Common dace are a small to medium sized coarse fish found throughout Europe.
The larger specimens are sought by anglers for their difficulty to catch and their speed. In addition, they are sought by anglers as baitfish to catch large predatory fish such as the northern pike.
Common dace (scientific name Leuciscus leuciscus) are a freshwater coarse fish of the Cyprinidae family.
This is a diverse family and coarse fish which are derived from this family include carp, roach and barbel. There are many named given to this fish including “the dart” as they can be seen “darting” rapidly in streams during the summer months.
Other names include “darsen” and “hasel” however in the UK it is commonly known simply as “dace”.
There are other species of fish around the world called “dace” and which are a relative to the common dace found in Europe. Examples include the Siberian Dace (scientific name Leuciscus Baicalensis) which is found in Siberian rivers which drain into the Arctic basin.
There is also a species which inhabits areas of Mongolia which has the scientific name Leuciscus dzungaricus.
Dace have been confused with both chub and roach in appearance. There are records of hybrids between these species, however the dace spawns earlier than other species so this is not widespread.
They are also known to form hybrids with rudd. Although these hybrids are not widespread, the hybrids between these species are successfully interbred in captivity.
Dace were commonly caught and eaten throughout Europe. In many Western European countries dace are purely an angling fish and are either use as a baitfish or returned to the water.
There are still countries which consume dace, particularly those whom still consume freshwater species. Even in the countries where dace are consumed, it is not considered to be a particularly appetising fish.
Other species of dace around the world are more widely appreciated, such as in China where fried dace with salted black beans is a popular dish, and is even sold in tins.
Distribution and Habitat
Common dace are native throughout Europe and western parts of Asia. They are mainly found in North and Central Europe where the temperature is cooler.
They are naturally non-native to the warmer Southern European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.
The range of dace can be found in the north from Finland and Russia, in the east from Armenia, Afghanistan and Georgia, in the south from France and Croatia and in the west in Ireland and the UK.
Dace are found in Norway and Kazakhstan, however there is not conclusive evidence that they are native to these countries as they may have been introduced.
There is conclusive evidence that dace were introduced to Ireland in the late 19th century, most probably by anglers using dace as livebait to catch pike.
They have spread throughout Ireland and appear to thrive there. Dace have many of the characteristics of being invasive, as they are a fertile, fast growing and a long lived species.
They do not appear to be classed as invasive, however they can be seen as a pest in localised areas as it can invade Salmonid (areas which contain species such as salmon, brown trout and rainbow trout) fisheries.
Dace inhabit rivers and streams which are well oxygenated. They require clean water to survive and areas with dace will emphasise how clean the waters are that area.
Dace can tolerate the fast flowing upper waters of rivers, but are more commonly found mid-water or at the bottom. Dace prefer waters with a sand or gravel bottom.
Dace can be found in stillwaters such as lakes, however this is not their natural habitat and they were likely introduced by man or through natural occurrences such as flooding. Dace can survive in brackish areas.
Dace have a similar appearance to other Cyprinidae family species such as their cousins the chub (albeit smaller chub) and roach. They form hybrids with rudd, chub and roach so identification can be difficult at times.
Dace are comparatively small as a species with slender and streamlined bodies. They have relatively small and pointed heads. Their mouths are also small.
They can be distinguished from chub as chub have much larger mouths. They have yellow eyes in comparison to roach which have red eyes.
Dace are usually pure silver in colour, sometimes with a slight green or blue colour on their backs.
They can be differentiated with roach which usually have more of a blue or grey colour on their backs. Their bellies are creamy white in colour.
Dace have a pronounced forked caudal fin. Dace generally have pale white, or slightly translucent fins with a hint of red. Their pectoral, dorsal and caudal fins are tipped with a black colour which is a very attractive contrast.
Dace can be distinguished from small chub by their anal fins, as those of dace are concaved whereas the chub have convex anal fins.
Dace are not large fish, the average size ranges from 4 – 6 inches (approximately 10 to 15 cm). You will probably be able to find larger specimens in prime habitats and conditions. Their lateral line scale count is between 47 – 53, in comparison chub have 44 – 46.
Dace average 2oz to 6oz in weight (approximately 0.05 – 0.15kg). The British record stands at 1lb 5oz 2dms which, for those who will know having caught dace before, would have been a very large fish indeed! A fish of over 8oz is thought to be a specimen.
The average lifespan of dace is 8 to 10 years, although there may be older specimens in prime locations which live up to a maximum of 16 years.
