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Tournament fishing in France … you can only research, plan and imagine to a point, after that nothing takes the place of experience. Our trip was a mixture of awe, excitement, fun and frustration. Let me tell you all about it.
The French country side is beautiful, the sprawling vineyards are amazing, the road signs are all in French, so like it or not regardless of reams of Mapquest directions we got to see more of the country side than we bargained for.….. It took us about two hours to realize “sorte” meant exit and about two days to figure that “rappel” meant speed. North, South, East, West, who knows, we probably glazed right over that little essential piece of the language puzzle too. The Saturday afternoon 150 mile drive from the Paris to the lake had to include our week’s grocery shopping as the stores close around 7pm and are not open on Sundays. The pressure was already on! Saturday was our only shopping option, I guess it was the only option for a lot of the local French too; the parking lot was mayhem and so was the store, but we blended in just fine......
The bivvy camp was a sight in itself, our photo’s do not do it justice, a wander through was always met with smiling faces, friendly chat and the offer of a cold beer. Lot’s were curious to see the team from the USA, “how did you get all your gear over?” was a common question. Rather than run the risk of being kept up all night by the monotonous sound of Euro techno music We opted for a good nights kip & checked into a hotel in the village, the trade off was the friendly and most humorous company of the Italian & Romanian & Greek teams sitting around playing cards till the early hours out in the hotel courtyard.
The peg draw as at any event is always one of the highlights, the air is charged with excitement and anticipation, this was certainly no exception. In fact it was the mother of all peg draws as far as I’m concerned, starting late in the day, long anticipated, everyone full of beer and French hotdogs, the smokers nicotine levels maxed out.
The event organization as a whole was extraordinary, a large barge together with a fleet of smaller boats ferried groups out to the islands, some teams choosing to make the trip across on they’re own in little dinghy’s loaded comically high. Everybody it seemed had matching camo baggage except for us; we had regular suitcases and a huge assorted cluttered pile. I felt like we were lost tourists, the mind games had begun.
Our peg was roughly in the middle of the North shore of the main island, this was definitely not one of our picks. Our home for the next several days was to be an old sheep sheering pen perched beside two of the few trees our side of the island. Beside the sheep baaahhing, days were quiet, no birds singing, no commercial jets passing by, night times were quieter, no cicadas or crickets chirping, not even the sound of fish crashing in the night, not even catfish jumping. This surprised me more than anything. I was looking forward to hearing the teasing sound of the Madine monsters crashing out at night … but instead, nothing - just an eery silence. For two nights we had fierce storms. They started as darkness set in and lasted till mid morning, did it rain and did the wind blow! We had heard stories of the previous year on Lac De Orient where bivvies were blown away in the night; we sat in our bivvies at night nervously studying the sides hoping everything was going to stay put.
Everybody figured the competition would be peggy, it was …the fishing was all about location, location, location. The lake in front was a steady 7 feet deep, the only features being hidden weed beds everywhere, the weeds where so prevalent that casting was mostly too risky. I had brought squared paper with me to map out the contours of our designated 75m x 250m area, but it was not needed, it was 7’ everywhere give or take an inch or two. Once the competition started I spent about an hour in the boat researching the swim with a depth finder.
The weed surfaced in a band at about 10m from the shore and extended out submerged to about 100m. The bottom was then barren until about 200m from the shore where the weed picked back up again in the form of kelp beds running in submerged bands at about 50m intervals. These we had been told were the key areas to fish, tight up against the kelp bands to intercept patrolling fish.
Pole marker systems were a popular choice for teams, we took two sets along. The lake was peppered with these things, they accommodate a solar powered light on top and at night the lake took on the resemblance of an airport runway. Unlike “H” blocks or other markers attached by string, hooked fish can go right through these poles as they just bend out of the way. It was important to get the placement just right as the weed was dense in areas and clear spots often small. Even casting close in was sometimes not an option, better to place the baits from the boat to be safe. The actual placement of bait was tested by lowering the rod and bumping the end tackle on the bottom, feeling for clean hard bottom, then checking the hook for weed free
conditions prior to settling on placement. This was critical as baits could left to lay there for a day or two and the presence of small fish pushing the hook bait around would soon foul it up.
