Nowadays me and Tat are looking for a bit more comfort in our old age to carry on practising the sport we love. This in effect means finding a venue with good accommodation, one preferably with a lake on the doorstep or a river at the bottom of the garden. We have been lucky to find a few rare riverside gites on the Lot and the Charente but finding such a lake with decent accommodation on the banks of a lake is not so easy. So when we stumbled across a video by Steve Briggs about just such a lake we thought to ourselves, ‘that looks interesting’ and set about finding out as much as possible about The Secret Garden. I know Steve to be as straight as a die, and honest angler who tells it like it is so when he praised the Secret Garden highly I knew that we could rely on him.
The venue is the proud result of the hard work put in by Jean-Noel Negraud a prominent figure in the world of French carp fishing and highly regarded by the community as a whole. The house and the lake are a credit to him and his team and I cannot imagine anyone would find themselves disappointed by the venue. It certainly lived up to and even exceeded our expectations. Jean is a superb host, a terrific angler and a guy with a passion for the lake, the environment and, most of all, for his guests.
Imagine, if you will, a sturdy house hidden away in private grounds surrounded by towering trees with abundant wildlife of deer, lizards, buzzards and red kite overhead and countless birds waking you with a superb dawn chorus. Just on your doorstep lies a cosy intimate lake with all the charm of an English estate lake and you have it all to yourself. Bliss, or what? This is a view of the lake from just outside the conservatory.
The house is ultra-comfortable with a huge amount of space, which is ideal for a family holiday. There is a pool for Mum and the kids to play in, a big lounge for simply chilling, a well-appointed kitchen, a 50" TV with Sky, and what is more, the house is super cool in the heat of a French summer and roasting in the chill of winter when the wood-burning stove kicks out heat by the tonne!
The Secret Garden is very aptly named: if you didn’t know it was there you would never find it! The lake and the house lie at the end of a short farm road leading to a pair of strong, secure gates. Open the gates and you are greeted with a spectacular view of paradise with a glimpse of the lake through the tall trees.
Drive through the gates and you arrive on a spacious, well-tended courtyard where the house nestles within the trees. You probably won’t believe your eyes the first time you clap eyes on what will be your home for your stay.
In a rush to get started? Don’t be! The Secret Garden exudes an aura of gentle calm. There is no need to rush. Chill! Take your time; wander along the well-tended path, through a silver birch-lined guard of honour beside the lake…
… until you arrive at the farthest end. Here you will find a scene straight out of Mr Crabtree. I can just picture him saying, “…now, Peter. Do you see that set of lily pads? that is where huge carp lurk.” As if to confirm this a large swirl erupts on the surface, the pads shudder and sway as a leviathan glides through their stalks and roots. Look across the lake and you will see yet more lovely stalking areas, perfect for those that want to get up close to their quarry.
Arriving at the farthest end of the path you see the full panoply of the lake stretching out before you. “Am I dreaming?” you ask yourself. “Is this all mine?”
Arriving back at the house you see the conservatory awaiting your arrival. Inside it is cool when needs to be and warm when it doesn’t. The air con sees to that! The lake is no more than fifteen yards from the door. This is luxury fishing of a kind we had never imagined in our wildest dreams.
But enough of this: what about the fishing, I hear you shout! Well, I'll come on to that in part 2, however, for now, can I suggest you set up at least one pod in the pontoon nearest to the house you can cover a huge amount of water from here, especially if you use a bait boat.
OK, I know some of you reading this may think that using a bait boat is not what some may call ‘proper’ angling, but when you are plagued by some of the infirmities that come with later life - arthritis, sciatica, distal muscle weakness and other manifestations of God’s plan for later life (!) then a bait boat is a blessing.
When we arrived for our early autumn session it came at the end of a prolonged summer drought accompanied by temperatures in the high thirties. No significant rain had fallen for three months and as a result, a green algal film covered the lake. This is not to be confused with blue-green algae, by the way.
Normally this would be a cause for concern but Jean-Noel has anticipated the arrival of the algae and installed three high powered pumps that circulate the lake water and oxygenate it so the fish are not discomforted. By pumping up to the surface the coldest water from the deep area at the dam the pumps allow refreshed lake water to circulate about the lake.
