufficient warmth.
5. Run out of water: Venues with regular mains tap water in France aren’t affected, as you drink this in 99% of areas with no problem.
Water otherwise, can be a major problem if you are not on a venue that has running water you are able to drink or use for washing dishes. Many French lakes are still on well water, which while fine for washing yourself and even boiling, can’t be drunk straight without treatment. Micropur tablets are a good idea and I’ve used this for a number of years. In most cases simply boiling the water will do, but it won’t remove any taste the water may have. Naturally with the possibility of Weils disease etc, I would strongly suggest you don’t use lake water for either drinking or washing up, even boiled.
Mineral water is available in bottles in all supermarkets so a supply of this in hot weather is pretty much essential. You can either buy the large 5 litre bottles or transfer it to a larger water container. Either way these are inevitably heavy and cumbersome.
6. Get lost : Getting lost before you get to your destination can be avoided by a bit of forethought and adequate planning. At Angling Lines we give out detailed instructions but this doesn’t mean you can forget to take maps, GPS etc.
Planning: Before you leave make sure you know exactly where you are heading. Find it on a map, Google Earth or a Sat Nav and check it is where you are supposed to be going. The online route planners help to determine the length and time your journey will take.
GPS: I thoroughly recommend a portable GPS unit such as the Tomtom series. I have used one of these around France for a couple of years now and wouldn’t be without it. I use it in conjunction with Google Earth to find the exact location and coordinates in order to programme it correctly. At Angling Lines we give out the coordinates for all our venues, but it is still worth checking on Google that you have the right destination. These units are now so cheap that you really can’t afford not to have one. I’ve noticed that on the Tomtom system the individual country maps are more detailed than the Europewide version. I have downloaded the individual maps for the whole of Europe and often find the lake I am fishing is represented on the map.
Maps: All the above directions, GPS and Internet, doesn’t mean you can forget the good old atlas all together. Although I don’t use mine very often now, I keep it to hand to help me plan my route when out on the road. It can be a useful aid to programming your GPS and is a fall back if the sat nav breaks is lost or stolen. Incidentally Postcodes in France are not useful navigation aids as they cover a wide area, often several villages.