Donít allow yourself to get carried away by on-screen fish marks. Huge shoals and massive fish showing up all the time probably mean that you have the Sensitivity feature turned up too high for the speed at which you are travelling. If you are rowing your dinghy, turn the Sensitivity right down, for even on a medium Sensitivity setting the sounder on a rowed boat will mark the same fish a dozen times or more as you pass over it, especially if it happens to be swimming in the same direction as the boat is travelling. When this happens a bream can look like a thirty pound carp.
Most echo sounders work best when the boat speed is in excess of about 4-5 knots. Can you row this fast? I suggest that you only use the sounder to help you build up an accurate picture of the lake bed, rather than to find fish.
Next, put markers on any favourable mark that is revealed on the screen such as ridges, bars or plateaux, or even hard patches of gravel. It is very important to take intersecting land marks in case the marker is moved during a fight or by boat traffic. By doing this you will be able to put the marker back in exactly the same place.
When you are out in a boat you will invariably be able to chose features on the bank that you can line up with others in the near or middle distance. It might be the edge of a coppice of trees which you can place in a fold in the distant hillside, or the spire of a church that you can put above a bush or tree at the waters edge. First find the feature you want to fish, then put your marker on it, finally find the landmarks.
Note: Donít use features that are likely to move! I know that may seem to be stating the exceptionally obvious, but I know a guy who must remain nameless to preserve his blushes, who took as a mark a car, parked conveniently so that it lined up with a significant tree standing on its own. He was rather buggered when the car drove off. Where possible try to take landmarks that intercept at as near ninety degrees as possible. You can confirm that you are in the right spot with the echo sounder reading.
So now youíve found your dream lake and by doing your research on foot and by boat have discovered a got a tasty underwater feature or two that look worth a go. Now its time to bait up with about a kilo of general groundbait aimed at attracting all kinds of fish into the swim (hopefully the carp will follow smaller fish, drawn by their feeding activity).
I like to use mini and micro seed mixes such as Haithís Carpticle, Haithís Red Band, or oat groats. These are flavoured with of any of the fruit flavours such as the Nutrafruit range. Add a mix or two of boiled baits and a scattering of maize for good measure. Incidentally, on unpressured waters carp are quite tolerant of the presence of the marker(s) in the swim, but on some pressured waters, markers can be the kiss of death on a swim. If unsure take accurate bearings from prominent land marks so you can return to the same spot time and time again, then remove the marker altogether.
Once the fish have been located, it is important to try and find out where they go when they leave a baited area (donít forget those patrol routes). However, your aim should be to hold fish for quite a long time simply by keeping the bait going in, possibly doubling or even trebling the amount introduced originally. In fact, you will soon find out just how much bait you should be introducing each day. Hectic action followed by long blank spells means that the fish are probably moving out of the swim because thereís no more bait left. Steady feeding, when no one time of the day seems any better or worse than another, probably indicates that youíve got the baiting just about right. But you may well be surprised at just how much is enough.
I remember a trip to a smallish barrage lake in northern France one May. I was there with a couple of mates and we soon found the fish holed up along a fifty yard stretch of bank at the entrance to a reserve that lead down to the barrage. Finding them was one thing; keeping them interested was quite another. In the end we found that in order to hold the fish in the area we needed to bait up very heavily indeed. The three of us were putting in the best part of 30kg (wet weight) of Carpticle, 10kg of mixed particles and nuts (tigers, maize and maples), and about 1500 boiled baits each day between the three of us along a fifty yard stretch...and we still couldnít hold them down for longer than about four hours! Mind you, the fishing for those four hours was quite sensational.
Please donít expect to turn up at your chosen venue, set up and then start racking Ďem up. Fishing the bigger French lakes can be physically wearing and damned hard work. Even once you have found fish, you may not be able to hold them for any length of time and you may have to move several times, possibly great distances, to stay on feeding fish. Stay on the look-out for signs of feeding fish or better fishing in other areas of the lake. Even if you are catching a few fish, it may well be that you havenít found the Mother Lode yet. We tend to spend as much time looking at possible alternative swims as we do fishing the one we are in.
As Iíve already mentioned, French fish are definitely influenced by the wind. On big lakes we have always found the carp follow the breeze, and the stronger it blows the better. Wherever possible, fish right into the teeth the wind, as the fish will almost certainly be there. If you cannot get onto the lee shore, try and get as close to it as possible, or chose a prominent feature such as a headland or point that intersects the direction in which the wind is blowing. Bays and other inlets are also worth investigating if a strong breeze is pushing into them.
Any new wind - that is to say, a significant shift in its direction - should be followed. I think that French carp become accustomed and rather fed-up with a wind that has been blowing for some time from any one direction and they may tend to drift away against the wind after a while. However, a sudden increase in wind strength particularly from a significantly different direction, will almost certainly warrant investigation.
If youíve found carp on the tail of a breeze they can sometimes be persuaded to stay in the area against their instincts; say, if the wind drops or changes direction, by regular and plentiful introductions of free offerings and mass baits.
White calms may be nice for the sunbathers, but itís not much good for carp fishing. However, thereís not much you can do about it, so if thereís absolutely no wind at all, the whole party will really have to work hard to try and find the carp. Alternatively, relax and soak up a few rays!
A few years ago my wife and I discovered the Chateau Lake, a 160 acre water in north western France. By happy coincidence the lake lay right next to a gite we had hired and through our researches we knew it held carp to mid twenties or more. Unfortunately the weather that year was exceptionally calm and while we worked hard at establishing a likely swim and baiting it up, the fish played hard to get as the glassy calm surface of the lake mocked us for day after day.
While the wind was conspicuous by itís absence, we never saw hide nor hair of a fish but as soon as a fresh south-easterly wind sprang up, they started leaping all over the place. Even on 160 acres the fish ended up moving to within a few yards of the margins, driven onto the lee shore by the strong wind that stirred up the bottom into a rich soup of natural food.
Unfortunately big winds are not always a notable factor of French weather, particularly in high summer when anti-cyclones dominate the weather pattern. Light winds (and no winds!) make finding carp that much harder, so letís just take a look at a few ways of hopefully getting on fish when light airs are the order of the day.
There are usually loads of features on most big French lakes. Bays and points, arms off the main body of the lake, spots where rivers or streams enter and leave the lake, islands, backwaters, shallows, creeks, weed beds and reed fringes, lily pads. Bigger lakes may even be spanned by road and rail bridges and carp love to gather in the vicinity of the supporting piles.
Often youíll find artificial dikes, sunken or semi-sunken trees, underwater rocky areas, stones and boulders, the barrages themselves. The list goes on and on, but often most, if not all of these features are to be found on many big barrage lakes. They are all features that will hold carp and should be scrutinised minutely; preferably even fished on a roving basis just to see if there are carp present.