By Paul Wheeler
Finding your Holiday venue

Many people think about fishing in France, but the `unknown' factor scares a lot of anglers away. What if you knew the answers to a few simple questions?

I hope the following helps.

The phone rings. "Can I speak to Paul Wheeler please?" "Speaking" comes the reply. "Hello Paul can you….." Now at the early stage of the conversation I know what Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are going to follow. For those of you who don't know I'm the English representative of Domaine Des Iles (DDI) in France who along with my lovely wife Lynn, (who gets annoyed and frustrated with some of you who can't read our add correctly and try and phone me before 7.30pm instead of after) try to answer all your queries. Some of you will be seasoned campaigners with your fishing abroad. For some this will be your first time. But the principles are the same. Do your homework before you go. Firstly before I continue can I just say that the reason you should be going fishing in the first place is to enjoy it. Not just for the, hopeful, trophy shot at the end, but for the whole experience. Many people phone me who are `under pressure' already. They must catch!! "What if I blank!" and they haven't even left their front rooms yet!!

One of the F.A.Q we get asked is: How many carp am I going to catch? Answer: Are you going fishing or playing golf. Because if you want to play golf I can guarantee you 18 holes. But if you want to go fishing I know the fish are there but I can't guarantee you will catch them! Now I'm not having a go at anybody as its natural for people to have high expectations when they're, in effect, going `on holiday'. We all expect. But I have news guys. Carp are carp. Even foreign carp. Now back to that phone call and our add. I mentioned that many of you phone me before 7.30pm when the add clearly states to phone after. (I had a gentleman phone me at 10am Christmas morning this year. Being a fellow carp angler I understood him but the wife was not amused!). When I say do your homework, homework starts here. Get your facts right before you go. Don't interpret things to suit yourself. Just because it may be more convenient for you to phone me during the day it doesn't mean I'll be there. The same applies to wherever your destination may be. Seek out the facts, don't assume and twist them to suit your needs. I promise you will be disappointed. Take our add for example. Yes we advertise big fish but do we tell you in the add if the water is easy or hard? I don't think so. But many of you will read 60lb fish!!! and think I'm going to catch one this weekend, and some of you might. But the fact is this is carp fishing and some of you won't. Decide what you are looking for from your trip.

Tip All those adds you read, including ours, only advertise their `top of the tree' to get your attention. Read them correctly. Look at them until your sick of reading them. Of course they will make you dream of big fish, that's what they're there for. But is this particular complex what you want? Are you new to carp fishing and are looking for your first double or 20? (Maybe even your first carp). Do you want lots of runs? Or do you want to sit it out and maybe catch that fish of a lifetime? Although it may never happen. Are the facilities available important to you? Or are you happy to rough it. Etc, etc, etc !!! Read all the adds carefully and decide. Then contact all that interest you.

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"Hello Paul could you please send me a brochure". Any company advertising fishing abroad will have some kind of information pack and we are no different. For a brochure on DDI phone Bernard Caron in France on 0033 323 81 10 55 or 0033 607 741800 (fax 0033 323 81 13 12) and before you ask. Yes, he speaks excellent English. The brochure will tell you briefly about the complex, and how to get there etc. But for more detailed information check out the DDI web site which is where David Elford gives you up to date information on catches etc. or alternatively contact me. " Can you tell me if you have a vacancy for `X' number of anglers in `Y' month". All our bookings are made through Bernard in France. Once you have spoken to Bernard he will hold your booking for 7 working days. If he has not received your deposit in this time the dates once again become available to everybody. Wherever you go check out the terms and conditions and are sure you understand them. In DDI cases you are required to send a 50% deposit, in Francs, via a bankers draft direct into Bernard's bank. Details of which he will give you when you book. The bank will charge you small fee for this facility. On receipt of your booking DDI will send you confirmation. You pay your balance, in cash, on arrival. Speaking of cash. Currency in France is French Francs, which at the time of writing are about 10.5 to the pound. For those of you who have never traveled abroad I suggest you change your currency at your local travel agent or bank. (You may need to order your requirement a few days prior to collection). They will charge you a small commission. Alternatively if you cross by ferry you will find a Bureau de Change on board. Talking of bookings. Many of the `now famous' French fisheries are booking up well in advance, some even years. We're not that congested yet but our diary fills very quickly. Over the years the two most popular months have consistently been May and September. So I suggest book early to avoid disappointment. DDI is slightly different in that if DDI is fully booked Bernard can always find you some fishing elsewhere. Although you may need to be of the pioneering sort! DDI is also different in the fact that it is open all year. Many fisheries close through the winter, and it is a very good winter fishery. I personally can vouch for that.

