Plundering park lakes – at Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park

I’M REALLY enjoying today!” said James Robbins with a large grin. “It’s like being a kid again,” he added, slipping a plump, waggler-caught Cannon Hill Park roach into the folds of his landing net. Having first fished the venue as a sprightly teenager, the session served as an evocative trip down memory lane.
Remaining largely unchanged over so many years, one constant to delight the Warwickbased Shakespeare Brand Manager was the excellent fishing on offer, despite conditions being close to freezing. “This place was always a great water to fish,” James continued. I used to come down here on my bike after school and would regularly catch double-figure nets of silverfish.”
For James, and anglers of a similar disposition, naturally-stocked park lakes and municipal ponds, offer the ultimate in bran tub angling as well as often being free to fish. Cannon Hill Park Lake and grounds were landscaped in the late 1800s. Having never been officially stocked, the resident fish have all entered the lake under mysterious circumstances. A fine example of the old adage that ‘nature always finds a way’.

As such you are never 100 per cent sure what will be on the end when your float goes under. “We have all heard the stories regarding park lakes. Tall tales of monstrous pike that, over the years, have eaten ducks, dogs and even the odd errant child,” James said with his trademark chuckle. “Of course this is nonsense, but you never truly know what specimens are lurking in these waters. There have been quite a number of 20lb-plus carp plus a few very big eels caught in the past. I find that very pleasing and thoroughly enjoyable because it really does make them one of the best kept secrets in angling.” Another plus point of park lakes is that being heavily silted there’s a huge amount
of natural food on offer. Add to this the neglect factor, something many fish thrive on, and it doesn’t take the intellect of Stephen Hawking to deduce these venues could be good for some quality sport.



The final reason why James enjoys fishing park lakes is that they were originally created for the pleasure of the local population in their leisure time. As such, they are often beautifully landscaped, wonderful paces to spend a little time. They often have great facilities such as free parking, on-site cafés and toilets, something that not all commercial fisheries can boast. The waggler approach If they have one downside, park lakes are often shallow. They are therefore quickly affected by prevailing weather conditions. The water will be quick to warm but just as quick to cool. This can make fishing a little difficult early season but, as James points out, if you lower your expectations accordingly, aiming for double-figure nets rather than 100lb-plus, you will still enjoy a very pleasant day’s sport.
When the water is cold and clear, James will avoid fishing the pole. Not only will fish not settle beneath it, he finds that you can sometimes actually be too accurate with the loosefeed. “I know this might sound daft,” said the
41-year-old match ace. “Often in cold water accurate feeding can make or break a session, but on places like this, I find that spreading the loosefeed a little will pay dividends and result in more fish. “I much prefer to use a small, short waggler in shallow water because catapulted loosefeed will spread over a couple of metres.” Experience has shown James that feeding in this way enables the fish to graze. Plus, when he does hit into a fish he isn’t pulling it through a tightly-packed shoal and risking spooking them.

For his float set-up, James used an 11ft Shakespeare pellet waggler rod. Although this sounds monstrously heavy when silverfish are the target, James reckons this model is very forgiving, making it a versatile all-round tool. His 0.16mm (5lb 2oz) mainline was attached to a 12-inch 0.08mm (1lb 9oz) hooklink down to a size 20 Drennan hook.
To complement this light set-up, James used a fine 2AAA insert waggler, essential for showing the shy bites that roach and small skimmers give. The rig was fished eight inches overdepth, with no shot on the hooklink, enabling the hookbait to fall naturally through the water because although the fish on these waters may not see many anglers, they are not stupid.

To further aid presentation, he only places three No10 shot down the line. The feeder approach As an alternative, and to entice a few early bites as well as putting down a bed of bait, James fished a small cage feeder on the same line as the waggler. By combining the two tactics on one line, he was able to offer the fish a slightly different presentation if the day proved tough and a change was required. Using a simple free-running cage feeder set-up, the payload is a mixture of Sensas Lake and good old brown crumb. “The use of Sensas Lake speaks for itself,” he says. “I add the brown crumb for a number of reasons. As well as being a cheap bulking agent, it helps the Lake to breakdown quickly in the swim, creating a much finer carpet of loosefeed.” The other reason James added the brown crumb is that it perfectly complements the mountains of unintended loosefeed that is hurled into the lake by visitors to the park on a daily basis – bread! One thing park lakes are not short of is duck feeders. This means over a year, literally thousands of chunks of sliced bread fall to the deck, where the fish are able to enjoy a free feast. Adding this flavouring to the groundbait offers the fish something they can immediately latch on to as a food signal. If the water is very clear and the fish are reluctant to sit over a light bed of crumb, James will add either a handful or two of Canal Black groundbait or some black bait dye to darken the mix. To help hold the fish, a handful of both pinkies and casters is added and mixed in thoroughly. This gives him the option of using a hookbait other than single or double maggot. Getting things going Kicking the session off on the feeder, James kept the feed going in regularly, casting about 25 yards every five minutes into 4ft of water, a depth quite typical of municipal waters. With a tiny 15g cage feeder, there was no risk of overfeeding the fish.

After 30 minutes he started to get a few indications and line bites, prompting him to start spraying a few maggots over the top. Having caught a few plump roach and the odd hand-sized skimmer, James felt it was time to give the float a go to see if he could get bites quicker by fishing about eight inches overdepth to combat the strong tow on the day. And so it went. Once he moved over to the waggler, his catch rate doubled. He was into a rich vein of silverfish, pulling out roach after roach as well as couple of perch, one close to the 1lb mark. Just a few hours later he had put more than 20lb of mixed silverfish in the keepnet. A great result from a real hidden gem of a water. “It’s a shame people ignore these places. They don’t realise what they are missing out on,” assured James. “That said, it means there’s more fish for me to target!”

Cannon Hill Park in Moseley (Sat Nav: B13 8RD), which covers 200 acres and is the most popular park in Birmingham, was designed by TJ Gibson who also designed London’s Battersea Park. Fishing on the main lake is free during the open season.

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