Saturday 14 October 2017

Fundraiser Doo 2017

I know I’ve said it a gazillion times before and will undoubtedly do so again – until the cows come home, I hear you say but, just as life, the doings of the Avon Roach Project are a series of highs and lows at varying altitudes, probably slightly more noticeable due to their concentrated frequency and unpredictability – and this years’ annual fundraiser, held on September 30th, was no exception.

The organising and preparation is simply one bloody great big fat headache, but the result is nothing short of an absolutely amazing event oozing with a feel-good atmosphere it is impossible to describe, and a level of boundless generosity and support that is just eye-watering…

That’s pretty much it, really – basically, a bugger to organise, but a great doo in the end. So, I could leave it there and just finish with the usual line of pictures and captions.

However, I’d like to fill in some of the gaps, if I may, and if you have the patience for another outpouring…
This year the lows started almost immediately (freefalling in my head), following the first mailing of invites in June. Almost straight away I began receiving email after email after phone call after phone call telling me - Sorry we are going to miss the doo as we are in Ireland, or Scotland, or Canada, or it’s Dad’s birthday, or I’m at a wedding, or my birthday, or wife’s birthday, or illness (that’s forgiven) and so it went on…

Before I knew it, the attendee list was at minus twenty. It was looking like it was going to be just me and Berol (my imaginary friend – who, incidentally, has never missed a doo).

The attendee list was shrinking like a new fiver in a hot tumble dryer.
I’m sure you all know where this is going, but following an early dry spell, the flood-gates opened and the list grew to the usual healthy room-full. Friends of friends, guests of regulars, brothers, fathers, first-timers all signed up bringing the attendance to a very respectable sixty four. Goodness knows what might happen next year… I don’t know why I worry, or bother to mention it here, as the same tends to happen every year, but you know what we’re like for milking a bit of jeopardy and drama…

The whole thing was once again the most incredible event and an absolute pleasure and honour to be a part of.
The auction table was creaking under the weight of an amazing and diverse array of items, from exclusive fishing days and weekends, wonderful reels, rods, books, pictures and a whole lot more. It is impossible to thank and mention everyone here on this BLOG who donate them, but there were all the very dependable usual’s, which themselves form part of the foundation of the event each year, as well as the unusual’s, which are all very much appreciated and help the project go from strength to strength.

It’s worth mentioning here (I’ve resisted doing so before in an effort to give the benefit of the doubt and to allow a reasonable number of annual opportunities to pass) that most of the main tackle manufacturers are sent a request for an auction lot donation each year and the only one that has never let us down and who sends something every year, without fail, is Peter Drennan. Some, in fact all the others (other than one who has replied twice in the eight years) don’t even bother to reply to the letter.
Isn’t it interesting that a project aimed at improving the health of one of the most iconic rivers in the country, and now influencing and inspiring similar projects or elements of, throughout the country, can’t elicit even the slightest response from the companies who rely entirely on healthy fisheries – except the visionary and generous Peter Drennan.

So, whinge over… back to the story. Once again, the fishing was hard… Not sure if it’s the river conditions or the anglers. Unsurprisingly, this provoked plenty of banter in the room, which seems to get better and better each year. This year, again, the match ended up being won with a roach, but unlike previous years where the fish itself warranted the trophy; this year it came in as a welcome saviour…

That said, there were good numbers of fish caught and especially a decent number of roach. One particularly notable roach catch was made by regular attendee, great supporter and all-round good bloke Keith Elliott who managed 48 of ‘em… When was the last time the middle and lower Avon could boast that? I wonder where they might have come from…
The match should have been won with a magnificent 10oz dace, which was the best ‘specimen’ of the day, and fully worthy of the highly coveted trophy and title. Unfortunately, though, there were two 10oz dace caught – and not by the same person. So, the Management Committee, along with the Board of Decision Makers, the Policy Commission, the Judging Panel and the ARP Ombudsman met to discuss the dilemma, and after a few moments, Berol and me decided to award it to the biggest roach caught on the day. So, regular supporter and very generous contributor Stuart Brown nearly fell off his chair when his name was called out to be presented with the trophy, just proving how fair, democratic, even-handed and impartial the whole affair is.

The whole event was a fantastic success, and the total raised was once again over the six thousand pound mark which is the very lifeblood of the project allowing it to continue to be run at full pelt and relatively financially unencumbered.
I highlighted in my closing statement to everyone just what this kind of support enables; not just the obvious, but some of the absolute fundamentals, which might be taken for granted, and which make the most monumental difference in what is achieved.
Right from the moment the roach hatch they can receive the very best, irrespective of the cost, with Brine Shrimp eggs at more than one hundred quid per kilo (I can hatch and feed four kilos in the first couple of weeks of our roach’s lives), then the special cyprinid feed at the varying grades, from fine dust to small pellet, according to growth and demand both in the tanks and of course all the stews and ordered by the sack-load.

The feeding and management has been finely honed over the years and while we might get a fair yield from just dumping spawn laden boards directly into our stews and leaving them to get on with it and take their chance, or feeding with some old trout or general fish feed, we have proved that by carefully managing and giving the roach the best, we can raise at least five or six times the amount of healthy adult roach – we’ve tried it; so we know. And this can only be achieved through having the resources to do so which come from these annual fundraisers.

