Simon Crow makes a short visit to the mighty Lac du Forêt d’Orient and it pays off in style.
Like most of you reading this I only get so many weeks off work a year. I try to use these as best I can; some for family things and others for fishing. I always save a week for the back end of the year, usually for a foreign trip. Last year I went to the mighty Orient in France, but this year I didn’t have any plans at all until I received a text message from my mate Jim Lightfoot. Jim was asking if I fancied a few days on the Orient, a spur-of-the-moment trip because he had a few days free. I don’t know why, but immediately I replied with a “Yes”, not really thinking about what lay ahead.
The Orient is widely regarded as one of the biggest challenges in carp fishing. At 6000 acres with a list of rules longer than your arm, most of which aren’t at all in favour of carp fishing, and a light stock of carp compared to other big reservoirs, it certainly doesn’t give up its prizes too easily. Most anglers who visit the Orient go for weeks at a time. Last year there were anglers on the lake who’d been there for upwards of a month without a fish. Most had not even seen a sign from a carp and it wasn’t surprising that after our first week of fishing we were in exactly the same boat. Thankfully we managed to salvage the trip right at the death with three carp in the last few days, all caught fishing out of a boat in one of the day-only areas. Those last few days had really lit my fire for a return trip, so when Jim texted me I was really looking forward to getting back on there. We only had five days available to us, which we knew was really short for such a raw venue, but if we could find some fish we knew we had a chance of catching them.
It took me a day to pack the car and I must admit I had all sorts of negative thoughts going through my mind as I was driving through the night to central France. I could see it being a complete waste of time, and I know that Jim was also thinking the same as he told me so when we both rocked up at Mesnil-Saint-Pere just after midnight. The plan was to spend the night close to the lake and then have a good look around the next day before setting up a base.
We were both up at dawn so we could look about and it was clear that the lake was very busy. All of the nightfishing swims were taken by long-stay groups of anglers and there were lots of boats out and about ready for some day fishing. It looked grim for the week ahead, but we tried to be positive and decided to set our base close to Bivvy City where there were a couple of really friendly Belgian lads. They didn’t mind us launching our boats from close to their swim, which was handy. There was no way we could drive to the swims, so we had to carry all of the gear including three boats, engines and leisure batteries down some rocks and 400m to the water’s edge, through plenty of slippery, ankle-deep mud.
It took all of the first day to set up and we both agreed to wipe it off and start looking for carp the next morning. Like most of the pike and zander anglers in the region, we were up early and out in the boats as soon as it was light on the Monday. By early afternoon we’d done more rowing than Steve Redgrave, but we’d found a few areas that looked promising, including where we’d fished last year. The water was really clear and there were some lovely clear areas on the bottom that had been clearly created by the carp. There was weed all over the bottom, but amongst them were these huge craters that stood out. We baited them all, trickling in a few kilos of boilies wherever we found them. The plan was to go back on Tuesday and see if the bait had gone. If it had we’d spend a few hours fishing for them and take it from there.
By late afternoon we’d rowed more than several miles in the boats and were ready to tackle up the rods for the next morning. I was absolutely worn out, as I’d been up early to go for a run (I was training for a marathon in a few weeks time). Nevertheless I was raring to go when daylight broke on Tuesday and we were allowed on the lake to fish from the boats. The first couple of areas we’d baited we couldn’t quite make out if the bait had gone, but as we drifted over the others there wasn’t a boilie in sight.
I was using the new Key Cray and I could easily see it had all gone. I was fairly sure there were new clear areas that had appeared too, as the fish had gone rooting into the nearby weed for baits that had fallen short. Jim’s bait had gone too and the two of us were brimming with confidence. We’d both gone through about 5kg of freebies the previous day, so to see it all gone meant there were more than one or two fish down there feeding.
