An Indian Summer – Part 1

  • Posted: 8th August 2019
  • Author: Iain Macmillan

A friend and I planned something a bit different this autumn, our first two-week trip to France in hot pursuit of huge piggies. The plan was to fish two very different lakes, but ones that were very close to each other, a two-minute drive, to be precise!

The first lake we were tackling was Etang la Saussaie. This lake was off limits some years ago, as it was home to the world’s largest common carp that actually nudged over the 100lb barrier on the odd occasion until it passed away a few years ago. Obviously, this meant the lake was full to the hilt for years, so access was hard, but following its sad death the lake was almost forgotten about, bookings dropped, as did the price, and I’m sure Phil, the owner, won’t mind me saying, but the lake was deserted for long periods of time. With most things that get neglected, it thrived on that neglect.

It was a series of coincidences that led us on to the lake in the first place. Beechy and I met some great lads from Leicester a few years ago at Eden Lakes. We clicked straight away and it was a chance text from Keith asking if we fancied a week on Saussaie. It was literally a day after I’d seen another mate, Roger Bacon, have some spectacular fish from the lake and, in fairness, it got the old grey matter thinking there were some seriously big fish now swimming about in the lake. Naturally, Beechy and I jumped at the offer from Keith and I fired the money straight over. We did have a dilemma on top of this, as we had another week on Pascale’s planned two weeks after Saussaie, which potentially meant a week in France and a long drive home, only to do it all over again a week later – not ideal! Again, all the stars must have aligned, as I got a text from Phil asking if we could do the week before we were actually supposed to be on, which was absolutely perfect, as it meant just one longer trip, but a hell of a lot of arse-kissing from Beech with his wife and a hell of a lot of prep work needed to make sure we had everything required for a two-week session on two totally different lakes.

My very first issue was bait. I’d had some fantastic results on Secret 7 and SLK all through 2018 in lots of different situations and was torn between the two. I remember speaking to Lee ‘Mozza’ Morris about it and said I’d take equal amounts of both baits, as I couldn’t make my mind up, but I’ve never done that ever, as I only ever take one bait and stick to my judgement, so I had to make a decision. I’m guessing the swinging vote came after my last few French trips with Secret 7, so that’s what I went with, and lots of it! I was armed with 100kg of Secret 7 in various sizes, 100kg of particles, 25 litres of Hydro Wheat and loads of the matching S7 Liquid Food. Beechy had got the same just but in Switch, so we had two different options covered. When I say his van was on its arse when we loaded it up, it was on its arse! It’s a lowered T5 anyway, but with all the bait, plus tackle, engines and boat batteries, plus bait boats, I’m amazed it pulled off his drive, let alone get us all the way past Reims in central France!

After some careful thought, there really was only one choice for both big-fish waters; it just had to be the S7

The van never missed a beat and soon enough, after the ridiculously early departure from Stoke, we were pulling into the gates at Saussaie in the bright midday sunshine, where Craig met us with a welcoming coffee and a smile. Craig was top draw all week and nothing was too much trouble at all.

We set off on the walk around the eight-acre pit, and the strong northerly wind had us all looking anxiously towards that end. It was just at the point when we were all looking that a good fish launched itself clear of the water over in the far right-hand corner, and right on the end of the wind, too! As we plodded on around, it was very obvious where we all fancied, but now was the dreaded draw time. I’m sure you all know my terrible form in draws, so this year I decided to change tact. Rather than actually pulling a ball myself, I simply let everyone else pick, then I picked what was left; that way if I came last again I wouldn’t beat myself up too badly about it. We all looked at the said balls at the same time: I was fully expecting mine to say number five, out of five, so when I saw number one I nearly fell off the bloody bench! Now the pressure was on to pick correctly, I suppose. There was only one swim where I’d seen fish in and that was Left Beach, which was what I picked. The other four seemed reasonably happy with where they were, so we went about setting up the ‘dens’.

As is always the way with me, I’ll listen to what the on-site bailiff has to say. Craig pointed out a few likely looking areas that had done the bites the previous week, but I’m always a bit sceptical about fishing the same spots as everybody else, if I’m honest. I’ll normally ride with them for the first night, but if nothing’s developed by the morning, I’m normally itching to change things. That’s always been my way, as I’m always thinking there’s a bite to be had somewhere in the swim at any particular time. So, after a fishless first night, I was already twitching come mid-morning on the Sunday. Keith, just to my right, had caught a couple of fish and was picking them off as they were patrolling short of the far margin. However, my swim looked dead: the wind had now completely and there was nothing to pull them down my end any more, and I was already contemplating a move.

I stuck it out until the Monday morning in the Left Beach, but after spotting a couple of shows up in the vacant peg 14, I simply lobbed the kit in the back of the van in double-quick time and drove around there sharpish. I unloaded and in no time at all saw about six or seven shows, which was more like it! There was no rush, so the bait was primed for super-stealth mode and out went the three rods with ease. All I did was look for less weedy areas on the echo and in the general vicinity of where I’d seen the fish.

