Notable for being the world’s first public park – it was officially opened in 1847 -and for forming the basis of the design of New York’s famous Central Park, Merseyside’s Birkenhead Park has two lakes: the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake.
The two and a half acre Upper Lake is used for match fishing only, but anyone can fish the larger, three and a half acre Lower Lake. Members of the Association of Wirral Angling Clubs (AWAC) can fish it for free, while non-members can buy season tickets from local tackle shops. Or you can simply start fishing and buy a day-ticket on the bank from the bailiff when he comes by on his rounds.
As with other still waters (and, indeed, canals) in the North-West region of the National Rivers Authority (NRA), fishing is allowed all the year round.
The Lower Lake
Like the Upper Lake, the Lower Lake was formed by digging into the underlying clay. The excavated clay was used to build mounds around the lake. Covered with trees and bushes, these mounds make convenient wind breaks for anglers. The shape of the lake, meanwhile, was designed to create the illusion of a meandering river – it has a large, four-pointed central island, and four main, elongated bays.
There is an ornamental bridge (the Swiss Bridge) across to the island, but because of vandalism it has had to be isolated by a trench and you are not allowed on to the island. However, together with the ornamental Boathouse and the rich variety of planted trees, bushes, shrubs and flowers, the Swiss Bridge greatly enhances the beauty of the lake’s setting.
The lake has two definite advantages from the angler’s point of view. First, there are no boats. Second, the main footpath around it is separated from the bankside by railings, so you don’t have to worry about people treading on your rods or poles, or getting in your way when you are casting.
All in all it is a sheltered, picturesque water – and it’s full of fish. A netting survey in 1987 found that, based on weight, the proportions of fish in the lake are as follows; tench 67%, carp 13%, bream 12%, pike 7% and roach 1%. Tench, then, are by far and away the predominant species, and they average about 2 lb (0.9kg). Roach up to 1lb (0.45kg) or so are the other fish you can expect to catch most often.
Like most park lakes, the Lower Lake is fairly shallow – l-1.2m (3-4ft) on average. This, combined with the fact that it’s predominantly a tench water, tells you it isn’t really a good winter venue. Spring, summer and autumn are the best seasons – though extensive pondweed and duckweed can be a problem in summer.
On many park lakes the best approach is to fish the open water with a waggler. Not so the Lower Lake in Birkenhead Park, according to Barry. Here the roach, skimmers and tench are definitely attracted by certain features. A few minutes’ work with the plummet tells you all.
Around most of the lake the bank is reinforced with wooden stakes and blocks of sandstone. The stone blocks slope away down into the water before meeting the clay bottom about 3-4m (10-13ft) out. The bottom then levels out before rising again at the margins of the island.
The bottom of the nearside slope and the bottom of the island slope are both natural food traps, and are where most of the fish are found. This especially applies to the densely vegetated island, with its overhanging bushes and trees. In a few places the edge of the island is in reach of the long pole or a light waggler, and these are Barry’s first-choice swims.
In most places, however, the island is well out of range of the pole or waggler, so the pegs where the island is in reach are very popular. Assuming you get down to the lake and find all these hot-spots occupied, the next best thing to look for when choosing a swim is a tree or bush overhanging the bottom of the inside slope.
If the worst comes to the worst, and the only swims available have no marginal cover as well as being out of reach of the island, don’t despair – you can still catch, provided you concentrate on the bottom of the inside slope.
A word of warning, however. In a few places – the corners of some of the bays, mainly – the water simply isn’t deep enough to be good for fishing, even at the bottom of the inside slope. If you plumb up and find less than lm (3ft), try elsewhere.
There are other factors that determine what makes a good peg on the lake, according to Barry – factors that might not be so immediately obvious. First, some pegs have uneven or sloping banks, making it difficult or even impossible to level your box. Second, some pegs have branches dangling overhead, making casting a waggler awkward.
Third, some pegs have railings or other obstructions immediately behind them, hindering you when trying to unship a long pole, or even preventing you from doing so. The worst swims have all three hazards!
Best and worst
Taking all the above factors together, the very worst kind of swim to fish on the Lower Lake is one with an obstructed, uneven bank; low tree branches overhead but no bankside tree or bush dangling into the water; less than lm (3ft) of water at the bottom of the inside slope; and the island well out of range of the long pole or waggler.
The best kind of swim, conversely, is: a fiat, even bank with plenty of room behind for manoeuvring your tackle; no overhead obstructions; a bankside bush or tree with its branches trailing into the water; l-1.2m (3-4ft) of water at the bottom of the inside slope; and the island in easy reach of the long pole or waggler. In such a swim, advises Barry, you can feed and fish two lines, resting each in turn.