Or…Fishing is not always about catching fish !
I have visited La France countless times, and my earliest recollection was as a pubescent schoolboy, for whom a visit to Les Chateaux de la Loire, as a twelve year old, was considered to be of cultural importance to not only mine, but all the parents of those for whom, an education at Homefield Prep in Sutton, was expected to be a stepping stone to greatness. As I recall, our stay ‘en ecole a Blois’, was more memorable for the footie, in the sanded play areas pre supper, and the arrival of girls from a Leamington Spa school, of similar yearnings to our own, than for the attractions of Chenonceau ou Amboise.
But that was so long ago.
In the interim…vacations as a younger man, and Father, in modest places, and the wine ‘run’ to Calais, and latterly, as an older one, in lovely places…so with a new wife with the sophisticated (read ‘expensive’!) tastes, the delights of Vence and the Cote d’Azure, Cap this and that, have been balanced by trips to wine areas (most of them over the years), the ski areas (plenty), the Capital (Stade Colombe, and Regine’s), several bastides, and as you know, Normandy…but never, the Dordogne!
So, a business trip to Bordeaux in May, and the prospect of renewing my acquaintance with Benoit Canon, was too good to miss, because since our last encounter he has transferred his banking duties from Reims in the Champagne producing area, to Bergerac, where from his home and gites in Marnac, he informed me there is access to many good trouting waters!
I love driving in other countries, but in the little Hertz number, the vagaries of reading which D-Road to take from my GoogleMap would have been impossible, and Benoit’s Business School daughter, persuaded me to pool share (that is, drive her home from Bordeaux) proved to be a match winner, and she was to be my guarantee of finding Le Cottage de la Mothe, with no bother, and so she was!
The river at Le Garrit Bridge outside St. Cyprien, is mighty. It is around 200 metres
wide, and normally wadeable (!!), but parts of France have suffered similar weather to ours this Spring, and the flow was at least a metre higher than normal, making wading in the fast flow too dangerous to consider, leaving only the flooded margins worthy of a look.
So when we clambered up onto the old iron bridge, constructed during WW1 to look down and fish spot, we noted in the large back eddy below, some movement, and re-tracing, and flicking in a PTN elicited an immediate take and I was re-associated with that salmonid, which readers of my piece on Montana may remember, excite me as much as a Thames’ bleak…the dreaded whitefish! Aarrgghh!!
But our evening was short and towards its end, I was grateful to leave the river, because whilst the river was not in good fettle, the temperature was delightful, and the mosquitoes decided to find some good British blood for their evening ‘repas’…and my reward for a trout-less session was Camille’s cuisine, and all four courses were ‘delicieux’, as was the bottle of Bergerac, and the ‘pastis’ which preceded it all…
‘Au matin, et après le petit dejeuner typique’, [Fabienne makes the most delicious confiture from her garden’s figs!] it was back to the river to seek out some fishable stretches. The drive upstream took us through some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable. Whilst the Dordogne valley is wide, its sides elevate quickly so that in this central space in ‘le triangle d’or’ of Domme, Sarlat, and St Cyprien, the castles atop the hills along the stretch near La Roque Gageac, have a romantic feel to them….belittling their role in local history, no doubt.
There is no point about beating about the bush! We fished where we could, and in just the margins in the still high waters near Domme,
and near Vitrac,
where I discovered that some French anglers believe proximity to other anglers is a good thing! But where also, a local guide showed us a photograph he assured was taken that very morning, of a sizeable brown caught by a client earlier, but by spinning. And, since we neither had the slightest of touches on our nymphing rigs, it was to another stream, that Benoit suggested we moved, but only after…
Lunch in the courtyard of a restaurant in the prettiest village of Castelnau la Chappelle, which required that I indulge in the ‘specialities de la region’….duck, ou ‘canard’….foie gras, magret, confit, all of these, and more…all rich as hell, and simply delicious, and even if my doctor might question its contribution to my cholesterol level (by the way my good cholesterol is very low, and the other one, manageably a little higher!) my response would be….the ‘plat du jour’ was better than delicious! As was the Bergerac rouge!!
And in the afternoon sunshine, I discovered the most beautiful stream,
with the clearest, most sparkling water, clearer even than our own gin clear chalk versions…
…the River Ceou –
The weather was very bright, and I saw no trout and I caught nothing, but I had a few hours just enjoying, trying, in the most pristine stream, both upstream of Castelnau la Chappelle, and a few kilometres further upstream at Saint-Cybranet
(where the river was heaving with the dreaded whitefish!) before returning to Le Cottage de la Mothe, and a lovely dinner with Benoit, Fabienne, Camille and Aude, who are a loving family. Their gites and ‘chambres d’hotes, are spacious and very comfortable and located perfectly to explore this remarkably beautiful part of France, which is so loved by we Brits.
A word or two about Benoit.
He is a bank official and when I first met him, he lived and worked in the champagne region, when he discovered the joys of fly fishing. Unhappy merely to fish, he decided to make his own tackle, which is why he was joining Moreno for the meeting in 2010, of the European Bamboo Rod Makers, and on the Serra that happy day in May, he caught his first fish on a rod of his own making, and Moreno and I were thrilled for him. He already had woven his own braided leaders, one of which he gifted me, but I am loath to use! And he has since made me an ‘epuisette’…a personalised, bamboo framed landing net, which I cherish. Since moving his family to the Dordogne, and still needed and retained by his same bank, he has, with much help from Fabienne, rebuilt in three years of weekends and vacation time, and virtually single handed, his lovely barn conversion, and Fabienne runs the letting side of their peaceful, but busy, rural existence.
Benoit’s attitude to life is summed up in his own words – “With work, everything is possible”
He is some chap!
Benoit, Mon Ami, et Fabienne, ‘Merci beaucoup’, and I want to come and fish with you again, when the water levels are more ‘agreable’.