How do I get there? Firstly make sure before you leave you have a road worthy vehicle and make sure you have adequate insurance for driving home and abroad, and AA Five Star recovery is recommended. (Personal insurance is a good idea as well). As well as a driving license you will need your insurance certificate in case you are stopped for whatever reason. Note: If you are travelling in a van there is a good chance you will be stopped for a spot check, normally at the tollbooths. You will also need a breakdown triangle and you will need those lovely sticky head light adaptors if you are to travel at night. And lastly but most importantly. DON'T FORGET THEY DRIVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!! There are three ways of crossing the channel. Ferry, hovercraft and the Channel Tunnel. Now crossing the channel is a supply and demand situation. They've got it and you want it. But with various companies in competition for your business you would think there would be a price war! Wrong. It's more like a cartel and all their prices are similar. The one thing that has always bugged me is that you are only using their service going out and coming back. So why can you go for a cheap day return for say £15 when a ten-day etc. could cost say £150. Buy two cheap day returns and throw the relevant bit away I hear you say. Done that plus many other scams but the fact is now they've got it all tied up. Sorry lads, you've got to pay the going rate. You can get your fare reduced. It depends on how many times you travel. I use the ferry. I find the hovercraft, although it crosses the channel in half the time, too unreliable in bad weather. It tends to be cancelled. Le Shuttle, an experience the first time going under the channel, but in truth just like being on the underground, I find boring although again it is quicker than the ferry. So why then use the ferry. The crossing time is 75 - 90 minutes from Dover depending on weather conditions. Once on board you can relax have a meal and something to drink, do some tax-free shopping and if you enjoy a dabble, play the fruit machines! If you have traveled a long way to the port this can be a welcome break. P & O Ferries run a discount club called Voyager. This works by points. Once a member you are given points on your next crossing which you can use on any crossing thereafter. I.e. if you are awarded 20 points (each point being worth £1) you can claim a discount of £20 off your next crossing. The discounts equate to 25%. If you spend more than £400 a year with them you are `promoted' to a platinum Voyager and which equates to 33%. Ferry prices vary depending on what time of year you are travelling. If you are travelling from Wales or the West County you may prefer to do the Newhaven - Dieppe crossing which I believe is about 4 and a half hours. Whatever port you decide to travel from you must check in at least 20 minutes before departure or you'll miss your ferry. When booking your ferry have your car / van make and registration ready along with the number in your party and full names of all people traveling, also your preferred time of outward and inward sailings. Note: French time is 1 hour ahead of UK time. AND DON'T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT. When leaving the ferry at Calais you will go straight onto the A26 autoroute. DDI is only 120 miles from Calais but many fisheries are a lot further. If its your first time driving in France take your time and if travelling a long distance share the driving or take regular breaks at the excellent service stations. Petrol is also much cheaper in France. Wherever you are travelling in France you probably will use the autoroutes, on which you will encounter tolls. The toll charge to DDI from Calais is at the moment 59FF but this could change. Handy Tip: You will find there will be no speed cameras on the autoroutes and very rarely a G.D. except on the toll roads. Now travelling from A - B on the toll roads = a set distance and the G.D. know how long it should take you to travel that distance within the speed limit. If you have been exceeding the speed limit and have reached your destination sooner than you should have you may, if your toll ticket is checked by a GD, incur an on the spot fine. You've been warned. Take a detailed French map with you and work out where you are going before you depart or you'll be visiting parts of France you wish you hadn't. Especially work out local directions. For DDI there is a map on the brochure but again if your not sure phone me.

