Lake trout fishing in Normandy … the Frogs are coming

Lake trout fishing in Normandy … the Frogs are coming

Jean Pucci, is enjoying a first year of retirement from his former jewelry business in Paris. But that’s not the sole reason he’s a very happy man. He’s also the proprietor of the first ‘International’ Troutmaster water, LA MOULIN DE LA CHAISE DIEU DU THEIL in the Normandy region of France. Okay, the name’s a tongue twisting mouthful but don’t let that put you off because it’s a cracking venue for a complete and happy day’s fishing. Mature, landscaped grounds, excellent clubhouse with well stocked bar and dinning room, plus bankside barbecues and picnic tables. And of course, wonderful sport on 7 acres of lakes and the feeder streams of the river Iton. Alright, everyone loves their local lake, warts and all, and I’m no exception, but this place is a bit special.

This is Moulin’s first year as a Troutmaster water and competition amongst anglers has been intense. With only two more monthly returns left to determine the fish-off contestants, there’s a more than a bit nail biting going on. So watch out you ‘Ros Bif’ Troutmasters, the Frogs are coming, intent on bagging that crown! Well, that’s their attitude and why not – isn’t that what competitive sport’s all about? And let’s face it, the French have a wonderful tradition in competitive fly fishing. World champions an incredible 4 times in a row (2000/1/2/3) and still currently ranked top of the international league table. But that’s mainly river fishing and Chaise Dieu’s a different kettle of poisson.

The Moulin started life as a 19th century flour mill set astride the river Iton in the grounds of a local Abbey’s estate. And when Jean brought the dilapidated complex forty years ago he was finally in a position to turn his dream into a working reality. Over the intervening years, with a lot of hard work, vision, courage and considerable financial outlay, Jean created a 22 hectares (50 acres) complex of 5 distinct lakes in varying sizes and configurations, fed by the Iton and a local spring source. The mill race still functions and helps pump the river through the system, enlivening the waters and encouraging fish action. Because at this stage of it’s journey the Iton is ‘category 2 ‘ - that means it’s a course river (trout rivers are category 1) the waters are somewhat coloured, particularly after heavy rainfall. But believe me that doesn’t inhibit the action. The upside is that category 2 rivers are open all year round, so the two kms of double bank feeder streams that serpentine the estate add another dimension to the season’s fishing opportunities.

Stocking levels are high and the species varied: Browns, Rainbows, Blues, Goldens, Brookies and Saumon de Fontaine. The fighting qualities are excellent, especially amongst average weight fish - bigger ones have a dour bullishness that often results in a line breaker for the unaware. And despite its tendency to colour, top of the water sport is generally excellent (decent visibility in the top 2 to 3 feet) Either dries or nymphing just sub surface offer the best results. And even in the dog days of summer, the lake’s powerful inflows and outflows produce oxygenated water and moving food sources, inducing plenty of action in the resulting pools. And if all else fails, you can always get into the deeper areas and strip a lure. But at least 90% of your time is fished on a floating line

The fishery rules take everyone into account. It’s basically catch and release so there’s never an ‘early bag’ syndrome looming heavy over your rod. If you want a fish for the table, the first 3 kilos are included in your day ticket. After that, you pay by the kilo if there’s a lot of mouths to feed. One of the nice things about Chaise Dieu is the convivial atmosphere between locals and visiting anglers who are mainly from Paris - including a fair smattering of English ex-pats. Jean has even created special days such as Specimen Trophy Fishing and the annual Fish/Golf championship (1 day for each sport) to foster the club’s esprite de corps.. The Moulin’s bar is run on an honour system of ‘help yourself’ and chalk it up on the board. And you don’t pay for your ticket until the end of your day!

The only downside is if you pass through the bar too many times on your way to the different lakes you’ll wind up with a bit of a headache: the weak amongst us say, the clubhouse is too conveniently central and the locals far too inviting. But it’s good to fall into fishing conversations with our Froggie brethren because you get some very interesting and lively views on the sport.

If you ask a true French Fly fisherman to name the main difference between them and us, invariably comes for the reply – the English fish more for the sport whilst traditional French anglers fish for the table. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, underlying which comes the question of conservation. The French fishing authorities tread a fine line trying to preserve natural stocks and the need to re-educate their voracious anglers in the ways of conservation. In the main, French trout rivers are in the public domain and allow any technique (spinning, worming, ect) Although on the increase, due mainly to the younger (enlightened) generation of local fishing board presidents, in some regions of France, fly only no-kill stretches are as rare a commodity as the truth from a politicians mouth. But enough of the politics, let’s get back to Chaise Dieu’s fishing.

Chris Dawn joined me for a couple of days in early august to gauge the potential of this new Troutmaster water and I hope, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The weather was unseasonably mild, cooling breezes, good intermittent cloud cover and a decent clarity of water providing excellent top of the water sport. The first lake in front of the club house was teeming with fish souping up nymphs and emergers in the top few feet, Chris was first on the water prospecting a bay at the near end whilst I used local knowledge and headed for the middle section by an outflow that nearly always produces fish. Sure enough after a couple of casts, what felt like a nice 3 pounder was dancing around on the end of the line, only to disengage from the suspender buzzer before arriving at the net. Encouraging but not entirely satisfactory. There was a good selection of anglers already on the water but in spite of the visible feeding fish there were precious few coming out. On a whim, I changed to a wet. I used to have a lot of success on a an Invicta under similar circumstances at Lakedown before it closed down. I guess the memory had been triggered by Chris who earlier had told me the venue had recently re-opened. And sure enough my first success of the morning soon hit the bank. There’s nothing like confidence to breed success and another followed suit before I felt inclined to move on.

