Dace offer the angler a different challenge to other larger species. In dace fishing we are entering a world in miniature with its own very special demands. It is generally recognised that lightening reflexes with perfect presentation are key requirements. It is these special demands that have made dace fishing a special and stimulating aspect of our sport.
I suppose my interest in dace started when I learnt to fish. Although my father taught me the basics, it was my grandfather that really polished up my presentation. My grandfather was a very well-known and respected local angler and was always the man you had to beat in a match. As my father often had to work away, my grandfather would take me fishing instead. He was a tough task master who demanded good presentation with excellent tackle control. He insisted that I learned to float fish with a centre pin before starting to leger or use a fixed spool reel. He believed the pin gave smoother float control than is possible with a fixed spool reel. Grandfather liked dace and always referred to them as "the skill builder". "Practice and master dace fishing son, and you'll never have any problems with bigger fish" was one of his favourite sayings. I must admit upon reflection that he certainly gave me a terrific grounding that certainly paid off in later life.
To this day, I still use on occasions the double spoked Alcocks Ariel wide drummed real that he gave me for my 16th birthday. I still practice my trotting skills on dace. However for the majority of my float fishing on rivers, I have up dated the "Old Ariel" for a "New Ariel" - that is marketed by Shakespeare. This reel is machined out of top quality aluminium of a higher grade than used on the original. It is also far lighter and well machined. It must in all honesty be regarded as advanced as those early "Ariels" were in pre-war days.
So why is there all the fuss about using a rather out-dated art form i.e. trotting with a centre pin. The reason is because the surface and mid water currents are faster moving than the bottom layers and we need to present the bait at the correct speed. Obviously if we trotted through at current speed our bait would be moving unnaturally quickly across the bottom sending out a danger signal to any disdaining fish. We need to present a bait at the same speed as the movement of the bottom current. This is where the real art comes in - judging how much to slow the float down to match the bottom current's speed. Remember, the bottom layer is slowed down because it is not perfectly flat. It has stones, pebbles etc that create friction, and mini back eddies that all slow the water down. The centre pin with its freely rotating drum helps facilitate this slowing down giving a perfectly smooth natural presentation.
My dace fishing gear now consists of an older 13ft ultra light Shakespeare match rod with a specification very similar to the new Tetra Gold match. I've just not upgraded mine yet. This is matched with the new Ariel centre pin which is also marketed by Shakespeare. The reel is loaded with 21b main line which can be traced off.
I use a lot of swan necked balsa wood floats for trotting for dace. Mine were specially made for me by Pat Tarrant. They have an insert cut into them where the top float band fits so that it fits flush with the tip. My floats also have a bulbous bottom that helps keep the long bottom float rubber in place.
A useful method of fishing a swan necked balsa in winter for big dace is to fish over-depth with the float over-shotted by about one number 4 shot. Yes, my floats sink if not held back. The float is held back to support it enough to stop it sinking.
A number 8 shot is placed directly under the float to act as a depth mark. In winter I use a tungsten olivette rather than bulk shot. This is because the tungsten olivette is smaller than the shot, as tungsten is much more dense than lead. It is also streamlined so not only does it sink more quickly, it also offers less resistance to the strike resulting in more positive hooking. The tungsten olivette is placed about 2ft from the hook. Two number six shots are spaced out between the olivette and the hook. This approach also works for specimens of other species particularly roach and barbel.
The Upper River Kennet has a reputation for producing big dace. It is an area where over the past few seasons I have concentrated my dace fishing efforts. One of my favourite sections was the Barton Court section at Kintbury. This venue is primarily a brown trout fishery where coarse fishing is only allowed during the close season for brown trout. The owner keeps an eye on coarse anglers to make sure all the trout are returned. Being a trout fishery the banks are kept clear with few obstructions for trout anglers to catch on their back casts. Cover is therefore sparse and great care has to be taken not to be visible in the shallow gin clear water of the fishery.
My best days dace fishing on that venue occurred a few seasons ago when I was fishing in late October. I was trotting a deeper pool fishing with the trotting gear that I have already described. The float was over shotted and the outfit fished with a 1.11b b.s. trace to a size 16 hook buried in a large caster. I used a floating caster on the hook to counteract the weight of the hook. I wanted the most natural presentation possible as the water was very low and clear. I fed regularly small quantities of hemp and caster to build up a swim. I started off catching a few nice brown trout that disturbed the swim before the dace moved in. They were lovely fish ranging from 10 to 14oz which was big for the time of the year. Then I locked into a better fish that I thought must be a roach but I was to be proved wrong when a monstrous dace came to the surface. I took it exceptionally easily and landed the great dace. It was weighed on two sets of very accurate scales at 1lb 2oz. This fish had not got the chest of a late February or March fish. I was convinced that caught later in the season the fish would weigh between 1lb 5oz and 1lb 6oz - breaking the record dace. Naturally I returned later in the season but the river was always flooded and appeared to be about half a mile wide. I could not even get onto the bank.
The River Test, particularly in the lower reaches, is another venue that holds some very big dace. No doubt like the Upper Kennet, dace that would break the current record if caught at the right time of year. I have had more one pound plus dace from this river than any other. It is generally a much faster flowing river than the Upper Kennet and much more difficult to gain access. This is possibly the most exclusive game fishing river in the country.
Although trotting tactics as already described work very well, a tactic called "mowing the lawn" is also worth trying in certain swims. In this tactic, a small balsa float is fished over-depth and held back, but fished so close to the bank that it is virtually touching it. No doubt if a blade was fitted to the float it would cut back the bank side grass - hence the name "mowing the lawn". I once saw some dace close in on the river and used this tactic to catch eight big dace ranging from 13oz to over a pound.
So far, I have concentrated on fishing for dace in Winter. Now let us look at dace fishing in Summer. At this time of the year it is often possible to bring the fish well up in the water by constant light feeding with maggots. Fishing on the drop with traditional stick float tactics can bring good results. However on many sections of the Thames a shallow fished waggler can at times bring superior results. This is because when dace are bought up high in the water, it is quicker to catch them shallow rather than bring them up from the depths. A robust stable waggler is used so that if a bite is missed the float is only partially retrieved before fishing continues. This gives you a second chance of a dace if a bite is missed. The method certainly works and accounts for some big bags of good dace. It is also a great way to polish up your waggler fishing skills.
Whilst writing about dace on the Thames, it would be foolish not to remind readers of the dangers of hitting a carp. The great danger with hooking one of these fish on light gear is that a passing boat fouls your line when playing it. I normally carry a back lead to slide down the line when playing a carp with heavy boat traffic around. I often make my out of a heavy lead with a paper clip. It works well and is cheaper than most commercially available back leads. It takes my line well below the level of any boat traffic.
Finally no article on dace fishing would be complete without mentioning the use of elderberries. When in season these berries are to be found on many bankside bushes. I pick and use them fresh from the bush and use them with hemp seed. I fish one berry on a fine wire size 14 hook with a small swan necked balsa on the Thames. I mainly feed in hemp seed with just a few berries. It often appears that the fish are a little shy at first but they gradually build up confidence as the feed is regularly introduced on a little but often basis. In an evening season on the lower Thames I have had bags of dace to over 201b with individual fish going above 10 oz. This method also produces the odd good roach.
I hope in this article that I have given readers some insight into dace fishing. Dace are magnificent creatures that certainly improve the skill levels. They certainly provide a interesting change.