This August I went on my annual pilgrimage to the south west of France. My destination, the Poitou-charentes region of France has several beautiful limestone trout streams which are spring fed and keep a good flow in the summer months, but more importantly remain cool enough for trout to survive through the regions hot and dry summer season. They are however very heavily fished by the locals for food early in the season, so the fish stock density is relatively low and therefore extremely wise to the angler – a challenge indeed!
Just 30 miles from our holiday gite was the river Touvre, which is essentially a huge chalk stream. It emerges from the ground from vast springs and is almost instantly 100 meters plus in width. The water is a constant 12 degrees Centigrade, ideal for all salmonoids. It only flows for 8 miles before it hits the Charente river and becomes too warm to support Trout.
The river hosts a population of indigenous wild browns which lack heavy spotting like typical UK browns. There are also escaped rainbows and char present from numerous fish farms which use the rivers ice cold clean water.
To fish in France as a visitor you need a 30 Euro ‘carte vacances’ week long tourist ticket, these are easy to obtain from a tabac. These entitle you to fish any public navigable river in the region, which is great value for money. As long as your feet are wet you can pretty much fish anywhere.
The Touvre flows through mainly urban areas so finding the access points to actually get into the water and start fishing was a challenge. When buying the fishing ticket I had spotted two lumps of at least 50 – 60 cm taking nymphs under a busy road bridge. This spot was however impossible to get in to as it was five foot deep at the edge with a heavy push going over a artificial canoe run. I headed a few miles further up, where the river was broader, split into channels, waist deep and full of gravel pockets and dense weed beds. Perfect for a French leader and jig set up on my trusty 10 foot #3/4 Airflo Streamtec nantec rod.
I managed to get in next to a bridge and worked downstream flicking the leader square across into the pockets and slots. I had my first Touvre trout within 20 minutes in blazing sun and 28 degree heat, a nice little fish about 25 cm. The fishing was very tough however, plus I had competition from several French anglers sharing my stretch, and also heavy canoe traffic to contend with. Credit to the French anglers – they were cracking fish spotters. One guy pointed out a few decent fish to me, with one sighted of 60 cm plus hidden in a weed slot where I had just drifted the fly through! Funnily enough the French anglers had never seen a French leader, they were quite amazed by it… The favoured local technique was the old fashioned yarn indicator fished on a short drift. Despite the conditions I did manage to winkle out a few more that afternoon, best one about 40 cm, plus missed several more.
Due to the ongoing day time heat I returned for a 6 am early morning session a few days later. From the minute I arrived I was into a fish nearly every drift! This didn’t last long though, as soon as the sun hit the water an hour later it was game over… just like a switch being flicked, the sunlight simply killed the sport and sent the trout scurrying back under the dense weedbeds.
Being on a family holiday unfortunately I couldn’t visit the Touvre every day (wanted to!) but I somehow managed to get out for a third and final occasion. This time I went further up stream, right to the source. It was an incredible spot to fish, I was close to seemingly bottomless springs which well up from under a hillside into bright, ice cold turquoise tinted pools. Again this was a challenging session, very hot with bright sun and to top it off some French lads decided to dive in and swim right in front of me! I did however pick up an escapee rainbow trout plus a couple of small browns.
I would love to return to the Touvre one day – despite the urban surrounds it really is a magical place, truly unique in many respects.