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…


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Fundraiser Doo 2017

I know I’ve said it a gazillion times before and will undoubtedly do so again – until the cows come home, I hear you say but, just as life, the doings of the Avon Roach Project are a series of highs and lows at varying altitudes, probably slightly more noticeable due to their concentrated frequency and unpredictability – and this years’ annual fundraiser, held on September 30th, was no exception.

The organising and preparation is simply one bloody great big fat headache, but the result is nothing short of an absolutely amazing event oozing with a feel-good atmosphere it is impossible to describe, and a level of boundless generosity and support that is just eye-watering…

That’s pretty much it, really – basically, a bugger to organise, but a great doo in the end. So, I could leave it there and just finish with the usual line of pictures and captions.

However, I’d like to fill in some of the gaps, if I may, and if you have the patience for another outpouring…
This year the lows started almost immediately (freefalling in my head), following the first mailing of invites in June. Almost straight away I began receiving email after email after phone call after phone call telling me - Sorry we are going to miss the doo as we are in Ireland, or Scotland, or Canada, or it’s Dad’s birthday, or I’m at a wedding, or my birthday, or wife’s birthday, or illness (that’s forgiven) and so it went on…

Before I knew it, the attendee list was at minus twenty. It was looking like it was going to be just me and Berol (my imaginary friend – who, incidentally, has never missed a doo).

The attendee list was shrinking like a new fiver in a hot tumble dryer.
I’m sure you all know where this is going, but following an early dry spell, the flood-gates opened and the list grew to the usual healthy room-full. Friends of friends, guests of regulars, brothers, fathers, first-timers all signed up bringing the attendance to a very respectable sixty four. Goodness knows what might happen next year… I don’t know why I worry, or bother to mention it here, as the same tends to happen every year, but you know what we’re like for milking a bit of jeopardy and drama…

The whole thing was once again the most incredible event and an absolute pleasure and honour to be a part of.
The auction table was creaking under the weight of an amazing and diverse array of items, from exclusive fishing days and weekends, wonderful reels, rods, books, pictures and a whole lot more. It is impossible to thank and mention everyone here on this BLOG who donate them, but there were all the very dependable usual’s, which themselves form part of the foundation of the event each year, as well as the unusual’s, which are all very much appreciated and help the project go from strength to strength.

It’s worth mentioning here (I’ve resisted doing so before in an effort to give the benefit of the doubt and to allow a reasonable number of annual opportunities to pass) that most of the main tackle manufacturers are sent a request for an auction lot donation each year and the only one that has never let us down and who sends something every year, without fail, is Peter Drennan. Some, in fact all the others (other than one who has replied twice in the eight years) don’t even bother to reply to the letter.
Isn’t it interesting that a project aimed at improving the health of one of the most iconic rivers in the country, and now influencing and inspiring similar projects or elements of, throughout the country, can’t elicit even the slightest response from the companies who rely entirely on healthy fisheries – except the visionary and generous Peter Drennan.

So, whinge over… back to the story. Once again, the fishing was hard… Not sure if it’s the river conditions or the anglers. Unsurprisingly, this provoked plenty of banter in the room, which seems to get better and better each year. This year, again, the match ended up being won with a roach, but unlike previous years where the fish itself warranted the trophy; this year it came in as a welcome saviour…

That said, there were good numbers of fish caught and especially a decent number of roach. One particularly notable roach catch was made by regular attendee, great supporter and all-round good bloke Keith Elliott who managed 48 of ‘em… When was the last time the middle and lower Avon could boast that? I wonder where they might have come from…
The match should have been won with a magnificent 10oz dace, which was the best ‘specimen’ of the day, and fully worthy of the highly coveted trophy and title. Unfortunately, though, there were two 10oz dace caught – and not by the same person. So, the Management Committee, along with the Board of Decision Makers, the Policy Commission, the Judging Panel and the ARP Ombudsman met to discuss the dilemma, and after a few moments, Berol and me decided to award it to the biggest roach caught on the day. So, regular supporter and very generous contributor Stuart Brown nearly fell off his chair when his name was called out to be presented with the trophy, just proving how fair, democratic, even-handed and impartial the whole affair is.

