29 Oct 2010

Catch and Release or Catch and Cook?

We have lived here in the Limousin now for over six years and have noticed some interesting differences between French and British anglers, and their approaches to fishing.
The following observations are to be taken light-heartedly, with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek. No offence is meant to any angling brethren from either side of the channel.
The most glaring difference is the French attitude of “I catch, therefore I eat” as opposed to most British anglers who prefer to fish more for sport. Of course there are exceptions to this, but on the whole most fish caught in UK waters are returned to fight another day. This has a lot to do with the French palette, which knows no bounds when it comes to eating our scaly friends. Pike, Perch, Zander, and Carp which seldom grace British plates, are found throughout France on menus and in supermarkets. Although I am a keen angler I do not eat many fish. That could have something to do with the fact that I can’t catch them ready battered or bread crumbed.
The French two-hour lunch also features in their piscatorial pursuits. During our various sorties to fishy places, picnic tables were often found close to the riverbanks. Thinking that this was a great idea to place ones equipment etc, I was wrong. The midday bell rings and the French will take an hour or so to sit down and eat. I have to say, the wine, baguette and cheese platter sure beats a crushed, warm sandwich that is hurriedly pulled out of a fishing bag and eaten with one hand whilst fishing with the other.
Having run a fishing tackle shop in UK, I am familiar with the “All the gear, but no idea” syndrome with some British anglers. The French approach here in rural Limousin couldn’t be further from the obsession with owning every conceivable piece of fishing paraphernalia. No such tackle snobbery here. The French rod and reel are designed to be thrown in the back of white Citroen vans (more about these vans later) and whipped out, baited up with a worm, poked through some gaps in the undergrowth and placed in the path of some unsuspecting fish. It’s a fact that the fish that you hope to catch do not know how much you have paid for your tackle. The French understand this and use it to maximum effect. They would not want their tackle budget to impinge upon their food and wine budget. As in so many of things rural and French, there is a wonderful simplicity in this approach to catching your lunch.
When was the last time you saw maggots, worms and other baits available for sale in your local UK supermarket……hmmmmm never, I thought as much. Not so here as most supermarkets happily stock such delicacies alongside the fish counter, albeit in fridges. I can’t see Sainsburys offering the same service or the British public accepting it for that matter. You have to hand it to the French sometimes.
Back to the white Citroen vans aforementioned. Here is a little tip for us British fishermen. If you see such a van parked in a haphazard fashion close to some water on a quiet country lane, chances are there is usually a French angler not too far away who has found a productive stretch of water. We’ve noticed that the ubiquitous white vans are used by hunters and anglers alike.
You do need a Carte de PĂȘche to fish in France. This will cost you around 73,00 euros per year, although day permits are now available all year for just 10,00 euros per day. These are only valid in the department in which they are purchased. Fortnightly holiday permits are also available between June and September. You can buy all these permits from tackle shops, bars, and supermarkets. In our village, it is the boulangerie who supply them. The good thing here in France, unlike UK, the various fishing clubs do not own the best stretches of water. Anyone has the right to fish pretty well wherever they like, unless the land is private. A superb site for all information relating to fishing in France can be found here www.unpf.fr.
It is rare to see banks lined with angers here, or over packed fisheries. This is a positive pleasure. It enables the roaming angler to do just that. The Limousin is known as the land of 1000 lakes. Combined with hundreds of waters ranging from small fast moving brooks to the River Vienne, which meanders gently through the region, there is no shortage of water or fish. As for catching them….. I leave that to the reader.
Most villages have their own fishing club and set up competitions during the year. It has to be said, if our local club is anything to go by, there will usually be an all day bar and food. Just last week at our yearly competition I was offered a glass of wine at the unearthly hour of 8.00 a.m. Refusing politely, I got the same puzzled looks from our club members as I do when I tell them that having caught a fish I usually put it back.
You may be pleased to know that although there are many differences between French and British anglers, the innate ability of all fishermen to exaggerate the size of their catch using the open hands gesture is an international trait, although here it can be hard to differentiate between the Gallic Shrug and “It was this big”.
On a serious note, when it comes to fishing for trout, the French equivalent of the environment agency are trying to advocate the “ No Kill” policy. Strangely this is written in English. Currently there is a fishing ban for all salmon and sea trout in the rivers in most of South Western France. This kind of legislation helps the fish stocks, the environment and equally important there will be fish for future generations to catch.
I wish all anglers tight lines and singing reels!!!
- Tony Scott, Fly Fishing in France

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