Saturday, 31 March 2018

2018 Fish Releases


We are always buzzing at this time of year with a sense of achievement, satisfaction and relief at moving the tiddlers from tanks to stews and making our three annual deposits of three year olds into the river; an annual high dissolved only by the gathering sense of foreboding at the thought of placing the spawning boards out in the river with fingers crossed that Mother Nature doesn’t bowl us another one of her surprise googley swerve-balls.

That said, as the years pass and we continue to hone our skills at this ‘ere Roach Project malarkey we do manage to dovetail more effectively into the annual sequence of duties and events… Well, we like to think so. 
We also try to find interesting slants on telling the same annual story, as it is, after all, always a variation on the same theme; and it has to be said, sometimes with very little variation, leaving us with the usual imponderables of how much we might get away with bitching about the mud and the mozzies (some the size of pigs – Honest!), the numb fingers and toes, and just how much less chocolaty Bourbons are nowadays….
Well, this year we have been gifted with elements that are, collectively, off the scale… I know you might think you’ve heard it all before… well, you have, but not all happening in the same year.
It all started with the moving of the tiddlers from the tanks to the stews in February and it being the best year in the projects’ history. Immediately after this there was a flurry of activity and probably the dullest element of the whole project which is getting the tanks scrubbed clean and filled ready for the next lot of spawn which is usually delivered in late April. Then a short break before the annual releases of the three year olds into the river, which we always schedule for the third week in March (first week of the fishing closed season), and which was predicted to be a below average number… Or so we thought… (… Oh, blimey; I hope that hasn’t given the game away, and revealed the surprise I have in store for the end of this report regarding the fantastic number of roach we stocked this year…)
Everything was going along just nicely until March arrived bringing with it the Beastie from the Eastie which dumped a ton of snow all over us – only the second proper covering we’d known in the project’s history. Then to fuel the gathering frequency of our tutting and woeful sighs the temperature dropped to minus goodness knows what and added four inches of ice to the four inches of snow on the tanks – fortunately we only had fish in two of them; not that that diminishes the level of worry here at Project HQ… We can have sleepless nights over the rate the grass is growing…
Within a week we were revering our little roach for all surviving as a thaw set in and promised to return the rate of the approaching spring to normal. Then the Beastie sent her spiteful daughter to dump another ton of snow all over us just as the time was approaching to release the three year olds, and just when the last thing we needed was yet another spanner being hurled into the works.
We like to do the three releases over three days, thus allowing a more casual execution of duties, and time to natter and mingle with the folks who come along to see the fish going into the river. However, the forecast of wind-chill factors of -8C for the first day sent even us ruffty-tuffty roachers running for the nearest wood-burner…
Day two, and the rocketing temperatures (way up into low single figures) saw the snow melting and us back out there as the river was cold but in good form to receive the roach.
The EA guys, Jim Allan, Phil Rudd and Stuart Kingston-Turner were once again on hand to help, bringing an element of expertise which relieves some of the inevitable pressure, and we forewarned them not to expect too much in terms of fish numbers.
Then, we ate our words (garnished, basted, marinated and perfectly seasoned) as over the two days of 20th and 21st March we stocked the second largest number or roach into the Hampshire Avon in the project’s history… Reason? – Well, we can get a little self-critical or over-expectant (if any of that makes sense), but what had also happened is as the stews we were netting were on their second three yearly cycle (with one fallow year in between), the few dozen roach that had evaded capture the first time around had spawned each year in the stews, and being the protected environment it is, with the biggest threat they face being each other, a good number of offspring had survived, adding to the haul.
So, not only does this show what a load of old tosh our claims of developing this sixth sense of ‘fish-farmer’s eye’ is (just kidding), it also shows just how adaptable our roach are if given half a chance which, of course, is what we are trying to do.
Now, do you see what we have to endure?... Didn’t think so!
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.
As usual, thanks to everyone who helped, thanks to all you guys for your continued support and thanks to everyone who came along at the release sites to share the moment with us and take the wonderful pictures.