Can you tell me a bit about the complex? How big are the lakes? What are the fish stocks? How big are the fish? Can I night fish? Do I need permits? How many rods can I use?

I first discovered DDI about 7 years ago from my good friend Geoff who informed me he had found a nice 20's water in Northern France. At that time my mate Pete had never fished in France so we decided to give it ago and try and get a few fish under our belts before the start of the English season. On that first trip we had fish of 35, 38 and 39lb! This was no twenties water! DDI is set in about 60 acres of land with 3 lakes on the complex. Bordered on one side by the Somme River and on another side the Somme canal. The main lake is approximately 25 acres with the back lake about 5 acres. On top of these you have the stock pond. The whole complex is set in the most beautiful of surroundings anyone could wish for, but then I am bias. The lakes are as near to an English estate lake as you are ever likely to find in France. The whole complex is secure and safe. The only people in the grounds are the anglers and the people associated with the complex. DDI is owned and run by Bernard Caron his wife Odile and son Jon. Bernard and Odile live on the estate and have a house you would die for! Brief history of the complex is that Napoleon's army dug the lakes for its peat. They also discovered fingers of fertile soil which they extracted to grow crops in. Hence leaving lots of channels and islands giving DDI its name. Translated it means Estate of Islands. In recent years Bernard and Odile opened a small restaurant on site, which soon grew in a few short years into a huge conference centre and leisure park. DDI was a famous place. Until that fateful night about 10 years ago when there was a tragic fire. These days Bernard runs the estate as a top class carp fishery. As I said earlier the lakes were dug by Napoleon and are dug out of peat. Hence if you find a gravel bar or hard area please let me know! The main lake, about 25 acres, holds nearly all the big fish. That first trip of ours was 3 or 4 weeks after Bernard had stocked the lake with 100 x 30lb+ fish! This is on top of the original fish stocked years earlier by Bernard's father and the stocking of some big commons the biggest 30K (about 65lb!). Although this common has never been caught, if at all is still alive. What are alive and kicking are the majority of that stocking and some of the originals. Over the past 7 years I have watched, and caught, these fish and have been amazed at their growth. Today we have 3 known 60lb+ fish, at least 8 or 9 50lb+, 30's and 40's I don't know - a lot. Plus we have your usual bag of doubles and 20s and grass carp to over 30lb. But the lake is not easy. It is not for the `I want a run ever half hour brigade'. You could quite easily blank. Or you could catch that fish of a lifetime. But the fish are there to be caught. This year to date mid October 2000 the lake has produced 1 x 60, 16 x 50, I've lost count of 30s and 40s. Three weeks ago whilst I was fishing for a long weekend a party of 12 booked the whole main lake. 50% went home with P.B's. 1 guy had a 49lb and 51lb for a brace of 100lb. But remember what I said at the beginning. This is the top of the tree. We report the catches not the failures. And of course there must be some. But come and give it a go. We only allow 12 anglers at any one time on this lake to give everybody plenty of room. The swims are numbered 1 - 22. Swim No's 1 - 3 are fished if you wish to book the main lodge. You have an entire bay to yourselves. We also have cabins for hire, which are basic but comfortable. If you require further details then contact me. The back lake is about 5 acres, is very pretty, and has lots of pads during the summer. In contrast to the main lake this one is much easier (unless your sitting on it in the middle of winter with a cold easterly blowing in your face). This lake was part of the main lake up to 3 years ago. It was blocked off and whatever stocks were in there at the time are still in there. On top of these it has been heavily stocked with loads of doubles, 20s, a few 30s, the odd 40 and a 52lb common! It is not uncommon to have a shed load of fish from this lake but you might not catch a 30. I fished this lake 3 weeks ago, with Geoff, for 2 nights. We had 12 fish of which 10 were 20+.