How they Feed
Dace are omnivorous feeders. They form very large shoals with other dace of similar age and size.
Dace are renowned as being greedy fish. Dace mainly feed on the bottom, however they will also feed mid-water and can be found feeding on the surface for insects (particularly flies and midges) during the summer months.
Juvenile dace start their lives by eating zooplankton. As they grow older their diet will diversify to include arthropods, algae, small cyprinids, crustaceans, fish eggs, worms, snails and other small invertebrates.
Dace reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 or 3 years when they reach the size of 11 – 14cm. Male dace will migrate upstream, sometimes up to tens of kilometres, in order to reach the spawning sites which are often located in tributaries. The males migrate to shallow water whereas females move to deeper water before joining the males later.
The timing of when dace spawn is dependent on their environment. They spawn when the temperature reaches between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius, which is usually between the months of March to April.
Dace spawn relatively early in comparison to other members of the Cyprinidae family.
Before spawning, the male dace become rough to touch from their spawning tubercles, which makes it easy to identify the difference between male and female dace (at other times of the year it is very difficult).
The male dace form large communal aggregations in order to spawn, however each male will defend a small territory over the gravel bottom where they make small excavations.
The females will then move upstream to join the males. During darkness, the females lay their pale yellow eggs into the excavations made by the males. The males then fertilise them.
Females can lay up to 10,000 eggs if they are in prime condition. Females only spawn once per year, whereas other species can spawn several times. In some shoals of dace, the spawning period can be extremely short, and can be as little as 5 days.
The juvenile dace hatch in around 20 days. They will congregate around the margins, using the underwater roots and vegetation as cover.
They feed on zooplankton when they are young. As they mature they will move into faster waters and their diet will change to include edible plants and animals.
In contrast with many other species, dace only spawn once or twice during their lives.
How to Catch Common Dace
Dace are an incredibly fast and sprightly species which is sought after by anglers for use as live or dead bait. They are sought after in their own right by specimen anglers (looking for a larger specimen) and anglers looking to catch this rapid fish.
The best place to catch dace is almost always faster flowing waters. Look for clean waters which are well oxygenated. Waters over chalk, gravel and sand are excellent sports for dace.
Dace can be found in the faster upper levels of the water and they adore the turbulent and well oxygenated areas of weirs and weir pools. They are also commonly found in aerated pools.
Dace can be found in stillwaters and they are stocked by fisheries for anglers to catch.
There is good news for anglers looking to catch dace as they can be caught all year round. In the summer months they will generally feed from the surface where they eat insects.
In terms of bait, dace have small mouths so try to think of appropriate bait which dace could easily take.
We like maggots (as always go for good wiggling ones), pinkies, casters, small red worm, small blood worm and squats. You could also try bread punch or bread flake which are known to successfully attract dace.
Although dace aren’t really a fly fisherman’s choice of catch, there have been instances of dace being caught on the fly so this would be worth considering if you are looking to catch this species.
Try going for a dry fly or nymph patters and you should have good results.
There are a few techniques which you could try for dace. Float fishing, ledgering and fly fishing would work well.
Trotting is a very popular technique for dace fishing, however it can take some time to master. Dace are relatively small fish so light tackle is all that is required. Go for a 12 – 15 inch flat rod together with a centre pin or closed face reel.
A mainline of 3lb and a hook length of 2lb is all that would be necessary. Use hooks between the sizes of 18 and 24, depending on what bait you are going for.
If you are fishing with a float be aware that the float may not drop when a fish has been hooked. You will need to look for other signs such as when the float will no longer move with the current.
Another sign will be a slightly lopsided float. You should try striking (but not too hard) when this happens as more often than not, a fish will be on the end!
To attract dace try to feed little and often to really get a shoal feeding. When they are feeding they become more confident and the bites on your hook bait will be more confident too.
Dace are not particularly delicate, but like all fish they should be handled with care to ensure that their fins, skin and scales are undamaged. A good fish unhooking mat should make sure that they are protected.
Although they are small and you could easily lift the fish out of the water, always use a landing net as they could wriggle off of the hook (or have been foul hooked) and could cause damage if they fall.
They are hardy creatures but it is our responsibility as anglers to ensure they are returned as strong and healthy as possible!
As dace swallow their food whole, it is recommended to have a disgorger on hand in the event that they are hooked in their gullet.
Dace are known for being greedy so there always a chance of deep hooking. Try not to remove too much of their slime, and do not wipe the fish, as it could cause damage to their protective and immune system.
More Information on the Dace
If you would like more information on how to fish for common dace, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!