Down the West Side
It’s not very often I venture down the west side of France. In fairness, most of the waters I fish across the pond are in and around the Champagne region, which is an easy three-hour hop from the tunnel port, but one venue I’ve fished before a couple of times that is worth going that extra mile for is Le Lac De Peupliers near Rennes.
Peupliers is a quaint, six-acre lake nestled in the rolling Brittany countryside, but it’s what lies beneath the surface that originally grabbed my attention a couple of years ago. It’s certainly not classed as a runs water; in fact, Adam and Whitney, the owners, tell the anglers that before they’ve even parted with their hard-earned dollar, as with a stock of around 80 fish you certainly have to bring you’re A-game to trip them up, but man alive, the effort is well worth it once you get one of them on the mat! I’m guessing of that stock of 80 fish, 15-20 are over the magical 50lb barrier, with a few going over 60lb, with the lake record standing at a massive 68lb.
My latest soiree to the magical lake in July saw me accompanied by the Welsh contingent of the lovely John Flewin and his equally lovely mate Liam Smith. We’d arranged with Adam and Whit that we’d do some filming whilst there to hopefully drum up some publicity for the lake, and to be honest, I’m amazed it’s not fully booked for a few years in advance considering what’s in the place, but as with anything people just need pointing in the right direction to make them aware what a wonderful little venue it is.
The weather on arrival was as you’d expect in that part of France at the end of July: bloody hot! However, with plenty of shade to shelter from the direct rays of the sun, we cracked on with getting the sticks on some likely looking zones. With a long island splitting the lake in two, we all had plenty of water to go at and were never encroaching on anybody else. We’d also seen a few fish crashing about and fizzing whilst having a walk around, so we were itching to have a go. It all looked textbook stuff really – see a fish and risk a cheeky single to grab a quick bite – but this was Peupliers, which had changed a lot since my first winter trip back in 2016.
A few years ago, the lake featured a fair amount of week. Now, as we all know, the fish love the stuff and seek shelter and cover within it, but Adam has now dyed the lake, which means almost a blank canvas. This is fine for presentation or customers who don’t like the stuff, but what that’s done is put these already very wary fish on even more of a state of high alert, as they simply don’t feel safe anywhere in the pond anymore. However, I still risked it, only for the fizzing to stop on that spot then re-start some 20 yards away – very sneaky!
It soon became very apparent for all three of us that we’d have to pick our spots and basically stick to them. Adam said especially this year he’d seen such a pattern of anglers staying on their spots for four or five nights with no fish to show, but then losing their heads and starting a new spot. You can guess what has happened next, as the fish have then sensed no rig being present and ripped the spot to shreds, leaving the angler shaking his head in disbelief. Patience is one of my strong points, to be honest, and I liken situations like this to a game of chess, as it’s more a mental stalemate to see who cracks first, but if you give them some decent bait to tempt them to drop their guard, it’s normally Tong who comes out the victor.
Now I’ve mentioned bait, I’ll take you through my line of attack. I guess it was obvious following on from my June session at Des Pierre’s what I’d be taking with me: the S7, of course! However, Adam had said he thought the fish were heavily feeding on naturals, as bites were proving even harder to come by than normal. This got the old grey matter ticking, and what I really wanted to achieve was to put loads of attraction into the water column and loads of small baits in the hope of getting them about on bait rather than the natural larders that litter the lakebed. I spoke to Jase at the DNA factory and he suggested the 8-millers, which sounded absolutely perfect and a possible edge, as I was sure not many anglers would bother with such small baits across the water; I know I hadn’t until this trip! I also started to think about some of the extensive range of liquids DNA does too. The remembered one of the slideshows I’d seen and how heavy the Hydro Wheat is. I remember from his demonstration the liquid sinking to the bottom and leaking off attraction in every possible direction. That was the epiphany moment. I wouldn’t fill the fish up on big freebies, and the Hydro Wheat would hopefully stimulate them enough to generate an interest in bait rather than eating a bloody bit of bloodworm on a stinky old silt bed.
Distributing the formula wouldn’t be an issue. Spodding is a massive no-no at Peupliers, as it kills the whole lake stone dead, so it’s perfect bait-boat territory. Now the thing with my X-Boat is the hoppers are hydraulic (very posh, don’t ya know), and once closed they almost create a water-tight seal, which is perfect for the already thick, gloopy Hydro Wheat, meaning every last drop I used would find its way to the bottom of the lake, not all over the bloody swim before I’d put the boat in the margins!
The Welsh boys had chosen to air dry all their bait, then to gain the desired attraction they simply rehydrated it in a mix of lake water and all sorts of glugs and potions, which, in fairness, I don’t even think they could repeat again, yet alone bottle and sell, but finally we were all fishing and happy, if not a tad warm!
The day passed uneventfully really, as the warm conditions had pushed the fish even further under the canopies of the trees to gain some cover, but it was just before dark that once the light levels dropped they made their way out into open water for a splash about and a play, which didn’t half raise our spirits for a bite. As I’ve said before, these fish are no mugs, and I’d love to say we all got off the mark on that first night with a flurry of 50-pounder, but alas, we didn’t; we all caught absolutely bugger all.
It was, in fact, two days before my first bite came along, as the left-hand rod arced round in the rests and I was away. I must admit I played the fish gingerly, as I desperately wanted to get off the mark, but these Peupliers fish love a ruck and I’m sure the fish knew it was in total control. After, I guess, 15 minutes or so, the game was up and a mega mid-30lb common was mine. I was buzzing to open the account with such a lovely carp.
