The Dace is a small fish but can provide the angler with a great bit of sport, particularly when using light tackle.
Dace (Leuciscus leuciscus)
Dace typically weigh between 2-6 oz (0.05-0.15 kg) and grow to an average length of between 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). In optimal conditions, they can reach sizes of 2.2 lb (1 kg), however, in the UK a good catch would be a specimen around 8 oz (230 g).
LC – Least Concern
Dace have small, slim bodies, their backs are olive green in colour and they have bright silver flanks with a white underbelly. The forked tail is a translucent grey, as is the dorsal fin, whilst the fins on its underside range in colour from a brown-yellow to pale pink.
They are often confused for small chub but can be distinguished by the shape of their fins. Dace have a concave curve on the back edge of their fins, whilst chub have a convex shape instead.
So how do we catch one?
The natural diet of dace is made up mostly of insects and aquatic plant life. Depending on the temperature and water conditions, dace will feed at pretty much any water level.
A range of baits can be used to effectively catch dace, such as bread baits, hemp, wheat, elderberry, maggot or casters, caddis flies, woodlice, freshwater shrimps or worms. Plastic maggots work particularly well and act as a great time saver as you do not need to keep replacing the bait after each bite. As dace are small fish, use light tackle with a small hook and appropriately sized bait.
A Note On Spawning
Dace spawn around the month of April, when water temperatures reach 9-10°C. The females migrate upstream to congregate with the males in the shallows, here they deposit their pale yellow eggs along the bottom, within the finer gravel and at the bottom of aquatic plants.
Dace can be caught year-round. During the summer they are usually found closer to the surface.
Dace are exclusively river dwellers, with fast flowing, well-oxygenated rivers being strongly preferred. Typically found close to the surface, dace are shoaling fish but larger specimens tend to be found in isolation.
A swim on the river which has a consistent depth of about two feet (60cm) or more and stretches for a yard or so, make for spots to find a shoal of dace. Generally, these shoals are mainly made up of fish no bigger than a few ounces, but this is not always the case, which makes this form of fishing particularly exciting.
An ideal spot for dace
Ledger or float tactics can both be used to catch dace, use small handfuls of groundbait on a regular basis to keep the shoal in your vicinity.
Trotting is a form of fishing which works extremely well when fishing for dace but can take some time to master. Before diving in with bait on the hook, determine the depth you are working with by running the float through the swim a few times and set the float to run through the swim with the bait just off the bottom.
Begin by running the float through the swim with the current, mending line as required to keep the float on track. Leave the bail arm of the reel open and release line by gently pressing on the edge of the spool with a finger.
Make sure to hold the float back for a couple of seconds every now and again, this will lift the bait off the bottom which can make it more attractive to dace. Once at the end of the swim, hold back for a second or two before winding back in. If it’s one of those days when the fish aren’t biting, run the float through whilst maintaining slight pressure so that it travels through slower. Experienced anglers can do this with a fixed spool reel, but most anglers prefer using a centrepin reel.
When fishing for dace, keep the tackle light, use a main line of around 3 lb (1.4 kg) and pair it with a lighter hook length of 2.5 lb (1.1 kg) or less. A size 18 hook will generally work well for most swims. In very clear waters you may need to use a lighter hook length and/or a smaller hook.
Bites are typically registered by the float dropping underneath the surface, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the float will appear as though it is no longer moving with the current, or appear slightly lopsided. Any abnormal behaviour of the float is a sign that it’s time to strike, don’t strike to hard though, a stiff flick will do the job. Maggots are an excellent bait for dace when paired with this method and can produce bites almost immediately. Alternatively, small baits such as casters or pellets can also work well, but will generally take longer to produce bites.
The strength of the flow will dictate whether you should use a stick float or a balsa rig. A stick float rig with shot spaced out is great for fishing medium flows, whilst a balsa rig with bulked shot is preferred when the current is stronger.
Two stick floats, suitable for slow/medium flows (left) and a balsa rig for faster flows (right)
If you hook a small fish, simply close the bail arm and gently reel the fish in, however, should you be lucky enough to hook one of the larger specimens that are out there, give some line by applying finger pressure on the spool and close the bail arm after the first run.
Big dace are most often found in slacker water just off the main current. You can get your hook bait into these areas by holding back hard when the float is about half way through the swim, this will pull it into the near bank and can lead to bites from the bigger fish that lurk there.
Faster runs are great areas to find dace, fishing the bottom is not required either as the fish will happily take the bait at all depths. Groundbait is a great tool when fishing for dace, but keep it in the form of a cloud. If fishing a deepish swim, cast with the smallest shot closest to the hook, this will cause the current to lift the bait up and down, meaning that you are covering a wider range of depths. In addition, the movement that this gives to the bait is extremely attractive to dace.
Make sure to feed a few samples of your hook bait just before each cast, this will get free samples travelling alongside your hook. The pace of the river will dictate how far upstream from the float you will need to throw it in.
Dace are known to be a particularly fast-biting fish and this can take beginners a while to get used to. Using a rod-rest is a waste of time when fishing for dace as you simply do not have time to pick up the rod once the float has gone down.