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Starting a fishing business in France

 

A Fishing Business - advice about purchasing a fishing lake in France

Fishing is the most popular pastime in the UK and keen anglers are buying French lakes and turning their into lucrative businesses, says Kirsty McKeown Mckeown (FPN November 2004).

When asked what kind of French property they have in mind
British buyers often reply "something close to water". 

Some are now broadening the scope of this request and instead of looking for a property by water they are now looking primarily for the water, generally in the shape of a lake. Although lakes have always been popular, this new breed of lake-hunters are looking to turn their purchase into a viable business, either from fishing or water sports. 

Kevln Snuggs' carp fishing venture, featured in Channel 4's 'No Going Back' series four years ago. "Carp fishing is big business at the moment," savs Kevin, "not just in France, and not just the fishing but also the equipment and clothing, Even the French hare cottoned on to it, and all lakes are now for sale as 'carp' lakes". 

David Howard, who specialises in property in the Champagne, Ardennes and Lorraine area, reports: "There are currently around 20-30 British-owned working lakes within three hours of Calais, and this number is set to increase. Ninety per cent of people contacting me regarding lakes are looking for commercial activities. Lakes for fishing are the biggest growth business for recreation and leisure." 

Micky Kay, of a well known property company, suggests the increased interest in lakes is due to the amount of money that can be made from carp fishing now. However it is glowing difficult to find good-sized lakes in northern France. "Five-hectare plus lakes are like gold dust," said Micky adding that the majority of lakes coming onto the market are in the Limousin area. 

Darvid Howard says he has found no real problem keeping up with the demand for lakes for commercial use but has had to extend his search area eastwards. 

The recent growth in this business is illustrated by the substantial rise in the price of lakes. David Howard reports that prices in his area are approximately £15,000 per hectare, a rise of £15,000 in two years. With the rise in prices and possible fall in availability of lakes, could the halcyon days soon be over? 

The majority of lake hunters are keen fishermen wanting to make a living from their hobby. They have the advantage of knowing what their clientele require for a perfect fishing break. British anglers generally, prefer to drive to their fishing holiday so they can bring their own equipment. They also tend not to want to drive for more than four hours once off the ferry, making northern France the ideal spot for fishing lakes. Many lake owners in southern France are now offering fly-drive options where airport transfer is included in the price of the package and fishing equipment is provided on-site. 

French lakes 
Two thirds of lakes in France are former gravel pits, although most of these are not established lakes. A small percentage are purpose-built, usually with a dam to control the water level, Leaky dams can be a problem, but are fairly easily fixed.

For many buyers the type or size of property that comes with the lake is irrelevant. A lodge id often sought after to provide basic accommodation, but a house is not always deemed necessary.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A LAKE (inset box)

  • Allow for at least one hectare of water per person. The most common size is six hectares, which will accommodate six people, a popular number for groups. 
  • The lake should ideally be between 1.5-3.5m deep. 
  • Consider the cost of stocking a big lake; a 5-8 hectare lake can cost 25,000 to stock with quality fish. 
  • A spring-fed lake is less likely to run dry in a drought. 
  • Ensure the lake is not a wet weather lake, but holds water throughout the year. The best way to find out is to make enquiries locally. 
  • Check if any nearby rivers flood, because if the lake floods stock could be lost and it will be impossible to control the water quality, 
  • Water quality: it is possible to take a sample of the water for testing when viewing a lake. 
  • Many larger fishing lakes also have stock ponds, which are ideal for testing water quality. 
  • lf a lake already holds fish check what type; they may not mix well with the fish you intend to install. 
  • Ensure there are no major electric pylons or installations close to the lake. 
  • Mature lakes are popular for fishing, as are lakes with an island. 
  • The lake's swims (fishing site) should be secluded. 


Manv owners buy a mobile home to live in if they want to be on-site and there isn't a house on the land. A location close to a village or town is preferable as guests can enjoy local facilities on evenings when they are not night fishing. 

Business ventures

A new market has emerged recently for 'drive and survive' holidays. These are essentially, camping / fishing trips where holidaymakers pack all their equipment and tents into their car, drive to the lake, pitch their tent and fish for a week or long weekend. 

All that is needed to cater for these groups is a shower block and a good lake, full of big fish. The simplicity of turning a lake into a fishing business is what makes it such a popular option. 

Some lakes offer a lodge for accommodation or B&B if the owners live on-site. B&B will provide a higher income as the weekly rate will be substantially more than letting a pitch for a tent. Some B&Bs also offer evening meals and some even bring lunchtime sandwiches down to the lake. 

