Taming The Beast | Mitch Godfrey

Salagou has been my favourite destination in France to fish since first visiting it in the early nineties. An ancient volcanic area, with steep sided red rock cliffs, shale outcrops and vineyards gently rolling down the hills to meet the crystal-clear blue waters edge. It’s certainly an idyllic setting, and not a place you would associate with some of the worst weather conditions in Europe, but this stunning setting is home to the tramontana, a severe wind created by the Pyrenees and the central massif mountains, and when this northerly blows there is no hiding place, and not the best conditions to be camping or indeed fishing!

I’ve heard even the name Salagou is derived from the meaning windy valley I have always tried to fish areas of the lake in the past that are sheltered from this beast, but in reality you can’t get out on the lake wherever you are, so on this occasion I decided to man up and fish into the teeth of it. Which turned out to be a great decision from a fishing point of view. We arrived at the lake completely knackered, driving through the night nonstop after finishing work on a Friday evening isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the way we prefer. The more time on the lake the better!

There was a chance that we’d be able to get markers out and fish the next day as the forecast had given out a lull in the wind at dawn, so we walked around all the gear, as it was too rough to get out in the boat, this took us all afternoon as we were not close and there were plenty of gullies and boulders to negotiate. You can imagine the state we were in, and the 30-degree heat didn’t help either, and not having had any sleep for over 40 hours, we were both at the point of exhaustion, so it was chorizo pasta and bed for the both of us by 8pm, with no shelter up and seeing the Milky Way stretching across a crystal-clear sky it was good to be back, even with the wind!

I was up and eager to get going at dawn, but there was no lull and the forecast was for the wind to only get stronger. So we decided on a nice leisurely set up, in a nice sheltered spot, but there was nowhere, so semi sheltered would have to do, we would just have to tough it out, and we were both debating on whether or not we had made the right choice, especially as this was forecast for another couple of days! We stuck it out, as there really wasn’t anywhere else to go and after all the effort it would be bordering on madness to do it all again. We decided on casting a few rods as we could cast into 50ft from where we were, and we had seen a couple of fish top. Most people wouldn’t even contemplate fishing in these conditions, but we’ve seen it all before and fished in it, so we knew it to be possible but only to find it was far too snaggy and all four rods we’d put out were hard stuck to the bottom by the end of the day.

Patience was needed, so a shop was done, a water run from a nearby spring, preparation of particles, Growlers Tigers and Superseed Hemp being favoured on this trip, and even more patience! Eventually day four had arrived and with it a gentle breeze, and at last time to get fishing. Everything was at the ready, so a quick bacon and egg cob and a cuppa, then straight out with the fish finder! I knew roughly where I wanted to fish to, and was relieved when the echo reviled that it was in around 40ft of depth, the other 3 markers were placed well away from the first by at least 200m, one in 30ft, another in 50ft and the last in 60ft. We share markers, as is always the case one will always do better than the others, so we get to share the catches.

We baited heavily on each marker with 10kg of Tigers, 5kg of Hemp and 5kg of Bait-Tech’s Triple-N 18mm boilie. This was a little bit of a gamble, as it was a lot of bait and we still had 12 days to go, but the tramontana was in the forecast again for the end of the week so we decided to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. The first night we were really optimistic, but with only one run coming in the evening, ‘which we managed to loose in a snag’ the night was silent! We stuck to the plan and baited heavily again in the morning, putting in half the amount of the evening before. We had to wait until mid-afternoon for the first run, a very slow stop-starter, not the normal wild lake screamer! The rod was picked up to find a good weight on the end, so out in the boat we went and after a good tussle a big cat surfaced, not really my cup of tea, with those beady eyes and stinking mucus, but a start non the less! Nothing else that day except a couple of skimmers which had managed to hang themselves. But with the bream obviously there in numbers we decided on another heavy baiting that evening…

At midnight on the 3rd day the first run proper to my mate, a lovely common of 26lb, followed shortly after with a 31. Then my turn at 4am with a cracking 33 common, at last they’d turned on! The next day saw us land 2 more 20s in the late afternoon, things were on the up and we were really excited at what the night and the rest of the stay might bring. That evening again saw us bait heavily on the marker that had produced all the fish so far, and lighter on the others that were still to produce, we also moved 4 rods now onto the 40ft hot marker, still leaving a rod on the others, in hope of them too getting going. That night the hot marker produced a cat for me and a 38.12 common, while my mate had a 39, and a 22, while Daz managed corker of a common ounces under 40lb.

Again, we baited heavily on the hot marker, as we did every evening, and morning until we left. The day again produced in the afternoon with a 26, then a 31 in the evening. The night was pretty quiet, with only one half-hearted run, but as I picked up the rod I could feel a steady pressure pulling back, so into the boat and out we went, as we got over the fish I could tell it was something special, I just couldn’t get any line on it at all, it just towed us around in circles for what felt like an age… With the heart pumping I turned to my mate and said this is the one, eventually I started to make a bit of line and slowly but surely it started to come up, what felt like hours later with my arms at breaking point the fish decided on one last dive which nearly pulled me from the boat, as I lost my balance the rod slipped from my hands and I was lucky to just manage to grab hold of the butt before it disappeared into the abyss, I then spent the next few minutes with my arm at full length being towed around, before I could get back to full control. Eventually we saw a swirl so knew it to be very close, then to my shock a 3lb shredded bream came flying out of the water to smack me square in the face… What a palaver, I hate cats! All that excitement and adrenaline for sod all! All my mate could do was laugh, just to rub salt in the wounds!

