Coarse Fishing for Bleak (Alburnus alburnus)
The Bleak (Alburnus alburnus), often described as a freshwater sprat, is a member of the carp family. When fully grown it has a length of about 17 cm (7 in) but the average size is more like 10-12 cm (4 to 5 in). In colouring it is green, blue-green, or grey-green along the back, silvery on the flanks. A bleak closely resembles a small DACE in shape and general colouring, but its identity can be checked by comparing the anal fins, that of the bleak being much longer.
Bleak spawn in early summer as do the other members of the CARP family and, as with them, the eggs adhere to the stems of water plants. They are not widely distributed in the British Isles, being found only in certain parts of England and Wales; the Thames and some other rivers are teeming with them. They much prefer the quiet, easy-flowing water of rivers, but they can exist in still water. They seem to do well, in fact, in disused gravel pits, where some large specimens around the 50 g (2 oz) mark are occasionally taken.
During the summer months, when most other species are disinclined to feed, bleak swim in large shoals feeding and sporting around on the surface, constantly dimpling the surface as they rise to flies. Fly-fishing for bleak can be lively and anywill take them. A change to a maggot (a plastic imitation will often do), fished on a small hook and cast in the fly-fishing manner, will bring some fun. Bleak will take other baits — bread, cheese, hempseed, etc. — but maggots are favourite.
A very light rod with a fine nylon line is best. The smallest of floats (a match-stick float will do admirably), a tiny, and a No. 14 or 16 hook complete the tackle necessary. Match fishermen might choose a No. 20 or 221
It is best, following usual coarse-fishing tactics, to throw in some loose maggots beforehand. The bleak will soon be attracted to within a few inches of the surface, andmust then be set accordingly. Once the shoal are in the swim they take loose maggots — and the hook-bait — as soon as they touch the water, splashing and dimpling the surface as they do so. In winter bleak desert the surface layer, and the bait must then be fished near the bottom to catch them.
On some rivers, bleak are important to match-anglers because they take a bait so readily and help to fill out the catch. Several big competitions have been won on bleak — but casting, striking, unhooking, and re-baiting must be done at high speed to pile up a winning weight of 6.7 kg (15 lb) or more.
Bleak make good quarry for young anglers and beginners before they go on to larger quarry. They are easily caught and, if light tackle and the right tactics are employed, will provide a few hours of active and enjoyable sport.