The whole event was a fantastic success, and the total raised was once again over the six thousand pound mark which is the very lifeblood of the project allowing it to continue to be run at full pelt and relatively financially unencumbered.
I highlighted in my closing statement to everyone just what this kind of support enables; not just the obvious, but some of the absolute fundamentals, which might be taken for granted, and which make the most monumental difference in what is achieved.
Right from the moment the roach hatch they can receive the very best, irrespective of the cost, with Brine Shrimp eggs at more than one hundred quid per kilo (I can hatch and feed four kilos in the first couple of weeks of our roach’s lives), then the special cyprinid feed at the varying grades, from fine dust to small pellet, according to growth and demand both in the tanks and of course all the stews and ordered by the sack-load.

The feeding and management has been finely honed over the years and while we might get a fair yield from just dumping spawn laden boards directly into our stews and leaving them to get on with it and take their chance, or feeding with some old trout or general fish feed, we have proved that by carefully managing and giving the roach the best, we can raise at least five or six times the amount of healthy adult roach – we’ve tried it; so we know. And this can only be achieved through having the resources to do so which come from these annual fundraisers.

This year we are experiencing one of the best ever in terms of numbers of fish and growth rates due to the summer conditions and couldn’t resist getting a couple of little underwater films, on the ARP Happy-Snap camera to show you. Links below. Hope you like…         
So, from the very depths of my heart I would like to give my sincere thanks to everyone who came along to the fundraiser, everyone who donated an auction lot and everyone who raised their hands to bid; to everyone who made a donation, Southern Fisheries for letting us have the Royalty as one of the venues for our fishing match, Ringwood and District Anglers Association for letting us have Severals and Christchurch Angling Club for allowing us to use Winkton, and of course everyone else who continues to support this most amazing project.

The dream continues to come true – for all of us…

A dining room full of supporters it is impossible to thank enough for their boundless generosity. Smiles and laughs, great food and great company – an atmosphere I wish I could bottle….

