Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Mid 2019 Latest


There was always going to come a time when we reviewed the situation and decide to take our foot off the gas either through success or failure and this year, for the first time in over a decade, we decided we’d not collect spawn from the river and hatch it in the tanks
Obviously, we are delighted that the reason for the change in our usual routine is because of the unimaginable level of success even we never dreamed we’d achieve. The river is now in the best state in terms of roach population density for a generation so the intense level of effort required to collect and hatch the spawn and get the little roach through the early stages of life is more than is now required by us.
So, we have decided on a slight change in our annual routine and to adopt a short-cut policy of taking a few spawning boards full of eggs and placing them to hatch directly into a couple of empty stews (the ones we netted and released the roach from in March, which would have taken the roach we’d grow in the tanks through this coming year)
We have tested the effectiveness of doing this before (the question was always going to be asked) by placing two boards in a tank and two in a stew and we calculated that we got roughly four or five times the survival by doing it the intensive way in the tanks. However, the survival rate in the stew is still a thousand times greater than if left in the river, so still well worth doing. 
The infrastructure is still there so it will enable us to operate far more moderately and less intensively so giving us some of our time and sanity back while still plonking plenty of roach into the river each year. We might even have a look around to see if we can find some of our marbles…
I know we bitch about it every year, but although extremely rewarding and effective in terms of numbers of roach we grow, it is excruciatingly all-consuming work and it was nice to have a break from the intensity.
Now roach are being caught throughout the river in numbers not seen for decades and folks are once again able to watch shoals from bridges just like the good old days. Perhaps more significantly still, I have recently been informed that sampling of this years fry in the river revealed that 5% were roach so showing the positive signs of a natural sustainability we hoped we’d trigger through our efforts. Hard to believe that not so long ago, before we got going, the roach population in the Avon was regarded as being below critical mass and unable to recover unassisted. So, Budgie an me are taking the biggest, fattest slap on the back we could ever have hoped for.
The less demanding roach duties will allow us a little more time to develop our new initiative of looking to improve gravel spawning substrate for the barbel and other gravel spawners in the river in partnership with the EA Fisheries guys.
So far this year we have mapped plenty of potential sites for consideration and we’ll be looking at how each site can be improved (or replicated), which might be through placement of in-river flow deflectors to flush water over the spawning beds to clean and prolong their effectiveness, maybe raking or even gravel-jetting to desilt key areas. It will be ongoing, but the initiative is already out of the starting blocks and has attracted some great support throughout the catchment. If successful, it might even be rolled out on other rivers.
So, back to our roach… The unusually warm April triggered the roach to spawn a few days early this year, for only the third time in all the years we’ve been doing this. Easter weekend was the time and they went to it with the usual awesome display. Even though we have been doing this for many years, the sight of the roach romping all over our artificial spawning boards still blows our little minds.
At one location, we placed spawning boards at the head of a stream to give the vastly increased population of roach that now exists there, thanks to our efforts, additional spawning substrate. We placed four, left two to hatch naturally in the stream, but moved the other two to a nearby weir pool to hatch into the main river; something we might consider doing a little more of in the future.
The spawn placed directly in the stews hatched successfully and the little roach look to be doing fine. They’ll get fed regularly on the fine powdered crumb they’d get if they were here in the tanks after the usual few weeks of brine shrimps.
Those in the other stews and our feeder stream are also doing well and now the water is warming they are feeding and growing nicely.
Once again, we’d like to thank everyone for the fab support and encouragement, and to say now I guess there is no excuse not to get the Avon Roach Project book completed – which is well underway; possibly near half written… You’ve been warned.

Spawning commences and the buzz we get every time we see this is indescribable.

It might look like a violent free-for-all, but it is far from it. The males first establish territory alongside the spawning board then defend it throughout. When the female arrives, he wants to rub his tubercle-covered body along her to induce egg release where he’ll be in prime position to fertilise, which you can see here with the large male nudging the smaller female almost clear of the water.
The significant differences in sizes of roach attending the spawning boards is a healthy indication of multiple year classes existing in the local environment.
Sometimes the action is simply explosive.
Roach love… The larger tubercle-covered male glides up to caress the female.
It sometimes appears as just a melee of writhing roach all trying to get a piece of the action and pass on their genes. This image shows some of the misdirected spawn deposited on the top of the spawning board in the commotion.
Some of the larger males were over two pounds. The one seen here is not far short of that.
Some of this years roach fry at a few weeks old and looking good, having hatched from spawning boards directly into a stew.
There will be plenty of natural food in the stew, but we’ll also supplement this with regular feeds of the special crumb as we do the roach in all the other stews.
Feeding time for some of our two year olds now growing before our very eyes in the warming water.
These are destined to be stocked into the Avon in March next year – but we haven’t told them yet.
An old picture, but our escapee roach are doing very well in our feeder stream. Just goes to prove that if we give them a chance, they’ll take it which is what we have done in the river.
One of the locations for consideration in our gravel spawning substrate improvement initiative. These are, of course, spawning chub, which were seen in early June.

