Fishing for Dace: Leuciscus leuciscus
The dace (Leuciscus leuciscus), sometimes called the dart or dare because of the way it darts through the water, is a slim fish, predominantly silvery in colour but olive-green to brown along the back. Its pectoral, ventral, and anal fins are generally yellowish but sometimes have a slight tinge of pale pink. The caudal, or tail fin is forked; the dorsal and anal fins are concave. The dace has a comparatively small head, with a brilliantly coloured eye. The scales are medium to small in size, and there are forty-seven to fifty-four of them along the fish’s lateral line. A dace may easily be mistaken for a small CHUB, and vice versa, but they may be identified one from the other by the dorsal and anal fins which are concave in the dace and convex in the chub.
The angler might catch a dace/bleak or a dace/chub hybrid. Hybrids of bleak/chub have been recorded, but Dr Tate Regan in his standard work on British fish states that these recorded hybrids may possibly be bleak /dace. If you do catch a fish which you think may be a cross between these species, keep it for further examination.
The dace is a member of the Cyprinidae family of fishes and like most species in the group is almost always to be found in shoals. Dace shoals in general prefer the swifter currents of the stream, particularly the clean, gravelly shallows. Yet many large shoals inhabit some deep, slow-flowing rivers and may also be found in still waters.
In April and May dace gather for spawning. Each adult female deposits an enormous number of eggs in the weedy shallows. These eggs are small and sticky, which enables them to adhere to stones and aquatic plants. The males fertilize the eggs, which are then left to hatch. This takes only a few days. Once hatched the young fry have to fend for themselves. During the first few days, they live on the yolk-sac, which is a small reserve of food, and when this has been used up they start feeding on minute water insects. The natural food of dace consists of flies, fly larvae, and other aquatic insects, snails and worms, and silkweed and similar water plants.
Because they prefer well-aerated water, dace are among the first of theto recover from the efforts of spawning. Fish exhausted by spawning undoubtedly need a good deal of oxygen. Even on the first day of a new season, they are fit, in good condition, and ready to put up a game fight.
Most of the anglers’ baits will take dace, at any time of the season; it is the presentation of the bait which is the most important consideration. Care should always be taken when putting a bait on to the hook.
Clean, lively maggots are the best all-round dace bait. More dace are taken on them than on any other bait. For presenting a maggot correctly the hook must be as sharp as a needle, since a blunt hook will tear the maggot’s skin, allowing the white inside to ooze out. If that happens the maggot is practically useless as a bait. Nick the sharp point of the hook into the skin of the thick end. If this is done carefully the maggot will not be punctured and will wriggle alluringly.
Earthworms are a popular dace bait on some waters, with the small redworm as first favourite. A brandling worm, recognized by the yellow rings down its body, is also useful. The tail of a lobworm is effective for big dace, particularly the larger specimens which may be found in strong-flowing weir streams. The dace which live in these weir-pool swims are usually also fond of silkweed. This is to be found growing on the submerged wood pilings, steps, and stonework of weirs. As bait, silkweed is best used on a No. 12 to 14 hook trotted down the fast, clear swims on float tackle.
Bread baits, paste, crust, and flake may be used to good effect at any time during the season. The best of these is undoubtedly flake-crumb from a white loaf. The popularity of this bait is due not only to its effectiveness, but to its requiring no previous preparation. All that is needed is an absolutely new loaf, which will have quite enough moisture in it to make it ready for use without further attention. When baiting the hook, a No. 10 or 12, simply take a small pinch from the spongy white crumb and squeeze it on to the hook. It is best left ragged and natural; the smaller particles which break off and drift down with the current will help to attract fish.
Hempseed is used as bait on some rivers, notably the Thames where some large bags of fish are taken by the regular anglers. Before it can be used as bait it must be prepared by simmering it in water until the seeds split and expose the white germ. The bend of a No. 12 or 14 hook is pressed into the opening where the seed has split. The fish are fond of the white kernel which protrudes from the cooked seed, and for this reason many anglers paint the shanks of their hemp hooks white. This is supposed to disguise the hook and improve the appearance of the bait.
Ground-baiting with hempseed can easily be overdone; you should use only small and diminishing quantities. Start sensibly by using two or three grains at a time, and continue to do so at frequent intervals throughout the day. Don’t throw in handfuls, since this will only spoil your chances of catching good fish and ruin the prospects of other anglers near by.
When fishing a regularly hemped swim I find a bait of crushed hemp mixed with bread paste a successful lure for the extra big dace. This bait is fished on the bottom.
An angler who finds that the dace are too fast for him to hook would do well to change the hook-bait from hemp to elderberry. Apart from those mentioned, many other baits take dace, including caterpillars, earwigs, woodlice, mealworms, caddis grubs, wasp grubs, freshwater shrimps, bloodworms, pearl-barley, and wheat.
For dace fishing, a light rod with a fast action, especially in the top joint, is ideal. A 3.6 m (12 ft) match-type rod, with built-cane top, is suitable for fishing swimming-the-stream style. A Nottingham-type reel, with large drum, optional check, and free-running action is best, but awill do. The reel should be loaded with fine line. As a guide I would suggest 700 g-1.5 kg (1-1/2-3 lb) nylon monofil.
The hook should be sharp and of smallish size, varying of course with the type of bait to be used. I normally favour hook sizes 12 and 14. Since a large float requires manyto balance it correctly, always use the smallest float possible. Almost any small float will do, provided it is not too thick at the middle, because the resistance this causes is certainly felt by a taking fish; in any case it generally spoils bite registration.
Correctly loaded and adjusted,will be extremely sensitive and give warning of the slightest touch.