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“My biggest, he measured 2.40 meters per hundred kilos”: on the boat of a catfish fisherman off Combleux

Christophe Girault is the archetype of the farsighted fisherman. He kneels on his boat and takes out of the water a beautiful catfish, “which will look well in the seventy centimeters”, subtracted the day before from the Loire. “Sometimes we don’t get anything out this morning, I have this one, he spent the night under the boat.”

One of the catfish caught off Combleux earlier in the week.

The 50-year-old with the cap seems sure of his shot, however, that Friday, when embarking the journalist, his sons and grandsons, Clément and Maël, on the flat-bottomed boat which passes everywhere. A two-meter catfish has just been seen in the locks of Combleux and he released five the previous Monday, “fish capable of eating a pigeon”.

We embark, direction the adventure. Photo: David Criff

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No doubt, our report on the hunt for freshwater “jaws” promises to be sporty and spectacular.

“Jaws” style, the Loire also has its jaws. And those who hunt them

The wind that calls the fish comes from the west

We sail on the calm waters in the westerly wind. Photo: David Criff

It is 7 o’clock in the morning, this Friday, May 27, when the boat sets sail under the low clouds. Blows above, against the currents, a light westerly wind, from Galarne, “which the ancients say calls the fish”. To say the least, the excitement is at its peak (at least for the journalist) and the fight may be very imminent…

Adequate equipment on board. Photo: David Criff

It is the son Clément, a 27-year-old environmental engineer, who steers the boat in twenty centimeters of water with a blunder (a kind of big stick resting on the sand), until the first spot, in the middle of the river. We fish live, the lines are thrown near “the dead end”, the break after the sandbank. Where it plunges… “We go looking for the eddies, the catfish are often in it because it’s oxygenated.”

The beauty of calm waters. Photo: David Criff

Is the catfish wreaking havoc?

Christophe certainly evokes catfish, but he really only has one in mind, the giant seen on the side of the locks which he suspects of wreaking havoc in the spawning grounds at Sandres Combbleusian waters. He confesses, “I would like to catch that one, he eats all their eggs”. The journalist can’t help but think so, Quint, in Jawscould have said that…

Christophe Girault in a blunder. It is a long stick allowing the boat to move forward in the currents by leaning on the bed of the river. Photo: David Criff

A good two hours go by, the crew is still brown. Empty-handed… Maël is cold, he is bored: “When are we going home?” Little by little, doubt settles in the unstable little boat, prone to waterways. We kill time by scooping, the eyes are lost in the beauty of things, the flight of the osprey, the tern swooping in the river on the fish on the surface, the mules leaping out of the water… The show is constant , he is everywhere.

Maël is cold, he puts on his grandfather’s coat. A little too big for him… Photo: David Creff

“The Loire is never the same”, says Christophe in the whistling of lines in the wind reminiscent of the song of whales. Didn’t it just slip discreetly that the catfish might never show up, unlike the previous days?

“I made my first catfish in the Loire in 1983…”

Must say that the business manager has some expertise in the matter: “I made my first catfish in the Loire in 1983, at the time, no one knew what it was. And there was no Internet…”

Looking tenderly at his 9-year-old grandson, he continues: “Maël represents the fifth generation of fishermen in the family, my wife and my daughter also fish, well, when the weather is nice…” The cap as big as a buoy in the current still does not go away, “we change corners”.

Swordfish fishing, what relationship?

Christophe has so many stories about the river to tell, they will perhaps appear in a future “Window on the Loire”.

The boat now goes up the Loire under motor in the direction of Saint-Denis-en-Val, before stopping in the middle of the sandbanks. We drop the anchor and the raw lines in the water at 23 degrees, “warmer than the air”. Christophe recounts the fight, failing to live it:

“It’s sometimes very beautiful a touch of catfish, when you see the buoy suddenly go ten meters perpendicular. I have already hooked some that have completely jumped out of the water, like a fishing line ‘swordfish.”

An hour, still nothing. “However, this is where I made my biggest, remembers the fisherman, he measured 2.40 meters per hundred kilos.”

But what do we do with such a hold?

“I have the same gear license (carrelet, trap, etc.) as a professional fisherman, but I have no right to sell the fish. The catfish, I often make nets of them that I give to the elders. They love it.”

Should we be afraid of catfish in the Loire?

“I told you it would bite better on the island side”

It still doesn’t bite. Photo: David Criff

Still, from the beginning, the son Clément disapproves of the strategy. “I told you it would bite better on the island side.” The dad gives in, heading for the third spot of the morning, downstream of the river. “We are going to go through the little Loire”, the arm of the river between Charlemagne Island, to the south, and the fantastic islands, to the north.

The landscape changes completely, it looks a bit like the Amazon. We arrive in the middle of the trees. And big common carp swimming along the banks, where it’s deeper. “Before, we used to fry here…”

A bivouac on the islands. Photo: David Criff

The boat glides over ten centimeters of clear water, the sand underfoot is a bed of shells. “It’s never going to pass!”, Alerts the son still wielding the blunder.

Ten centimeters of water, maybe less, under the flat-bottomed hull. Photo: David Criff

Clement was right. The boat touches the shoals, comes to rest on the sand. No choice, you have to go down and push. It is Christophe who sticks to it, “always the same”. At the same time, “you’re the heaviest,” jokes the son.

Obliged to push the boat. Photo: David Criff

“Bah when it doesn’t want to!”

It is 11 o’clock when we reach the son’s catfish corner. The fate seems to be relentless, the Loire has moved, the vein of water targeted is now too shallow to shelter any. “Bah when it doesn’t want to!” Christophe is certainly affected, not yet sunk.

The sky hugs the water that morning. Photo: David Criff

The course is set for Combleux and its pocket port, we return home… Maël, happy at the time, quickly becomes disillusioned. His grandfather, in great relentlessness, poses the line of the last chance in the water from the bank. He uncorks a bottle of white wine. Time for a little drink, maybe… We toast, we chat, when suddenly…

And suddenly… the throw twists violently
in the tall grass

The throw in the tall grass twists violently. Christophe rushes: “It’s big!”, he feels. Powerful too. The famous catfish? Well then…

Christophe hopes that it is indeed a catfish that has bitten. Photo: David Criff

This Friday, he will have returned to a magnificent asp of well seventy centimeters to save the morning, in its final minutes. The noble fish will finally be returned to its Loire. And to its great beauties which, basically, were enough for the people on the boat that morning. Catfish muddle.

The beautiful asp saves the morning of fishing. It was released after the photo. Photo: David Criff

Hecatomb in Orléans: why nothing has been done to save the fish in the canal?

David Criff

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