Well, you won't be surprised to hear that the venue, with its 'secret' lake, is extremely popular. So much so that we cannot get back on there until 2021. As is the way with French carp venues that feature accommodation too, the cream rises to the top and frankly, the Secret Garden is the cream of the crop in our humble opinion and experience. Sure, Le Queroy is great and the fish are big but for us, with our encroaching age-related problems the lakes are now too far away from the accommodation. On the other hand at the Secret Garden, the lake lies right outside your front windows.
The Secret Garden is the best all-round accommodation and fishing venue we have ever fished, so if you want to get in on the 'secret' you should first go online to Armfield Angling, the booking agent for the Secret Garden. You will find all you need to know here:
(Please note: the observations outlined here are exactly that…observations. They are not intended to be a guide on how to fish the lake but are based simply on our own experiences. They should not be considered definitive. Far from it!)
Before I move on I just want to add a further little mention of UCN's Ultimate E-Liquid, which I used extensively on the trip. I had been advised by Dean at UCN that a 25% solution of the E worked very well when bringing frozen baits back up to temperature. As they thaw out they absorb the solution and the added attraction adds considerable pulling power to your freebies and hookbaits. The house baits at the Secret are from Belgian bait and tackle company Eddy Sterckx Baits and when I ran out of the hugely effective HNV Pro from Blake's Baits I turned to the Red Angel freezer baits. I was naturally attracted to the 'red' part of the name, assuming - rightly or wrongly - that this referred to our own Robin Red. Here a bucket of Red Angel has been glugged with a goodly slug of Liquid E Solution. Did it work…Nor 'alf as JY would say. (That's probably lost to all but those readers of a 'certain age'. Just me showing my advanced years again.)
Once again we crossed the Channel with Brittany Ferries on their Plymouth-Roscoff route. We generally catch the evening ferry on a Thursday before our booked stay starts in France on the Saturday. The usual ship on this crossing is the firm's flagship cruise ferry the Pont Aven, which is more of an ocean liner than a ferry. We love the fact that the crossing takes a leisurely ten hours so we can get aboard, grab a decent nosebag in the restaurant and then get a comfortable night's kip in one of the ships luxurious Commodore cabins. You can see these balconied cabins towards the stern of the ship starting just after the funnel. (This pic was taken in 2004 when the drying tower at Milbay was still in place. The ship was brand new then having only been in service a few months. Even today fifteen years later she is still one of the most comfortable ships on the Channel.)
Yes, the Commodore cabins are pricey but as we consider that our holiday starts the minute we board the ferry it is a small price to pay for a bit of luxury.
Even though we usually get a full night's sleep we are now far too long in the tooth to make the drive down in one go, so we always break the journey with an overnight stay in one of the Logis de France hotels halfway towards our final destination. We like the Logis hotels as you can more or less guarantee a good restaurant as well as a comfy bed.
It was a short trip of just a further couple of hours from the hotel to the Secret and as we'd arrived early a visit to the local Vival was called for to stock up on provisions for the week. (The Vivals are a chain of small owner-run franchises a bit like our Spar.)
Then up to the bar for a quick beer. We had agreed to meet Jean-Noel at two o'clock and it was only just after one so there was plenty of time for a bit of a wet'!
Fully refreshed and ready to go, we arrived at the lake at the agreed time. The house looked so cool and inviting in the late-summer sunshine. Jean-Noel was there to welcome us and bring us up to date with what had been caught the previous week. It was hot, maybe in the low 30s; very warm for September. As a result, the fishing had been slow but Jean-Noel was full of confidence, telling us that the longer they went without feeding, the sooner they would actually start to feed. Just the job!
Let me just fill you in on the lake itself: The first swim is not an actual swim as such but is simply a small gap in the bankside vegetation, which allows a couple of rods to nestle in the reeds. It lies only ten yards away from the conservatory door and it is a handy little swim from which to cover the lower right-hand corner of the lake. To the right lies the dam wall with the monk halfway along. This is the deepest area of the lake and fish like to get in there for a good old forage, usually after dark but occasionally in daylight too. We covered the area with our lightest rods and reels casting towards the gully that leads down to the monk at a range of no more than forty yards. Note the high tech rear rests!
One ounce, flat, running leads and a nylon hooklink (same as that used on the reels) to a size six hook carrying a hookbait straight from the bag was all we needed to get a few fish out. High tech stuff or what!
While this area is not as prolific as other areas it does throw up a few surprises. This gorgeous 'tarte au pomme' (apple tart) was just such a beautiful surprise!
Further on still is a small wooden platform that can accommodate another couple of rods, three at a push. This swim covers a lot of ground from the monk up to the top right-hand corner as well as the first ten to fifteen yards or so of the far treeline. I know what you are thinking…(Those lines look like they are waiting for the washing to be hung up to dry!)
Further along still and you come to a sturdy platform. You can accommodate two sets of rods on it if you are mates fishing together but it can get a bit cramped with five or six rods set up on the platform, especially when you get one of the Secret Garden's 'steam trains' on the end of your line! You can cover most of the lake from here, especially if you use a bait boat. Though it doesn't look it, it is nearly 160 yards to the far end of the lake from the pontoon, and unless you are Frank Warwick that will take some reaching on a cast!
This is looking down to the far end of the lake from the pontoon. The two sets of bubbles in the photo are not over-active carp! but are two of the three aerators Jean-Noel has installed against the summer heat and the low oxygen levels that can be experienced in lakes all over mid- and southern-France. At the extreme right, you can see the single swim on the far side of the lake. From here you can cover the far end of the lake where it is shallower and features some nice silt pockets. You can usually spot fish bubbling in this area most mornings and again in the early evening.
