Since our first trip to France in August 2011, a group of friends from Stoke on Trent have embarked on our annual trip to France for a weeks carp fishing. In 2012 Abbey Lakes was our destination, here is my account of our trip and a review of the Abbey Lakes complex.
My Abbey Lakes Review
After much deliberation between the 5 of us (Ben, Tom, John, Nev & Rob), we decided that our venue for 2012 would be Abbey Lakes. There is a wealth of information on Abbey Lakes on the internet and several great videos of the complex can be found on YouTube. Abbey Lakes is made up 5 main lakes, these being Heron, Fox, Kingfisher, Attila & Wild Boar, each lake has its own unique challenges and various stock levels to suit different levels of angling ability. We decided that Heron Lake would be our destination and we booked up for May 2012.
Heron Lake is the largest lake on the Abbey Lakes complex at 35 acres covering 22 swims. The lake is very much like an English pit, with large open water, smaller bays and an island to target. According to the Abbey Lakes website, there are some 1000-1200 carp present, with an average weight of between 33-37lb. What really caught our imagination was the thought of catching Shoulders, an absolute monster which currently holds the complex record at a staggering 94lb 4oz. There are several 60lb plus fish present in Heron and we were lucky enough to see a few on the bank during our trip (more on that later!).
As the Friday rolled around we packed up the vans and headed off down to the Channel Tunnel. After an overnight drive, a blown tyre and some dodgy directions from Ben, our group finally rolled into the Abbey Lakes complex. Myself and Ben arrived very early in the morning, around 3am, and tried to get a few hours of sleep in the van to no avail. As soon as first light arrived we spotted an opportunity to hedge our bets by having a sneak around Heron Lake at first light before the rest of our group arrived, a decision which ultimately turned the week into a productive one for myself and Ben. We walked around the lake at around 6 am and there was little sign of action, anglers tucked in there Bivvy’s and dry unhooking mats all around.
As we walked around the lake it became apparent the fish were holding up in one small bay at the top end of the lake. As we walked around the lake to pegs 13 & 14 the water came alive, it was like jacuzzi from feeding carp. One of the anglers was just returning a fish when we arrived and they had a few retaining slings in the water ready to take photos. They had a good week with a brace of 50’s and they informed us the fish had been holding up there for a few days. From the moment of booking I was slightly concerned at the month we had chosen, the weather had been mixed all throughout April and early May with no prolonged periods of hot weather, I knew there was a high possibility the fish would be spawning when we arrived and with the fish starting to hold up in this small shallow area of the lake, I knew there was a possibility the fish would be staying here for a while. After speaking with the anglers they informed us they would be packing up in 48 hours, we agreed with them that we would start to move our tackle behind them on their last morning so we could occupy the pegs when they left. Armed with this information we returned back to the car park waiting for the rest of the group to show up before we joined the queue at 10 am for our tickets for the week. Unlike most package holidays, there is no draw for swims at Abbey, it’s a first come first served basis for swims and you can get your tickets from 10 am on the Saturday of arrival. We kept quiet about our little find on our morning walk, knowing that there were only going to be 3 productive swims over the next few days.
Rob, Nev & John decided to fish swims 18, 19 & 20 while myself and Ben chose swims 9 and 16 respectively. Our chosen swims were the closest swims available to where to fish were holding up in front of pegs 11, 12 13 & 14. Peg 12 was un-fishable due to weed and peg 11 was occupied for the rest of the week. We knew we had 48 hours to try and sneak out a fish before moving into swims 13 and 14 in 48 hours. The next couple of days were very slow, we had mixed weather, violent thunderstorms and all of our party along with the rest of the lake really struggled, with just a couple of 20lb fish out in the last 48 hours on the whole lake. During this quiet spell, we took a few hours out to do some stalking on the nearby Frog Lake. Frog Lake is part of the Abbey Lakes complex but is primarily for the local French anglers. The fish love a floater in there and we managed to winkle a few fish out each to upper doubles, a welcome bend in the rod while the lads on Heron were really struggling.
Back on Heron and the morning of our move had arrived… the anglers occupying swims 13 and 14 gave us the nod and we started to move in behind them. With all our gear packed up and moved before first light, we set off to the shower block for a freshen up before we started to set up in our new swims. The weather had started to change and the sun was really starting to shine through, it was going to be a scorching couple of days and we instantly knew the fish would be starting to move around in the small bay we had just occupied. We flipped a coin for swims, with Ben winning and choosing peg 13 which commanded much more water including the point which was prolific the previous week. I was gutted, to be honest, I really wanted swim 13 but I knew I was in the second-best place as long as the fish would move past Ben’s lines and move into the bay towards peg 14.