We were riding high off the back of the best ever year of one year olds in the tanks at Project HQ, and had no idea what lay just around the corner…

Swarms of one year olds would balance what we thought was going to be a below average stocking into the river…      For every yin there’s a yang, and all that jazz…

Then the Beast from the East paid a visit and delivered us a couple of tonnes of snow and ice to be getting on with.

Being ruffty-tuffty brave little soldiers we got stuck in as soon as the snow started thawing but, I must admit, the first day was pretty uncomfortable (something else we can add to our already very long list of things we can bitch about)…

We were soon into the swing of things, despite the cold. The job has to be done so we just roll our sleeves up and get on with it (we always make Jim get the wettest though). We had no idea what was about to be revealed with the first run round of the net.

A close-up of just a section of the wonderful first haul of roach. We were amazed, and instantly started eating our words behind broadening smiles.

We filled the barrels full of roach and from one stew we had the fish struggling for space, so quickly ran them over to the oxygenated transportation tank in the truck.
What a wonderful problem to have – too many Avon Roach for the size and number of barrels we had…

A second sweep of the net and fewer roach gave us the opportunity to indulge ourselves slightly as we like to each year – well, wouldn’t you???

Myself, Jim and Phil, cold but very happy, and absolutely blown away at the number of roach. We were like excited children… Just look at those smiling faces.
These EA guys really do bring another dimension to this project. They make it all so much easier.

Down at the river and the first deposit of 2018 was in Ringwood, so will join the others we have stocked over the years, and through both adult migration and disbursement and natural larval drift from their annual spawnings they will add still further to the already noticeable regeneration from Lifelands down through Ringwood and Severals and beyond.

It doesn’t get much better that this, does it?... We smile every time we remember that this beauty started as a dot stuck to a piece of netting we banged to a plank and chucked in the river years ago. She has remained in our care all this time and is now giving us the indescribable pleasure of seeing her swim strongly away to freedom in the Hampshire Avon where she belongs.

And away she goes. What a lovely moment.

Next day and we were back at our stews at Bickton for day two. The shear numbers continued to amaze us, as did the size and unquestionable health of them all. From the tiddlers to the whoppers; all plump, vibrant, gleaming bars of silver. The one Stuart is holding here looks like she’s really packing it on ready for spawning.

Down at the river again, but this time above Fordingbridge and just below one of our spawn collection locations. These fish joined the others we have released in the section between Bickton, through Fordingbridge and up to East Mills over the years. Again, adult migration and, very importantly, larval drift will ensure good distribution and further regeneration.

We try to take as many pictures as we can to capture as much of this amazing experience as possible, which means we also get the best of it each year and enjoy the amazing privileges such close contact allows us.

The moment of freedom… Words can’t describe the amazing feeling we get.

We take a gazillion pictures over the few days and occasionally get really lucky when the camera shutter opens at just the right time and in the right light.

Sometimes when the light and angle and everything is good, we get a sequence of pictures that just tell the story all by themselves.

Not that I’ll ever let that happen…

…No matter how well these amazing moments are captured.

Sometimes (unfortunately, very rarely), the camera is in the right place at exactly the right time, and it’s these shots it is most difficult to get (apart from the ones of the roach actually spawning), as we are in effect against the clock. We need to get the roach out of the barrels and into the river as quickly and smoothly as we can.

Close-ups and posing done, we then empty the bulk of the fish straight into the river from the barrels – but always with a camera pointing down the throat of the barrel.

The location we chose here has a slack all along the inside line below us, so regardless of where the fish end up from the barrel, they will find it without trouble.
We are always very particular about our release points.

Then it was back to Bickton for the netting of the third and final stew, and the roach just kept coming.
Jim here is holding two of the Houdini roach that evaded netting the first time around which have added to the amazing number we have seen this year – which just goes to show how adaptable they are and will do what we want them to do if we give them a chance. 

So, off to the river we went again, and this time it was way down south at Winkton.
We were saying as we decanted the roach into the barrels from the transportation tank in the truck for release (which we did in two batches, given the extraordinary number) that, had we known the number of roach we were going to be stocking this year, we could quite justifiably have distributed them over five and not three locations.

