Fish Profiles Dace

The Common Dace (Leuciscus leuciscus), a member of the carp family, is a small to medium-sized silvery fish and is scientifically classified as follows:

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

Order: Cypriniformes (carps)

Family: Cyprinidae (minnows or carps)

Genus: Leuciscus

Species: Leuciscus leuciscus

The Dace, also known as the Dart due to the speed at which it can swim, is widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia, particularly in rivers and streams north of the Alps. The largest populations can be found in France and Germany, in addition to some abundance in England. It has also spread to Ireland where it tends to be used by anglers as a bait fish. A temperate region fish, dace prefer waters with a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0 and a temperature range of 39 degF to 72 degF. Although mainly a freshwater fish, dace can sometimes inhabit areas of brackish water, those tidal areas of rivers where freshwater merges with saltwater.

Although a member of the carp family, it is rather small in comparison to its much larger cousin and will only reach a maximum length of 16 inches, a maximum weight of 2.2 pounds and live for up to 16 years. The current British record for a rod-caught dace stands at 1lb 5oz 2dr. The dace has a slim, rounded body and scales which are small and flat. The head is slightly pointed with quite large black eyes and a small mouth. The head and back have a greenish tinge along the dorsal line, the flanks have a marked silvery sheen and the underside is white. Both the tail and the dorsal fin are a translucent grey in colour, whilst the pectoral, ventral and anal fins have an orange tinge to them. Dace are quite often mistaken for Roach or small Chub, however the anal fin of dace is concave in appearance, thereby enabling positive identification from those other species.

A gregarious fish which swims near the surface, dace can be found in the faster-flowing stretches of rivers and streams with rock or gravel bottoms, including the rapid and highly oxygenated water immediately downstream of a weir. Shoals of dace can also be found in the deeper, still waters of lakes. Dace are omnivorous, feeding on invertebrates, fish eggs, plants, seeds and algae. During the summer months, feeding tends to be mainly near the surface on a diet of mayflies, caddis flies and beetles. During the winter months the diet consists mainly of worms and small molluscs found on the river or lake bed.

During February and March, male and female dace separate, the males moving to fast, shallow water and the females to deeper, calmer water. Spawning takes place during March and April, when the females move upstream to join the males in fast-flowing water. Females can produce up to 9,500 pale yellow eggs which are attached to gravel and rocks, fertilization by the males occurring immediately. Hatching occurs around 3 weeks after fertilization. Immediately prior to spawning, the male dace becomes rough to the touch with the abundance of spawning tubercles. This period is the only time in the year that male and female dace can be readily identifiable.

For anglers, float fishing is probably the most productive method of capture. Fished light with lead shot spread evenly down the line, a float gently held back can prove very effective. Small bait such as maggot, allowed to rise and fall with the current, will tempt dace into biting. As dace are a shoaling fish, steady and consistent feeding is needed to maintain the interest of the shoal. Dace can also be caught by fly-fishing, using a dry fly or a nymph, often to the annoyance of an angler fly-fishing for trout.

Due to it being a feeding generalist and its fast growth rate, the dace can be considered an invasive species outside its native range.