When it comes to providing fishing for those who need it most, public and urban waters can be priceless. Dominic Garnett went to Liverpool’s Sefton Park Lake to meet those making a difference on Merseyside, with support from the Angling Trust administered Angling Improvement Fund (AIF).
If I was to tell you about a fantastic carp water that was scenic, friendly and completely free to fish, perhaps the last place you’d expect me to take you would be the bustle of Liverpool. Here at Sefton Park, however, is not just a great fishing lake, but a location where angling meets the wider community as a force for good.
What makes the location so special? Well, you could start with the lake and its current revival. It is as clean and well-stocked as it ever has been. Stacks of carp to over thirty pounds and even the odd escaped exotic giant are the stuff of local legend! The fact that it’s open to anyone with an EA Rod Licence (once you’re registered with a free council permit) is also very welcome. Above all, though, it is the anglers here that truly show the value urban lakes have to our communities.
Care and carping: The Community Fishing Project is born
Walking around the cluttered, colourful streets of Sefton, Liverpool (above), you might never guess you were just a short walk from a great day’s fishing. Here at Sefton Day Centre, I meet Garry Lawler, who helps keep this busy place thriving with dozens of community projects, shops and events going on at this former Victorian police station (it even has what were once old prison cells!). It’s also a vital community hub for the most vulnerable in the area, from those with physical and learning difficulties to families in poverty.
Always looking for ways to engage and help, Garry and local angler Aaron Temple set up the Community Fishing Project in 2016, following dialogue with the Angling Trust and colleague Steve Filby. Showing the great positive value fishing could have locally, Environment Agency rod licence money via the AIF (Angling Improvement Fund) was used to help get together a base with fishing essentials for service users.
The project’s fishing room (above) has all the basics you might need to get started, from seatboxes to poles and bags of bait. Locals can borrow kit for free and with the park so close fishing is within reach of all ages and abilities. This includes those with conditions such as brain injuries and severe disabilities, who wouldn’t be able to access more remote or inaccessible fisheried. Indeed, the project has worked with the approval of organisations such as the British Disabled Angling Association and Liverpool City Council.
“It has been a big help to those on low incomes, not to mention less able service users” says Garry, who himself caught his first ever fish at Sefton Lake back in the 1960s. “We can provide them with all the basics to get fishing and they can even take a bike with a rack on it to carry the gear.”
Meet Sefton Park Lake’s Carp Crew…
The fishing game has changed a lot since Garry first used to fish here, when he would collect pigeon quills to use as floats and bring bread to catch the silver fish. As we make our way along the path, I’m told the lake still has some nice roach and tench in it these days, but it’s the carp that are main draw.
Carp anglers don’t come much keener than the project’s Team Leader, Aaron Temple, who has been key in getting locals fishing with the project. Here today with other locals, he’s seen for himself how the place has changed for the better over recent years.
“It used to be pretty grim” he says. “The whole place was full of bikes and prams! Nowadays it’s so much better. It’s really friendly too, as you’ll see. Because there’s quite a close a community of anglers here, we can keep an eye on the lake.” With the power and pace of social media, things are quickly passed on, whether it’s a new lake record, or any reminders about rules or respect. As a result, both the local wildlife and the fish are in great condition.
Talking of the stock, the angling gods must be smiling on us, because local carp angling convert James has just caught a beautiful mid-double as we arrive. The fish is so golden and healthy, you could easily think it came from the edge of a country estate rather than a council estate!
James, the captor (below), is understandably delighted, but for him the project and local fishing have been about much more than just catching carp. As an epileptic who suffered back damage as a child, the activity has been life changing. “I find it a massive help” he says. “It calms me down, for sure, and helps me get a break from day to day life and stress.”
Thanks to the project, he is now a regular at the lake. “I can’t fish alone, so it’s perfect here. I’m always in good company,” he tells me. “Without fishing I’d be stuck at home watching Corrie!” Looking at the stunning carp there on his unhooking mat, there are no prizes for guessing where he’d rather be!