As we started to set up in our new swims the water started to change in front of us. It was around 8 am and the heat was really starting to come down and the bay was coming alive. There were a few carp starting to show and the jacuzzi we has witnessed a few days prior was back, fizzing and bubbling all over the bay with weed starting to float the the surface where the fish were feeding.
The majority of the showing fish were coming from the point in front of peg 13, which is a short 70-yard cast. You can easily walk along the opposite bank to the point and we decided to bait up from the opposite bank to reduce the disturbance. One thing to note is that Heron lake is extremely weedy in places and this was especially true for our swims. There was a solid bank of weed between us and the areas we wanted to fish and we made the decision to marker and bait up from the opposite bank and then drive our bait boats over to the spots. This ensured pinpoint accuracy through the weed and enabled us to fish the exact spots over and over again by simply flicking our marker rods out from set points on the opposite bank.
Our chosen spots were around a 15ft from the opposite bank where the marginal shelf dropped off into a clear gulley that ran the length of the far bank and in front of the point that Ben was fishing too from peg 13. We baited each spot with a few KG of mixed particle, mainly hemp, pellet, maize and crushed Active 8 15mm boilies. After walking back to our swims after baiting up, I noticed some movement in the shallow water on the lake next to Heron (Fox Lake). After closer inspection, we noticed a good number of fish in a small bay which backed right onto Heron Lake. The water was crystal clear and we saw good numbers of fish which were moving around in the shallow bay on Fox Lake. We decided to throw some bait onto a few clear spots and check back later to see if the fish had fed on the spots. We headed back round to our swims on Heron and got our rods out, for the first time during our trip we actually felt like we were fishing properly and in with a chance of a few fish.
After using the bait boats to deliver our hook baits over to our baited spots on the far bank, we settled in for the afternoon to a few stubby bears from the local supermarket. At 3.50 euros for 20 small bottles, we were well happy in the sunshine. Our sunbathing was cut short a few hours later by the scream from Ben’s Delkim, after hitting into the fish it soon became stuck solid in the huge bank of weed that was in front of us. We threw on the life jackets and headed out with the boat to play the fish. It soon became apparent from the boat that the weed was seriously thick in front of us and that any fish we hooked would be better played from the boat instead of trying to bring the fish through it. After a few tense minutes we managed to free the fish from the weed bed and Ben was in direct contact again from the boat. I managed to row us to a clear area where Ben could safely play the fish and after a few minutes, we netted our first fish from Heron, not a monster by Abbey standards but more than welcome after a tough few days. The fish was a scrapper 20 but the size was irrelevant at this stage, we knew our decision to move was justified and the chosen spots along the gulley were going to produce fish.
With Ben’s rods back out, we settled in for the evening and just a few hours into the darkness the soon familiar sound of Ben’s Delkims were ringing out from peg 13. After a short battle, another fish was in the net and an upper double was soon slipped back into the darkness. Morning broke and the mist started to rise from the small bay we occupied, I was slightly surprised that my rods remained motionless through the night, I could hear the odd fish crashing but my luck seemed to elsewhere on this trip. I was now 3 nights into the session without a single run on Heron, I was starting to get a little worried that I could be returning the UK with the dreaded “Wooden Spoon”. The Wooden Spoon is an extra-large spoon which says “Noddy No Fish” decorated in bright glitter, whoever catches the least fish on our annual trips has to wear the spoon around their neck during the trip home including the ferry journey. Not something I relished after seeing the humiliation that John encountered the previous year when he was unlucky enough to end up with the “Spoon”
As the heat started to break through the clouds around mid-morning I decided to go and check on the bait we had thrown into the shallow bay on the nearby Fox Lake. As soon as I turned up I could see several fish clouding up the water right on top of the bait. BINGO, an opportunity to sneak a fish out stalking and save my bacon. I headed back to Heron, reeled in the rods and grabbed a small bucket of particle, landing net and unhooking mat. I trickled in the odd piece of maize to move the fish away from the baited area temporarily, once the fish started to enquire about the maize falling down around them, I gently lowered in my balanced double maize hook bait and lay the rod on the ground next to me. There were fish all around me, maybe 15-20 fish in crystal clear water hoovering up all the particle, I could see my hook bait come in and out of view as big black shapes moved over the top of it. This was mega exciting fishing and there were some real lumps down in the water just a few feet away from the hook bait. Around 15 minutes later and my reel went into meltdown on the grass next to me, I could see the fish I’d hooked bolting away from the baited area and to my amazement, the rest of the group were still feeding, completely unaware that I had hooked one. I coaxed the fish away from the bay and soon netted a stunning mid 20 common. A real dark fish that looked like it could have come from an English estate lake. It was probably the smallest of the feeding group but I was more than happy. I returned the fish, baited up with a few more KG of particle and headed back to Heron with a smile like a Cheshire Cat!
