The Great Lake | Dan Cleary

 An inflatable boat is an essential tool for a lake like this

An inflatable boat is an essential tool for a lake like this

After seeing a picture of a stunning, heavily-scaled fish, Dan thought he’d like to have a go for it. Little did he know what was about to happen.

 

Well, where do I start with a place like the Great Lake in France. For people who don’t know me, the typical commercial-type venues abroad are not really my sort of thing, I prefer the more challenging venue. The public waters in Europe, and at home for that matter, are right up my street.

The Great Lake is different though. It’s run as a commercial fishery, but at 69 acres, with somewhere in the region of 150 scaly carp, it starts to tick the boxes. The fishing lease on the lake has been run by Pascale (Domaine de Goncourt) for the past 18-years, but she announced last summer she was going to be losing the rights at the end of 2017. So, I booked a week in August to coincide with my birthday and if the weather looked nice, the missus could come along with me, a first for her!

A photo of Kristof Dresselaerts, a Belgian angler I’ve met whilst fishing on the Belgian canals, is engrained in my mind. It's of a Great Lake fish called Queeny that they used for adverts in the magazines. It was a stunning scaly fish, around the 60lb mark. This was my inspiration and so the trip was booked. I would even forego my yearly trip to the Belgium canals for 2017 in the pursuit of her!

The next problem was getting all the gear so that I could take the missus: a two-man bivvy, bedchair, sleeping bag etc. This was rapidly becoming an expensive trip!

The day finally arrived! I thought the lake was going to be fully booked (12 anglers), but to my surprise and joy, there was only going to be a group of fiveEnglish anglers, plus ourselves for the entire week, this meant we were all going to get a good swim with plenty of water. Following a very quick walk along road bank of the lake, we met Pascale and Phil at the toilet/shower block. They quickly explained the rules to us and we then got on with choosing our swims. Two of the English group went first, while Pascale was drawing the map of the lake on her car. For us newbies, she said this is Queen Corner, which prompted me to pipe up, "That will do for me!"

 The view from the swim makes the trip all worthwhile

The view from the swim makes the trip all worthwhile

The remaining three chose their swims and I think everyone was happy with their choice. As for me, I’d not even seen the swim, but I had all the information I needed so far. We then hopped in the car and bounced around the back of the lake over all the potholes, along a maize field until we came to the swim. It offered a lot of water, with the wind blowing nicely into the bank, which was situated on the north-east corner of the lake.

I then got the house up and boat pumped up, so I could go out and look for spots in the weed. The lake is roughly 80 percent weed, so you arereduced tofishing holes in the weed generally,although there are a few clear bars. The inflatable boat is a necessary item, just to extract the fish, if you are lucky enough to get a bite, and you can,of course,use the boat to drop your rigs and baits in the exact spots too.

I planned to go out in the boat on the Saturday, then again on the Sunday, after a good night’s sleep to re-asses the spots I’d chosen. I would repeat this process again on the Tuesday and Thursday, as the fish have started to become very spooky of boats. I did just that and on Sunday I re-positioned two of my four rods, as I'd found a few better areas.

 I found Snowman rigs were the best hookbait option

I found Snowman rigs were the best hookbait option

The bait I had chosen for the trip was Dynamite Baits' Crave in 15mm and 18mm, Maize, Mixed Particles and Chilli Hemp. The complex produces their own chilli mix, so I wanted to re-produce it, but added a few bits and pieces, like whole and choppedboilies,Hemp Oil, CSL and Krill liquids. This went out on three spots, while the final spot was just boilies just to see what would produce and if I needed to respond to anything I could do so during the week.

It wasn’t until Monday morning (my Birthday) that I got my first bite, from the boilie-only spot. Sadly, it was a tench, so I had to go out in the boat to replace the rig. I really didn’t want to, but I got out as soon as possible, topped up the spot with the particle/boilie mix this time, then returned to the bank and let everything calm down in front of me again. I had a twitchy bite on the left-hand rod, fished to clear spot on a bar about 120 yards out, but the bite didn’t materialise, so I left it, wondering all day if the hookbait and rig were still okay?

 Welcome to the Queen's residence

Welcome to the Queen's residence

The birthday fish didn’t look like it was going to happenso we retreated to the bivvy for the night. Then around 10.30 p.m., the left-hand rod was being wrenched from the rod grip! I struck and felt a solid resistance, so it was out in the boat. As I slowly wound my way out to the fish, I could see the yellow glow of the spot as I drifted over it, and finally directly over the fish. I slowly put on the pressure, the fish moved, then kicked off, putting the boat in a spin. I flicked on the headtorch and that sent the fish on a run and into another weed bed! I switched off the headtorch, applied pressure from above once again, and got the fish moving. It came up to the surface a few timesand I thought it might go mid-20. A few minutes later I netted the fish, flicked on the headtorchagain and peered over the side of the boat into the net. Okay, that’s filling the net a bit, a 40lb+ I think?

