One apparently increasingly contentious issue is the identification of large fish, particularly roach and rudd, which unfortunately have a habit of hybridising both together and with bream. Our two species of bream, silver and common are also not without blame in this whole sorry tale. So, this week I thought I would give a brief run down on the features to look for that can help you identify your catch.

Roach are amongst the most common of our coarse fish. The body is a bright silver colour, darkening in older fish. The fins are red/brown depending on the water. The mouth should be straight ahead and the eye red in colour. The dorsal fin begins before the pelvic fins and contains 9-10 branched rays. There are 42-45 scales along the lateral line. Hybrids with bream often have a darker colour and a deeper body. The mouth may be down turned slightly and there are around 20 rays in the anal fin. Rudd hybrids tend to have a slightly upturned mouth and the dorsal fin is roughly in line with the pelvic fins.

Rudd are a similar shape to roach, but err on the side of being deeper. There is sometimes a distinct pinching around the anal fin. The body is generally a bright golden colour (although this can fade in older fish), the mouth should be upturned and the eye bright yellow. The dorsal fin is set much further back than on a roach and starts after the pelvic fins. There are only 8-9 branched rays in the dorsal fin. There are between 40-45 scales along the lateral line. Finally, the fins should be a deep blood red. Rudd bream hybrids are quite rare and tend to be darker without an upturned mouth and with a much larger anal fin.

Common bream are generally easy to distinguish, owing to their deeper body and dark bronze colour. They have a down turned protrusable mouth and long anal fin. The anal fin contains between 24-30 rays and there are 51-60 scales along the lateral line. The dorsal fin contains only 9 branched rays. The eye is quite small and is more than one eye width from the end of the nose.

Silver bream are unlikely to be encountered unless you live in East Anglia, but where they do occur they can be very common. When small they can be very difficult to tell from common bream from murky waters. Obviously, they are much more silvery than common bream, but then this trait is not seen in common's until they are much larger than the maximum 1lb weight of silver bream, so it is not a good test. Much more importantly, the anal fin of the silver bream contains only 21-23 rays and the dorsal 11 rays. The eye is relatively much larger than the common bream and is less than one eye width from the end of the nose.

Actually out on the bank it can be quite difficult to decide for sure that a fish is exactly what you think it is, so make sure you get some decent colour photographs, preferably without any hands in the way to hide the important bits. Don't for heavens sake take the moronic step of killing the fish. We fortunately moved out of those times fifty years ago. Most good book shops also sell fish identification books of varying quality. Most get the descriptions right, but I think it is better to have one with photographs, rather than paintings as the former are more true to life. A book covering some of the more common European species, such as grass carp, ide and nase is also worth the extra as it won't be long before these species are seen more commonly in our waters. The secret is though to take your time and not be in too much of a hurry. Very often doubt creeps in over time, particularly when photographic evidence is poor. This is really not something to get hung up about though. A big roach/bream hybrid fights better than either species, and can give you a real thrill, so why think of it as any less?