As our trip reached the halfway point, the other lads in our party had managed 2 fish between them, these been low 20’s. The rest of the lake was also struggling with the majority of anglers down the other end of the lake all blanking. As I settled back into my swim on Heron, I was hopeful the second part of the week would be more productive.
As I got the rods out for my second night in peg 14 I was extremely confident my luck on Heron was about to change. The scream from Ben’s Delkim indicated the fish were back. “Tom get the boat ready” was an all to familiar cry from the Ben over the next 72 hours. We took to the boat and gently played the fish as best we could without been towed around the bay. The fish got stuck solid a few times in several of the thick weed beds but a bit of gentle pressure from directly above soon freed the battling carp into open water. Another one was soon in the net and although our average size was around the low 20lb mark, we were chuffed to see another Heron carp grace the bank.
And we didn’t have to wait long before we saw another Abbey Lakes carp in the net. It wasn’t long after we had baited up for the night and I had lit the BBQ that Ben was into another Heron lake carp. We needed the boat again as it was stuck solid just seconds after hitting into the fish, after a hairy 30 minutes out in the boat we managed to sink the net under mountains of weed in the hope a scaly carp was somewhere in the middle. I peeled back the weed and could see the golden scales of a stunning common nestled in the bottom of the net. After rowing back to shore and lifting the beast out of the water, it becomes apparent this fish was larger than the previous captures. The scales went round to 34lb and this fish was a truly a stunning specimen, golden scales and completely mark free. We took some pictures and released her back into the water. Time to get the BBQ back on and sink a few beers to celebrate.
A couple of hours after dark and my left-hand rod was away. The weed was less dense out in front of me and I was playing the fish in open water without too many problems. After a short battle, I managed to slip the net under my first Heron carp of the holiday. A heavily scaled 26lb mirror which was very welcome. After waking up Ben to take the photos we slipped the fish back hoping that one of his larger friends would be along soon. We were slightly disappointed with the average size of the fish so far but with the rest of the lake struggling, we were happy to take what came our way.
Ben managed another fish during the night (low 20lb again) and I lost a fish early morning. We got the kettle on a reflected on a decent 24 hours fishing. We got a phone call from John who was fishing over in peg 18, one of our party members Rob had landed “White Tips” at over 60lb. We headed round to congratulate Rob and take a look at the photographs. We were made up for him as the fishing had been very slow down that end of the lake and this had made the whole trip worthwhile.
After a few celebratory coffees, we headed back to our pegs, stopping to check on my baited spots in the bay on Fox lake. There were still fish there in numbers so I went and grabbed a rod and followed the same routine as the previous morning. After flicking out a couple of pieces of balanced maize I sat back and watched as the fish clouded up the water in front of me. The fish moved over the hook bait and some seemed to sit and stare at it for some time, it was amazing to watch the fish at such close quarters. I didn’t have to wait long before one of them took the chance and I was in. After a frantic battle trying to coax the fish away from the baited area I slipped the next under a spawned out 34lb mirror. This fish was defiantly much heavier later in the year but I was more than happy with my morning’s work. I rang Ben who quickly popped over and took the photographs. We were trying to be as discrete as possible as we were not sure whether I should have been fishing both lakes and the bay in question was not a “swim” as such. After baiting up with a few more KG of particle we headed back over to our swims on Heron.
The weather was really warm and there seemed to be more fish in the bay than ever. Shortly after introducing a few more KG of bait on the far margin Ben’s Delkims were screaming again. Life jackets on and we headed out with our boat to commence battle with an angry Abbey Lakes carp. This was a real boat battle, the fish was hanging deep in the water and got stuck solid several times, we applied pressure by hand several times from directly above the fish and managed to free her into open water. A huge ball of weed come to the surface and we netted the whole lot in the hope a carp was in the middle. After peeling back the weed we could see a near leather mirror sulking in the bottom of the net. We rowed back to the shore and weighed a stunning 32lb mirror, we took the obligatory photos and slipped her back.
The rest of the day was prolific for Ben with a few more fish landed to mid 20’s from the point in front of peg 13. Although my rods had remained motionless, I was confident the fish would be moving further into the bay in the evening. My previous take on Heron was during darkness so I went to bed confident I would be woken by a screamer.
Around an hour after dark my middle rod signalled a drop-back from the far margin, I hit into the fish and after a short battle landed my second Heron carp of the trip at 33lb. I quickly got my rod back out to the spot and put the kettle on in the hope a few more fish would be coming my way. I must have nodded off as I was woken around 4 am by my left-hand rod, which was bent over as a hooked carp bolted off into the bay. The fish was plodding along the far margin and I gently started to guide it over the weed beds in front of me. After a patient 10 minute battle I slipped the next under my 3rd Heron Lake carp of the trip. When I lifted the fish out of the water I knew it was larger than any of my previous captures and was confident the fish was close to 40lb. I went and woke Ben who was snoring like a pig after his busy day. We weighed the fish at just over 37lb and I was well chuffed that my luck was finally turning.
