Monday 25 March 2019



The gathering spring usually holds a mixture of feelings for us, but is always underpinned with excitement, anticipation and fulfilment (and shed-loads of tea and cake) as we release the annual crop of three year old roach into the river and move the tiddlers from the tanks to the stews; usually cold and muddy, sometimes even icy, giving me plenty to bitch about in these updates. However, this year, not so. Every day any roachy business was scheduled we were treated to perfect, still, mild and calm conditions – leave it with me, and I’m sure I’ll find something to whine about…

In fact, we are usually reeling from the effects of some kind of adverse seasonal delivery or other, but it has to be said that we’ve actually had the perfect follow-up winter to the scorching summer in terms of little fish survival in our rivers.
First it was the turn of the two year olds to be netted and moved from the two long tanks at Project HQ and taken to the stews to join those removed as one year olds from the other tanks a year ago. This releases the two long tanks to take some of this years one year olds – following so far?
A basic principle in all we do is to have everything prepared and ready to go before any real disturbance to the fish, so the tank water is dropped to about five inches in both, the transportation buckets and bubblers are all ready, then it’s just a case of getting it done as quickly as possible to limit the time the fish are stressed. That said, we do slow the action periodically to take a few staged photographs. The roach have never complained.
Although we have a feel for how many fish we have at all the various stages (having done it for so many years – after a while even we start to remember), it’s only when moving them that we actually get a true idea of the scale of our annual achievements in terms of numbers, when we can see them all rather than catching a glimpse of a few as we feed them.
Even though we do it every year, we are still stopped in our tracks at the sheer number and absolute stunning beauty of the glistening little roach. We are also astonished at the enormous difference in sizes of fish of the same age.
The two year olds were transported in one long day and the one year olds had to be done over two as there are so many tanks to drain and net – and we only have so many buckets and bubblers.
Soon all the tanks were empty and ready for cleaning, and once again Project HQ – formerly known as my back garden was a squelching quagmire – there, I knew I’d find something to bitch about.
The three year olds are moved over three days from the stews to the river and usually in the third week of March, which was the case this time.
We always miss a few when we net which remain in the stews and this year we were amazed at the size of some of them. Not only were they whoppers, but it was clear that they had spawned in the stews as there were also a number of one and two year olds present… Confirming the old ARP philosophy – give ‘em half a chance and they’ll take it.
As well as the usual minnows, gudgeon and stone loach, which we assume come in from our feeder stream through the inlets perhaps as larvae, this year, for the first time ever, we had a single little pike we named Malcolm. We think it might have been dropped by a bird, as we have had the odd trout dropped in the same way from the adjacent fish farm. We’ve seen no sign of Malcolm’s presence over the years and the water has been clear enough for us to have done so – we surely would have seen him strike at our roach in clear water as they were fed.
This year, as every year, we stocked at a number of different locations again over about a ten mile distance. Ironically, one stocking took place right in front of a commemorative bench placed in memory of Gerry Swanton, well known roach man of his day. We wonder what he’d have made of what we’ve done.
Although we’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, these annual roach releases still give Budgie and me a real buzz and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. And, it still blows our little minds when we remember we have grown all these wonderful Avon Roach from eggs.
We never imagined we’d achieve the level of success we have. Our dream really is coming true. The Avon is now in the best health in terms of its roach for a generation and we are delighted to have played a significant part in it.
Once again, the EA guys, Jim Allan, Phil Rudd and Luke Kozak, were on hand to help with all the tanks and barrels and pipes and oxygen and expertise and bacon sandwiches. They really are a vital part of our team.
As usual, we’d like to extend our sincere thanks to everyone for the fab support and encouragement.

Project HQ ready and first tank draining. The moment that kicks the whole annual fish movement cycle off.

First haul of two year olds. They’ve grown well in the tanks.

Plump and healthy two year olds. It’s interesting that the size difference narrows as they grow. It’s also interesting to see that the fins on the larger ones are just beginning to show signs of colour. This time next year they’ll be bright red, indicating maturity.
An underwater close-up of them showing their paddle tails and fins.
Into the stew they go to join their brothers and sisters and cousins.
A couple of weeks later and it’s the turn of the one year olds. Again, everything is ready in advance.
Water dropped and the little roach are ready to be netted.
First scoop of sparkling little one year olds. What a sight.
It seems to be at this age that the size difference is at its greatest. Perhaps the titchy ones would not have survived in the wild. Certainly, the bigger and better swimmers they are, the better chances of survival. We know the very tiny ones, if they don’t keep up, become food for their tank-mates.
Underwater close-up of the one year olds we’ll keep for another year in the long tanks at Project HQ.
Then, the turn of the three year olds to be netted and released into the river. The first run of the net around the first stew is always an anxious time, but who knows, maybe in another decade we’ll have gotten used to it.
The roach are deposited back into the barrels from the tank on the trailer, and just look at how many there are in that one scoop. The bench behind me is a memorial to passed roach man, Gerry Swanton. We could sense his approval.
As we do every year, we have to have a little cuddle of a couple of the prettiest ones. What perfect creatures they are.
Jim Allan removes Malcolm, the pesky pike. During his time in the stew he must have felt as happy as a carp angler in a kebab shop.
Down at the river and we had to get a few more touchy-feely shots of the roach at their point of freedom.
Even though slightly high on oxygen, the roach still slide casually into the river with dignity only an Avon Roach possesses – or are we slightly biased and a bit soppy?
We think this was the biggest of the year. Obviously one that avoided us when we last netted the stew. But, what a whopper…
The first full barrel for Gerry Swanton. These roach will be looking to spawn themselves in the river in a little over a month.
Another full barrel of healthy, plump adult roach, ably assisted by EA fisheries man and great supporter of the project, Phil Rudd (what a great name for a fisheries officer – and yes, he really is that tall… Nine feet seventeen inches).
Jim Allan and me pour the last two barrels of roach into the middle reaches of the river. Those grins on our faces lasted days… Our Roach Faces.
Two very happy boys, Budgie and me, where it all began - with ‘Roach Faces’ again.
And this is where it all starts. Gorgeous Avon Roach romping all over our spawning boards.