Auvergne may be becoming my favourite Region in France. With elevations from around 600 feet to 2000 odd, it has varied terrain, but outwith its gorges, it is hilly rather than mountainous. Mainly deciduous, it also has massive acreage of coniferous forest near Thiers toward its South East border with the department of Loire, which was reminiscent of Vermont in the US. In sunshine this region does shine. Plentiful in wild life…beautiful miniature wild orchids on the riverbank where I fished, and in the early dawn sun when I left, deer and hare, sprinted across the road ahead of me. Artisanal foods galore, and a rural demeanour, and add to all that, the most friendly people whose local dialect, even I can understand, and you have this gentle, beautiful place…
My guide for the day was, Thierry Millot,
a full time professional guide and local legend, who knows the Sioule well. What he does not know, is how to control the weather! In the past few weeks, St Gervais and surroundings have enjoyed temperatures as high as 22c, the next day, pouring rains and temperature nearer 6c, the next day, snow, then more sun. The day I arrived at my hostelry, the Relais d’Auvergne, it was pleasantly warm and sunny. It then rained overnight, and it was raining when we set off, and it was cold.
Do you sense where this is going?
There was a fair amount of water flushing through the river system, and whilst this was due to the rains, it was because the rain had filled the reservoir upstream of St Gervais, and water was released to ease pressure on the system. Perhaps the energy company believed more was to come.
We went upstream of the dam to what is called, locally, the Little Sioule.
We were, three. An angler from Lyon, Alex Fourcey making up our party. His day was ruined when he caught with his second cast – always, fatal! This was to be his only fish.
The base rock in this river is very dark, which when combined with the slight colour which the river always has, makes wading a little difficult for the uninitiated, but Thierry advised that in reality it is a shallow stream and it did not take long to get used to this. We were upstream nymphing and my fish count was zero, but my lost fly count to overhanging branches was considerably higher. Pretty place though, and really, all we were fishing for was to enjoy our Relais’ picnic. Even that went badly when the bottle of red, toppled!
In the afternoon it was off to the real Sioule, where the water was over the bank and the flow too fast for safe wading,
so Thierry set us up with tungsten weighted twin nymph rigs, to fish the margins, where he rated the fish would be secure in the growing ranunculus. He was right, too, and my evidence was one hard pull…but no fish. Down on this stretch it might have been either trout or grayling, but I never found out. In truth, the river whilst normally, shallow and wade-able, is very wide, which I find rather intimidating.
I only had a day to catch my Puy-de-Dome trout and did not, but Alex stayed over and had a much better day, with seven of eight fish…nice one, Alex.
As Thiery said, he has enough experience to know when his clients know what they are doing, so he was to hand but unobtrusive. His added value for my day, was that for one preferring dry fly and less used to nymphing technique on spate or freestone streams, he tied for me, and showed me ‘how’, and I cannot wait to put what he taught me to use on the Taff or the Usk!
Rising in the Massif Central, the Sioule flows for about 100 miles and joins the Allier, which itself is a tributary of the Loire. I confess to being a little disappointed in not netting, for the Sioule has a wonderful reputation as being one of France’s premier trout waters. I must have another try!
Post script…Mme (Christine) Echernier is obviously the Boss at the family run Relais, but her husband, also the Chef, runs a great kitchen using fabulous local fare, and the ‘rognons de veau’ come with my personal recommendation! The mustard sauce in which I enjoyed them the first evening, is a local traditional recipe. But I think Chef was rather pleased when I asked for them to be cooked in butter the next evening, even though he protested that I was ‘tres difficile’ with an enormous grin on his face!