We had three boats with us, the biggest of which we anchored up and used as a base. The other two were then moored to the side of this one and used to put our rods out. We started off using just a couple of rods each, one each to the spot which looked the most likely to do a bite and the other on the next most likely. The area we were most confident in was chocker with weed and dropped down to 15ft. There were several big clear areas in 9ft that surrounded it, and they were glowing! I baited mine with a handful of Key Cray and sat back in the boat expecting a quiet day. The best bite time last year was in the afternoon, just before dark. I expected the same this time, so I was surprised to be holding on to a rod when a fast take materialised only 45 minutes after it had been put in the water! I wasn’t using buzzers; the Scope rods were just propped up in the boat and I listened out for the clutch. It was a great start and a short while later I had my biggest fish from the Orient in the net at 28lb! It was a sign of things to come as only a few moments later Jim was also into a fish, his being an absolute peach of a mirror weighing over 30lb. We both had huge smiles and knew there was more to come.
By the end of the first day we had chalked up five fish between us, topped by a mirror just shy of 40lb for Jim. It was a brilliant start and as we left the swim we piled out a load of bait over the clear spots to prime them for the following day. Orient carp are known for being more active in the night, so we knew it would have all gone by morning when we would return. Clearly there were a lot of fish in the area.
Raring to go
I didn’t sleep very well that night as I was on such a high for the day to come. I woke at 4am French time and went for a run close to where we’d been fishing. It was cold and windy, but I was sure I’d heard a carp launch itself out close to where we’d been moored up. I couldn’t wait for daylight and I swear we were so up for it we rowed our boats so fast to the area not even Redgrave and Pincent would have beaten us to that spot!
We’d kept our catches quiet so there was a good chance we’d get the spot we wanted, but you never can tell on the big lakes where there’s always someone out scanning the water with binoculars. The fish were clearly still in the swim as all of the bait had gone, and Jim had one almost instantly after putting his right-hander out. It was at this point that we realised we needed to get rid of the second rods we were using. They were dead rods and just getting in the way when we had action. We reeled them in and concentrated our efforts on one rod each in the 9ft clear areas surrounded by the weed.
By midday Jim had added a further two fish to his tally with one lost. It was at this point when we talked about him never having caught a fifty from the lake, despite having fished there for 15 years. As if by magic, his next take changed all of that in an instant when he landed a beautiful 51lb mirror. We’d forgotten the scales, so he had to go back to the bivvy to fetch them, which took him over an hour. By the time he’d returned I’d landed a couple of beautiful commons to over 30lb. The swim was really rocking and we applied another few kilos of feed for the night before retuning again the next morning, which was Thursday.
We were standing on nine fish between us, which was just outstanding for the few hours that we’d fished. We expected a lull in the action sooner or later and it happened the next day. We didn’t have a touch until just after midday when I was into a very heavy fish which just wanted to plod about. It was so different to the hard fighting thirties I’d been catching, and when I saw it swirling beneath the boat I knew it was a big mirror. Up it came in the water where it rolled on to its side. I knew straight away it wasn’t far off the size of Jim’s 51lb from the previous day and I let out a silent ‘Yes!’ under my breath when it went into the net.
I struggled to keep in a straight line back to the main boat, such was the bulk of the fish. It was a typical Orient carp with a sloped head and gut bucket belly. I was absolutely made up and when we weighed it at 50lb 6oz I knew there and then that my dream carp was in front of me. I’ve been fortunate to have caught some tremendous fish in my career, but an Orient fifty really is the carp of my dreams! Although I’ve hardly fished it, ever since I first visited the great lake in 1991 I have dreamed about one day holding a big mirror from there, and here it was!
We fished the day out with no more action coming our way. By packing up time at 7pm it was clear that the fish had moved on as the bait we’d put out remained on the lake bed. Neither of us could complain as we’d made the most of an amazing situation. We’d fished our hearts out and no article or video will ever be able to show the amount of effort we applied. We were like machines on auto-pilot. We’d both worked so hard that we slept for almost 10 hours before packing up and heading off home on the Friday.
It had been a fantastic trip and one that neither of us will forget in a very long while. When we were driving down we would have settled for just one fish apiece at the end of the five days. To be leaving with five decent carp each including a fifty apiece was much more than we could have ever believed would happen. A big thanks to Jim for being great company and sharing such an amazing angling memory.