Peche a la mouche en Ardeche

It’s not every fishing day that one has the chance to fish in the watershed previously inhabited by the oldest known artists in human history. A few weeks ago, however, I found myself in the south of France, in the city of Valence. The city lies on the edge of the beautiful Ardeche region, which seems to be largely constructed from towering limestone cliffs and tumbling crystal clear streams.

On this trip I’d managed to bring along a simple setup, which included a 5 weight rod, reel, a box of flies and one or two other accessories. No waders, no heavy wading boots, just a pair of sandles. More about this in a moment..

On the evening before my earmarked fishing day I finally found my way to a small fishing shop (Denis Guichard I think was the owner) in Guilherand-Granges, a town which lies next to Valence, on the Ardeche side of the Rhone river. He summarised the ticket options for me and kindly pointed out a few likely streams. I love the simplicity involved in fishing most countries outside of the UK. Buy a permit, fish anywhere. No skipping past the large Manse stretch of X and X a river, where the fishing is reserved for their-stuck-up-privyships Lord and Lady Whoha. Just miles of river and the chance to escape for a few hours.

The morning arrived and I set off early with no definite plan. The joy of an uncertain day awaited, where fishing could be had wherever you found yourself. I headed up the D533 road and into the heart of Ardeche. This is possibly the windiest road I’ve ever driven. By the time I arrived in Lamastre I felt like I’d been to the gym.

At this point it was time to make a decision. Right or left. Slightly nearer or slightly further away. I opted to maximise fishing time so turned right and headed up to a remote corner of the upper river Doux (known as the haut Doux).

We now interrupt proceedings to mention perhaps the greatest joy of fishing in rural France. As I passed through a small town called Desaignes I stopped to pick up some tucker. Oh what tucker… Unlike many small towns in the UK, places like Desaignes (and seemingly most of the others besides) have retained small, independent bakers, butchers and grocers. You can rock up at any time of day and buy exquisite bread, beautiful locally-made sausage-products and whatever else you care to eat. As a fan of the aforementioned sausage-products I duly purchased some swine and found myself in a porky heaven. With my larder now amply stocked I was ready for the river.

At a bridge I parked the car and stepped into a day of warm sunshine and light wind. The river was exceptionally clear and rather low. Extensive bankside herbage forced me to slip on the manly polyprop tights, socks and sexy sandles. Boots would have made more sense, but then ‘sense’ doesn’t seem to be very connected to the warm, gentle baggage policy of everyone’s favourite Irish-based budget airline. As I gingerly stepped into the streamy water and the end of the first pool, my feet and ankles produced some muted protestations, before slowly quieting down into a numbed stupor.

The river was small, at turns 1m to 5m or so across. It seemed to be particularly rich in invertebrates. Ranks of cased caddis lined the surfaces of most rocks, and turning up a few stones revealed lots of squirming upwinged nymphs. Many of the bankside trees were also covered in the shucks of hatched flies. There was certainly an abundance of trout food. Now to find some trout..

I sat on a rock at the bottom of the first pool. It was a beautiful combination of a tumbling run-in at the head, a deep scoured channel next to some large rocks, a bit of flat water at the tail, before more rapids leading to the next pool. This was my first visit to fish a river on the continent, so I had no experience of locally-recommend flies or tactics. But where there are caddis and upwings there must surely be deer hair sedges and dirty dusters, so on went one of the latter in a size 16.

A small rise revealed that there were fish here. I felt uncommonly excited about this. Perhaps it was the outstanding beauty of the surroundings and the apparent solitude of this particular bit of stream. More likely I suppose it was the possibility of catching a trout on a different island to my own home waters.

I made a few duff casts before getting caught in a tree on one of my backcasts. Did I mention that the water was clear? As I struggled to get my line and fly back, I think I probably spooked this and several other pools. A few more failed casts with the retrieved line and I moved on.

This turned out to be the basic state of play for most of the rest of the day. Struggling to make casts whilst hemmed in by trees, feet and lower legs feeling more and more detached from my body. Lots of cockups, lots of lost flies. But it was all great fun really, stalking up and trying to spot fish. Making too much noise and not spotting any fish. You get the idea.

Eventually I came to a particularly enticing pool. Wide and fast run in at the head, the stream then turned abruptly to the right and calmed down to flow alongside a huge boulder. A careful cast and a fish took but didn’t stay on. A little further up and success at last as a beautiful little trout decided that the haggis-flavoured sedge was worth eating after all. Time for a pause then, a trout had been caught, success was assured and I felt a bit chuffed if I may say so.

Over the next few hours I worked up and up the stream, with a handful of similarly-sized small trout. I spooked plenty of other fish, but never saw anything that might be called ‘large’ (i.e. over 1/2lb). Nonetheless, they were very pretty fish and felt like a fair reward for my now deep-purple coloured feet. At one stage I switched to a small nymph underneath a bit of sheep’s wool as an indicator, and caught the nicest fish of the day from a tiny little divot behind a rock.

Time wore on, and with the thought of 2 hours of that road back to Valence, I called it a day and started the squelchy trudge back down to the car. On my way I stopped briefly to talk to a farmer who had been driving in and out of the river in his tractor performing some unknown task. I noticed his eyes immediately drawn to my deliciously attractive wet leggings and sandles. He motioned and asked if I’d been walking in the river. I said I had. He said I should have been here last week, it was much warmer. There was something fitting and reassuring in this information. No matter where you fish, at what time of year, you’re always a week too late.

A gallery of all my photos from a day out in Ardeche. Click the full screen button for a 3D-like immersive experience.