Wednesday, 9 May 2018

2018 Awesome Spawning and Hatching.

Annual spawning board placement usually takes place in the first week in April just in case of an early warm spell which has once before triggered early spawning. However, all Roach Project aficionados will by now know that unless something very unusual happens (Floods, Ice Age, Heatwave), spawning takes place on or around the 25th, so with the river still full of snowmelt water and not even the remotest glimmer of Spring in the air, there was no urgency.

Then to add to the feeling of ‘how much longer is this bloody winter going on for’ some ridiculously heavy ‘April Showers’ sent the river up and into the fields… Eeeeehh, you couldn’t write this stuff.
Suddenly, it seemed Spring remembered the time and got a grip. The river began dropping, swallows started arriving, brimstones and bees joined us and a Grannom hatch exploded as the temperature climbed and the river warmed and cleared – once again hitting the ARP ‘Panic Button’…
By the third week in April all the spawning boards were in the usual locations – plus one new one noticed and tried for the first time last year, and we were ready to go.
Off the back of the most successful one year old yield and the second highest number of three year olds ever returned in the few months earlier, it was unlikely that we would score a hat trick with regard spawning action, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to happen…. Oops! I’ve given the game away again, haven’t I?
There are only a few spawning locations which allow decent pictures to be taken, and even at these it’s a case of being there at the right time and spending hours clicking away in the hope of a few jaw-droppers. And, over the years we have always felt that the previous years pictures will never be equalled, let alone bettered.
Well, this year simply blew my little mind.
I received a call saying the roach were splashing so popped along with the camera to see. They were splashing but it would be a couple of days before full-on spawning action would be happening. The first day is usually the males all establishing territory at the spawning boards and chasing each other around, which is what was happening.
I’ll not dwell on it here as most of you have probably already scrolled past this to see the most amazing spawning pictures ever.
I stood in perfect light with perfect river conditions and in a couple of hours took 959 pictures of the most amazing Avon Roach spawning spectacle I have ever experienced. The roach were thrashing around all over, even skidding across the tops of the spawning boards which they’d partially covered with eggs.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of individuals, large (huge) and small – the smaller ones very likely being some of those we stocked downstream last year. Then there was the welcome return of what we refer to as the ‘big girls’ – two roach we estimate to be well in excess of three pounds. In addition to these beauties we were blown away by the sizes of some of the huge males, which you’ll see in the pictures below.
The number and size of the roach, and given that they spawn exclusively on our spawning boards in preference over any of the natural substrate in the area, meant that careful management was essential as they’d covered the netting with spawn within a couple of days – so the spawning boards were collected and replaced with fresh for the roach to continue without any risk of over clogging what had already been deposited.
It’s always a little unnerving, but the roach are on the replacements and spawning like fury within minutes. I have even had roach spawning on a board as I’m pulling the rope to retrieve it – a truly awesome experience.
Safely back in the tanks, the eggs began to develop nicely over the coming week, slowed slightly by a drop in temperature – the main downside to this being my hands aching up to my armpits when taking the underwater pictures. – but just twelve days later and hatching commenced. That was it; I felt like I’d been fired from a cannon as I assembled and filled the Brine Shrimp Hatchery in readiness for the roach needing this crucial feed.
Getting the roach hatched and starting to feed and grow on the Brine Shrimp in the first few days is always a real buzz as thousands of tiny new lives begin. I must admit that the novelty wears off within about twelve seconds though as it is very time consuming and particularly dull – that said, it is probably one of the most critical and important stages… That won’t stop me bitching about it though.
This year there was yet another rather pleasant occurrence and feather in our cap as we saw roach spawning on the stanchions of Ibsley Bridge, once famous for its roach, but like much of the rest of the river suffered the same level of decline. These were very likely either some of the fish we stocked just above the bridge, a while back, or the progeny of stockings further upstream at North End which are known to have flourished as they now seem to be doing throughout the river.
Back in the day we placed our spawning boards at Ibsley over a number of years in our attempts at finding roach spawning sites, unfortunately without success. And, with roach finding our spawning boards irresistible if placed in the right place it proved to us that there were sadly no roach left at Ibsley. Not so now.
I’ll leave the words there and let the pictures and captions tell the rest of the story.
Once again, I’d like to thank everyone for the continued support and encouragement.

Outstandingly satisfying to see great numbers of roach at the spawning boards yet again, which increases each year. At this location it was doubly satisfying as the smaller ones are very likely to be those we stocked downstream last year. In fact, most of them are probably something to do with us over the years.

Initially, there is a lot of male territorial jostling. Again, great to see such healthy numbers.

