Monday, 22 March 2021

FINAL AVON ROACH STOCKING

We knew it was going to be special, but even we were surprised at just how special it ended up being.

The week beginning March 15th (the first week of the fishing closed season, and the usual week we stock our roach into the river) started with the unpleasant task of netting the thirty unfortunates to be taken off for the health check and it was this first casual sweep of the net around a quarter of a pond, expecting just a few hundred roach at most, that revealed just how special the week ahead might be. There were so many roach that we even considered stocking additional locations – perhaps five or six instead of the usual three.

As usual, the health checks came back clean so we had the go-ahead to stock.

Looking back, we have never failed a health check. We’ve had a bit of blackspot and eye fluke and mild Echinochasmus in scale pockets, but they’ve always passed and our size to age ratio has always been comparable with historical records, so all in all us boys done good… Or we’ve just been lucky.

Unlike previous years, when the netted stews would be receiving fish from the tanks to grow on, this year was the final netting, so we were able to drop the water to assist and increase effectiveness as, usually, despite repeated sweeps of the net, there are always a few (perhaps fifty or so) which evade capture and live for a further few years in our care. This year we were aiming to remove every roach, then drop and dry the stews.

One of the most obvious things that was evident on many levels, should we have decided to continue, was the need for significant investment in desilting our feeder stream and stews and re-posting and netting them against avian predation. Not surprising after more than a decade.   

Being our final lot, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to stock which, as a result of the extraordinary level of success of our efforts over the years, now wasn’t so critical to the ongoing recovery of roach in the river. However, we were happy with the spacing of the deliveries and the continuing huge natural impact they’d have. We even had enough fish to put some where, at the beginning of the project, might have been regarded as needing them the least. However, with the rest of the river now in as good a state regarding its roach for a generation, we could afford to be generous.

The stockings happened on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a great deal of extra care and consideration having to be applied due to Covid, meaning the nettings had to be critically coordinated. The EA guys, Jim, Phil and Lewis, stepped up to the challenge and made it the amazing experience it always is. They once again not only supplied all the equipment, tanks, nets, oxygen etc. but also an astonishing level of expertise. We’ve said it before, but we could not have achieved what we have without them.

By the end, we all agreed that the story of this week would have made the perfect final chapter to the book – copies of which are still available, by the way. So, for those who still haven’t got your copy yet… Shame on you! How do you sleep at night?

We have had some eyewatering comments about it, with folks saying the simply can’t put it down; so to all who have one, we thank you very much.

Here’s the link for those who haven’t:-

www.avonroachprojectshop.co.uk

It was a very strange feeling both Budgie and I shared while dismantling elements of what we have spent a decade and a half building, maintaining and caring for. But we also agreed, the system has done its job to a level beyond what any of us could have anticipated.

This final stocking is unquestionably the greatest number of roach we have deposited in a single year. It was mind-blowing…

Although this was the ‘final’ stocking; as we have said before, there will always be an Avon Roach Project, if only in name and to enable us to advise and assist others to do what we have, and front or encourage or advise on ongoing habitat enhancement. And, you never know; there might even be an encore…

We will also uphold our promise of ensuring sufficient spawning substrate at the locations at which we have helped bolster the roach population density and look at improving gravel spawning substrate, in partnership with the EA, for species such as barbel in the Avon – now we are ‘experts’…

Again, in partnership with EA Fisheries, we are also looking at allowing adaptations of our techniques to be used in management of some stillwaters – watch this space.

We’ll let the pictures and captions tell the rest…

As well as the water being dropped slightly, work is carried out in the weeks prior to netting to remove all marginal sedge and weed growth, alive or dead, to assist the smooth running of the net.

The net in this picture has a slightly heavier lead-line, and while it also gathered quite a bit of silt, we had some dinky gudgeon, stone loach and swan mussels indicating its effectiveness.

Of course, it also has to be expertly executed as the roach don’t just give ‘emselves up, as we have found over the years.

All we needed for the health check was thirty, but a casual sweep of a corner of a pond returned this little lot. This is when we realised we were in for a very special week.

Such was the effectiveness of the netting and the extraordinary numbers of roach; we employed this floating retaining net to keep the fish in to minimise the time they are in crowded barrels and tank.

It also gave us a few moments to indulge and get some good pictures. This also shows just how big some of those we missed three years ago have grown… Proper whoppers. 

Still a very proud moment when we reflect on the fact that we have grown all these from eggs in our care. We’ve learned a great deal and come a long way over the years. From a pair of clueless crackpots eh?

The starting pistol is fired and we get them into the barrels then the oxygenated tank as quickly as we can, with the odd pause for a quick snap of the action.

Plus, of course, the obligatory cuddle of the plumpest beauties. Some moments just have to be savoured. 

Avon Roach perfection… From an egg stuck to some netting banged to a plank and chucked in the river to this – simply awesome! And so maybe not such a pair of clueless crackpots after all. 

The pace is stepped up slightly when we get to the river as we net the roach from the tanks for release… My hair isn’t as thin as that in real life, by the way…

Cameras are all around and clicking away to try to capture as many of the moments as possible, and the first dip of the net reminds us just how many roach we have.

We don’t need reminding of just how stunningly beautiful these creatures are, but are reminded at every turn… Red-finned wonders, all courtesy of our pioneering efforts.

Us two very proud boys with the first scoop of the net for the river. We still go all gooey… 

A very grateful Britford keeper Stuart Wilson with a net of roach he swears he’ll look after like they were his own kids.

And in they go; the beginning of the final stocking, and a long hard week ahead, but a week of unimaginable rewards.

First stocking done and then it starts… ‘One thing I ask you to do - one thing… Bring the f***ing Hobnobs: and you can’t even get that right…’

By the way, it might look like I’m carrying a few extra lockdown pounds…I’m not actually that fat in real life…

They say the camera adds at least eight pounds, and we had about four pointing at us that day.

Day two, and the first of many barrels are deposited in the middle reaches of the river at one of the locations from which we have historically collected spawn, and where we have seen the roach population burgeon, thanks to our efforts.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?...

Further down-river and we assess the most suitable spot to drop possibly the greatest number of roach in a single location in the projects’ history.

Just look at that little lot… Roach soup. This was one of about eight barrels.

Although small, all these will be looking to participate in spawning at the end of April, adding literally hundreds of thousands of eggs to the increasingly healthy system.

Barrel after barrel of perfect adult Avon Roach, all starting their time in our care as eggs deposited on our spawning boards… Mad eh?

There are Avon Roach Project moments that are beyond words. The unimaginable privilege and honour we both feel at having played such a significant part in the recovery of what we all thought was lost forever is indescribable.

Just one of what the EA guys estimate to be in excess of ten thousand roach deposited in the Avon over three days. Not bad going eh?

Now buy a book and read all about it…


Well… What did you expect?



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