So, it doesn’t look very pretty but believe me, it is far better to have three high capacity pumps working 24/7 than just to ignore it and allow it to affect the lake and the fishing therein…and it didn’t affect the fishing one bit, more of which later!
Bait! Now there’s a quandary…Obviously, I would use some of Haith’s finest in the form of my own secret weapon, namely SuperNut! I just love this stuff and on waters that have seen it all, this multi-purpose groundbait often gets under their guard.
I like to use it as a fairly dense groundbait, one that can be rolled into balls and fired out using a catapult. The little white crystals are coarse sea salt, which I feel adds a bit more to the overall attraction.
Hempseed proved a Godsend on this trip.
To begin with, I prepared small amounts of hemp daily, as I have always believed that fresh is best where hemp is concerned. I simply half-fill a small Thermos flask with seed and then add boiling water. Cap on, leave overnight…next morning fresh hemp!
Though the flask method is very effective for small amounts of seed, you can prepare larger quantities in a decent freezer box using the same principle as the flask method.
The HNV Pro from Blake’s Baits is a new one on me. I have been carping for many years having first found my feet with Nutrabaits back in the early 80s. I remained dedicatedly loyal to the company for over 30 years, right up until the time Big Bill left the company. I have been searching for baits as good as, if not better than, Nutrabaits’ products ever since and now at last in the HNV Pro had found one.
When I heard that Mark Pidgeley was designing a traditional milk/fish/birdfood bait for Blake’s Baits I needed no further incentive to find out more. Mark is a wily old carper who doesn’t say much but lets his angling do his talking for him. Mark was for many years a Nutrabaits stalwart and while many away from the south coast may not know his name those in the know rate him very highly indeed. Bill Cottam once told me that Mark had forgotten more about bait than he (Bill) had ever learnt. Indeed Mark caught over 100 twenties from one lake in a single season back in the day! So when I was offered a five-kilo bag of the frozen bait I bit their hand off! And boy am I glad I did.
The HNV Pro is an old school high nutritional bait of the finest kind, devised and refined by Pidge himself, and if he puts a bait together you can be sure it will be a good one. You only have to look at the ingredients to see just how effective the bait will be: LT94 fishmeal, Casein, Blood Plasma, Yeast, Whey Gel, CLO, TruSoy, Liver Powder, Green Lipped Mussel Extract (vital in my opinion), Kelp, Betaine and Semolina. Its taste and flavour profile is complemented by a Fruit Palatant as well as essential oils and other flavourings, and the attractor package is rounded off with Minamino.
Blake’s sent the bait down to Cornwall in a proper polystyrene freezer box on a next-day-delivery slot and the bait arrived still frozen. I popped it into my own freezer and then transferred it to the venue’s freezer on arrival.
(I have always felt that a good HNV can be made better when freezing is part of the preparation process. This is a practice I have followed since the early 80s when we were refining and developing the Nutrabaits/Addits range before the official launch of the company. I used to take my bait down to College still frozen and store it in the freezer of a friendly nearby pub…which was nice. Incidentally, freezing also works on well-formulated shelfies too.
The guys at Blake's also sent me a pot of the dedicated pop-ups and a hookbait spray.
However, the bait that proved crucial as the trip wore on was the HNV Pro wafters, which were deadly!
As things turned out the HNV Pro could not have been better suited to my baiting approach, as I used it together with a liquid attractor I was trying for the first time called the Ultimate E. I had read about the development of this complex enzyme liquid on a carp fishing forum and was intrigued. It was launched in the summer by a company called Ultimate Carp Nutrition (UCN for short) and the concept of an enzyme-based liquid working on specific solids to break the peptide chains and release free amino acids really appealed to the bait man in me. UCN very kindly sent me a 250ml free sample to try and I have to say I was well impressed, so much so that I decided to bite the bullet and bought a couple of litres of the stuff!
Who is Ultimate Carp Nutrition (UCN)? Well, the company was formed by bait expert and BCSG member Pete Boughton (aka PeteB on the forums) in partnership with Dean Cowell. Pete and I have crossed swords a few times over the years and I have been on the receiving end of his acerbic wit (sic) at times - he once called me a boil on the **** of carp fishing - but I have never doubted for one second his credentials when it comes to carp bait.
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