Wednesday 9 May 2018

2018 Awesome Spawning and Hatching.

Annual spawning board placement usually takes place in the first week in April just in case of an early warm spell which has once before triggered early spawning. However, all Roach Project aficionados will by now know that unless something very unusual happens (Floods, Ice Age, Heatwave), spawning takes place on or around the 25th, so with the river still full of snowmelt water and not even the remotest glimmer of Spring in the air, there was no urgency.

Then to add to the feeling of ‘how much longer is this bloody winter going on for’ some ridiculously heavy ‘April Showers’ sent the river up and into the fields… Eeeeehh, you couldn’t write this stuff.
Suddenly, it seemed Spring remembered the time and got a grip. The river began dropping, swallows started arriving, brimstones and bees joined us and a Grannom hatch exploded as the temperature climbed and the river warmed and cleared – once again hitting the ARP ‘Panic Button’…
By the third week in April all the spawning boards were in the usual locations – plus one new one noticed and tried for the first time last year, and we were ready to go.
Off the back of the most successful one year old yield and the second highest number of three year olds ever returned in the few months earlier, it was unlikely that we would score a hat trick with regard spawning action, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to happen…. Oops! I’ve given the game away again, haven’t I?
There are only a few spawning locations which allow decent pictures to be taken, and even at these it’s a case of being there at the right time and spending hours clicking away in the hope of a few jaw-droppers. And, over the years we have always felt that the previous years pictures will never be equalled, let alone bettered.
Well, this year simply blew my little mind.
I received a call saying the roach were splashing so popped along with the camera to see. They were splashing but it would be a couple of days before full-on spawning action would be happening. The first day is usually the males all establishing territory at the spawning boards and chasing each other around, which is what was happening.
I’ll not dwell on it here as most of you have probably already scrolled past this to see the most amazing spawning pictures ever.
I stood in perfect light with perfect river conditions and in a couple of hours took 959 pictures of the most amazing Avon Roach spawning spectacle I have ever experienced. The roach were thrashing around all over, even skidding across the tops of the spawning boards which they’d partially covered with eggs.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of individuals, large (huge) and small – the smaller ones very likely being some of those we stocked downstream last year. Then there was the welcome return of what we refer to as the ‘big girls’ – two roach we estimate to be well in excess of three pounds. In addition to these beauties we were blown away by the sizes of some of the huge males, which you’ll see in the pictures below.
The number and size of the roach, and given that they spawn exclusively on our spawning boards in preference over any of the natural substrate in the area, meant that careful management was essential as they’d covered the netting with spawn within a couple of days – so the spawning boards were collected and replaced with fresh for the roach to continue without any risk of over clogging what had already been deposited.
It’s always a little unnerving, but the roach are on the replacements and spawning like fury within minutes. I have even had roach spawning on a board as I’m pulling the rope to retrieve it – a truly awesome experience.
Safely back in the tanks, the eggs began to develop nicely over the coming week, slowed slightly by a drop in temperature – the main downside to this being my hands aching up to my armpits when taking the underwater pictures. – but just twelve days later and hatching commenced. That was it; I felt like I’d been fired from a cannon as I assembled and filled the Brine Shrimp Hatchery in readiness for the roach needing this crucial feed.
Getting the roach hatched and starting to feed and grow on the Brine Shrimp in the first few days is always a real buzz as thousands of tiny new lives begin. I must admit that the novelty wears off within about twelve seconds though as it is very time consuming and particularly dull – that said, it is probably one of the most critical and important stages… That won’t stop me bitching about it though.
This year there was yet another rather pleasant occurrence and feather in our cap as we saw roach spawning on the stanchions of Ibsley Bridge, once famous for its roach, but like much of the rest of the river suffered the same level of decline. These were very likely either some of the fish we stocked just above the bridge, a while back, or the progeny of stockings further upstream at North End which are known to have flourished as they now seem to be doing throughout the river.
Back in the day we placed our spawning boards at Ibsley over a number of years in our attempts at finding roach spawning sites, unfortunately without success. And, with roach finding our spawning boards irresistible if placed in the right place it proved to us that there were sadly no roach left at Ibsley. Not so now.
I’ll leave the words there and let the pictures and captions tell the rest of the story.
Once again, I’d like to thank everyone for the continued support and encouragement.

Outstandingly satisfying to see great numbers of roach at the spawning boards yet again, which increases each year. At this location it was doubly satisfying as the smaller ones are very likely to be those we stocked downstream last year. In fact, most of them are probably something to do with us over the years.

Initially, there is a lot of male territorial jostling. Again, great to see such healthy numbers.

