ROAD TRIP | a trip to Cassien

At last month’s media meeting in Hungary I met among others some of our French team, and two guys in particular, Jocelyn and Thierry. Jocelyn is our big public water big-carp angler in the team and has a very impressive CV of big fish from the likes of d’Orient, du Der and some of the big French rivers, to name but a few.

Anyway, we got scheming and it was planned that I would come over and partake in a French Nash TV production, the title of which is Destination H2O. They are up to episode six, I believe, and have covered some incredible venues across France. Similar really to my trip a couple of months ago to fish with Marco in Holland, where we made a film to appear on the Nash TV Benelux channel.

So we did some planning and it was decided as my time was extremely limited that I would fly rather than drive. The boys would then pick me up from the airport, giving me four days’ fishing.

As to Cassien itself, I don’t think there is a carp angler in the world that hasn’t heard of it. It has been documented extensively over the years as the original big-fish Mecca. Here at Nash, Oli, Lew and Dan produced one of the greatest films I feel we have ever made for Nash TV, which was Steve Briggs talking about his 30 years at Cassien, and is something really quite special. That, along with countless magazine articles, photos, and anglers’ tales, meant it was somewhere that couldn’t be ignored.

It’s not really my style of water and knowing me well Oli told me I wouldn’t enjoy it! Long sessions and baiting and waiting are not really my thing but it’s a bucket-list water and somewhere I think most carp anglers would like to come to. And I was one of them; I wanted to see it for myself and understand why.

So roll forward two weeks and I’m jumping on a plane at Stanstead with Sawn-Offs and as much tackle as I could stuff into two EVA cases. I flew into Nice and the boys picked me up from the airport. From there we drove the hour and a bit to a supermarket close to Cassien to stock up on essentials, before heading down to the lake itself, arriving late afternoon.

We parked up in the West Arm where we met Remy, another of our French consultants who came and picked us up in his boat and ferried us across. The first thing I noticed was of course that it was beautiful! The bay where we launched the boat had lots of mini islands and trees in the water and it didn’t really have that huge lake feel to it, even though the water is around 400 hectares or 1,200 acres.

We arrived on the far side at a swim that is known as Ellis Point, one of the most famous on the lake. The lads had already spent two unsuccessful days there, and because of the no night fishing rule there they had been getting up at the crack of dawn to get back on there. What you have in front of you in Ellis Point is a large plateau. To the left as you look out is a reserve that was still closed for another three weeks. So we were on the edge of the out of bounds, as far up the West Arm as you could go at this time of the year.

As I stood on the water’s edge looking out, and with local expert Remy and top anglers blanking, I realised that this was going to be really difficult. We had a beer and a chat and I got to understand what they had been up to for the last couple of days, then Jocelyn took me out in the boat to check out some spots. They had used GPS and marked the edges of the plateau out with H-blocks.

Remy was fishing the first rods towards the reserve, Jocelyn had the left side of the plateau and the right side was mine. I checked it thoroughly with the prodding stick and it was all so uniform. I then got the underwater camera out and persuaded them to drift over the plateau so we could check what bait was left there, both of them explaining the baiting strategy in detail. All the bait that they had put in was still there, visible on the camera, so there were no carp coming on to the plateau.

The day was drawing to a close and my attention was drawn to my far margin. I’m fully aware that carp love the edge and if they weren’t coming in to the near margin to get in and out of the reserve then potentially they were doing it on the opposite bank. I decided that instead of wasting any more rod hours fishing on the plateau I was going to fish the far margin, which was about 300 metres away. I went across with the prodding stick and a rod to lead around with.

The lake bed was rocky but more importantly it was nearly sheer, like a cliff. Nashy taught me over at La Gomera how easy it is to identify gradient by looking at a mountain. If there is a gentle slope down to the water then the odds are that it is going to continue like that. If you are looking at a sheer cliff meeting the water then it’s likely to be sheer under the water too. So with this in mind I started looking for the areas with the least incline, using the underwater camera for the last two hours before dark trying to find shelves and ledges.

Briggsy had explained to me the importance of different depths. Those fish could be coming through at one depth and not straying higher or lower, so if you are above or below that zone you will miss stopping them. It’s worth placing rods at two, four and eight metres for instance until you locate which is the right zone.

All I was looking for was something flat, whether it was sand or stone, just somewhere to create a dinner table for the fish to feed on. The day finished and at 10.30pm we all packed up and left, heading to Remy’s for the night to crash out on the bedchairs. This was the pattern that followed, up at 4am and back to Cassien and we were very lucky to be able to get back on to Ellis Point before anyone else. The boys got about their fishing, Remy fishing his rods very short, Jocelyn fishing on the plateau and I went across to the far side. Within four hours my Cultured hook bait over some flake placed on a small ledge had found and snared my first Cassien carp.

