Former world champion angler Ian Heaps reflects on his time fishing at the River Quoile in Downpatrick
Downpatrick coarse anglers look forward to a good season on the River Quoile. As we are now coming out of the Covid endemic, local coarse anglers are looking forward to enjoying days of good fishing on the river Quoile which runs past Downpatrick into Strangford Lough writes Jim Masson.
In speaking to some of the more elderly anglers, many have memories of world champion match angler Ian Heaps fishing on the River Quoile at the Killyleagh bridge near Downpatrick. Ian, a prolific winner of match competitions, gained a huge reputation and became a leading ambassador for the sport of match and coarse angling.
Down News tracked down Ian Heaps at his home in Pembrokeshire in Wales and spoke to him about the Quoile fishery. He said: “Back in 1975, I won the world title on my England debut – it was on the Bydgoszcs Canal in Poland.
“I progressed to be an angling consultant for the Irish Tourist Board and wrote for many of the angling magazines, and during the Benson and Hedges match competition in 1976 on the River Erne, I met anglers from Downpatrick. They were a very pleasant bunch of lads. On the Erne I won Benson and Hedges international event with 166lbs 11.1/2oz of roach.
“I remember clearly my times at the River Quoile. It was a really good rudd fishery back then and could not wait to get fishing there. Roger Chillingworth and his friends from Downpatrick invited me to come and fish the River Quoile which I did. Fishing there was brilliant and I came back several times. I later started working too for the NI Tourist Board doing consultancy work for them.
“I can remember clearly setting up at the Killyleagh bridge in Downpatrick with the water running slowly from left to right. It looked a fantastic river full of promise. I did not know what to expect. I fished with a stick float for 20 minutes without a bite but did see plenty of fish activity on the surface downstream.
“It did mean I had to trot a long way down stream to get my first bite but they were soon very obliging.
“I put in cloudy groundbait and some casters and had my first bite. Rudd are mainly a surface feeder. The fish came in steady then and came in closer, eventually to within a rod’s length. I was soon taking out rudd out each cast but you just wouldn’t know what you would catch next such was the mystic of it all.
“I have a strong feeling that I even caught a single tench that day. It was certainly a beautiful and an exciting place to fish. Even after all these years I think it’s a fishery with huge potential if managed properly.
“There was no doubt that this is still a very important rudd and coarse fishery today and could be the basis to stimulate interest in the sport of angling further and provide support to local tourism and businesses. It might be possible given good marketing to attract clubs from England for visits and matches. Angling tourism is big business.”
Ian Heaps (89) is now semi-retired and spends his time at his fishery at Holgan Farm in Pembrokeshire in Wales. He said his area in South -West Wales is a very exciting place for anglers as it is flanked by the Irish Sea providing great fishing for sea bass and tope, and there is salmon and sea trout fishing too on his local river where he owns a game angling beat adjacacent to his coarse fishery.
But Ian’s great joy is coarse angling and he hosts visitors and coaches anglers at his three large ponds that hold common carp up to 20lbs+ and crucian carp from 2-3 lbs, and a range of coarse species. He provides B&B, chalets, and an angling shop with bait and equipment hire and other facilities.
The River Quoile is mainly a coarse angling venue, with a decent head of rudd and some roach, hybrids, perch, pike and eels. Occasionally the odd sea trout can be seen too splashing on the calm surface of this slow moving river that flows into Strangford Lough.
Mark Murphy, a Downpatrick businessman, said: “Many of the local anglers really were interested in fishing for pike, and some travel as far as Cavan and Monaghan or Fermanagh to enjoy a good days’ fishing. Sadly, a damaged flood gate allowed seals to enter the Quoile Pondage and they basically decimated the once healthy pike population.
“It will take a few years for it to come back again. Pike are predators and help maintain a healthy fish stock by eating the sick and injured fish. Pike of 30lbs+ have been recorded in the Quoile in years gone by, but it is unlikely we will see any of that size for some time until the fishery naturally rebalances itself.
“Many of the local anglers are interested in forming a new club and the wheels are now being set in motion.
“We have taken a first step and asked the Council to assist in the set up, and have approached the Downpatrick DEA forum.
“Covid and lockdown has impacted on angling as with other sports and we are excited about having a few competitions to gee things up and get back to normal. We want to work with all the agencies in a cooperative manner and get the best for the Quoile fishery and Downpatrick.”
Alan Keown, who fishes the River Quoile each week, weather permitting, said: “There is still a good head of rudd in the Quoile. I catch rudd on a regular basis, even through the winter, and just love spending a few hours there. It is such a beautiful and peaceful setting.
“I use the fishing pole mainly now as it can help drop the bait on a targeted area that has been ground-baited and increases the catch rate.
“The fishery profile has changed a bit, as there is now a lot more rudd-roach hybrids in the river, but it is an exciting place to fish. There isn’t a bream population just now in the Quoile, but introducing such a species is something DAERA Inland Fisheries would have to evaluate how it would impact on the fishery as a whole. But basically we should just accept the Quoile for what it provides – if we want monster pike or keepnets full of bream and roach, the Bann or Erne river systems are great.
“Local angling and the River Quoile could certainly benefit from a new angling club which could work with local agencies to help promote angling and support recreation and businesses in Downpatrick. It could be a win-win situation. It is a great way for youngsters to pass the time and for families to take time out.”
Trevor Love, another keen local angler, said: “It will be a great opportunity to get Downpatrick’s River Quoile back on the map again. Angling can increase footfall to Downpatrick by stimulating visitors and tourism, and generally increasing the opportunities in recreation and sport.
“Not so long ago the Quoile was one of Ireland’s top coarse angling venues and had a fantastic stock of rudd. Today the Quoile still has a good stock of rudd and of silver fish for us to enjoy, but we miss the pike fishing there.
“Upland pollution from farming fertilisers, possible seepages from the old Inch dump and local pollution through the drainage system have combined with natural events such as algal blooms to impact on water quality and fish stocks. But many rivers and lakes face similar problems across the country. As responsible anglers we are always keen to report any pollution or even illegal fishing incidents.
“Angling is a very popular recreational sport and it can go a long way to providing a platform for good relations and to promote good mental health and wellbeing. We are keen to see a new club form so we can see the Quoile fishery thrive once again.”