Well it’s certainly been a year of extremes; but then you don’t need me to tell you that (I’m going to anyway, though…). Even the England football team were popular for a while… Goodness, what is happening to this world??? Last time that happened, they won the world cup then went home and washed their cars and mowed their lawns – Oh how the world has changed…
Anyway, on to the roachy stuff…
Winter saw temperatures plunge to minus goodness knows with a double dumping of thick snow, setting heart rates fluttering with worry about how our little roach would handle it in the tanks and stews, then within a few weeks it was like it hadn’t happened as the roach spawning triggered throughout the river right on time and everything was reset to ‘normal’…
The tiny roach hatched nicely in the tanks and they were soon stuffing their faces with Brine Shrimps twice a day and growing like crazy.
Then, as you know, it all went off the other end of the scale as temperatures reached mid 30’s C and stayed there… Even at night, it felt like.
The same heart flutterings happened with the heat as with the ice, but with heat can come all kinds of additional waterborne nasties, especially in a heavily populated enclosed over-ground artificial environment like our tanks.
All in all, though, the roach did OK. The heat did trigger some ‘pea-soup’ algal blooms which enabled the most amazing daphnia explosions in all the tanks which as we have mentioned before we seed so they continue to feed our little roach with the live young they squirt out every couple of weeks. At one point the daphnia outnumbered the roach.
The enjoyment of the wonderful summer was punctuated by sessions wrestling our stream and stews back from Mother Nature who insists on filling them with vegetation, but with a little help we made short work of it all.
While the steaming hot conditions can have alarming disadvantages, we must remember that from a general riverine ecology perspective the warm water, low flows, prolific weed growth and abnormal abundance of bug life will mean that this will be one of the best summers for fry survival and recruitment for almost a generation… Not since 1976 have we experienced such extraordinary conditions. Couple this with the work we are doing, the habitat stuff we, and others, are involved in and the raft of other elements being dealt with, this will be a ‘fantastic’ year for the fishes in our river.
Yes, I know there is a whole world of other stuff we need to address, but it’s nice to pinch a moment to reflect with a glass half full, for a change.
Now, as the summer cools and softens into the nutty sweet scented, tawny glow of autumn it seemed really appropriate that I saw my last swallows on the day of our annual fundraiser event held on the 6th October.
Their spring arrival signifies the beginning of our frantic period and it’s fitting that their departure signifies its end.
It was once again an amazing doo. A great bunch of folks attended, we had an amazing array of auction lots on the evening – after one of the bestest ‘boys’ dinners ever… Steak and mushroom pie, vegetables and roast potatoes, followed by apple pie and custard… Proper grub…
We were delighted and again stunned by the amazing generosity of the folks in the room on the night and those who donate the auction lots. We have exclusive guided fishing days, rods, reels, pictures, books and a whole load of other stuff.
Once again, huge thanks go to Southern Fisheries for letting us have the Royalty Fishery, Christchurch Angling Club for letting us have upper and lower Winkton and Ringwood and District Anglers Association for letting us have upper and lower Severals for our friendly fishing match we held on the Saturday.
For the sixth consecutive year roach featured on the catch returns and this year, for the second time, the match was actually won with a roach.
This roach, however, was not one of ours as it will be older than our project. It was a whopper of three pounds two ounces and taken by fundraiser regular and no stranger to big roach, Mark Everard.
And, there’s more… Not only was the match won with a roach, but roach were caught throughout the river, which is now a common occurrence. One competitor sent a message afterwards telling of catching nine gorgeous roach to 1lb 6oz and said…’ I had to "take a moment" to compose myself: there was a moistening of the eyes and a few deep breaths. A previously rather barren stretch of river, now with a sustainable population of roach. What an achievement for the Avon Roach Project. The fellowship of roach anglers are forever in your debt. I can only add my humble gratitude to the many plaudits you've earned.’
As I stand there at the end of the evening giving my closing speech and thanks I get a wobble in my voice as I look around the room and tell of the roach now being caught and seen throughout the river, and I am transported back to the point Budgie and I sat face to face beside a river with a declining roach population estimated to be below critical mass and asked… ‘What can we do???’ – Well, we certainly answered that one.
What a journey, what an achievement and what an experience…
As well as continuing to grow roach, the investment in habitat improvement continues with possibly the largest and most effective excavation of a huge fry bay at Sopley on the lower part of the Avon; historically renowned for its roach, completed only a few weeks ago (end of September). This is the latest in a number initiated by the ARP over the years and a valuable accompaniment to the rest of our activities.
Off the back of our unprecedented achievements with roach (you can have a blow on this trumpet after me…) we are adding yet another string to our bow by spearheading an initiative to increase the effectiveness of vital gravel spawning sites in the Avon, improving egg and fry survival of species such as Barbel and chub, in partnership with the Environment Agency, using the same simple and pure techniques and holistic principles as we have done with the roach. Watch this space…
Thank you all once again for your fab support and encouragement – Now on to the pictures round…
A second helping of snow and sub-zero temperatures raised concerns for our little roach as it looked like winter would never end.
Dunno what all the fuss was about. The little roach didn’t even flinch… I must admit that our sighs of relief could probably be heard in the next county.
Then, as if Mother Nature had just remembered the time, Spring hurtled at us and everything was reset to ‘normal’ and the roach began spawning right on time.
Tanks full of free-swimming roach fry means panic, urgency and worry as the first few weeks are the most difficult to handle. There is literally no let-up.
Satisfaction and fulfilment comes rapidly as the little roach grow before our very eyes as they gorge on protein rich shrimps, fed twice a day every day for the first two weeks.
Daphnia supply our roach with constant food between Brine Shrimp feeds in the form of their own live young. The adults, of course, are too big for our roach at this crucial time, but as they grow that changes.
As if this amateur fish farming malarkey isn’t stressful enough, summer temperatures then rocketed to the mid 90’s Fahrenheit – probably almost 100 degrees higher than just a few months earlier. This was even more of a concern than the snow and ice.
Again, dunno what all the fuss was about. The roach were all fine. We ensured good oxygenation, fairly frequent partial water changes and regular water tests for any nasties that can creep up on you almost overnight.
Job Done… Well, almost. While it looks like we’ve just chucked it all in a heap on the immediate bank, after about a week of dry weather the whole lot will weigh a fraction of what it does when first removed so much easier to clear away.
The fundraiser was once again well attended with some regular old faces it’s always great to see (some haven’t missed a single event), and some new faces too, which is lovely.
A three pound two ounce roach is a very special creature, as is our Mark who despite being no stranger to big roach did what we all do in the presence of such an extraordinary critter – he just went to pieces.
I made the most of the trophy presentation (as is the norm on these evenings), but having caught a three pound roach, Mark didn’t really care what was said and how much stick he got – and who would.
Plenty of roach now feature in our annual matches and here is an example. What a belter – which might even have been born in my back garden.
In less than a week the area is unrecognisable as the vision now becomes a reality.
Job done. Possibly the most effective we have ever been involved in. Mother Nature will soon repair the bruising and scarring left by the diggers.
A nice reminder of where it all starts each year for us.
And a reminder of what they might grow into if given the chance and with a heap of good luck.