Our reels were loaded with 50lb braid, filled to below the lip to suit fishing here in the States to prevent wind knots when casting, at over 250m we got down to the mono backing used to prevent the braid slipping. We had to overfill each of the spools by topping them up 25lb braid cramming about 200m on top to be safe.
There was one more extensive weed bed in our area, one that the weed made it to the surface it was about 250m in diameter at about 350 -400m out … so far out it was never even a consideration to fish for these naive US boys. It was however the only place we saw fish crash, unfortunately mostly on the far side which was about 600-700m away. This weed bed was the only place that produced fish in our area; the tactic was to slip baits after night fall. Until we found this out we thought everyone was fishing the same general areas, it seemed that some markers turned out to be just decoys.
These conditions and methods were not conducive to our regular pack bait methods and required an adjustment to our approach. We lowered baits mostly including pack, but then revisited our spots and topped them up with bait at intervals during the day. Schools of rudd, roach and bream made themselves known by the continual dancing of the marker pole, where fish would constantly knock and bump the plastic tube in the scrambled fight for the bait we had thrown out. We hoped the frenzied activity from the small fish would get the attention of carp passing through.
The first fish we saw caught was by the Irish guys next to us, Dan O Kelly, Frank Melia & they’re runner Vinny Byrne, these guys were awesome, both in their fishing abilities and for being great friendly neighbors. Dan hooked a fish the first night at around 10pm and climbed in they’re boat pretty quick to commence battle as the extensive weed makes it impossible to pull a fish through from so far out, anyway this fish pulled Dan around in the dinghy until after midnight, all we saw was a faint headlamp way out in the lake moving this way and that, 2 hours and 20 minutes later he showed back up at they’re peg totally exhausted with a 40+ mirror .. Both awesome and just a little worrying of what might be in store for us.
Conditions were varied during the comp, our set up was limited to rods on tall bank sticks standing high as we didn’t have pods. Even with our 5oz leads we struggled to maintain position during the storms that blew and sometimes set in for the night. During these stormy periods baits were quickly blown off the spots and trashed in the kelp. We were unfamiliar with the method of using large 10oz breakaway leads to ensure the baits stay were they are placed. It is harder work than you think rowing out and back in windy conditions trying to lay the line in a sunken straight line on the way back in. In conjunction with the breakaway leads, sliding poly balls were also advised to lift the line up and help keep it off and out of the weed essential for a hooked fish, yet another item of tackle we were without. Going out in gale force winds and rain after dark in little boats is not for the faint hearted and is border line madness. It made me realize in a hurry why the event organizers were all about teams having boat and liability insurance.
Every morning around 8, the black sheep with a bell around it’s neck would lead a flock of about 200 strong through and around our peg, an amusing sight that always bought on a bout of the renowned tucking the sheep legs inside the boot jokes, we’re easily amused you know. An area restaurant bought us 2 meals everyday around lunch time, the food was great, and the weather was cool .. No ice packed cooler needed, just as well!
We knew going into this that the event was going to be hit or miss, although overall very successful with an unprecedented amount caught, it was just that … hit & miss with only 20% of teams catching. I was surprised at the average size of fish that came out. I had read of stockies and fish of high teens and low twenties. Of
course I had hoped to peg within reach of such shoaling fish, not so. These are generally rather easy fish to catch, but they really didn’t show at this event. The winning team had 11 fish with an average weight of 31…. incredible .. Madine is a beautiful water, it holds many challenges, especially under competition rules. I hope we get to go back and revisit this jewel & do it again, next time just a little differently.
A sincere and hearty Thank You to Dave Smith, Karl Haymer, All our sponsors - Resistance Tackle, Midway Lakes, Superior flavors, Betterbaits, Waddington-Timeless-Baits, 4thirds, The Bait Stop, JRC, Purefishing, and Pb products.
Not forgetting those other “gamblers” who bought tickets
A Big Thank You to Dave Lane & Paul Forward, Andy Chambers, our other peg neighbors Steve Howard & John O’Driscoll Every single person who was just so friendly and helpful, making this a trip that we will never forget.
Thank You All,
Colin & Tom
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