And lastly we have the stock pond. About 1 and a half acres, this is crammed with singles and doubles and 1 x 36lb mirror to spice it up a bit! This lake is ideal for newcomers to the sport or to give your child a bend in their rod, a great lake for a wag and mag contest or to rebuild your confidence, if you're having a bad time on one of the other lakes, This Lake has something for everybody. All three lakes can be night fished. You do not need any permits and you can use 3 rods on all three lakes. What about boats? There are 2 boats available on the main lake for emergencies only. Otherwise the only boats allowed are bait boats. Facilities to charge your bait boat are available. No fish are to be sacked for any length of time except for organizing your photo shot. This does not mean waiting until it gets light. RESPECT THE FISH AND THE SURROUNDINGS.

Note: All the above information is for DDI. Check out all the questions for your relevant destination especially about permits and night fishing. Don't chance it. If caught night fishing where it is not allowed you will have all your tackle confiscated and will have to pay a heavy fine to retrieve it. Don't think you can argue about it. These French police are armed. What about bait? Now will you take notice of me if I tell you? Because half of you turn up with so much bait your cars are creaking under the weight! (Just as I did on my first trip to France). If you are going to fish one of those French `inland seas' then you are going to need a huge amount of bait. But each situation is different depending on where you are going. What bait do I need for DDI? That's another question. I personally have been on mainline baits for the duration I have fished DDI and it's caught me one or two fish. So many people phone asking could we supply bait that frankly we would have been daft not to. This year saw the launch of DDI specials. Made for us by Mainline. They are 18mm boilies which to make life easier are shelf life. A lot of people who phone me are catching regularly on their home waters and are confidant with whatever they're using and as confidence is `half way there' then that's fine at DDI. Although we are selling DDI specials, for which I admit are going in the lake regularly, there is no secret bait to the place. The real secret, and its not much of one, is location. If your happy to use the latest `catch the angler' rather than the fish, gismo, bait whatever, fine. If you're confident with it use it. Huge tip!! Don't fill the place in. As I said earlier this is the green light for half of you to bring as much as you can carry. If you want to fill the place in, fine. Thank you for feeding our fish. But you won't catch any. At this point I would like to say that I have no personal interest financially with DDI. For giving people information I in return get free fishing? So when I say don't fill the place in. Why should I lie? I'm only trying to help. Freezers are available for those of you bringing frozen bait. Can we use particles? The only particles allowed are hemp and maize. What rods, reels, line, hooks, hook lengths etc.? This one could take a while. Suffice to say you are fishing for bigger fish than you probably have done before, my apologies to those that have. For further information on this one contact me. Alternatively use dynamite! (Only kidding). What facilities are in the surrounding area? (Again what follows is for DDI so check out the local town, bakers, bars etc. for your relevant destination). On site the local baker calls every morning at around 8:30am. She will drive into the courtyard and toot the horn, to let you know she is there. You can purchase from her bread, wine, cheese etc. One of the services Jon, Bernard's son offers is cold beer, delivered to your swim if required. Along with fine wines he also has souvenirs such as DDI baseball caps, S/shirt and T/shirts! Away from the complex the nearest large town is Ham. About 15-20 minutes away here you have a large hypermarket. Here you can buy whatever you want. For those of you have brought the family, Paris is less than 1 hours drive away (less by T.C.V. train) and Bernard can arrange tickets to the theatre etc. Fancy a day at Euro Disney? For those of you who are interested you are in the Somme Valley where many war graves stand along with museums about the 2nd World War. On a lighter note for those of you who want information on bars and restaurants speak to Bernard. That's it I'm done. I hope this may help your foreign escapades. Just remember, don't put pressure on yourself. Look at what you do on your own waters. Remember carp are carp. Attention to detail in your fishing and the organization of your trip. Tight lines. Paul Wheeler

By Paul Wheeler