Knowing we had the luxury fishing the lake over 2 days was a great inducement to experiment with the flies. My boxes are full of flies I’ve bought and hardly used - discarded as no-no’s after a few futile attempts. So I seem to spend most of my time fishing buzzers, damsels and goldhead because I know they produce results. But recently boredom’s been setting in and I’ve started revisiting the discard box, and with good effect.
Being a lousy entomologist, I tend to go more by instinct than knowledge, and recently I’ve stumbled on the value of legs. Anything small with legs and a bit of wing has been working well - left to drift under tension just below the surface, with an occasional tweak to add a spark of life. A hopper and a hawthorn produced two more fish to 4 lbs. Then suddenly it was all quiet on the western front and time for us to change lakes (which meant a visit to the clubhouse for a refreshing beer)

Chris had been coming to terms with the the top lake and it’s foibles and was now well in the Chaise Dieu groove. Having moved to the outflow he was soon into a tough muscled, fighting 3 pounder that took a fair time to throw in the towel. And judging from the grin on Chris’s face, it was a contest well worth the winning.

Arriving at the bar we were greeted with news: a 3 kilo plus rainbow caught by a local angler was already an early contender for a monthly fish–off place (we retrieved the fish from the fridge for a bankside shot) It cost him a few euros for the extra kilos, but a small price to pay for the trophy. During August, the fishery is managed by Robert Taillandier (captain of the French national team in the 80’s) Over a beer, Robert told us how his team had fished an international match at Rutland and got slaughtered (they didn’t even have a day’s practise) But he’d fallen in love with the venue and was awed by the home based angler’s technique. Six years later he and his team returned there to win the European championship – thanks in no small measure to ex England captain, Tony Pawson, for his help and encouragement. Robert always treasures this memory of Tony as an example of true British sportsmanship!

We spent the afternoon exploring other lakes and the feeder stream with reasonable success. There was still plenty of movement on the waters and klinkhammer emergers were doing the business for me. It was getting on late evening when Chris called me over to the top end of the stream to witness a catch in progress. Flicking a dry out under a bridge, a skillful angler had winkled out a nice looking Rainbow and was playing it more gently than a Mendelsohn moonlight sonata. Must have taken him nigh on ten minutes to get it up to the net (it was never more than three or four feet away from his rod tip, and hardly broke the surface) Gentle, melancholy sort of guy, reflected in his style. A fitting end to the day and we gave it best.

The following day we concentrated on Lake Emily, by far the largest of the complex: it’s much more open than the other lakes and suffers from exposure to prolonged August sun. It had been closed for a few days to rest the fish, but now the weather was cooling, we’d been given the keys to the gate for a morning’s exploration. I wandered off to the far side for gander while Chris stayed on a shady platform and cast into the turbulence of a powerful outflow (sensible chap) He was into fish before I even made it to the other side – and the onset of a panic attack! What had I done with the (only) key to the gate? I spent the next hour retracing my steps from the gate to the far side, searching every trodden bit off grass. Meanwhile Chris had been getting take after take and landing a fair few fish – Finally, he managed to convince me we’d been through two gates, not one as I’d thought, so I back tracked to the first to find the key still in the lock. Me and keys! (and a lousy memory) By now the outflow had had given of it’s best and it was time to go.

A few days later I returned to the lake to snap a few more images (and fish a while) Not much in the way of photos but I passed an interesting lunchtime in conversation with local angler, Pierre La Brot, and his visiting English friend, Dave Pratt, from Chertsey. (Pierre’s a restauranter, evidenced by the excellent selection of food and drink on the picnic table) Dave’s a course angler who dabbles a fly in the close season, and that morning his son had caught his first ever fish on a fly. Dave was so impressed with the venue and French culinary hospitality, he vowed if a U.K venue could provide as much, he’d be a regular punter, season or no close season. I asked Pierre what he thought of English lakes. He loved the clarity of water and the stalking but said most French anglers would be horrified if told they had to pack up (or pay again) when reaching a bag limit. We’re back to fishing for sport or the table, and Pierre just fishes for the love of it.

And I made my own surprising discovery on the day . A new fly - the rubber bloodworm!
I’d bought a couple earlier in the season and they’d lain forgotten in an odds and sods box which came to light when I was tackling up. Being a week for experimentation, I gave it a go.
Talk about startling, it took 4 fish in less than an hour (on a subsequent visit, another 10 fish in the day, including a brownie from the river!) How do you account for that because it certainly wasn’t a demonstration of fishing expertise. Maybe it was English grub they’d never seen before (they don’t seem to be available in France) or maybe there were tons of the naturals about. Probably, it was just plain luck, but now I can’t wait to try them on a U.K. lake.

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