The times when you’d most expect to see them show, they wouldn’t, then randomly in the warm sun a little show fest would materialise

The middle rod went over the weed towards the road bank where there was no fishing. The wind was now pushing in there nicely and it looked bang on for a bite. It was the middle rod that was constantly giving me savage liners. It was very apparent I was fishing too far out, as the liners were coming from the weed I was fishing over only about 40 yards out. I reeled it in and flicked it out just past the weed. It landed with a hard thump and it only took 30 minutes before the bobbin smacked the blank of the rod and the spool was purring like a cat. It didn’t feel like a heavy fish, as the lunges and runs were way too quick for that, but I always like to land my first bite of the week, no matter how big. Dave had nipped around from peg one, as he saw me doing battle, and soon enough a mirror of just under 30lb had got me off the mark.

I soon had a new rig sorted and the rod back out in the same zone with a small bag of Crayfish Mini Mix pellets attached for some attraction. I had another savage liner and that was that, despite conditions looking nailed on for more with the new southerly wind blowing right at me. I stuck it out for the night, but come the morning I wasn’t seeing anything and knew they’d done the off again. If I’m being honest, I knew it after I’d had that fish, and as is sometimes the way, the fish will only put up with a bit of pressure for a short period of time before backing off and finding sanctuary somewhere else. I dropped Keith, who was still in Right Beach, a message to see if he’d seen many back down my original end, which he had. I quickly reeled in and went for a wander, and in literally two minutes back down there I saw one show and three sets of definite carp fizzes. It was time to get on the move again!

I grabbed the van and loaded up in super-quick time again, only this time I opted for peg six rather than the Left Beach. A couple of the spots where I’d seen fizzes meant that from the Beach I’d almost cut a line right through two of the spots, so the better line-lay option was from peg six. I must admit, I felt alive again, as is what I base my most of my angling on, finding them and getting on them, only this time the sense of urgency was heightened as I knew just what was on offer here at Saussaie.

The evening came and went, and the next morning brought some drizzle and low pressure, which felt mega for a bite; I just knew something would materialise. It was around 10am when the middle rod twitched and I watched the line picking up through the marginal column. I was on the rod before the line had even been pulled from the clip. I was fishing a small channel in some thick weed, so didn’t want the fish to gain any momentum which would require me taking to the boat. There were obviously fish now in my bay and launching the boat could well spook them right back up the other end of the lake where I’d just moved from, which I really didn’t want, so I kept the pressure on the heavy weight and teased it back through the weed with relative ease. I was beginning to think it had gathered some weed around it, as the weight was heavy, and I mean heavy; there were no quick runs and no darting lunges. Deep down I knew this was a big carp. My thoughts were confirmed when its massive head appeared as it gulped air into its belly. I chanced walking back as Keith was there waiting with the net, and you know what, the brute just folded into the mesh at the first time of asking – result!  Keith and I marvelled at the shear bulk of its frame; it was immensely thick across its back, yet remarkably deep too, and as we slid the weigh sling under the net to move the fish to the weigh station, we knew it was a piggy. Craig saw the commotion and came to assist. He’d caught the fish in the winter at high fifties and even said it looked way bigger than that, so it was no surprise when it rocked the scales at 63lb 4oz. What a biblical carp! It was littered with big scales down one of its flanks and looked proper in the misty drab morning. I was buzzing my nuts off!

How’s your luck? I’d earmarked this fish from the clubhouse only a couple of days before, but with the weather turning damp and dreary for a morning, it was the perfect conditions for a big-fish bite. It felt heavy all the way through the scrap, so it wasn’t a surprise when this bruiser of a mirror at 63lb 4oz wallowed its way into the waiting landing net

I was obviously happy with the middle spot then; it was just the left and right to get rocking and we would be all good. The right was over on the ‘banker bush’ spot; it did mean putting a line right across the bay, but Craig said it never affected the fish, as I guess they were kind of used to it being that way, but rather than going tight to the bush, I fished at least a rod-length off to give them some room to move past my rig. I baited the whole bush to get their confidence up and that same evening the rod was away just on dark, with an absolute cracking 57lb 12oz common being the culprit.

After moving back down the northern end of the lake, it took a full 26 hours for the right-hand bobbin to slam into the alarm. This common weighed in at an impressive 57lb 12oz

I was now finding that if I scattered the area with Secret 7 and a throwing stick, then focused the spot where the rig was with particles, they would happily stay in the area picking off the single boilies, then kind of accept the risk of getting caught off the spot where the rig was. It was almost like teasing them with the S7 but not spooking them, then they’d come across the particle spot and bang, too late!

The forecast for the rest of the week was good on the sun front, but not so good for catching big carp. However, it was so pleasant in the almost Indian-style summer that we weren’t about to start complaining. I guess we’d all like weeks of low pressure and big winds, but I’ve been away in France in such conditions and it’s not fun being bivvy-bound for a week, let me tell you. Plus, you can’t predict the weather when you book your trips, so you kind of get what you get and make the most of things.