Some of the males were huge. Just take a look at this fellow. It is worth remembering that the board is one metre long and nine inches wide and the fish you are seeing is eighteen inches below the surface.

Here one of the ‘big girls’ is attracting the attention of some of the boys.

As they come together the action starts to intensify.

Then away they go… Just what is it about these spawning boards???

A large female deposits her eggs surrounded by attentive males which rub their tubercle-covered bodies against her to induce egg release.
I think that’s a smaller female on the top which seems to have been buffeted clear of the water.
Once they started, the action was full-on and there were clusters of writhing roach all over the four spawning boards at this location.

Within a matter of just a few seconds it’s over so I had to just keep the camera shutter clicking away at every movement.

The light was just right and the roach continued to oblige.

Wonderful moments captured by a very lucky me behind the camera.

Simultaneous action on both edges of the same spawning board, and the shot clearly shows the depositing of the contribution to the next generation.

And a swimmers roll to exit.

More action on the same section of spawning board.

This shot clearly shows the size difference in the spawners this year.

Then it seemed like every roach in the river converged at the spawning board at exactly the same time. There were red fins everywhere.
This shot also shows the spawn on the top of the board where they off-load as they actually leave the water and skid over the top in the excitement.

One of the ‘big girls’ passing on her priceless genes. It’s lovely to know that through the way we do things this genetic purity is retained.

It seemed that for the whole time I was there, there was no let-up in intensity of spawning. I think I was lucky to have caught it at its peak.

It was very clear that the roach were very quickly covering the netting with eggs as the action was unrelenting.

Not a very sharp picture, but worth including it as it shows an explosion of roach.

One of the ‘big girls’ with a tubercle-covered male caressing her under the chin.

Some pictures just don’t need captions…

This shot also shows not only the males and females enjoying a group hug, but also again shows the varying sizes of the spawners – possibly between four and fifteen years of age.

Some of these pictures might suggest the roach preferred particular areas of the spawning boards, but in fact this wasn’t the case as they were all very evenly covered with eggs.

Last one of the spawning – and one that shows how the eggs are deposited on the top of the boards.

Our little happy-snap underwater camera did the trick again this year and here the eggs are well on the way and developing nicely. The little roach are clearly visible.

As it gets to twelve days they are almost ready to hatch. The roach fill the egg and begin to distort the shape from round to elliptical as they straighten to break free.

Then the first hatchling is photographed. The elliptical shaped eggs are very noticeable here indicating that hatching is about to start.

Hatching gathers pace as these tiny, transparent splinters of life emerge in greater numbers.

And, yes, as we try to do each year – here is a picture of roach actually hatching.

The newly hatched roach will stick themselves to the nearest inanimate object (usually the underside of the spawning board) with an adhesive gland on their heads where they’ll spend two or three days taking up their yolk sac before swimming free in search of food, which I must ensure is there for them. It is images like this that tell me that the Brine Shrimp Hatchery needs filling and firing up, as the rate of hatching is not obvious without far too much disturbance to the spawning boards which is to be avoided when the little critters are hanging there like this.

Tiny little roach possibly less than a few minutes old – sons and daughters of the ‘big girls’ maybe.

You’ve seen it before, I know, but just for the sympathy, I thought I’d include a Brine Shrimp Hatchery picture again – and remind you that this is my conservatory.

Before you know it, the tanks are teeming with tiny roach looking to be fed. We try, with varying degrees of success, to ensure healthy algal blooms in the tanks which we start the moment they are filled following the evacuation of last years roach. They are also seeded with live daphnia which thrive on the algae and give birth to live young every few weeks so both the live daphnia young and the algae and little microscopic critters living in it will be food for our tiny roach allowing them to graze as they’d hopefully do naturally.

I probably feed the first lot of brine shrimps before they have fully taken up their yolk sac, but I’d rather they have it and leave it than need it and not get it. However, you can see that many of these pink-bellied three day olds have appreciated the first feed.

These pictures slightly betray the truth when it comes to understanding just how fragile and vulnerable these tiny little splinters of life are – especially in such a fickle and unforgiving environment like a river.

Awesome!… Isn’t Nature wonderful??? Many of us would be completely oblivious that this microscopic scramble for life is happening all around us with all kinds of different creatures – until some saddo like me starts taking pictures of it…

One of our deposits of roach above the once famous Ibsley Bridge a few years ago. Isn’t it satisfying to know that roach are once again holding their own in this historically iconic roach stronghold and actually spawning on the bridge stanchions?
Through adult migration, displacement and, more significantly, larval drift from the hatchlings of these spawners the immediate area and the river above and below will naturally benefit from our efforts.









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.