Tuesday 31 March 2015

The Best Year So Far

We are currently having the BESTEST YEAR EVER in terms of numbers of fish. We have been absolutely blown away at the fantastic number of roach we have had in our ‘system’ this year. 
So, who knows, we may actually be getting the hang of this ‘ere roach rearing lark.

We have released more roach into the river this year than in any other in the projects history. Not only that, but we have grown more in the tanks this year than ever before – adding yet another to the regular, long and ever-growing list of lessons learnt from running this project.
We had to make multiple trips to the stews with the contents of just two tanks as we didn’t have enough barrels to take them safely in one hit. What a lovely problem to have. We don’t mind inconveniences like that though. We’ll put up with those any day.
So, what do we put it down to? Well, it was a nice summer, and a fairly decent winter; and we’d love to be able to pour out a load of really interesting theories and ground breaking pioneering facts and hypotheses, but the actual fact is; we dunno...
It is most likely to be that we have finally developed the greatest asset we were told we could acquire, which is ‘Fish Farmer’s Eye;’ a kind of sixth sense enabling us to see, within our realm, what we could never see through reading books or listening to ‘experts,’ a sense only acquired through experience and the hard knocks from actually living it day in and day out. We do now take a much more pragmatic approach to growing fish, it has to be said.
We have a regular maintenance program of cleaning filters and doing part water changes, testing this, that and the other and generally ‘fussing’ - we have to with so many little fish in such a closed environment - but we now do all this on a far less intensive scale. We used to fret over every casualty, and even tried to revive the first one we called ‘Findus’ because he was frozen in the ice one winter. Now we just fish ‘em out and chuck ‘em on the compost heap for the slugs to suck their eyes out then strip them to the bone.
That said, every single individual still means the world to us, and the more we can get to one year old in the tanks each year the better; then the more we can get to three and drop in the river, even better still, as it means that within a few weeks of their release they will spawn and add countless thousands of eggs then countless thousands of tiny new roach to the river. It is, after all, a numbers game as it is everywhere in nature, and the more eggs that get laid each year, the more hatchlings there are, the more chance of some of them making it to adulthood and contributing to the revival of the species in the river.
So far, this time around, we have delivered a seriously impressive number of roach to four locations. It started before Christmas; as we needed to get the fish from our stew over at Verwood as the fishing club lease was due to expire at the end of the year. These fish were dropped in the Mill Stream at Sopley where Christchurch Angling Club has recently taken back the fishing.
Then we did a full-on three day stint in March. We started on Wednesday 18th and delivered a stew-full of beautiful roach to North End Farm just south of Bickton and above Ibsley, once renowned for its roach.
Thursday 19th it was the turn of the Royalty Fishery, and the legendary ‘Cinder Path,’ scene of many historic roach catches of a lifetime. The roach we released here were a year older and we know they had spawned in the stew the previous year as we also netted a number of one year olds – their own progeny.  
Then on Friday 20th the Severals fishery just south of Ringwood received as many roach as we have ever delivered to one location.
And, that’s not where it ends. On April 1st, we have SKY telly ‘Tight Lines’ coming along to do a follow-up film of us netting and releasing the final lot for this year. We are really looking forward to it. They made a cracking job of the last one we filmed back in August.
We’ll do a separate update blog for this with all the details, pictures and links.
All the roach released will be looking to spawn themselves in the river at the end of April and adding their contribution to the recovery of the species.
We said in our last main update that Mother Nature can sometimes be spiteful and unpredictable, and deliver a nasty sting, but can also give the most breathtaking and overwhelming rewards. Well, she sure has done just that for us this year.
We are now enjoying the greatest level of enjoyment and satisfaction, and success, the project has ever given us along with the knowledge that we are actually making a real difference.

Even though we have been feeding them and looking after them for years, the moment the net is drawn close is as tense as it gets. Nobody utters a word or even breathes.
Then as we see this little lot, the most enormous collective sigh of relief is exhaled.

As the roach are scooped up in nets and dropped in the barrels, the reality of what we are achieving starts hitting home.... again.

And they just keep coming.

