Angling pour les Anglais

Buy a French lake and make it irresistible to fishermen. Ginetta Vedrickas looks at the dream and the reality
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The Independent Online

With fishing the UK's number one hobby, many anglers are combining their passion with their dream of moving to France. Waterside properties have always been popular but this new breed of buyer wants to turn their purchases into business ventures by running their own fishing lakes. As March sees the start of the fishing season, many others may be tempted to join them.

With fishing the UK's number one hobby, many anglers are combining their passion with their dream of moving to France. Waterside properties have always been popular but this new breed of buyer wants to turn their purchases into business ventures by running their own fishing lakes. As March sees the start of the fishing season, many others may be tempted to join them.

Statistics on just how many Brits are attracted to this idea are hard to come by, but the sheer volume of enquiries prompted French Property News recently to cover the subject. "I hadn't realised how popular fishing is or just how many people want to start up their own fishing businesses as a way of relocating to France and generating an income," says Kirsty McKeown, who wrote the feature.

Agents too report that clients planning fishing businesses are now on a par with those hoping to run gîtes, with the result that properties with lakes suitable for fishing are increasingly hard to find: "They are like gold dust," says Micky Kay, of Waterside Properties International: "Lakes must be at least five hectares for viable businesses and, while we have many clients looking for them, they are few and far between."

Most anglers prefer to drive so that they can use their own equipment, making lakes within three hours of ports particularly desirable. Demand has pushed supply eastwards and most properties with lakes coming onto the market are now in the Limousin area. Kay currently has several Limousin properties with lakes, including a small lake with attached house for sale at €322,000, but prices for this kind of property have risen steeply. "Five years ago you would have paid one third of that," says Kay.

And it's not simply a question of finding a lake. Regulations mean that some lakes are deemed public and may face restrictions; for example, night fishing may not be allowed, making any business venture unviable, but lakes that existed pre-1829 are unaffected. Buyers' notaires must seek clarification from the Service de Police de L'Eau et la Peche at the local Direction Departmentale d'Agriculture. And anyone considering such a venture should also establish that: a lake is spring-fed and deep enough for fishing, as well as who owns the boundaries, as some agricultural activity such as pig-keeping on adjoining land may pollute the waters.

Preventing a farmer from keeping pigs next to his lake was one battle that Kevin Snuggs recently won, but it followed a long line of bureaucratic obstacles. Four years ago, Kevin and his wife, Carole, featured on Channel 4's No Going Back in which viewers watched their struggles to start up their carp-fishing business, Clearwater Lakes, in Brittany. They paid £170,000 for their 28-acre site, which has a four-hectare lake, a house and several outbuildings, including a 16thcentury water mill which one day they plan to convert for their own use. But Kevin Snuggs is typical of buyers who start fishing businesses in that the buildings are relatively unimportant: "The property was much less important to us than the size of the lake and its location near a port."

He warns anyone considering a similar venture that the cost of stocking a lake cannot be underestimated: "You need a selection of different sizes. People come here in the hope of catching big ones, but they are hard to come by and a 40lb fish can cost £1,500." He estimates that stocking a five- hectare lake with about five tons of fish could cost up to £100,000 and would take several years to build up. Clearwater Lakes is now a successful business offering fishing holidays, "drive and survive breaks" for visitors who make their own way, and "bivi" camp on the lake's banks for about £260 per week.

Snuggs is currently converting one of his barns into a clubhouse with guest accommodation before the busy season begins next month. "I've no regrets, but it's hard work and we haven't had a single holiday in four years." Many of his clients hope to start up similar businesses but he finds that most underestimate the sheer effort that goes into such a business and the necessary budget, which he warns should be at least £500,000.

He says: "The French have wised up to the fact that many British want to do this so any lake for sale is now advertised as a carp lake, whether it has any fish in it, and sometimes they are a mere puddles." His advice to anyone considering pursuing a similar dream? "Don't."

Tony Morrell is another angler who has turned a lifelong hobby into a business by moving to France where he now offers fishing breaks. He has always been passionate about his sport: "Even as a little boy, I loved fishing and the countryside." After a divorce, Morrell began his search for a suitable location to start his fishing business and, after three years, finally found it near Limoges. Initially, he bought a four- acre lake with lodge which he sold to a friend and has now bought a ten-acre lake, where he is building a property to live in and where he runs Paradise Lakes, offering fishing breaks from March until October.

Anglers camp by the lake but Morrell provides shower blocks with hot and cold water, TV room, restaurant and bar. He admits that it hasn't been an easy process; getting planning permission for improvements has been difficult; and he works from 6am until midnight every day throughout the season. He attributes his success to the fact that he bought early, while prices were low, and did his research: "This kind of business takes years to build up. I don't make pots of money but I've gained many regular clients over the years, which makes it easier."

Morrell took three years to find a suitable location but, subject to planning consent, there are properties with lakes attached for those who are prepared to search hard and have an ample budget. Francophiles find that few properties with lakes ever come onto the market but currently has a trout farm with lake for sale, which comes with its own converted watermill and two cottages set in 42 acres, near Aurillac, in the Cantal region, at €435,880.

VEF is marketing a 10-acre property, currently operating as a fishing business, with lakes, woodland and two-storey house which needs renovating for €229,930. It has been on the books for a year and agent Richard Rogers explains why, so far, clients have not been tempted: "When you look at the figures, the guy who owns it works a 12-hour day but only makes about €25,000 annually, so it's not a great return on your investment. For most people, running their own fishing business has to remain an archetypal dream."

Waterside Properties International, 01903 850017, www.watersideproperties-int.co.uk

Clearwater Lakes, 020-8699 5310 /00 33 297 394 266, www.clearwaterlakes.com

Paradise Lakes, 020-7407 4550, www.paradiselakes.co.uk

Francophiles, 01622 688165, www.francophiles.co.uk

VEF (UK), 020-7515 8660, www.vefuk.com

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