 
 

Monday, 25 March 2019

2019 ROACH RELEASES


 

The gathering spring usually holds a mixture of feelings for us, but is always underpinned with excitement, anticipation and fulfilment (and shed-loads of tea and cake) as we release the annual crop of three year old roach into the river and move the tiddlers from the tanks to the stews; usually cold and muddy, sometimes even icy, giving me plenty to bitch about in these updates. However, this year, not so. Every day any roachy business was scheduled we were treated to perfect, still, mild and calm conditions – leave it with me, and I’m sure I’ll find something to whine about…


In fact, we are usually reeling from the effects of some kind of adverse seasonal delivery or other, but it has to be said that we’ve actually had the perfect follow-up winter to the scorching summer in terms of little fish survival in our rivers.
First it was the turn of the two year olds to be netted and moved from the two long tanks at Project HQ and taken to the stews to join those removed as one year olds from the other tanks a year ago. This releases the two long tanks to take some of this years one year olds – following so far?
A basic principle in all we do is to have everything prepared and ready to go before any real disturbance to the fish, so the tank water is dropped to about five inches in both, the transportation buckets and bubblers are all ready, then it’s just a case of getting it done as quickly as possible to limit the time the fish are stressed. That said, we do slow the action periodically to take a few staged photographs. The roach have never complained.
Although we have a feel for how many fish we have at all the various stages (having done it for so many years – after a while even we start to remember), it’s only when moving them that we actually get a true idea of the scale of our annual achievements in terms of numbers, when we can see them all rather than catching a glimpse of a few as we feed them.
Even though we do it every year, we are still stopped in our tracks at the sheer number and absolute stunning beauty of the glistening little roach. We are also astonished at the enormous difference in sizes of fish of the same age.
The two year olds were transported in one long day and the one year olds had to be done over two as there are so many tanks to drain and net – and we only have so many buckets and bubblers.
Soon all the tanks were empty and ready for cleaning, and once again Project HQ – formerly known as my back garden was a squelching quagmire – there, I knew I’d find something to bitch about.
The three year olds are moved over three days from the stews to the river and usually in the third week of March, which was the case this time.
We always miss a few when we net which remain in the stews and this year we were amazed at the size of some of them. Not only were they whoppers, but it was clear that they had spawned in the stews as there were also a number of one and two year olds present… Confirming the old ARP philosophy – give ‘em half a chance and they’ll take it.
As well as the usual minnows, gudgeon and stone loach, which we assume come in from our feeder stream through the inlets perhaps as larvae, this year, for the first time ever, we had a single little pike we named Malcolm. We think it might have been dropped by a bird, as we have had the odd trout dropped in the same way from the adjacent fish farm. We’ve seen no sign of Malcolm’s presence over the years and the water has been clear enough for us to have done so – we surely would have seen him strike at our roach in clear water as they were fed.
This year, as every year, we stocked at a number of different locations again over about a ten mile distance. Ironically, one stocking took place right in front of a commemorative bench placed in memory of Gerry Swanton, well known roach man of his day. We wonder what he’d have made of what we’ve done.
Although we’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, these annual roach releases still give Budgie and me a real buzz and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. And, it still blows our little minds when we remember we have grown all these wonderful Avon Roach from eggs.
We never imagined we’d achieve the level of success we have. Our dream really is coming true. The Avon is now in the best health in terms of its roach for a generation and we are delighted to have played a significant part in it.
Once again, the EA guys, Jim Allan, Phil Rudd and Luke Kozak, were on hand to help with all the tanks and barrels and pipes and oxygen and expertise and bacon sandwiches. They really are a vital part of our team.
As usual, we’d like to extend our sincere thanks to everyone for the fab support and encouragement.
 

Project HQ ready and first tank draining. The moment that kicks the whole annual fish movement cycle off.

 
First haul of two year olds. They’ve grown well in the tanks.


Plump and healthy two year olds. It’s interesting that the size difference narrows as they grow. It’s also interesting to see that the fins on the larger ones are just beginning to show signs of colour. This time next year they’ll be bright red, indicating maturity.
An underwater close-up of them showing their paddle tails and fins.
Into the stew they go to join their brothers and sisters and cousins.
A couple of weeks later and it’s the turn of the one year olds. Again, everything is ready in advance.
Water dropped and the little roach are ready to be netted.
First scoop of sparkling little one year olds. What a sight.
It seems to be at this age that the size difference is at its greatest. Perhaps the titchy ones would not have survived in the wild. Certainly, the bigger and better swimmers they are, the better chances of survival. We know the very tiny ones, if they don’t keep up, become food for their tank-mates.
Underwater close-up of the one year olds we’ll keep for another year in the long tanks at Project HQ.
Then, the turn of the three year olds to be netted and released into the river. The first run of the net around the first stew is always an anxious time, but who knows, maybe in another decade we’ll have gotten used to it.
The roach are deposited back into the barrels from the tank on the trailer, and just look at how many there are in that one scoop. The bench behind me is a memorial to passed roach man, Gerry Swanton. We could sense his approval.
As we do every year, we have to have a little cuddle of a couple of the prettiest ones. What perfect creatures they are.
Jim Allan removes Malcolm, the pesky pike. During his time in the stew he must have felt as happy as a carp angler in a kebab shop.
Down at the river and we had to get a few more touchy-feely shots of the roach at their point of freedom.
Even though slightly high on oxygen, the roach still slide casually into the river with dignity only an Avon Roach possesses – or are we slightly biased and a bit soppy?
We think this was the biggest of the year. Obviously one that avoided us when we last netted the stew. But, what a whopper…
The first full barrel for Gerry Swanton. These roach will be looking to spawn themselves in the river in a little over a month.
Another full barrel of healthy, plump adult roach, ably assisted by EA fisheries man and great supporter of the project, Phil Rudd (what a great name for a fisheries officer – and yes, he really is that tall… Nine feet seventeen inches).
Jim Allan and me pour the last two barrels of roach into the middle reaches of the river. Those grins on our faces lasted days… Our Roach Faces.
Two very happy boys, Budgie and me, where it all began - with ‘Roach Faces’ again.
And this is where it all starts. Gorgeous Avon Roach romping all over our spawning boards.