A very proud and contented Trev poses with the first net-full for North End – the first of countless scoops of prime Avon roach to be deposited over the coming days.

Of course we have to have a close-up and a cuddle.

And away they go.

Our great mate Jim Allan then joined in with Trev to continue the delivery to the river.

A brace of Hampshire Avon Roach. Not such a rarity any more.

The last few stragglers get emptied into the net.... More than just a few though, eh?

Then it was off to the Royalty Fishery who, like everyone else in the valley including fishing clubs, syndicates, businesses and land owners, have shown fantastic support for the project. Southern Fisheries MD, Jason Lewis, joined us for the release. These roach, now at four years old, should deliver a huge amount of spawn to the system later in April.

Trev, Budgie and Jim Allan get close up with some Royalty roach.

Jason does the honours with the delivery of the first net-full.

Jim gets another cuddle from a plump Royalty Redfin. You can see the difference in size compared to the three year olds.

Friday we were at Severals and the light was perfect for a shot of the roach in the barrels.... Either that or there were so many, they all just got squeezed out to the edges.

            We were joined by Ringwood and District Anglers Association's Phil Nixon and Stuart Kingston-Turner of the EA

Again, we were blown away at the number of roach we were delivering to the river.
Net-full after net-full of perfect Avon Roach.

Trev begins the Severals delivery.

It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling of pride at seeing all these perfect roach go pouring back into the iconic Avon; the place of their birth, and where they belong.

What a sight... What a feeling...

Once again, Jim jumped in to lend a hand.

And, once again, got a cuddle from a ‘Severals Sparkler.’Just look at it. How PERFECT is that?

The last few Avon Roach Project babies slide gently from the barrel and into the river.

A very happy Trev.

With the EA assistance and expertise it means the stress level is almost zero and we can have some fun..... So we formed a band – not exactly Take That...

A rare picture of us all together. The man on the left spent most of the day on the other side of the camera. He is Dickie Howell and is one of the projects greatest assets at the moment. He comes along and helps us at Bickton every week. He is an absolute star.

Once the adults are in the river, the stews become available to receive the one year olds from the tanks, and this year has surpassed all others in terms of numbers of fish we have managed to grow in the tanks. This scoop says it all really. Once the tanks are emptied of one year olds they then become available for scrubbing clean and making ready for the next lot of spawn – and so our year begins a new cycle, but with a top-up of knowledge and experience, and renewed vigour... hopefully.

A barrel of ‘Roach Soup’ from one of our tanks.

A close up of what hopefully will blow our minds in two years time, like this year’s lot just have.

As the years go by, inevitably, we get a little better at it all and much more relaxed and casual, but the fantastic help and support we get from the EA Fisheries guys with the nettings and releases means that the stress is almost completely removed and what used to be a highly charged, tense and anxious time can now be enjoyed and savoured as one of the highlights of our year – which is how it should be; and some reward for all the hard work and dogged determination.
But, we still sometimes have to pinch ourselves...
We also have to single out and give our sincere thanks to great mate Dickie Howell who helps out at Bickton every week. He enables and encourages so much and is great company and not afraid to put in a hard days graft. We only have to keep him topped up with chocolate biscuits and he leaps about all day like a fifty nine year old...
At the outset of our project we were very guarded about how much information to give, and how much of our own trumpet blowing to do for fear of shooting ourselves in the foot should we fail to deliver what we have in our dreams to do, which, as you know, is to assist a healthy recovery of our beloved Avon roach.
Well, how times have changed.
Not only can we boast about seeing far greater numbers of roach at our spawning boards year on year, but can boast a ‘possible’ connection with where folks are now catching them again after years of them being absent.
There are even reports of a sprinkling of roach being seen between our stockings, which are likely due to migration or displacement in high water. There will also be an element of repopulation and colonisation through larval drift.... which is all part of the ‘master plan.’
The first fish we stocked will have spawned within a month or so of their release, and the survivors of that spawning should now have spawned themselves, but who knows where, meaning we are already into a second generation which will be added to each year as another batch reaches adulthood and joins in. This will also continue to be added to with the adults we release annually.
So, there could now be three and four year old roach living and spawning in the river which were born there from our first stockings – and they could be anywhere – and hopefully one day everywhere..... Nice thought eh?

