Downpatrick angler Liam Quinn chats to Down News about his time angling on the River Quoile around Downpatrick from when he was a child.
Liam Quinn (35) has been angling in the river Quoile since he was five years old and knows a thing or two about catching specimen coarse fish.
Liam said: “I first went angling with an uncle when I was five and haven’t stopped since. It’s my passion.
“You can’t beat a lovely day in the summer down by the Quoile. It is a beautiful environment and around the pondage area there is an abundance of wildlife which just adds to the whole experience.”
As I talked to Liam, he spotted a small grebe feeding just a short distance away diving for its dinner just down from the old tidal barrier.
He said: “It’s a pity that less young people now are taking up angling. I always found it great craic. I fished a lot with my brother Chris and we’d be out from dawn to dusk. We’d never be home. And we’d be out next day again often before sunrise. Looking back, I wonder if we ever slept at all!
“Back in the early days there seemed to be more perch around. You caught them on the worm mostly, but they did take the maggots too when we used to fish for rudd and roach. I have caught some lovely perch here… over three pounds in weight.
“My brother Chris actually enjoys fishing for them with a small size 0 Mepp spinner. They are predatory fish. The bigger ones tend to be loners. They respond to small lures well. Especially around tree roots and structures in the water.
“But I enjoy fishing for rudd mostly and this entails a bit of ground baiting on a selected spot and fishing over it with a small float. Reading the bites on your float is an art in itself as you get knocks from fish on the line. There could a hundred fish swarming around in a tight area, but after a while you get to know when to set the hooks when the float dips in a certain way.
‘Coarse fish such as rudd, roach, perch, hybrids, pike, eels are basically inedible – not like game fish which we return to the river if we catch them – so we just put them into a keep net when we catch them. On a good day now I could catch up to 30lbs of fish easy and I’ve filled the keepnet on a number of occasions back in the old days. This prevents them going back into the shoal and spooking it.”
Liam said that there were still some specimen rudd on the River Quoile. “I’ve caught loads of around two and a half pound. They are magnificent red coloured fish. They are unmistakeable from the paler hybrids and road that also pop up in the Quoile.
“I like float fishing as rudd tend to be surface feeders but I know one angler who regularly fishes the Quoile and uses a swim feeder off the bottom – that is a small container stuffed with ground bait and maggots and maybe even sweetcorn. He fishes off the bottom and seems to be doing quite well. He targets spots on the river and builds up a swim where the fish feed. Everyone has their favourite method.
“One day years ago I hooked what could have been the heaviest specimen rudd in Ireland at the time. I reckon it was around probably over four pounds in weight – well, I didn’t land it anyway as I had very light line on and it snapped me off. But it was clearly a very big rudd… it was the one that got away!” Liam mused. “The Irish record for a rudd is now 4lbs 8oz. I would have been close.”
“A lot of anglers fish out towards the middle of the river when in fact the fish often tend to be feeding nearer the edges under trees and in the margins. I always found the fish were never too far out.”
Liam reminisced over his biggest pike catch. “My best pike on the Quoile was a just below Inch Abbey. It was 27.5 lbs. I caught it on a mackerel tail while I was deadbaiting. It was quite a monster and took me some time to land it.”
But sadly, Liam noted that angling on the Quoile Pondage had declined considerably in recent years. “There may be a number of reasons for this apart from just angling pressure. I can remember when I was young that you had to get down here early to get a good fishing spot as there were so many anglers fishing here.
“Angling has changed probably due to the effects of pollution from the upriver farmlands, issues around water water quality and sewage, and the river itself has a very slow movement making summer blooms an occasional problem affecting the fish stocks.
“When you think of it, those hordes of anglers were actually feeding the coarse fishery with ground bait etc and now these anglers are virtually gone. So the fish stocks have had to adjust accordingly.
“I know a seal managed to get into the lower pondage area through a hole in the tidal barrier and it cleaned out the good head of pike that existed in the river.
“I understand this has been repaired and the seal(s) are now on the other side of the tidal barrier. So hopefully, over the next few years the overall fish stock will improve again.”
But there was one point that Liam wanted to get off his chest. “When I’m out and about at the Quoile, I lift up the many rubbish and plastic bags that other people throw away. These are a danger to our wildlife and we all know the story of plastic in the environment. People need to get a life and take their rubbish home with them.
“There is huge potential in the Quoile Pondage area. It is a fantastic nature reserve, and a great place to go for a dander close to nature with or without the children. There are otters about occasionally and even the occasional red deer. The other day there were 25 cars on just one of the car parks alone which suggests in these Covid-19 times people are using the pondage area for the daily walks which is great.
“This river has the potential to attract tourists and visiting anglers too, and if the different agencies all worked together it could be a Mecca just on the outskirts of Downpatrick, a great asset to the district.
“I also fish in a number of very small bogs around the area. There are a challenge and tend to hold often good heads of rudd. My brother Chris caught a seven pound pike in one a short time ago. This was an unexpected bonus.
“Also, I’ve fished in the Ballydugan Lake a few times near Downpatrick. The fishing rights are owned by the Belfast Anglers and you can get a day ticket from The Lakeside Inn, but you will need a game permit. There are some excellent pike in there.”
Liam said the entry level for angling equipment is not all that expensive and a float rod with an adaptable tip for ground feeder fishing, a small fixed spool reel with light line and a few floats and accessories and a keep net with a small landing net can be got for just over £30.
“It’s a great way for youngsters to pass the time. Maybe coming up to Christmas parents could interest their youngsters in the sport of angling. I’ve had great fun with it over the years.
“The season has passed its best now but there are still a few fish to be caught. I’m looking forward to next season and getting the fishing rod out once more with a pint of maggots and some ground bait and spending a good few days in this wee bit of heaven just on the edge of Downpatrick.”