Budgie and me, and some of our babies… Two of the proudest boys in the entire valley at the moment. We still have to pinch ourselves sometimes…

First netful go in for the camera.

Very shortly after, the first barrels are emptied and countless numbers of lovely adult Avon roach swim free – thanks to us and you lot for supporting our crazy notion.

Light just right again and a camera pointing up the throat of the last barrel of 2018.
Job done – what a year…

We are always delighted when folks come along to share the release moments with us as they are always so special (the releases and the people) – and we were joined at Winkton by forever and ever Avon Roach Project supporter and bloody good bloke, Hallam Mills… We didn’t get him too wet.








Thursday, 1 February 2018

Early 2018 Health Check, Maintenance and Fish Movement

I must apologise for the unusually long time between the last and this blog post… I’m sure you are all used to the inconsistencies of reporting this project, so I want to keep it within what you are familiar with, which starts with an apology for nothing, then lots of squeaky words describing the unhealthy number of images you are looking at…
I must admit to being distracted by the vacuum of Facebook which has been sucking up fairly regular bite-sized updates on the ARP FB page, but thought I’d blend them all together and give an update here on recent events as spring hurtles towards us.
Late autumn and early winter see the usual maintenance jobs being dealt with as we wrestle our Bickton site back from Mother Nature; starting with the clearance of our feeder stream that had been stifled by rush and sedge growth which was impeding the flow of our water.
Dickie Howell came along and helped for the afternoon and soon we had all our allocated water getting to where it is needed – feeding our stews. Bloody hard work, but with plenty of tea and biscuits and nattering, the job is soon done.
Shortly after, it was the turn of the lake, and over three afternoons with help from Steve Percival and Chris Harrison, the willows were taken back to the stumps and the rush beds cleared. The lake is, after all, a part of the fish farm set-up so needs to be as clear as we can keep it for when we net it.
The lead-up to Christmas and New Year is always at a different pace than the second day and thereafter of January as time starts passing at an alarming rate when minutes go by in seconds and suddenly there seems so much to do and no time.
It was intended to get an early start and ahead of the game by having this years’ health checks done in December which unfortunately had to be postponed as Shaun Leonard, the man doing the checks came down with suspected Weil’s Disease and was wiped out.
Fortunately, he recovered nicely and the fish were netted from one of the stews and delivered to him in early January. The netting and delivery of the thirty poor unfortunates was once again done by the EA guys, Jim Allan and Phil Rudd. And, the good news is they passed the health check, so that clears us for this years’ annual ‘Roach Dump’ into the Avon which will take place in late March, as usual in three different locations along the river.
Then as January fizzles out it’s time to evacuate the tanks at Project HQ and decant the roach into the stews at Bickton, apart from the one tank of one year olds we split between two long tanks to spend an additional year here. It’s all about spreading and hopefully reducing the risk element.
This is when Project HQ (my lovely garden with its putting green lawns) turns into the Somme. There is mud, pipes, pumps, mud, buckets, mud, fish poo, mud, mud and mud everywhere… Seems all I have is one whopping great water feature/swamp.
On a very serious note, and just before I let the pictures tell the rest of the story (like you haven’t scrolled down to here in the past two seconds)… This project has been going for a decade now and in all that time there have always been varying levels of success in terms of egg survival, hatch rate, growth and numbers making it to one year old, and we have agonised about the possible reasons, like health of adult spawners, pre-spawning winter conditions, early spring warmth, then summer conditions, food availability…. ZZZzzzz!!!!... Yeah, I know…, but have never been able to pinpoint what makes a good or bad year – Well, it’s happened again… This year is set to be the best in the project’s history… And I have absolutely no idea why… But I love it!... I’m sure I’ll find some boffinism when I write it all up in the book though…
Now to the pictures… Hope you like.
A clear stream means all our water gets to the stews, where it is needed. It’s amazing how quickly Mother Nature plugs it with rush growth. It’s hard, muddy work, but essential and easier with help and tea and biscuits.
Mother Nature also gets a good grip on the lake each year, with sprouting willows and marginal rush growth which, if left unchallenged, will rapidly march into the lake and quickly reclaim it. Again, hard, muddy and cold work but made much easier with a little help.