It still takes our breath away each year when we consider what we actually achieve through the ongoing cycle of what we do. Taking this...

To this in a tank environment...

To this perfect, healthy adult Avon Roach, ready to play its part in the revival of its species in one of the most iconic rivers in the country....... What a project.

As we have said, how times have changed. We are now happy to sing about what we are doing and achieving as loudly as we can, and to anyone who wants to listen (even those who don’t). We now have some history and increasing evidence that we are actually making a difference.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?
Signing off now, we would like to thank everyone for the ongoing amazing support and continued belief in us.


Tuesday 17 March 2015

Roach Project Presentation




We were recently delighted and indeed honoured to be asked to give our PowerPoint presentation to the Dorset Chalk Stream Club over in Dorchester. It turned out to be more ‘an evening with the Avon Roach Project’ rather than just a presentation, where we not only did our presentation for about an hour and a bit, but had a lovely informal question and answer session and even showed our film.
The Dorset Chalk Stream Club is a great little organisation run by all-round good bloke John Aplin, and it really hit the right note with us as it’s not all about who’s who or how big or how much or many; a little bit like our own Roach Club where you don’t need to have caught a two or even three pounder, or written a book or have your face in the press every other week to be considered for membership – in fact almost the exact opposite. It’s simply a celebration of our rivers and fishing of all kinds, our love for them and what it all means to us. Unlike ours, there is no official membership to the DCSC, you just turn up, enjoy and join in; take along a plate of food, get a drink from the pub over the road and help stack all the tables and chairs away at the end of the evening.
Gatherings occur every month in the village hall in West Stafford, which is a delightful building in a delightful village, and perfectly suited for the events.
Far too little of this kind of thing exists in this day and age of increasing speed, demands, digital simulation and decreasing enjoyment and awareness of what exists right under our noses that has an unimaginable power to enrich our lives if we just care to discover it.
It was very refreshing to go along and meet all the folks that turned up on the night.
It was also quite an eye-opener for us in terms of how far the Avon Roach Project has moved on since our last presentation, which really hit home as we sorted the pictures along with some words to accompany them. It is amazing how far off the starting blocks and the original concept we now are and how much genuine history, evolution and actual achievement we can now boast.
We always like to prepare thoroughly for these things and this one was no different. We select the pictures, put them in sequence that tells the story, then add the header captions; we then write bullet point prompts to help us remember what we want to say to accompany the image on the screen. We do a few pictures each in a kind of subject by subject fashion rather than simply take turns to speak. We print sheets of our notes and put the different speaker in different colours, so Trevor in black and Budgie in mid blue. We then carefully fan the sheets and staple them together. We always take a spare couple of copies just in case.
So, what could go wrong?
There we stood in front of a hall of people, John gave us a lovely introduction, then turned the bloody lights out. We could only just make out the odd word on our sheets in the glow of the large screen behind us; so we had to wing it. We got away with it though... after all, get us two talking roach and who needs notes?
The odd camera flash enabled us to see our next line..... Just kidding.

A welcome break for food before we showed our film. However, as you can see in the middle of the shot we are still talking roach in the main hall and nearly missed out.

Our great mate Hugh Miles came along and supported us and John got this nice shot at the end of the evening.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and received some lovely compliments from the folks there. We managed to have a few laughs along the way which we feel softens the whole deal of talking at people for hours.
Visit the Dorset Chalk Stream Club web site at www.dorsetchalkstreams.co.uk for more information.
As this now gets posted we are gearing ourselves up for the frantic time that is netting the stews and releasing fish into the river, which is happening on Wednesday 18th March, Thursday 19th and Friday 20th.
There will be a fourth deposit on April 1st which is being filmed by SKY telly as a follow up to the one shown last August on ‘Tight Lines.’
Then we'll be placing the spawning boards in the river ready for the roach to go for it this year.
We’ll be posting pictures and links to all this soon.