We had some real autumnal mornings with temperatures down to around 3-4 degrees come first light, but we were soon left basking in temperatures in the mid-twenties

The other lads were now getting a couple of bites from the bigger fish, too. It’s worth saying that Saussaie isn’t a runs water, far from it. Craig said there’s about 90-100 fish in eight acres, so not exactly prolific, but you can’t have a runs water that does the shear amount of big fish that Saussaie does, the two just don’t go together as the biomass just doesn’t allow it.

Keith was ‘Mr Consistent’ throughout the week, picking a few off fishing it his way, which tripping them up as they navigated the far margins before flying past the back of the island. His biggest was just over 59lb, but hands down he got the trophy for the most brews consumed in a week. Man alive, this boy can drink tea! He was plotted up right outside the lodge, so basically he was using the electric kettle all week. Now, I’m sure old Keith got more than what he paid for his trip back in electric from the amount of times the bloody thing was turned on! Beech was next up in peg three, which I thought was a more passing-through swim, and it was the same for Dick in peg two, but both proved me wrong with PB commons, bot of them were amazing-looking fish. Beechy’s was 61lb 4oz and Dick’s was 65lb 8oz, and both in fantastic condition too, so a big well done, boys; very well earned! The biggest surprise was Dave in peg one, one of the hot swims due to its access to the no-fishing bank, but despite one fish on the first night, Dave struggled all week until the last night, when the fish very obviously turned up in numbers and he was rewarded with a lovely linear at mid-forties.

Beechy fishing long out of peg three proving that he can get it very right on the odd occasion. This mega PB common for the Ginger Prince weighed in at 61lb 4oz

Dave’s dad Dick was really putting us young guns to shame with this spell-binding 65lb-plus common, the biggest common in the lake

I was now plodding along down in peg six. I’d had another fifty on a white Milky Malt wafter, but the other bites had come to the matching S7 wafters. If I’m being totally honest, I always like to match the hatch in the autumn months. I just think by this time of year they’ve been battered on fluoros and the more wise, old fish want a proper bit of food-based grub to satisfy their palette.

It was wafters and German rigs all the way at Saussaie. I did have a couple of fish on the Milky Malts, but the bigger fish fell for the match-the-hatch S7 wafters, which I think is the way to go in the autumn months

We were now on ‘Big Fish Thursday’, which didn’t matter to me, as I’d had ‘Big Fish Tuesday’ with the mirror, but what I did notice was a spot glowing up from some thick weed to my left where I hadn’t put a rod on all week. I even got Keith down for a second opinion and he agreed the spot wasn’t there before, or at least it wasn’t glowing like it was now. Something had definitely polished it off during the night, so I investigated it more. It was a big spot in fairness, one I’d not normally bother with as I thought it looked too big and obvious, but with careful rig placement (right on the front edge of the spot where the weed was) I’d hopefully be able to keep all the line out of sight of the fish and trip one up.

I wasn’t filling the fish up, just a good dose of particles with a peppering of S7 to add some substance to the menu was all that was needed

Well, trip one up I did, as I just knew it would do a bite after seeing the change in it over the past couple of days. Another Saussaie lump was soon struggling for space in my net, and at 55lb 10oz, things just couldn’t be going any better really. It was certainly turning into one of those trips where the more you watched and studied the water, the more it would pay you back with big fish, and I was right in the zone too!

A super-long 55lb 10oz mirror which put up a great account of itself

The only thing that was strange was my final fish, a cracker of 42lb 12oz that I it up from the bush spot across the bay.  Interestingly though, this was the only spot I had more than one bite from that week. I was sure that once I had a bite from a spot, they felt on edge and wouldn’t pick anything up there for a while afterwards, hence me changing my spots with some degree of regularity. I’m not one for changing my spots much, as I prefer to trust my judgment and sit it out once I know I’m on fish, but this week it definitely got me bonus fish by keeping my eyes open and moving things about to zones where I’d seen activity.

I could only get two bites off one spot all week, and this big-finned 42lb 12oz was the second off the ‘lucky bush’ spot

We were now edging very close to the next chapter in this adventure, but what a week we’d had. I think we had 19 bites for 18 fish landed, including five fifties to more than 59lb and three sixties to 65lb 8oz, plus a few forties thrown in for good measure, so you can see the standard of fish in the lake.

Dave had a fish on the very first night, then had to sit it out until the last morning for his next bite which turned out to be this lovely mid-forty mirror

I absolutely loved Saussaie and its certainly somewhere I’ll be going back to in the future, but I was now focusing firmly on the weather for the following week. The only thing I didn’t want was the up-and-down nature that we’d had at Saussaie, as I know it knocks the fish’s feeding habits. I’ve found carp like it to be consistent, whether that’s consistently warm or cold; it’s just the consistency keeps them in a stable feeding mood I think. The forecast was much better for the night-time temperatures by the looks of things. Could we have just picked the most perfect fortnight possible? Well, we’d certainly got it off to an absolute flyer on the first week; fingers crossed it would carry on over at Pascale’s just a short two-minute drive away. I’ll tell you all about it in part 2 of ‘An Indian Summer’.