Fishing in the rivers of the Poitou-Charentes
I love to fish in Poitou-Charentes because it gives me the complete angling experience. Every angler loves to catch fish, but to do this in beautiful surroundings makes it even more enjoyable and the region provides endless opportunities to do just that.
It is hard to keep your eyes on the float when you’re surrounded by vineyards or fields of sunflowers and waiting for that elusive big fish to come along is so much more enjoyable when it’s done in a medieval riverside village, a mysterious forest lake or where a Romanesque church in the distance prompts a silent prayer for the fish of a lifetime. Even on those days when the fish refuse to feed I return happy after sharing my fishing trip with the heron, the kingfisher, the ducks and swans and all the other birds and animals who accept the patient fisherman as a visitor to their environment.
I love the variety of fishing in Poitou-Charentes; there is something to suit every angling taste. The region’s rivers such as the Vienne, Sèvre, Boutonne and Charente vary from fast and shallow in the upper reaches to deep and steady downstream and offer endless piscatorial possibilities while the numerous tributaries all provide different angling challenges. There are large and small lakes, both natural and man-made, many kilometres of canals and some fabulous beaches along the Charente-Maritime coast for the sea angler.
First and second categories
The upper reaches of the main rivers and many of their tributaries hold stocks of trout and are classed as first category, which means there is a close season from the end of September to mid-March when no fishing is allowed. Most of these waters are stocked with trout prior to the opening of the new season, so usually the best of the fishing is from opening day to early June.
All other waters are second category and the wide range of species they hold can be fished all-year round, with a few important exceptions:
* there is a close season for the predatory fish pike and zander that runs from the end of January to the start of May. During this time it is illegal to live bait or use lures, the way to catch these fish, on any second category water.
* eel is now classed as an endangered species and so deliberately fishing for eels is illegal and any caught accidentally must be immediately returned alive to the water.
Roach, bream, rudd and perch are in every waterway and provide good sport all through the year. Most waters also hold crucian carp, particularly the canals of Charente Maritime where huge catches can be taken in June, July and August.
Tench and various varieties of the other larger carp strains such as mirror, common and leather carp are common with the latter running to over 25kg in most rivers and lakes. These are best fished for in spring or summer as are the barbel found in some rivers, especially the larger tributaries of the River Vienne.
Pike and zander fishing is at its best from October to the end of the season while for black bass-another predator found in some waters-those summer days when they feed near the surface and can be caught by fly fishing are the best.
Bleak, little silvery surface feeders that are often used as bait fish, are everywhere in Poitou-Charentes and while they can be annoying when seeking bigger game they also provide welcome bites during times of flood and frost.
Chub and dace are usually found in the shallower stretches of river and provide year round sport.
One fish to look out for is the American catfish or poisson-chat. These small fish are in most lakes and are voracious feeders during hot weather. They have sharp spikes on the gills that can inflict serious wounds, so it is essential to handle them with care.
The other catfish likely to come the angler’s way in the region’s rivers and lakes is a much bigger beast, the Danubian Wels or silure. Itcan reach over 50kg and has a mouth of such frightening proportions that it is the subject of many a tale about the variety of unfortunate creatures it is alleged to have consumed!
Before you fish – get a carte de peche
Throughout Poitou Charentes there are many hundreds of kilometres of public domain rivers waiting to be fished - but only after a carte de peche has been purchased. This covers the whole region, is similar to the British rod licence and runs for twelve months from New Year’s Day. From June to September it is also possible to buy a visitor’s carte de peche that covers seven days and costs 30 euros. Both are available at fishing tackle shops, supermarkets and many bars and newsagents and the booklet that comes with it provides useful information on what is available in the department where it was purchased.
An additional small fee for Club Halieutique membership allows fishing on the department’s many public lakes and has the additional benefit of giving the holder the right to fish public waters in three-quarters of the other departments throughout France.
Most private lakes are covered by a tax paid by the owners, so can be fished without a carte de peche-but always check before unpacking the rods.
There are strict rules on night fishing on all public waters. All fishing must stop at sunset with the exception of carp angling which is allowed only on certain designated areas which are clearly signposted and only with specific carp baits such as boilies; certainly no worms, maggots or anything else that wriggles.
Favourite fishing spots
An angler is spoilt for choice in Poitou-Charentes; but I do have a few favourites.
Pescalis at Moncoutant in Deux-Sèvres was created in 2000 as the first international nature and fishing centre in Europe and now has 100hectares of lakes where you can fly fish, spin with lures, try for specimen fish or just catch loads of fish from the well stocked mixed fisheries.
It has hosted international angling competitions and has a hotel, apartments, gites and camping. There are different day ticket prices for each lake, a big fishing tackle shop and it’s ideal for novice anglers because tuition is available in all aspects of the sport.
The canals at Marennes in Charente-Maritime look fishy and really live up to their image.
In the green tinged water there are masses of crucians, bream, roach and big carp; not forgetting the poisson chats.
It is comfortable fishing in quite shallow water with an easy cast to reach the far side; you can park close to where you fish and when the fishing is done it’s just a few minutes away from all those wonderful shellfish cabins and cafes near the harbour.
Jarnac. Hand made chocolates, the daily market and famous cognac houses by the river aren’t the only reasons the late President Francois Mitterand’s home town of Jarnac is high on my list of favourite places to fish. The River Charente is public domain here and holds a variety of fish.
Opposite the Orangery, members of the town’s carp fishing club have caught fish to 27kg; but for me it’s the roach that are the attraction. Deep bodied, red finned and burnished with gold they can be caught all along the river and there are also plenty of bream and some very big chub to go with them.
Half a kilometre downstream of the quay on the right bank is a great place for a fishing picnic with plenty of leafy shade on a hot day.
Twin Lakes at Soumeras near Mirambeau in Charente Maritime is where I head to whenever fishing has been tough and I need a morale booster. The top lake at this English family owned day ticket fishery is stuffed full of roach and it can be a fish a cast when they are on the feed. But there are also some lean, mean carp running to double figures that put in an appearance and test your skill as they hurtle off in the shallow water.
Things are a little more sedate on the bottom lake; but the fish are bigger with carp over 35lb to be caught.
Add a lakeside bar, lounge and café; static caravans and a camping site and you see why it’s high on my list.
Port L’Houmeau is my favourite fishing spot in the winter. It is right in the middle of Angoulême at Port L’Houmeau, alongside Boulevard Besson Bey. Large shoals of bream and roach move into this slower flowing section of the river as the temperature drops and with many people feeding bread to the resident ducks this is the favourite bait for the fish. The concrete quay solves the problem of muddy river banks at this time of year; you park right behind where you fish and when it gets too cold to fish you have welcoming cafes just a short stroll away.
Know your fish - in French
Fishing has a universal language, but to help out here’s what the fish you catch would be called by a French angler.
BY RON COUSINS