The willows we cut down to the waist a few years ago and just prior to the lake being excavated also need an annual haircut as they put out dozens of whippy branches each year which can get up to ten feet long over one spring and summer. They are, of course, covered in leaves which, if not removed before autumn, will be dropped into the lake and rapidly shorten its life and effectiveness.
All this is seasonal work determined by the time of year and each year we cross our fingers for the absence of wasp nests, the occupants of which like to object to the disturbance.
Myself, Steve Percival (right) and Chris Harrison (left) after a hard days lake clearing looking like three life-size green jelly-babies.
What you don’t see in this still shot is the rapid tippy-tapping movement of our feet as we are mid-flow doing the ‘River Dance’… Pretty soon after this was taken we were off, clicking round that lake, in perfect time…
The saddest part of each year is that thirty of our sparkling little roach have to be sent to be chopped up for a health check. It’s unavoidable and all part of the consenting process which enables us to do what we do. After all, the last thing we’d want to do is chuck a load of roach into the Avon with some sort of lurgy…. Oh, the irony…
Although we net the stew fairly casually, just to get enough to select for the health check, we still get an expectant tingle when we draw the net in wondering what we’ll see – even though we all know and have done it a hundred times before.
Jim is slightly less excited as we make him select the fish for execution, as I call out their names.
It is always good to see how vibrant and healthy they all are. We drop them into a barrel for the executioner to make his selections.
It’s also very nice to see how well the few that evaded the netting three years ago have grown on. These will be put into the lake where they’ll play their part in that element of the project.
Then it’s time for my lovely garden to get a trashing… again. Initially it is the movement of the two year olds from the long tanks into the stews to join what we moved last year.
The buckets, pumps, pipes and bubblers are all set up ready, therefore minimising the time the fish are handled and stressed.
A net of sparkling two year old Avon roach. This is the glorious visible side to the project that the general public sees through these reports but, of course, I’ll have not seen these fish for almost a year in the soupy green water of the tank – unless they die. I just have to feed and clean based upon what I remember went in there.
Up at the stews the roach are lowered in to join their cousins from last year. You’d think they’d bomb off as fast as they can but, in fact, they simply mosey off casually.
Back for the start of the one year old evacuation, when the garden really does get a hammering. Ordinarily we try to move the one year olds in two runs to the stews; so a tank and a bit per bucket, with live-bait aeration bubblers going full pelt, but because of the record high number we have this year it is having to be done in four trips.
This is what came to just one sweep of the net in one tank – then they just kept coming. Even at this young age they are unmistakably roach. The orange in the eye is just showing and the blue flank is quite distinctive. Don’t you just love ‘em?
When dropping just the one tank and splitting the contents into the two long tanks for keeping for a further year, I took the time to dabble with our little happy-snap underwater camera that I use to get the spawn pictures and was delighted with the results.
I just kept poking the camera closer to each net of fish and hoped for the best. It’s impossible to gauge the angle and focus and distance accurately. It’s just pot-luck.
Fortunately, they didn’t all shower past the lens the moment the net was lowered into the water.
In a week or so, when the water turns green, that’ll be the last I see of them for a year, unless they die.
This is one of the best of them actually being lowered just under the surface and bombing off to explore their new home… where they might be a bit disappointed.
I couldn’t resist trying to get a few really close-up shots like I manage with the spawn earlier in the year. What a group of perfect Avon Roach – all grown from those tiny little dots I photographed with the same little camera eleven months earlier.
Just look at how absolutely perfect they are. Interestingly, while some are twice the size as their tank-mates, this year we haven’t had as many whoppers and runts and such a dramatic size difference… Something else to ponder.
Reports of folks catching roach throughout the river continue to come through with increasing regularity; some with pictures and wonderful messages of appreciation for the project.
I’ve even managed a few myself…