Sunday 27 April 2014

April 2014 Roach Release

While Mother Nature is always quick to stick a foot out and trip us up should we lapse in concentration or preparation, this year we were just about ready for her, despite the appalling winter conditions and the worst floods in the history of mankind leaving any thoughts of a casual meander into spring well and truly kicked into touch.
Instead we were running around like headless chickens thinking it would take months, years, even an eternity for the river to return to anywhere near normal. Then it was as though someone pressed the fast forward button.

Talk about mess with your head.... One minute we are staring into ten feet of crystal clear river rocketing over golden gravels (enough to make anyone stop in their tracks and look again), then we are seeing the river dropping like a stone; all helped by the explosion of marginal weed growth and the trees popping buds and unrolling this years’ leaves slurping up their fair share of it.
So, with the planned release of this years’ roach from stews to river due to take place in May, we were able to bring this forward to the middle of April and before the fish were due to spawn.
It has always been a fault of ours and this project to try to do too much in a short space of time, and while much of what we do is governed by nature and the seasons, we decided to take our time and release only one stew per day, instead of trying to get them all done at once. And, what a difference it makes to be able to enjoy the days at a leisurely pace with plenty of tea, laughs and great company.
Netting commences. We know they're in there, yet still these faces say it all.
A relaxed Jim Allan of the EA in the foreground, with Trevor and Budgie open mouthed,
breath held and deaf to the world waiting for that first glint of silver.

As the lead-line is taken up, the roach are revealed. Eyes pop out, jaws hit floors and our
collective sighs of relief could probably be heard from space.

A week later and Andy Martin of the EA and Trevor begin the gentle, but purposeful
draw of the net in an adjascent stew where hopefully will be revealed 'Roach Soup.'

Even though we know what to expect; and even though we do this stuff every year,
as the net is drawn up, the united gasps of delight and surprise along with the feelings of
contentment, satisfaction and fulfilment make all the blood and sweat, mud and mozzies,
ice and floods, bruises and stings seem a world away from this moment.

The roach are carefully transferred a few at a time from the net to bins to be carried to the
EA truck and a well oxygenated tank for transportation to the release site on the river.

A typical roach. From egg to adult and one last cuddle before being taken to freedom in the Avon

The nettings do throw up the odd surprise, and while we always encounter plenty of Stone Loach
(prompting the predictable jokes about renaming it 'The Avon Loach Project'),
this year we bumped into this extraordinary minnow. We thought it might nudge the British Record.
Just look at how many fingers long it is - four and a half inches.

Mainly, we get what we came for though - our own adult Avon Roach.
Spawning tubercles are clearly visible on the two larger fish in this net.

This where we just drop a column of roach pictures in. As we have said before on this site,
we are never quite sure just how many pictures of roach folk want to see, so we'll just keep going.

Each and every one of these charming little silver nuggets, so lovingly cared for,
treasured and looked after from egg to adult carries the hopes of so many - if only they knew...
Perhaps best they don't.

...and some more roach.

... and more roach. OK we'll stop now.
We have released roach into four locations on the Avon this year; including East Mills, for which we’d like to thank owner Peter Durber for his support, and one lot just a stone’s throw from the iconic Ibsley Bridge, once famous for its roach. We’d like to thank Ringwood and District Anglers Association and Rae Borass for their support and consent for this.
The main lot were delivered to Fordingbridge Recreation Ground where we were joined by a bunch of project supporters and a local press photographer. We were also joined by our great mate, Hugh Miles, who filmed an underwater sequence to add to our little film, of the roach going back into the river. He was also pretty handy with the stills camera on the day.

The Avon receives the first barrel of roach.

The slacks above Ibsley Bridge were perfect for the release of some of our roach.
And with up and downstream migration together with displacement in high water and larval drift
from the spawning of these fish, they can go some way to filling in the gaps themselves from here.

The poignancy of Trevor releasing yet another net-full of roach above Ibsley Bridge
was revealed shortly after when he mentioned that it was from this very spot that he had
caught his first ever two pounder, a cracker of two pounds eight ounces, many moons ago;
a nice link between the glorious past, the present and the hopeful future.

A week later and it was off to Fordingbridge, another historical stronghold for roach,
and Trevor delivers the first of many fairly staged deposits of roach.
The local press were there to cover the story. It all helps keep the project on everyone's radar.
Hugh got in there too to get some more BLOG pictures.

Hugh films the underwater sequence of the roach swimming from the net
to be added to the film he is making of the project.
As our project has evolved we have learnt an enormous amount, and are still learning, and around every corner there seems to be something else we have to deal with. However, one of the constants is the ongoing assistance and support we get from our mates at the Environment Agency.
Not only do they handle all the health checks for us each year, but also help with the netting and transportation of the roach from stews to river. They come armed with all the equipment we need, including tanks, nets, pumps, pipes, oxygen, expertise and most importantly a willingness to just get in and help.
The first two nettings were done under the guidance and with the help of Jim Allan, who we are sure is amphibious. The last netting and delivery to Fordingbridge was very ably assisted by Andy Martin, a very worthy substitute on the day, as Jim was on a training course.
Thank you guys; project life would be much harder without you.
We would also like to thank our ever dependable friends Dickie and Martin Howell, who help us with the Bickton stews all year round, and who never let us down.

We are never alone in what we do (unless it's raining or a bit chilly, or the pubs are open or there's
footie on the telly..... Just kidding.) Here we huddled together for a group shot for the press.
In the front from left to right is Trevor, Budgie, Barry Abbott and Hugh Miles.
Back row is Phil Nixon, Andy Martin, John Yetton, Martin Howell, Dickie Howell and Colin Gilson.
Between us we managed a very efficient series of nettings and delivered an impressive number of roach to the river.
We were, once again, surprised at the difference in sizes of some of the roach in the stews, with a few being more than twice, even three, four or five times the size of some of the others. And, we know they are all the same age as these are the first crop taken from these stews, which up until we reinstated them were dry.
We were also very encouraged to see spawning tubercles on some of them, meaning that, hopefully, if they settle down, they could actually spawn in the river within weeks of their release.
This has always been the aim, and we are delighted to have been able to give them the chance this year, despite this looking doubtful for a while due to the floods.
Even though this is the end of a cycle and we can all let out a huge sigh of relief, it also heralds the beginning of another, aside from the ongoing care of our one and two year olds in the other stews. We currently have our spawning boards in the river ready for the next lot, so fingers crossed, and breath held.