Wednesday, 9 May 2018
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.
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???
Saturday, 31 March 2018
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.