BLEAK Alburnus alburnus

Waters: Rivers, streams and occasionally canals and lakes.

Baits: Maggots, casters, hempseed, bloodworms.

Techniques: Float fishing, greased line.

This is a small, silvery fish, rarely exceeding 6in. (15cm) long. Average bleak are between 4 and 5in. 110-13cm) long, and weigh about 1 oz (28g). Large bleak and small dace may be confused, but identification is possible by comparing the dorsal fins. The bleak’s is convex, while that of the dace is concave. In colour the bleak is blue-green or grey-green along the back, and the sides are a brilliant silver.

The species is a useful quarry for the matchangler because the fish congregate in huge shoals swimming close to the surface, and their readiness to take a bait leads to large. Possibly winning weights. Bleak are also ideal •starter* fish for beginners. They are easy to catch on light tackle and provide great fun as they pull the hook this way and that, giving valuable practice at playing fish and handling tackle.

Being a small fish, the bleak’s diet consists of plankton, surface-living insects, and insects which fall into the water, so very fine tackle is necessary: a very light rod and a reel loaded with fine nylon of about 0.7kg b.s. For end tackle use the smallest of floats, literally a mere matchstick or piece of peacock quill, tiny split-shot and a small hook, size 16,18 or 20 baited with a single or double maggot. ()ther baits can be used, such as hemp, a fragment of bread, or bloodworm, but since they fall readily to maggots there is little point in changing baits unless the angler likes to experiment.

Regular offerings of maggots into the swim will attract bleak and draw them to within inches of the surface. If the float is then set accordingly, the bleak will throw themselves at the hookbait as soon as it hits the water.

By careful baiting up and feeding of loose maggots into the swim within easy casting distance, a shoal of bleak can be induced to stay exactly where it is wanted. In maichfishing this makes for quicker action and in consequence a heavier bag to weigh in. Some matchanglers dispense with the float and grease a short section of line. This section of the line then acts as a float and a bait indicator, its movement easily visible on the surface.

Constant casting, striking, unhooking and re-baiting at a fast rate is required for only a few pounds weight of these small fish, and for the angler who wishes to enter the matchfishing scene the practice is invaluable. If the correct tactics are employed, bleak will provide some hours of continuous, active sport, and in a competition they make a useful matchweight to back up other members of the team who may have fewer but more sizeable fish.

Some anglers make a point of fishing for bleak when they need some deadbaits for a session fishing for pike, perch, chub or zander. As deadbait, bleak can be preserved or deep-frozen and stored until required.

In the nineteenth century the scales of the bleak were used in the manufacture of artificial pearls, and they have also been caught in quantity for animal feedstuff.

A good bleak swim, such as a lock cutting, could hold a dense shoal of these small, silvery fish.

The bleak is a good bait fish, easily caught with fine float tackle. Maximum weight is no more than 2oz (56g), though half this is average.