Sue and I were delighted to be invited by William and Maureen Barnard to stay for a long weekend at their lovely home, close to the Village des Bories, near Gordes in May. There is great fishing to be had in Provence, and after clearing my lines with our hosts, I made several calls to the folk at Le Sorguett, and amusing conversations in broken English (his) and broken French (mine!) were had with owner, Eric Arnaud, led to a day being arranged on the beautiful River Sorgue, near L’Isle sur la Sorgue.

The Sorgue rises and is fed by a karstic spring at Cornus, near Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. It has constant flow, stable temperature, is crystal clear, and flows for 28 miles, to the Rhone.

Keen to record what I remembered clearly, I spent the return flight from Marseille, scribbling some notes, which I present as follows-

  • Mike Robinson, he of The Pot Kiln…and who lived there for six years, and who I met on the John Coe invitation to the Compton beat on the Test, said it was VERY difficult fishing…

We met at Eric’s splendid shop






“le mieux en France”, I was told






William suggested humourously that the fish count target should match the number of goals in the upcoming Euro Cup match between England and France…I suggested it could match the number of flies I was told I needed, because..

  • My line and leader was deemed inappropriate for the Sorgue…my fly boxes contained nothing likely to catch its fish. “Funny that” I said to William, “this tackle and these flies have caught trout all over the world, but won’t in France!” “But I know the score” I reassured him

My guide for the day was Alex Cortet, and we had some interesting exchanges.

  • “they are not hungry” said, Alex, sounding the first two letters into an ‘a’, and making me curious until I got it!
  • ‘discretion’ turned out to mean, if I was ahead of him in wandering upstream and peering into the water, I was moving too quickly, and potentially scaring and spooking the fish….ie. follow me, I am the guide!
  • ‘imagination’ was followed by a pause….and a comment, such as, “the fish there is not angry (aka ‘hungry’) It meant, ‘just think about what might be going on in there!”
  • there was no ‘gobage’ this day…that’s a rise, to you and me…
  • we fished ‘sectors’ !….beats, maybe?

Alex’s first task was to test my technique, and we (I) clambered most gingerly, across a concrete and wooden hatch apparatus to experiment and for him to tutor me

  • Opening casts on our first ‘sector’ frustrated. He was coaching me in “special techniques which work in France” including the roll cast, the thrust cast which puts weighted nymphs deep into water, quicker (rather like the technique I was taught so many years ago on the West Dart by Brian Easterbrook) but none worked that morning to Alex’s satisfaction. I was already thinking about the commando work needed to retrace our steps across the upturned planks between concrete columns at the hatch, and in complete trepidation of the consequences of not doing so, safely

  • We met the Commercial Director of French tackle manufacturer, JMC, on the bank by Partager des Eaux,

and he advised me that Alex was the best guide on the river…

  • Alex’s fish spotting ability was exceptional. At one point he was busily retying for me, and could point out that two grayling have moved onto station twelve feet from us, there were seven grayling lying behind the brown weed streaming in the middle of the river; the brown to their outside was about 10″, and there were two bigger browns, one behind the 10″-er, but a much larger fish had come into the head of the pool, twenty feet upstream of us!
  • The fish lie under the weed, peering through it, to come out and up and over it when a morsel comes into eye sight. The pool etched by the current below the weed is bright with pebbles and white sand, and is called a ‘piscine’

  • Strangely the fish do not spook as easily as their English chalk stream cousins, and if they become alert to presence they quickly resume their lie.
  • He was clear on what worked, and it did! He is also generous, and he gifted me, at least a dozen flies on parting…
  • A member of L’Equipe Francais, the French national fishing team was on the river at the same as us….Alex tested a rod for him, and it was interesting watching him flick his nymphs with ease into and under overhanging branches, in a perpetual motion , workmanlike sort of way…but he did not like the softness of the rod. Apparently, the ‘pro’ caught just two fish on a very difficult morning.

My count….oh, yes…five browns, and seven grayling, all “beautiful fish” declared Alex,

who must take nearly all the credit for a memorable visit to a wonderful, but challenging river.

On parting Alex offered…”one day I hope you will say – I fished with Alex Cortet”…who confirmed…”I am living the dream”

One cracking guide who I would recommend to anyone who fancies a day on this beautiful stream.

Thanks, Alex, and thanks Eric! By the way, Eric’s father makes wading vests. It takes him two days to do so, and needless to say, I visited the shop the next day, and I now have one!

In a nice post script, I received a lovely note from Eric –

“Cher Tony c’est fabuleux ce que tu as fait. Merci beaucoup de moi et de Alex.J’espère à bientôt    tu seras toujours le bien venu.Désolé pour l’Angleterre qui a perdu au foot .A BIENTÖT      ERIC     ALEX”

But what would you expect from fishermen?

And their webpage flatterered with the following –

Nous avons le plaisir de vous présenter le blog fantastique de nôtre ami Anglais “Tony MAIR” pêcheur exceptionnel qui nous vient de LONDRE… Nous l’avons accueilli ce moi de Juin pour une journée de pêche en nymphe a vue “off course” sur nôtre fabuleuse rivière qui est la Sorgue… Vous découvrirez dans ce reportage le fabuleux récit d’une journée comme on les aimes, dans le partage et dans l’ambiance qui règne en nôtre compagnie au bord de l’eau…. Halieutiquement Vôtre


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