This photo shows the other swims up towards the far end of the lake. Their rough positions are marked in red. The pontoon is on the extreme left while two other hard pontoons are further up towards the far end. These are both great spots for stalking carp in the margins as well as for 'sit and wait' tactics.
This photo looks back towards the dam wall. This is often a good stalking spot, though on this visit the majority of the carp ended up in front of us at the dam end of the lake. However, I do know that some very good fish have been landed from right under the rod tips. You can see the re-invigorated water being propelled to the surface by the aerators.
I had asked Jean about using braid on the reels as the rules say it is banned. By the time we left, I had not heard if we could use braid reel line so I hedged our bets by digging out the sets of the spare spool for the reel. I had 22lb Hydro Sink braid loaded on the FX9 and Fx11 spools with back up of 16lb Mirage Fluoro on one set of FX11 spools and GT-HD on another set. Finally, I also had some spools loaded with 16lb Fox Exocet.
Thankfully Jean-Noel told us that we could use our standard braid reel lines. I was greatly relieved! I have to use Gardner Hydro Sink Braid 22lb unchanged for the past six years and to be honest that has spoilt me for fishing with ordinary Monos and fluoros. Braid for me every time.
I like to use light soft rods on small lakes if possible and the old Fox Ethos 2.25lb rods are a joy to play fish on. OK, they are getting on a bit and may have lost a little bit of oomph, but they are still capable of landing carp to over 50lb. The little Fox FX9 reel loaded with 22lb Hydro Sink compliments the rod nicely.
Whenever I fish a new venue I always like to have a good look around using a boat. Jean-Noel had told me that there was a small boat on site for anglers to use so I did not need to bring my own. One thing I have to point out is that people who are carrying a bit of extra timber, like myself, should tread carefully in this little dinghy. It is very 'tender' if you understand the meaning of that word. I found it best to kneel down in the boat and use just one paddle as a sculler over the transom. In this manner, the boat can be propelled at a fair old lick. However, I found the boat almost impossible to row as it is very cramped and I kept hitting my knees with the oars on the backstroke!
I like to use a prodding stick in the boat. This helps me to find harder patches of lakebed upon which I can place my freebies and hookbaits using the bait boat or by actually rowing them out. This latter practice had to be knocked on the head just a few days into the holiday. You see, I rely on Tat to look after the rods while I am out in the boat but after she broke three bones in her left foot just a few days into the trip, she found herself unable to help in this task. I was therefore forced to take landmarks for the interesting hard spots on the lake bed, several of which I found across on the opposite side of the lake in front of the dugout swim on the far corner. A tall tree trunk and a concrete post made very handy landmarks so I was able to fish these spots accurately by casting or by using the bait boat.
This is the top right-hand corner of the lake looking from the house bank. The temptation, at least as far as I was concerned, I found was to fish tight to the far margin as it looks so darn right carpy! But all that glitters is not gold, and even though I had a bait in the far corner for the first three days, nothing came near it. On the other pull away from the bank by three or four-rod lengths and you will find some very interesting spots, which are easily reached with a bait boat or by a big chuck towards the trees.
From the far corner, right the way along the far margin the lakebed gradually deepens until you reach a small gully lying at the foot of the sloping underwater contour line.
Tat breaking her foot put a distinct crimp on our fishing. I pulled in her rods but continued to fish four of my own, two each in the first two swims on the lake, those closest to the house. These were just about in hobbling range but the crutches we were provided with, which we had to buy, would you believe, for €25, were very flimsy! Tat said she felt them bending as soon as she put any weight on them so she moved about very hesitantly when outside. Running to the rods when the buzzer sounded was out of the question and as she was unable to walk more than a few paces I found myself doing the stuff that the lady wife normally does; cooking, cleaning, tidying…It's much harder to work than I had expected! Meanwhile, she could put her foot up and have a beer. (Spot the Fred Karno lash-up protecting her tiny toes!)
This was on the Thursday, and Friday and all weekend she hobbled about as best she could but by the Monday her foot was black top and bottom and Jean-Noel said we should go to the hospital. This we duly did and waited six hours in total for X-rays, doctor's assessment, orthopaedic agreement and finally putting the cast on. We emerged with Tat's left leg and foot in plaster and a prescription for pre-loaded syringes of blood-thinning medicine to guard against the possibility of thrombosis. This is common practice in France whenever someone of a 'certain age' (cough) has a leg in a cast. They told us that they had arranged for a nurse to visit the lake every day to administer the injection. Deep joy! This was all a bit of a bind but the Old Dutch had the last laugh, catching the biggest fish of the trip!
Having mentioned the hard spots, I think I should also point out that we had a fair few from the silt too. I kept a spare rod baited up in readiness to cast at bubblers, as the Secret's carp do like to grub around in the bottom. Streams of bubbles erupting or trailing are a sure sign that carp are feeding. I kept a loaded Paste Bomb rig on stand by holding the SuperNut paste as described in Part 1. You'll recall that I used the paste to introduce the powerful feeding triggers in UCN's Ultimate E-Liquid (see part one for details).
This is fermented shrimp paste (Belachan). As you can see it comes as a block of hard-paste.
By using a grater the block can be broken down into much smaller sections and these can be moulded into the paste as well, thus increasing the overall attraction. It can also be squeezed into in balls so they can be fired out from a catapult. It is powerful stuff, highly pungent (understatement of the year!). Store it well away from other foods, the wife, the girlfriend, the boyfriend, the dog, cat, the budgie…In fact, it's probably best to bury it in the garden in a strong tin box!
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