Urban Banx - Park Lake Special | Alan Blair

This park lake session came about as a result of a series of auctions to raise funds for research into eradicating the KHV virus. The prize was to star in an Urban Banx production, and with plenty of interest, the bidding got quite high. The eventual lucky winners were a guy called Joe Gladdis and his brother Tom. Sadly, as Tom is a racing driver, he was unable to make it because he had other commitments, so it was just Joe who joined us for the session.

The plan was to go off on a 2-day adventure with me and the boys, Oli and Carl. Rather than do something crazy, which would potentially have been difficult not having spent any time with Joe before, it felt right and proper to tone it down and do something more controlled and sensible, to make sure that he had a good time.

Joe didn’t have much experience of urban fishing, so I didn’t want to drag him too far out of his comfort zone. As a result, we decided to create a Park Lake Special episode. A lot of urban venues are park lakes, and I have visited quite a few during episodes 1 to 9 and across Europe, but I wanted to create an all-encompassing park lake episode. Not just the little park lake in a village; this article relates to carp lakes across the world, showing anglers how to approach their local urban park lake and catch some fish.

Joe came over all the way from the Isle of Wight, and we started off by meeting at a café in the middle of Chelmsford on a beautiful sunny March morning. I should point out that we planned to do this trip in January and February, but for various reasons it just never worked out. To be fair, it turned out to be beneficial because some of the dates we had proposed meant that conditions were tricky. Nothing is impossible, but when the lakes are totally frozen, it would have been a big ask.

So, March it was, and thankfully, we were treated to bright sunshine. We sat in the café and had a coffee and a chat before heading off to our first venue, which was just around the corner – Chelmsford’s Central Park. I first walked this venue about 3 years ago, after driving past it repeatedly. It is the archetypal idyllic park lake. I saw nothing on that visit – absolutely nothing. No carp, no anglers, no signs, and I wrote it off as being a shallow park lake with no carp in there.

Over the past 18 months, a couple of the lads from the bait factory have done a bit of fishing on this lake and caught some really nice fish, so we decided to kick things off there, perhaps not so much from an angling sense, but really to show Joe a very typical park lake and what he could expect to find on the bank. It wasn’t just about the surroundings. I also wanted to show him what I was looking for in the water in terms of finding features and fish. 

The first thing we did on arrival was make a lap of the lake looking for carp, with me highlighting any likely holding areas, such as bird-feeding zones, snags, islands, shallow areas, deep areas, fountains, etc. We didn’t see any carp, but there was a lot of birdlife. It is quite low stock so it wasn’t a great surprise. 

The plan was to give it a couple of hours, just to give Joe his first taste of park life. We opted for an area that covered the middle of the lake, including the margin of an island. We could also see much of the lake so we could keep an eye out for signs. I flicked my rods, with scaled-down Citruz Choddies, tight to the island. These are good areas, with the bank often undercut, and certainly during the daytime, the park lake fish will be looking for sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle.

Joe decided to fish Zigs, which is a very good method. He had actually caught two on Zigs the previous night, having come up a night early and fished on Kev’s Church Lake, so he was super-confident and decided to stick with his approach.

With the sun high, I got restless and took a wander, leaving Joe and Oli to mind the rods. At the far end of the lake was a big set of snags. On the back of the wind and with the sun beating down, it looked like the fish should be there, and lo and behold they were. I only found a couple, but it was enough for me to get a Sawn-Off out and flick a Bread Bomb at them. They were very slow and lethargic and not interested in my efforts. They weren’t spooking, so I persisted in flicking it in front of them, until out of the blue, there was a take on one of my rods out by the island.

Joe was straight on it, and proceeded to play in what turned out to be a beautiful common. A small crowd gathered as he netted it, and we couldn’t quite believe that we had bagged one from what was, on paper, the toughest venue of the trip. Catching was not at the top of the list for visiting this particular lake, so getting one was a massive bonus.

W5D_4108.jpg

It’s interesting to note that at Queens Park, near Manchester, I had a couple of fish right next to a coot’s nest, and there may not be anything in it, but of the three rods on the island, this rod was also right next to a coot’s nest. I don’t know if things fall off them, or they clean the area around when building it, but it is something to bear in mind when looking for spots to place a bait.

So, we left Central Park with big smiles, and stopped off at a tackle shop to pick up some maggots before heading to our next venue, which was Shoebury Park. Originally, I had planned to fish another nearby park lake called Priory Park, an historic water in Essex which contains some incredible fish. However, this lake is still bound by a traditional close season, which meant that with just a couple of days of the season remaining, it was very busy. We decided to head somewhere a little quieter, but still on the same ticket.