A scenic view of the lots table.
A couple of the more unusual items on the lots list in the foreground. The ‘Mad Hatter’ tea caddy contained what Chris Yates describes as beautifully preserved sea fishing tackle including the spinner on which he caught his first ever bass – it was a birds-nest in a tin… And the toothpaste box contained four floats excavated from his creel and presented in what he described as a lovely ‘float tube’... He should be locked up…
We are very lucky as each year great supporter and good mate David Miller sends us some of his fantastic artwork for auction, which is always extremely popular.
Another very special annual contribution is a specially made centrepin reel by David Beale donated by Ringwood Tackle.
Talking of ‘special’… Special case, Chris Yates, produced this ‘Waltonian Spell Card’ impregnated with a ‘special potion’ (Redmire water he keeps in a flask, collected the day he caught his record carp) entitled ‘Cast A Spell To Charm A Fish’ including full instructions on how to cast the spell… This resulted from a series of amusing telephone conversations I had with him…
I am unfortunate to suffer from occasional excruciating back issues and was in the midst of my most recent and particularly debilitating occurrence and was explaining to Chris on the phone (I’d like to say caused through pulling trees up by the roots or wrestling cattle or being in the A-Team, but it went simply as I loaded a box of beer into my car; but don’t let on…).
He said he’d send me a ‘bone and muscle spell’ that would ease it and that I should clear my mind of all thoughts and be doing absolutely nothing at exactly 3-30pm in order to receive the spell…. So, I did… No prizes for guessing that I wasn’t miraculously able to leap about like a 25 year old at twenty five to four.
I needed to speak to him again the following day, so asked him if he’d remembered to send the spell, which he said he had, and I asked when I might begin to feel the benefits from it, to which he replied… ‘Possibly in as little as six weeks or so…’
With such amazing powers it was decided to include a fishy related spell for our auction.
It was a mad dash to gather the last outstanding promised auction lots as the fundraiser day got closer, and I spent a delightful afternoon having lunch with Hugh and Sue Miles and Chris the week before where they generously loaded me with some wonderful treasures – perfect for the auction.
A startled Stuart Brown being presented with the winner’s trophy for his splendid roach which saved the day.
After the auction I stand and give a ten or fifteen minute (people say it feels like days) update on project events and try to express my thanks to everyone.
I know it might all seem like a formality, but I have tried to express the feeling before and failed, so will probably do so again here, but the moment I stand and see all the faces in the room, and as silence falls, there is an enormous, indescribable rush of honour and humility within me. I take a deep breath and pause for a moment as I realise that I am about to address a room-full of folks in an amazing setting having enjoyed a wonderful meal, a fabulous auction and a day fishing on multiple stretches of one of the most iconic rivers in the country in aid of a potty idea hatched almost a decade ago, which all started with nothing but a shed-load of self-belief, determination and a desire to have a go at making a difference, and was all held together, back then, with Sellotape and string and was funded through sponsored haircuts, half beard shaves, burglary and prostitution.
It is the most extraordinary feeling, and continues to be the most extraordinary journey, thanks to everyone’s boundless support.
The unsung heroes of the evening, Roy, our auctioneer, and his better half Jacquie who handles all the payments and receipts and checks that Roy and I are fully coordinated for the auction – and although only a slip of a thing she managed almost two helpings of treacle tart and custard… more than any of the boys did…
And this is what it’s all about – Roach glorious roach…
This is a shot of probably the most densely populated tank of fish in the history of the project, taken earlier this year. While an amazing achievement in itself, I have to also recognise the danger of this number of roach in such a small space, and the heightened risk of problems occurring, so will be moving them to the stews as soon as the water temperature drops significantly.
And, more glorious roach in the stews at Bickton. If only we could tell them what is responsible for their numbers and wellbeing…
As the roach continue to show signs of recovery in the Avon, and continue to be caught throughout the river in increasing numbers and regularity, with our first stocked likely to be getting close to that magical two pound mark soon, it is a real honour to be able to boast having a hand in it, which has all been, and continues to be, enabled through these annual fundraiser doo’s.
This little sparkler was one of a number taken a week or so after the fundraiser from smack-bang in the middle of the river below Fordingbridge, where we have made multiple deposits over the years.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?


Monday, 4 September 2017

A Pleasant Summer Update...

I thought I’d give an unusual summer update leading up to our annual fundraiser doo as there is always so much that gets left out through such infrequent Blogging. I’m bloody useless at this game.

Well, it’s been a very eventful year, so far…. Which I guess they all are in some respects.

Bickton continues to please and surprise, as does Project HQ, even after all this time.

The nice summer has meant that survival and growth have been extraordinary, both in the tanks and in the stews. And while summer is always a fairly pleasant time in the ARP year with just maintenance of stews, grass cutting and strimming and generally keeping it all tidy and manageable, it can also be very rewarding as the fish of all ages, throughout the system, are very responsive, especially to the feed buckets. You can almost watch them growing before your very eyes.

We had a slight oxygen stress situation in the extreme heat early on, but this was easily remedied with a partial water change and some extra aeration and feeding adjustments.

The population density in one tank in particular is higher than has ever been known, probably in the history of the project, yet surprisingly the growth rate is on a par with the rest of the tanks. By now I’d have expected a slight natural arrest in growth (nothing to worry about, as once moved to the stews they all catch up and pack on the weight).
This huge number of fish generates an increased competitiveness at feeding time and the fish actually shatter the surface of the water in a kind of frantic feeding frenzy – of course, they don’t know I’ll be back a bit later with more, then again in the morning and afternoon and every bloody morning and evening till they move on to the stews and river and just forget about me – not even a phone call, a letter; nothing! ... Ungrateful little bastards!

When I move on to feed the next tank it sounds like someone is having a wee in a bucket next to me.

The whole project has been pretty mind-blowing of late with us now even having two stews full of fry from the spawning of the few adults we missed when netting for release into the river in March. It just goes to show that they will just get on with what they do if given the chance. These fish will have spawned within a month of us trying to net them for release. This confirms that the fish we did release will very likely have also spawned shortly after in the river. Nice thought eh? And, of course, that’s what it’s all about.

