Saturday 31 March 2018

2018 Fish Releases


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.

We were riding high off the back of the best ever year of one year olds in the tanks at Project HQ, and had no idea what lay just around the corner…

Swarms of one year olds would balance what we thought was going to be a below average stocking into the river…      For every yin there’s a yang, and all that jazz…

Then the Beast from the East paid a visit and delivered us a couple of tonnes of snow and ice to be getting on with.

Being ruffty-tuffty brave little soldiers we got stuck in as soon as the snow started thawing but, I must admit, the first day was pretty uncomfortable (something else we can add to our already very long list of things we can bitch about)…

We were soon into the swing of things, despite the cold. The job has to be done so we just roll our sleeves up and get on with it (we always make Jim get the wettest though). We had no idea what was about to be revealed with the first run round of the net.

A close-up of just a section of the wonderful first haul of roach. We were amazed, and instantly started eating our words behind broadening smiles.

We filled the barrels full of roach and from one stew we had the fish struggling for space, so quickly ran them over to the oxygenated transportation tank in the truck.
What a wonderful problem to have – too many Avon Roach for the size and number of barrels we had…

A second sweep of the net and fewer roach gave us the opportunity to indulge ourselves slightly as we like to each year – well, wouldn’t you???

Myself, Jim and Phil, cold but very happy, and absolutely blown away at the number of roach. We were like excited children… Just look at those smiling faces.
These EA guys really do bring another dimension to this project. They make it all so much easier.

Down at the river and the first deposit of 2018 was in Ringwood, so will join the others we have stocked over the years, and through both adult migration and disbursement and natural larval drift from their annual spawnings they will add still further to the already noticeable regeneration from Lifelands down through Ringwood and Severals and beyond.

It doesn’t get much better that this, does it?... We smile every time we remember that this beauty started as a dot stuck to a piece of netting we banged to a plank and chucked in the river years ago. She has remained in our care all this time and is now giving us the indescribable pleasure of seeing her swim strongly away to freedom in the Hampshire Avon where she belongs.

And away she goes. What a lovely moment.

Next day and we were back at our stews at Bickton for day two. The shear numbers continued to amaze us, as did the size and unquestionable health of them all. From the tiddlers to the whoppers; all plump, vibrant, gleaming bars of silver. The one Stuart is holding here looks like she’s really packing it on ready for spawning.

Down at the river again, but this time above Fordingbridge and just below one of our spawn collection locations. These fish joined the others we have released in the section between Bickton, through Fordingbridge and up to East Mills over the years. Again, adult migration and, very importantly, larval drift will ensure good distribution and further regeneration.

We try to take as many pictures as we can to capture as much of this amazing experience as possible, which means we also get the best of it each year and enjoy the amazing privileges such close contact allows us.

The moment of freedom… Words can’t describe the amazing feeling we get.

We take a gazillion pictures over the few days and occasionally get really lucky when the camera shutter opens at just the right time and in the right light.

Sometimes when the light and angle and everything is good, we get a sequence of pictures that just tell the story all by themselves.

Not that I’ll ever let that happen…

…No matter how well these amazing moments are captured.

Sometimes (unfortunately, very rarely), the camera is in the right place at exactly the right time, and it’s these shots it is most difficult to get (apart from the ones of the roach actually spawning), as we are in effect against the clock. We need to get the roach out of the barrels and into the river as quickly and smoothly as we can.

Close-ups and posing done, we then empty the bulk of the fish straight into the river from the barrels – but always with a camera pointing down the throat of the barrel.

The location we chose here has a slack all along the inside line below us, so regardless of where the fish end up from the barrel, they will find it without trouble.
We are always very particular about our release points.

Then it was back to Bickton for the netting of the third and final stew, and the roach just kept coming.
Jim here is holding two of the Houdini roach that evaded netting the first time around which have added to the amazing number we have seen this year – which just goes to show how adaptable they are and will do what we want them to do if we give them a chance. 

So, off to the river we went again, and this time it was way down south at Winkton.
We were saying as we decanted the roach into the barrels from the transportation tank in the truck for release (which we did in two batches, given the extraordinary number) that, had we known the number of roach we were going to be stocking this year, we could quite justifiably have distributed them over five and not three locations.

Budgie and me, and some of our babies… Two of the proudest boys in the entire valley at the moment. We still have to pinch ourselves sometimes…

First netful go in for the camera.

Very shortly after, the first barrels are emptied and countless numbers of lovely adult Avon roach swim free – thanks to us and you lot for supporting our crazy notion.

Light just right again and a camera pointing up the throat of the last barrel of 2018.
Job done – what a year…

We are always delighted when folks come along to share the release moments with us as they are always so special (the releases and the people) – and we were joined at Winkton by forever and ever Avon Roach Project supporter and bloody good bloke, Hallam Mills… We didn’t get him too wet.