Well a massive thank you to Paul and Carmen Armfield and lake owner Jean Noel for a fabulous week at 'The Secret Garden'. It felt just like that, as we were secluded from the world in our own little carp heaven, only venturing out when we wanted to.
One trip out that we did make was the Courvoisier Cognac Museum which included a lesson on how to drink it properly and appreciate it. Well worth a visit.
The venue itself is ideal to take the wife or the family to, which is what we did, and with accommodation that is top notch with all the luxuries you could ever want.
Our week produced 26 runs with 19 fish landed, the biggest weighing in at 38lb, all the bites coming from 10.30 pm to 9.30 am. All the fish were mint condition with only one having a broken tail. What was really nice was that we caught all the varieties of carp which included a large scale Common Carp.
So overall a fantastic week and I would thoroughly recommend this place to anyone. Thanks again Paul, Carmen and Jean Noel.
For my 50th birthday my wife had kindly suggested that I went to France for a week's fishing, something she knew was very close to my heart! I started looking for somewhere with a decent lake with good fish in it, but also with excellent accommodation, as I wanted the week to be spent with my wife and daughter on the basis of a "holiday with carp fishing" rather than an out and out "carp fishing holiday". I put out the usual feelers on internet forums but also asked my friend Ken Townley if he knew of anywhere that would fit the bill - Ken suggested having a look at Armfield Angling's website and in particular the Secret Garden. I also messaged Steve Briggs via Facebook as I knew he had fished the venue at least twice and knew it well. All the feedback was extremely positive and soon deposits were paid, crossings booked, and dreams of monster carp started to fill my thoughts.
The months flew by and before I knew it we were driving across France on the morning of Saturday 8th April 2017 to spend a week fishing and enjoying all things French. The journey was as bad as I can remember, with awful traffic around Paris and a number of accidents en route, so we didn't arrive until early evening. By the time we unpacked the car and got our things sorted out, it was pretty late so little fishing was done, just a pub chuck into the gloom. Soon I was winding the rods in for the night and retiring for a decent night's sleep, with the prospect of a decent day's fishing to come on the Sunday.
I really can't speak highly enough of the accommodation here. The house comprises a downstairs with large lounge, fully equipped kitchen, utility room with washing machine and bait freezer, toilet, bathroom, and a double bedroom. Upstairs there are two more lovely bedrooms (one with a double bed in and a large child's bed) another toilet and a bathroom with a shower cubicle. All are in excellent condition, clean and comfortable, with all linen provided. Downstairs overlooking the lake is a beautiful air conditioned conservatory, with a full sized dining table. This overlooks the lake and is a perfect place to eat your dinner and chill out with a glass of wine while you watch fish roll out in the lake. All of us thought the house was magnificent and it really couldn't have been improved on at all, in fact if there was no lake the house itself would be a great holiday destination in its own right.
Jean provides landing net, weigh sling, carp cradle and scales - so there is no need to bring any of these with you. In fact I travelled so light that we managed to fit all the fishing gear in the topbox on a Peugeot 207! I just took rods, reels, two small tackle boxes / leads, pod and indicators.
The Fishing / Bait / Tactics / Rigs
Bait choice is always a big headache for a trip to France. I nearly always take two baits, on the basis that if one fails, one will work. I opted for two very contrasting baits. One was a real "experiment in fishmeal".....I mixed together a basemix consisting of three kilos of Trigga, two kilos of Icelandic Red, and a kilo of Clubmix, added a load of GLM and a bit of extra betaine, and then gave it all a good mix. Beautiful! Liquid wise I used a mix of hydrolysed Krill, lobster oil, salmon hydroslate, with a flavour combination of John Baker crab and Solar Squid and Octopus Koi Rearer, at low levels. The finished bait smelled proper "old skool". Something told me the fish were going to like this a lot. The second bait was Active Bait's excellent ibait - I have a lot of faith in this bait and have always done well on it. Given that I make a living rolling hookbaits, it was a bit of a no brainer which hookbaits to take with me - matching corkball pop ups for my fish mix and the ibait, and a couple of pots of the Birdfood GTX as a change bait. The GTX always works fished over a decent fishmeal so I though that a wise choice of alternative. I also knocked up some hard hookbaits in the fishmix and some nice pale pink airballs in 14mm to give me an option to fish snowmen rigs if required.