It has surprised us just how many manage to evade capture when we do the netting, despite running it round a number of times with many expert and experienced hands on the ropes until we catch either none, or just one or two. It is as the water clears and warms, and the fish become more active we realise we have missed as many as fifty individuals in some cases, which account for quite a lot of spawn, hence the stews appearing full of fry as the warm weeks and months pass.

This also answers the latest question being asked of whether the issue with Avon roach could be down to Avon water having some kind of effect on the health and wellbeing of the species (For the record, I have never believed this, but folks are free to ask what questions they like. I feel certain that some folks get more from asking almost impossible questions than trying to help find the answers… Well, our Avon Roach are living and growing happily and breeding successfully in Avon water in our stews, so there’s the answer. It would, however, be very difficult to prove definitively without our project – then just imagine all the ‘experts’ inferring, portending, cogitating and extrapolating the almost unanswerable… The eye of the storm is a very cosy place to be, sometimes).

The escapee population in our feeder stream are also sharing space with their own young, which is really uplifting and encouraging, and perhaps further evidence that there is a strong likelihood that the fish in the river will be enjoying similar success.
Reports continue to filter through of multiple catches of roach being taken in single sessions from throughout the river. Indeed, just this week we were told of a single catch or roach of more than twenty fish from just a few ounces up to one pound two.

Spawning was very successful in our new lake at Bickton also this year, so there is yet another ARP box with a big fat tick in it.
As I write this, stress levels are just entering orbit as we frantically deal with final preparations in the countdown to our annual fundraiser doo on 30th September.

Finally, once again, I’d like to thank everyone for the fantastic support and encouragement.

One of eight tanks stuffed full of four month old Avon Roach.
Feeding time reveals the most extraordinary high stock density.

I might move this lot, and probably another three or four tank-fulls, to the stews at the beginning of the winter,
when the water is cold enough, rather than the latter part as they’ll probably be better off over-wintering in
a much larger environment.

While it is an amazing sight and achievement, it does have its risks with so many little lives in one small place.
Astonishing, nonetheless…

It’s not long before the first helping of food is almost gone. I tend to give them two or three helpings at each feed;
walking round and round the garden assessing each tank as I go….
Sounds like I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it?

It is, of course, tempting to just stand there heaving the food at them, but this can be as dangerous as under feeding.

They get fed according to appetite and as soon as they show less interest, I stop.
Little and often is best, as with anything; even us, I guess.
We might manage two curries in a day, but not at the same time.

Bickton is looking good, with the grass cut and margins strimmed.
This is a view from the shed across the feeder stream in the foreground and over stew number one and zero beyond,
with the lake beyond that and round to the right.

Bickton stews looking back down the line of nine.
It’s difficult to get a real perspective from this angle and this height.

The margins of stew number one. This stew should be empty of adult roach,
but this little lot evaded capture last March and have now successfully spawned, and are thriving….
We’ll get ‘em next time.

Same spot in stew one, but here a few of the fry are visible in the foreground.

At the far end of the ARP plot, stew number six is brimming with roach which are the ones we’ll be netting for release this coming March. Even here, there are much larger roach which we missed when we netted a few years ago, and these too have spawned. You can see here that at feeding time the fish disturb clouds of silt and bubbles. We love it.

This is a shot of the 1+ fish deposited from the tanks to the Bickton stews last March. A year and a half old and growing like stink.

A close-up of the same group of roach. This is their reaction to just one scoop of feed. It’s images like this that make nice warm summers even nicer and warmer here in Avon Roach Project Land.

Some of our little population of escapees in the feeder stream enjoying being spoilt rotten with regular feeds.

There are roach of all ages in here; all thriving in this little stream, demonstrating how adaptable roach are and how they’ll flourish if they are given the chance.

As you can see, feeding time is quite special here as well, for them and us.

This picture shows very clearly the different sizes of roach all living and thriving in our stream. If we are managing this accidentally, goodness knows what we are enabling elsewhere on the river and the streams through our crazy efforts. We estimate the largest of these to be around half a pound.