Ben managed another fish very early morning but his average size was in the low 20lb bracket, which for Abbey standards is fairly low. We started cooking breakfast when John called to inform us that Nev had just landed Bruno at 64lb. We reeled in the rods and ran round to see this magnificent creature on the bank. Nev was beaming when we arrived, Bruno is a real dark looking carp that everyone came the Abbey Lakes to catch. It was a great result for Nev and the lads got some great shots in the water. It had been a tough week down that end of the lake but the 2 60’s they managed more than made up for the lack of action.
Seeing Bruno on the bank really got me fired up for our last couple of days at Abbey Lakes. We headed off back to our swims refreshed and raring to get amongst one of the Abbey Lakes A-Team! I took a quick look over in the bay at Fox Lake and could see a few fish moving around, nothing like the numbers that had been present over the last few days but there were still a few fish milling around. I decided there was a chance of another and grabbed the stalking gear from my swim on Heron.
I spent a few hours trying to sneak a fish out but they were much less interested today, just as I had given up hope I spotted a few fish moving slightly further down the margin towards me. I set the trap, a small handful of particle with a balanced maize hook-bait over the top and waited for the group of fish to move towards me. As they approached the baited area a chunky common tipped upright over my hook bait, the water became cloudy as the fish started to feed hard on the particle. The water exploded as the common hooked itself and bolted out into the bay. After a few minutes, I slipped the net under another stalked fish from Fox Lake. The common was in great condition and the needle on the Reuben went round to 34lb. I must admit I was rather enjoying the stalking on Fox but I didn’t want to push my luck. I could see a few bemused anglers further up the lake wondering who this figure was who kept appearing from the trees every day. I was more than happy with the 2 30’s and the smaller dark common I had managed to sneak out of Fox over the last few days and thought I better leave the fish in peace from now on.
Back on Heron and Ben had managed another mid 20lber during the day. As the evening rolled around we lit the BBQ and sat back with a few cool beers. Abbey Lakes is a stunning fishery and the two pegs we occupied were particularly picturesque. We enjoyed a bottle of wine and some juicy steak from the BBQ and hit the sack for the evening. Ben managed another fish during the night but yet again his average size was in the mid 20lb bracket.
As first light broke my left-hand rod ripped off and I was connected to another Abbey Lakes carp. This fish really had some power and I was powerless to stop the charges at times. I gently played this fish knowing it could one of the larger residents of Heron lake. After a 15 minute battle, I managed to coax a stunning looking mirror into the net. It wasn’t as big as I first hoped but it was a beautiful fish, really dark with a huge paddle. It went 35lb on the scales and after some great pictures by Ben, we slipped her back to fight another day.
The fishing had been incredibly slow down the other end of the lake. The rest of the party had caught 2 stunning 60’s but had only managed a couple of other fish. Nev had managed 3 fish, Rob also caught 3 and John was still blanking after a frustrating week. There were a couple of anglers blanking around the lake but the lad in peg 11 had managed a good few fish including one of the A team at 60lb+.
The last day was fairly uneventful and I managed to lose a fish early evening on the last night. With me driving all the way back to the UK the next day I reeled in for the night to get a good nights sleep. Ben reassured me he would stay awake for the journey home to help with directions. As morning broke, no more fish had been caught from our party and it was time to start the dreaded packing up process. Within 5 minutes of saying our goodbyes and leaving the Abbey complex, Ben was fast asleep in the passenger seat, leaving me to reflect on a wonderful weeks fishing.
We finished the week as follows:
- Ben = 10 fish, 2 30’s and the rest 20’s and one high double
- Tom = 7 fish, 5 30’s and 2 20’s
- Nev = 3 fish, Bruno at 64lb 80z, 2 20’s
- Rob = 3 fish, White Tips at 61lb, 2 20’s
- John = Blank, Wooden Spoon.
Overall Abbey Lakes Review
Abbey Lakes is a great complex that caters for a variety of anglers. Heron Lake can be challenging but the rewards are certainly there with 3 different 60lb fish caught in the week we visited. Abbey Lakes is around 2 hours from Calais which makes it easily accessible. There is food available on-site and a tackle shop with all the basics you need. The local town is just a short 3-minute drive away which has a supermarket, bar, pizza takeaway and a petrol station. The shower block and toilets are very good and were kept clean throughout our week. I can highly recommend Abbey Lakes to others, but don’t expect it to be easy, you will need to work for your fish just like you would in the UK.
Abbey Lakes videos
If you have visited Abbey Lakes please comment below with your experience of the venue.