Some of the males were huge. Just take a look at this fellow. It is worth remembering that the board is one metre long and nine inches wide and the fish you are seeing is eighteen inches below the surface.

Here one of the ‘big girls’ is attracting the attention of some of the boys.

As they come together the action starts to intensify.

Then away they go… Just what is it about these spawning boards???

A large female deposits her eggs surrounded by attentive males which rub their tubercle-covered bodies against her to induce egg release.
I think that’s a smaller female on the top which seems to have been buffeted clear of the water.
Once they started, the action was full-on and there were clusters of writhing roach all over the four spawning boards at this location.

Within a matter of just a few seconds it’s over so I had to just keep the camera shutter clicking away at every movement.

The light was just right and the roach continued to oblige.

Wonderful moments captured by a very lucky me behind the camera.

Simultaneous action on both edges of the same spawning board, and the shot clearly shows the depositing of the contribution to the next generation.

And a swimmers roll to exit.

More action on the same section of spawning board.

This shot clearly shows the size difference in the spawners this year.

Then it seemed like every roach in the river converged at the spawning board at exactly the same time. There were red fins everywhere.
This shot also shows the spawn on the top of the board where they off-load as they actually leave the water and skid over the top in the excitement.

One of the ‘big girls’ passing on her priceless genes. It’s lovely to know that through the way we do things this genetic purity is retained.

It seemed that for the whole time I was there, there was no let-up in intensity of spawning. I think I was lucky to have caught it at its peak.

It was very clear that the roach were very quickly covering the netting with eggs as the action was unrelenting.

Not a very sharp picture, but worth including it as it shows an explosion of roach.

One of the ‘big girls’ with a tubercle-covered male caressing her under the chin.

Some pictures just don’t need captions…

This shot also shows not only the males and females enjoying a group hug, but also again shows the varying sizes of the spawners – possibly between four and fifteen years of age.

Some of these pictures might suggest the roach preferred particular areas of the spawning boards, but in fact this wasn’t the case as they were all very evenly covered with eggs.

Last one of the spawning – and one that shows how the eggs are deposited on the top of the boards.

Our little happy-snap underwater camera did the trick again this year and here the eggs are well on the way and developing nicely. The little roach are clearly visible.

As it gets to twelve days they are almost ready to hatch. The roach fill the egg and begin to distort the shape from round to elliptical as they straighten to break free.

Then the first hatchling is photographed. The elliptical shaped eggs are very noticeable here indicating that hatching is about to start.

Hatching gathers pace as these tiny, transparent splinters of life emerge in greater numbers.

And, yes, as we try to do each year – here is a picture of roach actually hatching.

The newly hatched roach will stick themselves to the nearest inanimate object (usually the underside of the spawning board) with an adhesive gland on their heads where they’ll spend two or three days taking up their yolk sac before swimming free in search of food, which I must ensure is there for them. It is images like this that tell me that the Brine Shrimp Hatchery needs filling and firing up, as the rate of hatching is not obvious without far too much disturbance to the spawning boards which is to be avoided when the little critters are hanging there like this.

Tiny little roach possibly less than a few minutes old – sons and daughters of the ‘big girls’ maybe.

You’ve seen it before, I know, but just for the sympathy, I thought I’d include a Brine Shrimp Hatchery picture again – and remind you that this is my conservatory.

Before you know it, the tanks are teeming with tiny roach looking to be fed. We try, with varying degrees of success, to ensure healthy algal blooms in the tanks which we start the moment they are filled following the evacuation of last years roach. They are also seeded with live daphnia which thrive on the algae and give birth to live young every few weeks so both the live daphnia young and the algae and little microscopic critters living in it will be food for our tiny roach allowing them to graze as they’d hopefully do naturally.

I probably feed the first lot of brine shrimps before they have fully taken up their yolk sac, but I’d rather they have it and leave it than need it and not get it. However, you can see that many of these pink-bellied three day olds have appreciated the first feed.

These pictures slightly betray the truth when it comes to understanding just how fragile and vulnerable these tiny little splinters of life are – especially in such a fickle and unforgiving environment like a river.

Awesome!… Isn’t Nature wonderful??? Many of us would be completely oblivious that this microscopic scramble for life is happening all around us with all kinds of different creatures – until some saddo like me starts taking pictures of it…

One of our deposits of roach above the once famous Ibsley Bridge a few years ago. Isn’t it satisfying to know that roach are once again holding their own in this historically iconic roach stronghold and actually spawning on the bridge stanchions?
Through adult migration, displacement and, more significantly, larval drift from the hatchlings of these spawners the immediate area and the river above and below will naturally benefit from our efforts.