Fly fishing contents

Provence -1-

The river Sorgue

The Sorgue is a spring creek of international reputation and one of our star destinations. It is also a real geological curiosity. The stream is rather short, only 36 kms between Fontaine de Vaucluse and the Rhone river near Avignon. In Fontaine de Vaucluse, the river comes out of the mountain belly almost as wide and important as it will be during the rest of its course. In the spring and fall, the water can come out at 22 cubic meters per second and form a beautiful cascade. The river is always very cold even during the hottest summers. The water proceeds really from the entrails of the mountain. In 1946, Cdr Cousteau dived for the 1st time at 46 meters under. Now divers have been able to swim down vertically to 205 meters under, and submarime robots have been sent to 308 meters under the surface without finding the bottom. Lots of Roman coins have been found by the explorers, probably meaning that people were throwing them in for religious or superstitious reasons. 

Fishing Season

Trout opening from the banks by mid-April 

Grayling and wading fishing opening by May 20th

Closing on the 3rd Sunday of September

Grayling Thymallus thymallus

Good readings... don't miss the piece below.


Sorgue, Ouvèze and cicadas...

by Tom Mann


The top of Mont Ventoux was covered in clouds as I drove across the Plain of God on my way to the river Ouveze. It was mid-morning and already hot. I turned off the highway onto a rocky one lane track between two vineyards. The juicy-looking purple grapes hanging down from the wires were tempting but I restrained myself. I parked the car, strung up my rod, donned my Palladium sneakers and my fishing vest, and paused to look at the water. It is very dry in Provence this year, but the Ouveze still has some flowing water. Even though the river flows through farmland for many kilometers, it is rich in insect life. I turn over some stones and find many nymphs clinging to them, and the eddies along the banks are covered with a scum of spent mayfly spinners.

I take a few casts at chevesnes I see swimming in the main current, but they all see me first and zip madly around the run seeking shelter. The chevesne is a common European whitefish that is virtually inedible, and thus manages to survive in France, a land where most of the palatable creatures--even the songbirds—were long since eaten. Several years ago, when fate conspired to deposit me in this delightful corner of the world, where nearly all the local rivers are devoid of trout and other familiar gamefish, chevesne became the mainstay of my fishing. They’re spooky but they will take flies readily. Although they feed constantly under the surface on tiny nymphs and emergers, they’re best sight-fished with terrestials, including ants, hoppers, crickets, cicadas, bees and beetles. They will strike impulsively at the splat of a bug hitting the water. I’ve also had success using damselfly nymphs in the deeper holes. About 200 meters upstream from the spot where I first entered the Ouveze, I get a few good shots at some fish holding in a deep pocket under a fallen tree, and I catch a nice one that turns to inhale my foam ant when it hits the water. This fish is 40 cm. (16 inches), heavy-bodied and thick. It doesn’t fight much and swims off quickly when I pull out the barbless hook.

In the next few days, there are rains in the mountains and the water levels in the Ouveze rise considerably. This is a good sign, and I make a note to spend the late afternoon fishing under a Roman bridge in the nearby town of Vaison la Romaine. On Tuesday morning market days in Vaison, I always wriggle my way through the crowds of tourists, walk to the middle of this bridge and look down on the big chevesnes holding in the fast water below. The last time there were floods in this area, every bridge over the Ouveze was washed out except this one, built nearly two thousand years ago by the Romans. They wisely sited the bridge where it could be anchored solidly on both ends in rock formations. Later in the day, I park by the river in downtown Vaison, rig up my rod, and walk out on the smooth light-colored stones under the Roman Bridge. The water is very shallow here, except for a deep channel under the bridge. I drift a damselfly nymph in front of the biggest chevesnes holding in the current. One takes it and I strike. The fish thrashes about, but I drag it up onto the wide shallow part of the river bed and it immediately gives up the struggle, and lies there waiting for me to unhook it. I repeat this routine several times. These French fish really go for les demoiselles. Were there pods of brown trout waiting to be caught in this same run, before the Romans fished them out? I go home feeling satisfied, even if the fish were lowly, inedible chevesnes.

The chilly river Sorgue is the only prime trout stream in the hot, dry Mediterranean climate of Provence, and it also has the southernmost population of grayling in Europe. It gushes out of a deep fissure under the mountains in the picturesque town of Fontaine de Vaucluse. Not even Jacques Cousteau could locate its underground source. Seven kilometers downstream from Fontaine de Vaucluse, the Sorgue flows through the town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, a center for tourism and antiques with a popular Sunday street market. It is an understatement to say that the Sorgue is hard to fish. Our American ways of casting like a poster person for A River Runs Through It just don’t work in it, despite the presence of mayflies, caddisflies, and scads of scuds and cressbugs. I tried to catch a trout in the Sorgue’s icy waters for years without success, a fate shared by several famous American anglers who will remain nameless. A senior French fly fisherman who makes fishing vests tells me that fishing in “the Montana” is like catching ducks in a barrel, and that we Americans are used to trout that are too easy to fool. Good-naturedly, his son reminds me that the French team won the 1998 world championship of fly fishing when it was held in Big Sky Country. Once you admit defeat, the local fly fishermen are willing to help you crack the secrets of the Sorgue. The technique that works there is “dapping,” done by dangling a weighted nymph (or a dry fly when there is a hatch on) in front of a fish’s nose on a short line (a long leader tapered down to 7X) with a ten foot rod. You watch the fish, and if it moves, you strike. I have seen this technique work, and next year, I will try again to catch a trout in the Sorgue.

Courtesy of Tom Mann for All rights reserved. Tom is a keen American writer and fly fisherman sharing his time between Montana and Provence...

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Ann in Fontaine de Vaucluse