A little bit about rigs
I knew from a couple of exploratory casts on the first evening that the bottom was a little silty, but also had quite a bit of debris loitering on it. Ideal for corkball pop ups....! I didn't want to fish chods as prefer to fish them on leadcore and that is banned here, so instead I fished hinged rigs, but on supple booms - I wanted the rig to settle nicely over any debris, but I wanted the hooking efficiency of the stiff hooklink section. I fished light leads on lead clips, 18 inches of tungsten tubing, a foot long boom of unstripped coated braid, attached to a curved section of Mouthtrap with a bait screw mounted in the D section (see rig picture below). With a 16mm corkball attached, I only needed a smear of heavy metal putty to balance the rig out nicely. During the course of the week I fished this rig exclusively on both rods. It proved extremely effective! the only thing I did regularly was tough up the hookpoints if one felt a bit dull. For the record I fished barbless hooks throughout and lost very few fish throughout the week.
Back to the fishing
I got up about 6.30 Sunday morning, raced downstairs, and sorted two rods out properly for the day ahead. The first thing I did, on a bit of a hunch that the fish would be hungry and looking for bait, was spread about 2 kilos of mixed boilies over an area about the size of half a tennis court, in an area about forty yards out and up in the deeper water the "house end" of the lake. Twenty minutes later and I was casting the rods over this area, I figured I would fish one rod right in the middle of the baited area, one on the left edge of it. I was just sorting out the net and cradle for the day when the right hand rod ripped off and I was into my first fish. Always a good sign to hook one five minutes after casting out!!!! A nice mid twenty mirror was soon nestling in the folds of the landing net and we were off and running. During the course of the day I caught fish regularly, I didn't put any more bait in until the evening when I reintroduced another couple of kilos over the same area as before. The fish were really hard fighting and fit, all of them gave a fantastic account of themselves.
I won't drone on about "then I had this fish, then i had that fish" as it all gets a bit dull, needless to say I only did one full day's fishing, no nights at all. Most days I fished from 7am until about 10, went out for the day, and did a few hours in the late afternoon / evening. In total I had 30 fish for the week, including a 41 mirror and a 30+ common, I also had the apple slice common and the linear, all pretty fish. On the one full day that I fished without a break, I had eleven fish! I would say that 80% fell to the fishmeal mix corkball pop ups, the other 20% to ibait or Gtx - to be fair that's mainly because I kept sticking the fishmeal hookbaits on, I am sure that the ibait or Gtx would have caught just as many. The fish were hungry and looking for food, the way I spread the loose boilies about encouraged them to move from bait to bait positively.
Jean Noel, the owner, was an excellent host, he showed his face often enough to make sure everything was perfect for us, but left us alone enough for us to feel like we really were there on our own. He has gone to a lot of trouble to put the anglers first, the lake is in top condition. In prior years the sheer volume of lily pads had caused a few issues, Jean has removed / cut a lot of the lilies and the effect has been to spread the fish out, and make them a lot easier to land. If you look at the Youtube videos that Steve Briggs did last year and the year before you can clearly see how many lily pads were present. Having fished lakes in the past with a lot of lilies present, I know first hand that they present real problems for anglers and for fish if not controlled.
If you want a family holiday with one or two of you fishing, with some local site seeing / touring thrown in, this is the perfect venue. There aren't many venues in France that combine the estate lake feel of this place with a great house to stay in. It is, quite simply, superb. I can't wait to go back, and it speaks volumes that my wife and daughter (who had a 27lb mirror, aged 9!) feel exactly the same!