Slowly rowing back to the swim, where my Mrs was waiting in my waders to grab hold of the boat and get me to shore, she looked after the net and boat, while I got everything ready. We weighed the fish and with the needle a fraction over the 47lb mark, I was happy to settle for 47lb of lovely, dark, solid mirror. Photos done and the fish returned, I could breathe a sigh of relief. I’d caught, so it won’t be a blank trip, and on my birthday too.      

The fish fell to a Crave Snowman rig setup with an 18mm bottom bait and a 15mm pop-up. This was tied to a size 5 curved shank hook and 25lb hooklink.

As it was dark, I decided to leave the rod and would re-position it in the morning. The main reason being that I had decided not to use H block markers, which could potentially put any fish off, so getting the rig in the correct spot at night would be a challenge to say the least.

The following morning, just before first light, my right-hand rod was away. Disengaging the Baitrunner, I struck and immediately felt a large the fish surge off, then all become solid. Out in the boat once again, the run had come off a rig that was placed down the right-handmargin, on a tiny clear spot at the bottom of the marginal ledge with a load of chilli hemp, boilies and a light scattering of maize.

The floating weed had jammed in the rod's tip, so I had to pull a load of line off the spool, slip the rod behind the boat and clear the weed off the mainline. Finally, I could wind in all the slack and make contact with the fish that, thankfully, was still attached. The fish soon took controlthough, dragging me into a couple moreweed beds.

Now in front of swims 1 and 2, thankfullythe anglers were still asleep and unaware that my prize was piling unceremoniously through their swims! I was starting to get worried that the fish was going to get me wrapped up in their lines if I wasn't careful. With the pressure starting to tell and with the fish showing near the surface ona few occasions, I knew this was a big fish.

Finally, it rolled next to the boat, after previously charging under it twice. This time though, I managed to scoop the fish up as it was trying to get away. I peered down into the net and saw the tell-tale linear pattern on a big fish, filling the net. It's the Queen...surely this is Queeny? I slowly rowed back to my swim and with Caroline still asleep, I started calling to her from the boat. "I think I've got her!"In her still sleepy state, this unsurprisinglyconfused her. "What?", she replied."I think I've got her, Queeny!" "You’re joking" was her retort.

Finally, on the bank, I got Caroline to keep an eye on her, while I got everything ready. I very carefully rolled the net up, with her in it, before carrying my hard-won prize to the unhooking mat. As I laid her down, the hook fell out, that's how slim it can be between catching and losing a fish at times.

 It might not be the Hiltonbut it did us proud for the week

It might not be the Hiltonbut it did us proud for the week

Up onto the scales, the needle bounced around the 60lb mark, with the needle finally settling on 59lb 12oz. After I put her in a retaining sling to rest, Caroline donned the waders and kept guard, while I ran around to one of the other anglers fishing The Point swim, to give them the news and to see if anyone would be willing to give us a hand.As you'd expect, they were more than happy to and with three turning up, it allowed the photography part to go very smoothly.

At this point, there was a protracted game of, is it? isn't it? This went on for a minute or two before someone got another picture on their phone of a previous capture and confirmed it was Queeny. To be honest, I knew it was her when she rolled in the net, but it was nice to get the confirmation.

Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would catch Queeny on my first trip, well, ok, maybe in a very wild dream I did, but I never thought it would actually happen!Like the first fish, she fell to a similar rig and hookbait, except this was with size 6 longshank hook, otherwise it was the same setup.

 At 47lb it wasn't too bad a start!

At 47lb it wasn't too bad a start!

After that, I started to get pestered by tench, having six in total in the end. Add to this the amount of floating weed, which kept wiping out my lines,I was forced into having to reset my rigs with the boat every day. This sadly took its toll and the area went very quiet for a few days.

 One of the locals who dropped by

One of the locals who dropped by

It wasn’t until the Friday, when I saw a couple of fish moving back in the area that Idecided to move one of my rods from where I was catching the majority of the tench, to a margin spot that I fished at the start of the week. With the fish gone from the area, the clarity of the water was good and I could now seethat this margin spot had been fed on recently. Furthermore, I could make out every stone and even a discharged lead some 4-5ft down. This must have come from a previous angler who had also fished this spot.

 It was great that the rest of the lads came around to help with Her Highness

It was great that the rest of the lads came around to help with Her Highness

On the final evening, it was this rod that produced another bite. With a big old surge on the surface, the fish powered off into the weed, I was in the boat within the blink of an eye, rowing the short way out to get above the fish. As I started putting on a little pressure, to lift the fish, I heard a sickening crack. The mainline had parted just above the leader for some unknown reason. I still really don’t know why, but I just sat in the boat drifting at the point of almost crying. I knew it was probably another good fish and as the last few days had been a challenge with the weed, it was a much-needed shot in the arm. To add insult to injury, I had to go to out in the boat for two more tench during the final night.

 The one I was after – Queeny!

The one I was after – Queeny!

That said, I learnt a lot from my trip and I hope the new owners don’t change the lake too much so I can return to put my knowledge to good use.

In the end, the six of us totalled 11 carp and one grass carp, not a bad return for the Great Lake. A venue that is far beyond easy.

 When in France it would seem rude not to have a bottle of bubbly

When in France it would seem rude not to have a bottle of bubbly

Mick Clifford