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How do I answer a question like this?

How do I answer a question like this?

This was a question posed to me by a potential visitor to our Gîte. It is what I would call a “hedgehog”, which is a prickly query to which there is no correct answer except to toss it back. "Do you mean the site from where you can fish, or how many fish there are?"

The fact is, I don’t know the answer to the latter, but the site is as good as it gets.

I have a large river, the Sâone, in front of my house and I watch the fish jump in the evenings while I gaze at the flow as I sip at a glass of wine. This does not make me an authority about fish or fishing, but I have made a few observations about them.

The first one is that the fish can tell the time.

They know when it is noon, because a few minutes before ‘Twelve’ the local French anglers pack their gear and head home for lunch. This is the signal for the fish to jump and betray their positions. Possibly they are celebrating the largesse that the fishermen have been throwing into the river all morning to act as ‘bait’ to attract them. They also know when it is "knock off time" in the evenings, because that is when they jump and celebrate their survival for another day, after the fishermen have left for dinner.

My second observation is that the fish detect when the enemy arrive.

The ‘pêcheurs’ disembark from a variety of vehicles, from beat-up Renaults to monsters that should be pulling ploughs through a bog. They alight and slam doors, assemble equipment and then bang pegs into the ground to support their rods. They slash at the reeds and nettles to create an area from which they can cast, further than anyone else does, into the river. This must be because the ‘fish that has never been caught’ is only two metres further away than anyone else can cast. They erect camouflage umbrellas and windbreaks, place keep-nets in the river, set the alarms on their tackle, have a pee on the bushes, light cigarettes and then retire to listen to the radios in their cars.

This is the signal for the fish to retreat to the hollows in the riverbed and meditate.

Of course, they repeat the early morning ritual in the afternoon after lunch, perhaps with a little less care about the noise they make and the disturbance they create. It is another observation of mine that 'wine in the blood' seems to deafen people. They appear to make even more noise after lunch.

My conclusion is that they do not really want to catch any fish, and that they do not have any hooks on their lines. They are using the excuse of fishing to ‘get out of the house’ for a while. Whenever I ask them how many they have caught, the reply is “Rien”. Perhaps this is to put me off from fishing at their favourite spot.

So for this reason, I didn’t know what the fishing was like when the question was posed.

However, that changed last month. One guest from England employed tactics that ‘out foxed’ the fish. He rose at dawn and padded quietly to the riverbank. He sneaked into the reeds in a crouch and in no time flat had a carp on the end of his line. He eased it from the water and laid it on the grass in order to measure and weigh it. The fish lay there with goggle-eyed surprise.

The carp that did not get awayThe carp that did not get away

My guest said, “This fish has not been caught before. The English ones leap all over the place trying to get back to the water, because they know that is what is going to happen anyway. This one doesn’t know.” We photographed it and then he slipped it back into the river. “Tomorrow I will have more success,” he promised.

He was right. He caught twenty five pounds of fish in three hours. I have not seen that sort of success since I saw anglers fishing at Maun in Botswana in an ecosystem controlled by crocodiles. Wherever there are crocodiles, the fishing is superb. Unfortunately, it gets a little cold for crocodiles in central France in winter, but that did not stop me from floating a realistic plastic head of a crocodile that I had bought in Australia, in the river.

A good catchA good catch

We have a local French fisherman who keeps his spirits up with copious beers as he charges along in his rusty Renault. He skids to a halt, leaps from the cab and casts into the river. I think that his tactic it to take the fish by surprise. After a couple of casts he gives up and charges off to somewhere else, only to return two hours later to try his luck again.

When he saw the 'crocodile' head floating past him, he got as excited as a heron in a fish hatchery. He tore off to the local bar where, of course, they did not believe his story. I posted a photograph of the “croc” anonymously on the village notice board in order to see the reaction of the villagers, but apart from people keeping their dogs on their leads near the river, just in case, not a lot changed.

We do have one dedicated French carp fisherman who comes each year and camps next to the river. A few years ago he caught a monster that we photographed and then we weighed with a kitchen scale, by stepping on and off the scale with and without the fish. We estimated it to be 32 kilos, which, I have since realised, would have been a French record at the time, if we had recorded it properly. “And,” he said, “the one that got away was bigger!”

Doesn’t that sound like yet another fisherman’s tale?


A man who will go fishing
And take his time with you
With fly and trout rod swishing
In the early morning dew
Congratulates your catches
And commiserates with those
That escape the netting snatches,
‘Cause “that’s the way it goes”

The one who stands there with you
When the rain is pelting hail
All the times you’re turning blue
In a freezing winter gale
Who also spends the longer days
Standing at your side
Sharing in this outdoor craze
While you with him confide
All your thoughts and hopes and dreams,
And he the same with you
Trusting each the other’s schemes
For each of you speak true

But heed a word of warning
From a man who’s weighed the scales

Trust him without scorning

But don’t believe his tales!