I had never fished this park before, and indeed, I only walked around it the previous weekend. What a place! I have lived 20 minutes from this park for the last 10 years, and never fished it or even walked it, but I turned up there and fell in love with it instantly. It goes to show that even when you think you know all your local fishing, there are still places waiting to be discovered and explored.

We arrived not long before dusk. There were another couple of anglers present, but that wasn’t a problem because there was plenty of room. The lake was just coming to life. In the summer, it’s covered in pads and they were
starting to burst through, and the blossom, crocuses and daffodils were in full bloom. I like places like this because they have loads of features to fish to. There are trees in the water, dense Norfolk reedbeds, and, of course, the lily pads, all of which are great fish-holding features.

Joe and I opted to fish towards the biggest reedbed out in the lake. Having thrown in a few floating baits, by the time I’d got the bottom rods ready, there were fish on the surface just a few rod-lengths out, lazily slurping. With the light fading fast, I bagged not one, but two off the top. I actually hooked the second by standing on the limb of a tree overhanging the water, which made it even more exciting! It was great to get off the mark so quickly, but the bottom rods just weren’t producing as quickly as I had expected.

W5D_4195.jpg

I started to question my Choddy and Citruz approach – should I try solid bags of Key Cray, with short hooklinks, instead? I tied up a couple of fresh rigs, but before I could reel a rod in I had a bite! In spite of this, and for total peace of mind, I split my tactics. By morning I had managed to catch another five fish, pretty evenly split over both methods. They were a mixture of commons and mirrors, all in really good nick. One common blew me away. It was a scraper-double, but with beautiful twisted random scales. They all had really nice mouths, and boy, did they fight hard. 

The following morning, with pictures and pieces to camera done, we packed up the gear, loaded the van, and headed down the road to our next destination, where the plan was to do some stalking. The venue was a pair of shallow lakes next to a big housing estate.

Even though I had nicked a couple on bread the previous evening, I was keen to show Joe a method that I am passionate about – stalking. We left all the gear in the van, and just took a rod, glasses, landing net, unhooking mat, bread and some maggots, to see if we could track them down. 

Again, it didn’t take long to find fish, but getting a bite was far from easy. Eventually, we found a group of fish doing circles in a channel between a reedbed and an island. With a bit of patience and careful feeding in between the ducks and swans moving through the swim, we got them taking bread off the surface. By casting a big lump of free-lined bread in a Bread Bomb up the channel, I manged two fish. Joe had his first real experience of stalking and surface fishing, and I know he learned a lot. It is difficult for anyone who has not done this sort of fishing before to be even half-decent, and he learned the hard way. 

He missed the first three, lost one, and caught a duck, so it was eventful, and the learning curve was steep. I am betting he will walk away from that part of the session desperate to try it again somewhere, and implement it into his own fishing.

With stalking ticked off the list, we jumped back in the van and drove a little further this time, to the famous Lake Meadows in Billericay. It is another historic Essex park lake, a bit larger than the others we had visited up to this point, but with some really nice fish and several low-30s to go for. The stock was less compared to the likes of Shoebury. Medium in difficulty, but with the chance of a real stunner.

Just like most other park lakes, there was a bird-feeding area, a couple of islands, snags, and busier and quieter spots. Again, we timed our arrival not long before dark, and had a good look around. Another angler had earlier caught one of the A-Team, a fish called April’s Mate. He was the only guy on the lake, and was fishing down in a snaggy corner. He was only there for the day, had moved on the wind, seen that particular fish show, and caught it a short while later. We were over the moon for him, and it filled me with confidence.

I put Joe in the corner next to the carpiest snags you’ve ever seen, placed his baits perfectly with a pole and spoon, and I went a bit further up, fishing into the open water. Between us we had it covered. We kept our eyes peeled for shows, and one jumped between the two of us. Before I could tie up a solid PVA bag, Joe had put a rig on it. Good angling!

I started the night off there, and saw quite a few fish showing in the open water. However, I was biteless at first light, so I moved down into a quiet snaggy corner to see if I could nick one. It was quiet for Joe too, but Oli, on the other hand, had done some midnight manoeuvres. He flicked his rods out once the filming was done, and he banked two lovely park lake commons just before first light.

Despite not catching one myself, I wasn’t disappointed. It doesn’t always go to plan, and to be fair, it would have been greedy to expect to catch from all four park lakes. It was about more than just catching. Joe had his eyes opened to the wealth of angling opportunities under our noses, with some solid tactics to help him catch. CW

Tyler Lowe-Fowler