Fishing tales from the city
So what other surprises are lurking here in Liverpool’s park waters? The lake once had pike, but nobody has seen one for a while. A few years back, the council also restocked with roach, which have bred successfully and fall to smaller baits (I manage two lovely ones on caster). Alongside the tench, odd bream and a good stock of smaller carp, they provide great float and feeder fishing. Just opposite at the carpark end, another golden carp is landed as we have a stroll. This time it’s a fine common
In fact, walking around the park, everyone has a favourite spot and a story or two. It’s incredibly welcoming here, and Arron and Garry are quick to point out the gap between the clichés of life in the city and the reality of what is now a safe place of surprising peace and beauty.
“Liverpool is a city of parks” says Garry. “To many people, they were the jewels in the crown of what was once a really industrial place.” As an angler who loves urban fishing myself, I can see exactly why fisheries like Sefton matter so much. Angling here is public. It’s a shared experience that starts a hundred conversations; and that’s just on one Sunday afternoon.
A crazy number of people must have taken up fishing in these urban lakes, that much is obvious. Outside of events like the big game fairs, I have never seen so many folks stop and chat about fishing. In fact, if we could invest further and clone this scenario in every city in England, I believe we could transform the sport!
The fact that there are fish of all sizes helps here too, for sure. When I have a dabble later in the afternoon, there are carp from ounces to low doubles willing to play- and anything from bolt rigs to pole and feeder will work- although I’d advise not fishing too light.
“All kinds of people approach us” says Aaron. “People like chatting to us and so often when they see a fish caught, they want to try as well, from kids and complete beginners to oldies who haven’t fished in years!”
As for the carp stock of the lakes, it seems there is something for everyone, from tiddlers to monsters. “We set the kids up to catch the small ones, but it’s not unusual to catch a real net-filler on the same gear. It’s definitely a good “doubles” water.”
When you’re onto a good thing, of course, a lot of anglers want to keep it quiet. Not Aaron! He sees fishing as something to be shared. It has certainly been a good influence on his own life and he can see how it also helps local kids from the surrounding estates.
“If they weren’t here fishing, a lot of them would be up to no good” he says. “The environment here is positive for everyone. If your home life is tough, or the people around you are effing and blinding, you get stressed. But if you’re around a group of people who always say hello to you every time you’re here and ask if you’ve caught anything, you react differently. Something rubs off!”
Last casts and future hopes
As things stand, the future is still in balance. Good things are happening here, but our team are not finished yet. “It’s great to see the health and social value of fishing recognised in the area and the difference made” says Garry. “The challenge now is to maintain it and keep the support there.”
This can be a test in the current era of tight budgets, but there are several plans afoot and factors that should help. The organisation of fund raisers, for one thing, is useful and the first fishing matches in some 30 years have been a big hit on Sefton Park Lake.
Another great asset would be the establishment of a supply base by the actual lake, Aaron tells me. His good relations with the council parks staff and boating enthusiasts should help, and the idea is to have equipment in a small sealed unit so that families and individuals can simply turn up at the park and fish.
On a beautiful afternoon in Liverpool, there’s every reason to feel optimistic about the future. I’m already keen to put the project in touch with one or two Angling Trust staff in the participation team to see if we can help with further support and practical advice, because the positive impact of fishing here is patently obvious. If ever there was a perfect example of the value of city and parkland fisheries in getting people angling, this is it.
Fishing on Liverpool’s park lakes is free to EA licence holders, provided you get a permit and rules list from Liverpool City Council. See liverpool.gov.uk/leisure-parks-and-events/angling/
Recent catches and fishing news from Sefton Park: For local tips, cracking catches and more, see Aaron Temple’s Facebook Page “X-Stream Fishing”.
The Angling Improvement Fund: Administered by the Angling Trust, the AIF makes excellent use of Environment Agency Rod Licence funds by supporting worthwhile projects that benefit fishing and communities right across the country. For further details and guidelines on how to apply for the next round of funding, CLICK HERE.
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