I was absolutely buzzing. I felt like because I had done something different to what most anglers have been doing for the last 30 years in that swim I had got the bite. I hadn’t emptied it, I hadn’t had multiple fish, but I had rocked up and had a bite in really tricky conditions. I’m sure if I had fished the plateau with the boys that I wouldn’t have, it was purely because I went where most don’t fish. A couple of days later I watched an English guy try and fish that margin and he was just going out and feeling around and dropping the rig and a handful of bait. I guarantee that his rig was sitting on sheer rock, but to him he felt he was getting a good drop.

So the rest of the day and evening passed quietly without event. Remy had had enough, having spent three fruitless days in the West Arm, and he upped sticks and moved into the South Arm.

The following morning we returned to the same area, as Jocelyn was convinced we needed to be there. I fished the far margin again but he moved down the bank a little, past the swim opposite called Matilda and towards the bridge into a bay that I think they call ‘Briggsy’s.

At the moment the water is so high that Briggsy’s swim is completely underwater. Jocelyn found just enough space to sit and get some banksticks in. It was a good decision for him as he managed to catch a real whacker at 25.2kg, or over 55lb.

Again, after doing the same as everyone else for three days he changed tack and got right out of the box, and fished an area that may well not have been fished for months, and was rewarded with a real big one.

I did lose another fish, cut off clean on a 0.60mm snag leader, which was disappointing, and shows how brutal the environment is. That evening I took a boat down to see Remy, rowing the whole way down the West and halfway down the South as I had no battery left for the motor. I had a lovely time on the water on my own and soaking it all in.

Remy had lost one unfortunately but he did have a big catfish waiting to show me, which was pretty cool. I spent the last couple of hours of daylight looking for spots in the South Arm, and this particular area close to the sailing club had a couple of small bays.

Again, I decided to get out of the box and look in these tiny bays, which I guessed many anglers would have ignored. I studied it with the underwater camera, zig-zagging across and covering as much water as possible. It was all very uniform, the lake bed being sand here. However, in that sand, clear as day, were areas the size of a bivvy that had been dug out by the carp as they fed. I decided that this was going to be where I fished for my final morning. It again proved to be a good move as the following morning I returned and caught a good fish of over 19kg, a really nice common. I lost another one too, again cut off at the snag leader.

And so that was it for my trip to Cassien. With four bites in under four days’ fishing, I felt like I had done well, even if it would have been nice to land all of them. However, I had arranged to meet up with Mark Hofman for my final 24 hours, who had been down in the area for the previous five weeks. He had been focusing a lot of his time at Cassien, but was also fishing other waters in the surrounding area. One in particular all the lads said we must visit, a large barrage nearby, and so we headed off to check it out.

The differences to Cassien were threefold; it was smaller, much weedier and importantly you could night fish from Friday to Sunday, which you cannot do at Cassien. So for my last night in the South of France I could actually stay on the water all night.

I had ticked Cassien off, and actually caught one, and as much as it was really special this other lake was the one for me. One end of it was like a flooded forest, a proper carpy heaven. I spent the first couple of hours up trees searching for carp and I found them in numerous different areas. The biggest and most fish were in one particular weed bed around four or five acres in size. Interestingly there was also a large otter, just chilling alongside all these carp. We watched it for ages, not scaring the carp or trying to catch them.

So we decided to pitch up there for the night. Looking at it you might first think “How can anyone possibly fish here?” so dense was the weed, but Mark showed me the way. He gave me his flippers, snorkel and goggles and I swam my rigs out, diving down into the weed and looking for the perfect clear spots on which to fish.

So I swam my rigs out with a small bait box tucked into the waistband of my swimming shorts. I pushed the lead into the sand, hid my leaders, and put a tiny bit of bait round each; enough to get a bite. Proper spot fishing, but cheating to some as I was hand placing the rigs!

For me it is the ultimate, and anyone who says differently I believe has a slight issue with their own angling! How could you not want to get in the lake and swim down to where the fish are feeding and see it completely from their perspective and then really trick them by hiding the rig?

Anyway, I loved it and lo and behold I even caught one! The other lads had a quiet night, and indeed I don’t think the lake produced another fish but I had gone and bagged one. I was proud and happy, but I don’t think I could have done it without Mark’s help and encouragement.

You aren’t allowed to use boats there and I don’t think I could have fished effectively if he hadn’t said “Grow a pair of balls, get out there and dive down in it,” and I don’t mind admitting I was a little scared! It’s not something I would recommend you do unless you are with another competent swimmer but it was so exciting. Will I do it again? You bet I will!

So my short trip drew to an end and it was time to bid the lads farewell. It’s somewhere that should you ever have the opportunity, whether it be a family holiday or a trip with your pals, I can’t recommend highly enough. The carp everywhere grow huge, the climate is amazing and there are historic venues, and unfished under-the-radar venues, all of which contain large carp…