Liam had opened his account behind the island too, but John was suffering already. His head was going through the motions, as there were a lot of fish fizzing and crashing all over him, especially through the nights, but with only a few liners to show for his troubles. We’ve all had these situations where we just can’t believe we’ve not had a bite when they’re dancing all over us. I’d love to know exactly what they’re doing at this point, or indeed how they can evade either getting hooked or can resist the temptation of boiled bait, but man alive, they do! In fact, it was my turn next to suffer, as a pod of fish appeared from nowhere all over my left-hand rod with not so much as a beep on the alarms. I suppose it’s an age thing, but I wasn’t letting it get to me as much as John was, but like he said, he’d seen us catch and he wanted a piece of the pie; understandably, too.
The following morning saw my same left-hand rod tighten up as the bobbin held there, before bending ever so slightly more. Despite not giving me a full-blown run, I lifted into the fish and we were in business. A spirited scrap again yielded a perfect upper-twenty stockie, not the monster I desired, but any bite from this lake was well earned, so I was thankful. That was two bites from the same rod around the same time, and on S7 wafters, not pop-ups – perhaps a clue. I was fishing pop-ups on my other two rods and I don’t know what it was that made me reel them both in, but I did. Originally I was going to bin off the S7 pop-ups in after having those two bites on wafters, but as the rods were leaning against the bivvy waiting for me to refresh them, I was rummaging about in my hookbait bucket, as we all do, and I caught a glimpse of the yellow PB wafters, which I’d been catching really well on recently during an episode of the DNA Open-Access Series. Would they fall for a fluoro wafter quicker than a food bait? Well, within five minutes both rods had them on and within a couple of hours I’d had another couple of mid-twenties stockies, so yes, I guess they would fall for a brighter bait quicker.
I was buzzing I’d made the right call; really fired up and in the zone, in fact. I’d also seen a few fish fizzing really tight to the face of the island out in front of me. A quick glance over the area with the echo revealed a shelf leading up to about 2ft of water before I almost beached the boat as it went that shallow! With me I had some 4oz flat pears made for me by Barrs Angling, which would be perfect for holding bottom, so out went the boat laden with S7 8-millers and lashings of Hydro Wheat, with as bright PB wafter as the cherry on the cake. That particular cherry got nabbed mid-morning by what can only be described as a biblical carp called the Corporal. My old mate Beechy had caught it at upper forties on our first trip and I dearly wanted to bag it, and now I had at a spawned-out weight of 52lb 14oz, and all in 2 ft of water! Who says these big old pigs can’t feed in such shallow depths?
I was racking them up by Peupliers standards, and with a cracking 46lb common and a simply lovely heart-tailed mirror of just over 48lb to follow, I began to dream of beating my personal best common with one of three sixties present in the lake.
We got a break in the warm weather for a couple of days and I knew this was the time we’d get some bites. Liam was now ticking along nicely behind the island, but despite not catching anything huge, he fished superbly all session. John had now shaken of his terrible form in France by having a couple of 40lb commons, which both upped his PB by a couple of pounds, so we were all happy, I guess. In all honesty, once the wet weather had passed, I almost felt that would be it for me; I even said to John with a couple of days to go I didn’t feel close to getting another bite, almost like they’d sussed my spots and marked them as dangerous. Liam had also stopped catching now, but there was still one memorable moment to come with only a few hours left of the trip.
John’s right-hand rod had been in the same gap in the canopy for practically the duration of our trip. I’m sure he said all he’d had was one bloody liner in all that time, but something about a spot like that always had the potential to do a big fish at some stage. I’d started packing away, really, which was a slow process, but we were in no rush. John, on the other hand, isn’t the tidiest of anglers; his swim looked like a scene from a war zone, not an angling session with some filming thrown in. I’d wandered back to my swim to no doubt sweep it of dust or something ridiculous like that when I heard him shout he’d got a bite. “No rush,” he said, “it’s not big’.” To be perfectly honest, John plays them like a girl. Bearing in mind he’s an 18-stone Welsh bear, you’d think he’d be skulling them in across the surface, but no, he was flapping! As the battle continued, we got the first glimpse of the fish: a common that didn’t look especially massive, but it certainly wasn’t as small as he first thought. He was still a nervous wreck, and as the fish took its first gulp of air, John managed to keep its head above the surface and guide it towards the net. With its head practically at the spreader block, I struggled to flop its tail over the cord, but still don’t think it was much bigger than 40lb. We got the scales sorted and put the sling under the net to move the fish to the waiting mat, and it was only when it took two of us to lift it that we realised John had something special on his hands.
We then placed the fish on to the mat and even Liam, who was across the other side of the lake, heard us both say, ‘’Jeeeesus!’’ or words to that effect. It was absolutely huge, and filled a Euro-style cradle! I knew then it was one of the three big commons. John was in bits; his head had practically fallen off! He allowed me to weigh the fish for him, and at 59lb 8oz he’d smashed his PB again by a whopping 16lb. What a carp it was too, and in such fantastic condition after a successful spawn.
We got some amazing footage of the beast, and even now as I’m writing I’m smiling thinking about how we all shared the moment with John and relished in his achievement. It was for me the highlight of at times a very frustrating session in some testing conditions, but between us we managed 20 fish, which considering that is 25% of the lake’s population, and I’d have certainly taken that, it had been a successful trip.
My plan of attack of S7 8-millers and lashings of the awesome Hydro Wheat produced nine fish, which was very pleasing. It was the first time I’d used such small baits across the water and the first time I’d used the Hydro Wheat too, so another massive success with another couple of strings added to my armoury. However, what was also very pleasing was spending time with good people at a wonderfully relaxing lake down on the west side of France; just next time, Flewin, try to catch one of the biggest fish in the lake after three hours, not with three hours to go!