The next day was also quiet until 4pm when my delk went into meltdown and after a great tussle the first 40 made it to the net, coming in at 42.12 it was a relief to get one of the bigger girls on the bank…The rigs we were using were a combination of triple or double snowmen using Triple-N 18mm boilie, to a size 4 Jprecision long shank precision point hook. The braided hooklink was quicksilver 25lb, as the colour matches the red silt perfectly, we used the matching Triple-N Hard Hookers on the boilies for the sinking bait and a combination of Wafters or Pop Ups to balance it all out. Poloni, Nutty and Hemp Oil was added to all the freebies for extra attraction, and the hookbaits dried then glugged in Poloni Oil for 24 hours. That night saw me have 2 more at 29 and 36!

Day 6 was pretty quiet with just one low 20 hitting the net around lunchtime, and with nothing that night things were a changing, definitely on the slowdown. But that only seemed to attract a better stamp as the next day, on the late afternoon run time my first upper 40 came in at 48.04. Then the next fish came in first thing in the morning at 46lb, still all commons with not a mirror in sight, where were the big mirrors? And why could we only catch on the one marker? These were questions we couldn’t answer. The wind was now starting to get up again and was forecast to be in for the next 3 days so a double up on the baiting up, rock hard baits and all Triple-N Snowmen. The night was quiet apart from the roar of the wind, until 5am, with no chance of getting into the boat it would have to be from the bank, with me on gillie duty as it was my mates rod that had torn off, I wasn’t looking forward to getting out in the 4ft waves and spray to try and land this fish! Then my delk stared to go off and we knew it had somehow tangled up, but it was nothing as simple as just going under the line ,it had also caught up further out, so it was decided I would stay with that rod keeping it loose but tight if you know what I mean, so it didn’t tangle and get in a right mess, and loose the fish. At least I didn’t have to get out into the drink with gale force winds and waves… So out he went, as it was impossible to land near the bank with the waves. Good old Daz my best friend and lifelong fishing partner, I had to laugh watching him, it was a right struggle in the conditions but he had the last laugh as a very chunky mirror made its way into the net, and a new pb at 53.14 the biggest fish either of us had ever seen, had us both laughing and jumping around like kids. The first mirror and what a corker, happy days indeed…

The next day saw all the markers producing at last, with the wind hacking in it really turned on, but with not being able to get out in the boat we lost a few fish on cut offs near the side, but still managed a 33 and a 29, the latter coming from a cast rod very close in. Day 10, gale force winds, but beautiful blue skies as is so often the case here, we did manage a little un at 21 and lost more on the zebras… The night saw us get a nice linear at 28lb and a very rare fish for the lake, it seems that we could only get the smaller fish in from the bank with the bigger fish just smashing us up on the zebra mussels, which was a shame. The last rod out eventually roared off at midday and turned out to be a nice common landed for a change at 33lb.

There was a chance to get some rods out with a lull in the wind in the evening, and indeed, we did manage to get out all 4 rods on the hot spot and some bait before it picked up again… But we were both surprised that we managed a blank that night. First light saw another lull and I was able to get out the other rods on the markers too, and chuck in more bait on the hot one but we had to wait until 3pm for anything to happen and it was surprisingly on the 60ft marker, and my first mirror coming in at 46.08 a proper fat thing like her mud puddle cousins, and nothing like the normal torpedo fish the lake is well known for, but very welcome.

That night the hot marker was away again, after its lull and produced a low 40 for Daz and a 37 mirror for me. By this time the bait had about gone with just a handful of boilies and a couple of kilo of pellet and nothing else left and 2 more days to go we decided just to get it in and see what happens. We weren’t over confident without the nuts, or boilies and were proven right as the hot marker didn’t produce any more fish, but the 60ft marker which had been quiet throughout the trip, and by far the closest marker in decided to spring into life at 10am, this also being a time when we caught nothing throughout the trip, and also over pellet, which we’d also had nothing over. My thoughts were its gonna be a cat, and I was even more convinced as we got over it and I couldn’t get it off bottom. After an eternity of being pulled around it eventually started to come up, pressure bubbles coming up everywhere as the fish altered its swim bladder, by the amount of bubbles you know it’s a big fish, I was just waiting for the bream to come flying out the water as it neared the surface, but in the crystal clear water I could see it was a carp even in 20 ft of water, I immediately loosened the clutch I wasn’t going to loose this beast, but had to use my finger on the spool as I was getting nowhere! After an eternity of lunges, it eventually gave up and then it turned on its side I could see it was special, and indeed it was! A common coming in at over 60lb and what dreams are made of!

That was it for us with no more runs, once the bait ran out. I’ve fished this lake so many times, hundreds of days spent on the banks, going there for the beauty and serenity of the place rather than the sizes of the fish! My record beforehand being a scraper 50, and my mates a scraper 40. I really wasn’t expecting or even thought that a result like this was possible from this lake, so it made it even more of an epic trip, and one that will go down in my folklore. It’s nicknamed the Devils lake by the French, I couldn’t disagree more. Except maybe when I tried to set a couple of rods, and the wind got up and I ended up a mile or so away, and had to trudge back through very wavy shallows, sometimes up to my neck in water up and over rocks, and feet cut to shreds on the mussels. But who remembers that with a wild 60 common on the bank?

Mitch Godfrey

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