The dace is a fish that has a large range, with some species living in Europe and North America. Scientifically, they belong to the Cyprinidae or minnow family. Additionally, there are an estimated 20,000 species, worldwide.
Dace are incredibly adaptive, with some variations depending on species. They can be found in cold or warm water, muddy and murky water to clear and fresh water, fast-flowing rivers and streams to bodies of water that don’t flow at all. This means that they can be found in rivers and streams as well as in lakes and ponds. In fact, this is a fish that will even live in brackish water or the ocean. Specific species have water preferences, however, and not each species can tolerate all the various habitats mentioned. According to the American Fisheries Society, about 58% of the 20,000 species live in saltwater, 41% occur in fresh water and 1% can live in both.
These fish are often silvery in appearance, however some species may be darker, blotched and may have yellowish undersides. Some species even have reddish or pinkish coloration. The body is usually slender and streamlined, both from side to side and top to bottom. The caudal fin is large and clearly, though usually not deeply forked. Species such as longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) have large and prominent anal, pectoral and ventral fins. The dorsal fin doesn’t run the length of the back and is located about midway between the head and tail. This fish lacks a adipose fin. Many species additionally have a small barbel at the corner of the mouth.
Some freshwater dace species are native to Europe and the UK while others are naturally occurring in the US, Canada and into Mexico.
Dace tend to be small fish, usually on the order of one to three inches (about two and a half to seven and a half centimeters) in length. Individual specimens seldom grow larger than six inches (fifteen and a quarter centimeters) in length, with some species being considerably smaller than others. Partly because of their size and reproductive propensity, these fish are often important prey fish for larger predatory species such as pike.
Though there is some variation depending on species, freshwater dace often breed in late spring to early summer when water temperatures have warmed to about 50 F. or slightly above. Dace produce large numbers of eggs, often leading to large numbers. This makes the dace a pest fish in some locations. Still, some species may be quite rare or limited in range.
Most species of dace eat primarily aquatic invertebrates and flying insects. They may also scavenge for food, like dead fish, or may eat various kinds of algae and other kinds of vegetation.
These fish are edible, though often not highly prized. They do sometimes form a large part of the diet of larger predatory fish, however. They are also often used as bait fish for fishermen. Larger species of dace can also furnish sport by hitting a hook surprisingly hard for such a small fish.
Dace is a fish that tends to be prolific, with many species, some of which live in different areas and habitats. Native species can be found in Europe, the UK and North America. While they aren’t particularly large, many other fish rely on them for food, and there are a number of ways to cook them for human consumption, though they are often underrated and appreciated.