The average weekly rate for French fishing holidays is between 1200 and 1,100 euros per person. Fishing lakes make an ideal business as most places enforce a catch and release policy. A small amount of fish will be lost each year but most will just grow, and improve the business. 

The fishing holiday season in France is generally March to late November. Winter packages are available for the hardcore angler, although availability is generally dictated by the weather if the lake is frozen, fishing will be limited.

Maintenance 
Lakes require little in the way of maintenance. The surrounding land should be kept in good order and tree maintenance is necessary if trees grow over the edge of the lake. Water rats should not be allowed to make nests in the banks as they can cause leaks. It is a good idea to erect a fence around the lake to keep animals out such as deer and wild boar – they can make a mess of the banks. A fence may also help keep out poachers!

Kevin Suggs warns that a carp lake owner gets no time off, "except when the lake's closed, but then there's so much to catch up on". His average day starts at 6.30 and can stretch till 2am during the season. If that isn't enough to put vou off, the regulations, the red tape might. Kevin savs there are so manv regulations people try to pass them. 

Regulations
Whether or not a lake is public or private should be established as soon as possible as this will directly influence its viability as a business venture. 

If a lake is fed by a municipal in river, the owner will face restrictions as the lake is considered to be public waters. A licence will be needed and night fishing may not be permitted. A lake for commercial fishing should be entirely confined within the property boundaries, ensuring it is defined as private waters and so not incurring any fishing restrictions.

Lakes that existed before 1829 are not affected by the fishing regulations. The only way to establish whether a particular lake is inside or outside regulations is to ask your notaire to get the information from the Service de Police de L’eau et la Pêche at the local Direction Departmentale d’Agriculture.

Setting your fishing venture up as an agricultural company is possible if you are breeding fish in stock ponds. Being certified as a fish farm or fishery can be advantageous as farmers in France receive many financial incentives and benefits, although this differs from area to area. 

Hooked on fishing

Having spent many happy holidays fishing in France Garry Woolhouse decided to buy his own lake and set it up as a fishing business, with his brother Roger, also a fanatical angler. They found an agent with the perfect lake in Charente Maritime. 

When the brothers viewed the 17-acre site, which had two private lakes and a campsite, they immediately put in an offer. Then the paperwork started to flow. lt was at this point that Garry's partner Sandra had the realisation that "this was not going to be a holiday retreat, but a real business with all hands on deck!". 

Garry and Sandra took their children along when they went to sign the paperwork, and during the trip their eldest son's partner landed her first fish, a 17lb carp. A good omen! 

Twin Lakes is being set up as a family holiday site offering camping as well as fishing for all levels of experience. The site has a bar and snack bar, barbecue and two swimming pools. lt includes eight mobile homes and 25 spots for touring vehicles and tents. 

Set in a wooded area away from the main site, the top lake is dedicated to 2Olb-plus carp. The bottom lake contains mixed fish. Both seem to be well stocked but ensuring this is just one of the things on the Woolhouses' 'to do' list before opening in April next year -they plan to open for business from April-October. 

Although they are currently in the process of finding a couple to manage the site, Garry and Sandra hope to eventually move over themselves (there is living accommodation on-site). ln the meantime they intend to use the site as a regular holiday retreat.

Water features 
Some people buy lakes for business reasons other than fishing, such as for watersports. Suitable lakes are much rarer though as they must be at least 20-40 hectares and so prices are considerably higher, 

Devon International currently has a lake for sale, which is used for boating and other activities. It is on a large area of land which incorporates a campsite. The price is 600.000 euros. 

Certain areas of France are renowned for flooded marshlands which lend themselves to hunting, particularly duck shooting. These estates are competitively priced, but can be very profitable, For those who just want a property near water for their own enjoyment rather than a business venture, there are plenty of properties with small lakes of one acre set in the grounds of the house. 

Paradise found (inset box)
After three years searching for the right place to establish his fishing business Tony Morrell believes he found paradise and has been running Paradise Lakes near Limoges for the past eight years. The site has two lakes: the 10-acre Kingfisher accommodates a maximum of six anglers, while the four-acre Lodge lake is only available for group bookings a six-person lodge is located on the banks. Tony started the business from scratch, creating his idea of a perfect fishing break. lt has not been an easy task and he is still waiting for planning permission on the land. "lt can be a difficult country to live in but I love it!" he says. 

A team of five people work on-site. Tony says there is more to lake maintenance than most people imagine, ensuring the fish remain healthy. He admitted to being "very tired now, waiting for the last week of the season to end". Their fishing season runs from March-May, and from mid-August to mid-November. 

 

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