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Report: France

Paris's street fishing fans hooked on fish in the Seine

William/French Touch Fishing

Paris ... its Eiffel Tower, its haute couture, its cinema, its art galleries, its fishing. Fishing? Well, yes, the River Seine and its tributaries are now home to more than 40 species of fish, according to environmental watchdog Naturparif. Mainly perch, zander and catfish. But eel and salmon have also made a comeback over the last five years.

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Their numbers have increased tenfold since the 1970s, which is great news for the street fishing movement.

Around 300 anglers from Paris and Marseille but also Holland and Belgium gathered last weekend in Paris for the fourth Open Street, Europe’s largest street fishing competition.

A line of street fishers, rods at the ready, are standing on the banks of the Seine, on the pavement more precisely, as a steady stream of cars whizzes by. There isn’t a foldaway chair in sight, nor a traditional angler’s bob, let alone a pair of galoshes.

Street fishing is dusting down the image of the tactiturn, curmudgeonly angler, maggot box and beer at the ready.

Your average practitioner is a male thirtysomething city-dweller who gets his kicks catching fish. The uniform, insofar as there is one, tends to be baseball cap, sweatshirt and trainers.

“The first idea is to have fun,” says Maxime de Pommereau of French Touch Fishing, organisers of today’s event. But it’s fun with principles.

“We practise a no-kill policy," he says. "You take a photo of the fish [for your blog] then put it back. We use lures, mainly plastic, we don’t use live bait. We’re not waiting for the fish, we’re trying to find them, so we walk a lot.”

Today’s competitors, aged between seven and 70, are moving along the Seine from Bercy in the east of Paris up to Bir Hakeim bridge near the Eiffel Tower. They move from spot to spot either on foot or by bike.

There are very few women. Pommereau says they’d like to attract more, believing women have the patience to make good street fishers.

Paris-based Vanessa Gravet doesn’t deny that, but says she’s here out of solidarity with her husband.

“I love walking up and down the Seine,” she says. “I do it anyway so this doesn’t change much.”

Except that you’re out to catch fish and that requires a lot of skill and versatility says Renaud Theis of French Touch Fishing.

Like secrets? Find out about the Hidden Paris

“The difference with someone fishing from a boat, is that on the shore you really have to make it happen here, you can’t say I’m going to move offshore 20m or 40m or whatever, you have to make it happen, so you have to adjust.”

In addition to picking the right bait and adjusting your speed, getting the fish to bite can require some careful rod choreography.

“Going faster, going slower, killing the bait, letting it drop or lifting it up really fast, this could work - or maybe not. You have to figure out what it takes.”

 Ivan and Olivier, middle-aged anglers from the leafy French suburbs, clearly haven’t quite got their French touch figured out today.

“We’ve drawn a blank, Madame,” they guffaw while taking a welcome pause at midday. “This north wind is making it difficult,” is their excuse. But the beautiful views along the Seine provide some comfort.

“It’s a modern way of fishing and in the most beautiful town in the world, ” says Ivan, pointing to Notre Dame Cathedral.

Meanwhile some of the younger participants are on a roll.

Boris, 12, is fishing with his 15-year-old brother. By midday they’ve caught four perch, the biggest measuring 21cm. At midday they’re in fifth position.

Their secret?

“We don’t have one, but we live locally so we know the area well,” explains Boris hurriedly, before jumping back on his bike.

More than 80 fish were caught during the course of the competition including a 75cm zander. The largest was a catfish or brown bullhead measuring 1.54m.

The majority were perch but even without the no-kill policy, Maxime de Pommereau says, we won’t be having Made in Paris fish on our plates in the immediate future.

“You shouldn’t eat those perch," he warns. "There is a decree from Haute Seine region which says it’s forbidden to eat the fish because of what we call PCBs [Polychlorinated biphenyl] which are like heavy oil. You can eat one or two, but not one every day, that’s not a good idea.”

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