This year we are experiencing one of the best ever in terms of numbers of fish and growth rates due to the summer conditions and couldn’t resist getting a couple of little underwater films, on the ARP Happy-Snap camera to show you. Links below. Hope you like…         
So, from the very depths of my heart I would like to give my sincere thanks to everyone who came along to the fundraiser, everyone who donated an auction lot and everyone who raised their hands to bid; to everyone who made a donation, Southern Fisheries for letting us have the Royalty as one of the venues for our fishing match, Ringwood and District Anglers Association for letting us have Severals and Christchurch Angling Club for allowing us to use Winkton, and of course everyone else who continues to support this most amazing project.

The dream continues to come true – for all of us…

A dining room full of supporters it is impossible to thank enough for their boundless generosity. Smiles and laughs, great food and great company – an atmosphere I wish I could bottle….

A scenic view of the lots table.
A couple of the more unusual items on the lots list in the foreground. The ‘Mad Hatter’ tea caddy contained what Chris Yates describes as beautifully preserved sea fishing tackle including the spinner on which he caught his first ever bass – it was a birds-nest in a tin… And the toothpaste box contained four floats excavated from his creel and presented in what he described as a lovely ‘float tube’... He should be locked up…
We are very lucky as each year great supporter and good mate David Miller sends us some of his fantastic artwork for auction, which is always extremely popular.
Another very special annual contribution is a specially made centrepin reel by David Beale donated by Ringwood Tackle.
Talking of ‘special’… Special case, Chris Yates, produced this ‘Waltonian Spell Card’ impregnated with a ‘special potion’ (Redmire water he keeps in a flask, collected the day he caught his record carp) entitled ‘Cast A Spell To Charm A Fish’ including full instructions on how to cast the spell… This resulted from a series of amusing telephone conversations I had with him…
I am unfortunate to suffer from occasional excruciating back issues and was in the midst of my most recent and particularly debilitating occurrence and was explaining to Chris on the phone (I’d like to say caused through pulling trees up by the roots or wrestling cattle or being in the A-Team, but it went simply as I loaded a box of beer into my car; but don’t let on…).
He said he’d send me a ‘bone and muscle spell’ that would ease it and that I should clear my mind of all thoughts and be doing absolutely nothing at exactly 3-30pm in order to receive the spell…. So, I did… No prizes for guessing that I wasn’t miraculously able to leap about like a 25 year old at twenty five to four.
I needed to speak to him again the following day, so asked him if he’d remembered to send the spell, which he said he had, and I asked when I might begin to feel the benefits from it, to which he replied… ‘Possibly in as little as six weeks or so…’
With such amazing powers it was decided to include a fishy related spell for our auction.
It was a mad dash to gather the last outstanding promised auction lots as the fundraiser day got closer, and I spent a delightful afternoon having lunch with Hugh and Sue Miles and Chris the week before where they generously loaded me with some wonderful treasures – perfect for the auction.
A startled Stuart Brown being presented with the winner’s trophy for his splendid roach which saved the day.
After the auction I stand and give a ten or fifteen minute (people say it feels like days) update on project events and try to express my thanks to everyone.
I know it might all seem like a formality, but I have tried to express the feeling before and failed, so will probably do so again here, but the moment I stand and see all the faces in the room, and as silence falls, there is an enormous, indescribable rush of honour and humility within me. I take a deep breath and pause for a moment as I realise that I am about to address a room-full of folks in an amazing setting having enjoyed a wonderful meal, a fabulous auction and a day fishing on multiple stretches of one of the most iconic rivers in the country in aid of a potty idea hatched almost a decade ago, which all started with nothing but a shed-load of self-belief, determination and a desire to have a go at making a difference, and was all held together, back then, with Sellotape and string and was funded through sponsored haircuts, half beard shaves, burglary and prostitution.
It is the most extraordinary feeling, and continues to be the most extraordinary journey, thanks to everyone’s boundless support.
The unsung heroes of the evening, Roy, our auctioneer, and his better half Jacquie who handles all the payments and receipts and checks that Roy and I are fully coordinated for the auction – and although only a slip of a thing she managed almost two helpings of treacle tart and custard… more than any of the boys did…
And this is what it’s all about – Roach glorious roach…
This is a shot of probably the most densely populated tank of fish in the history of the project, taken earlier this year. While an amazing achievement in itself, I have to also recognise the danger of this number of roach in such a small space, and the heightened risk of problems occurring, so will be moving them to the stews as soon as the water temperature drops significantly.
And, more glorious roach in the stews at Bickton. If only we could tell them what is responsible for their numbers and wellbeing…
As the roach continue to show signs of recovery in the Avon, and continue to be caught throughout the river in increasing numbers and regularity, with our first stocked likely to be getting close to that magical two pound mark soon, it is a real honour to be able to boast having a hand in it, which has all been, and continues to be, enabled through these annual fundraiser doo’s.
This little sparkler was one of a number taken a week or so after the fundraiser from smack-bang in the middle of the river below Fordingbridge, where we have made multiple deposits over the years.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?