The large rivers of France, particularly for UK anglers, are synonymous with two species of fish – carp and the European wels catfish. Both species grow to huge sizes with carp exceeding 70lbs, and catfish reaching almost 3 metres in length and weights of nearly 300lbs!
Having moved to France in 2019, these fish offered me the best chance of catching a truly large fish from freshwater. However, with virtually no prior experience of fishing for either species it was hard to know where to begin.
A few carp had graced my net over the years, but always by chance rather than design, and honestly speaking it has never been a branch of the sport that has particularly interested me. However, as a keen pike fisherman – the pike being the apex freshwater predator on the UK rivers where I grew up – I was intrigued by the prospect of tracking down a wels catfish using scaled-up pike tactics. I say ‘intrigued’ rather than ‘enthusiastic’ for a number of reasons …
In the late 1990s, there was an Australian fishing show that was occasionally shown in the UK on one of the documentary channels. It was two guys who would visit remote and beautiful places, catch some fish and cook them in a local style. It was about the ‘experience’ rather than the fishing itself. It stuck with me and I recently found some of the episodes on YouTube and really enjoyed watching them again. The programme had aged pretty well, I recommend you to look it up.
Anyway, the show typically ended with the guys ruminating about the adventure they had just had or planning the next one, and the narration stating: “after all … there’s always a river … somewhere”. It was with that mind-set that I pored over a map of the French department of Alpes-Maritimes, ahead of a trip to Nice on the south coast of France last spring. The French Riviera is famed for film festivals, yachts, and casinos, rather than wild trout fishing. However, I had heard rumours that inland from the Côte d’Azur there were some rugged mountain streams that offered the chance of a fish or two away from the glitz and glamour of the coast.