Published Jan 1. 2001

Blacknosed dace

This in one of several articles in a series being created as a group effort by members of the Streamer List to provide some background information on the species of forage fish we most commonly try to immitate with streamer patterns.

Title Illustration By Doug Saball

Introduction: This feature is a the first of a series of articles being created as a group effort by members of the Streamer List to provide some background information on the species of forage fish we most commonly try to immitate with streamer patterns. Many thanks to Lindsey Grandison for coordinating this effort, as well as the list members who contributed patterns and other information!

Black Nose Dace (Rhinichthys atratulus)

This description of the Black Nose Dace was submitted by Doug Saball with added notes by Will Taylor

This small minnow, about 2 1/2 inches, may be distinguished from other minnows by the black lateral band which extends around the snout backward through the eye to the tail. The body is plumply rounded in front and compressed behind. The back is olive-green to dark brown in color while the lower sides and belly are silvery-white. Scattered over the back and sides are darkened scales. In breeding season males, have a rust-red coloration on the lower sides, and some have orange or red coloration on the pectoral fins.

This species is distributed from the Northern Atlantic coast near Nova Scotia west through the Great lakes region to Manitoba, and the Dakotas and southward on both sides of the Appalatian Mountains to Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. It is reported to be found occasionally in brackish water in the Maramichi river tributaries before the head of tide (2). Two subspecies, R.a. atratulus, in n. and cen. Atlantic Slope drainages(including James and Roanoke rivers) and e. Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin(west to e. Lake Ontario), has silver-white to gold-yellow along and below black-red stripe on the side of the breeding male. R.a. meleagris, over the rest of the range but apparently also inhabiting James and Roanoke drainages, has orange to brick red stripe along and below black stripe on the side of the breeding male. There is a distribution map (#108, in Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes p. 100). There are good color illustrations of the breeding males of both of these subspecies as well, on plate 16 (but no illustrations of nonbreeding colors).

This fish is often a curiosity to fishermen because it often has numerous black spots or bumps covering its body and fins. These spots are from the encysted stage of a larval parasitic worm which is found beneath the fish's skin.(1)

The black nose dace is found in small, rapid streams with rocky or gravely bottoms. Occasionally it is found in large rivers, but seldom in lakes and ponds. Commonly the black nose dace is found in the company of brook trout as well as some streams with temperatures above that which brookies can tolerate (1).

The Black nose dace spawns when the temperature reaches about 70 degrees, usually in May or June (2). Spawning takes place over gravel bottoms in the fast water of shallow riffles, where the water is a few inches to a foot deep. There are 4 sub species that have differing methods of nesting which range from building a small pebble nest to no nest at all. Some sub-species develop a territorial behavior, especially the males. Other sub-species abandon the nest after fertilization. It is reported that black nose dace are 25-61 mm the first year in Ohio. In Michigan the populations matured at 2 years. It is suspected that this species is short lived living only 3 or at most 4 years (2).

The food of the black nose dace consists primarily of aquatic chironomids insect larvae, and diatoms. Desmeds and other phytoplankton were eaten during November through March. They will also eat their own eggs, or others eggs if given the opportunity. In turn the black nose dace is eaten by larger brook trout and fish eating birds such as mergansers and loons (2).

Common names are blacknosed dace, black-nose dace, eastern blacknose dace, dace, striped or redfin dace, brook minnow, pottlebelly, and potbelly (2).


  1. Freshwater Fishes of New Hampshire, John F. Scarols, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Division of Inland and Marine Fisheries, 1973.
  2. Freshwater Fishes of Canada, Bulletin 184, Scott, W.B., E.J. Crossman, Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Ottawa 1973.
  3. Peterson's Guide to Freshwater Fish. Page and Burr

Pattern Listing

Contributed By: Pattern Name:
Lindsey Grandison Thunder Creek BND
Lindsey Grandison Art Flick's BND
Lindsey Grandison Zwirz and Evan's BND
Lindsey Grandison Beady Eye BND
Bob Petti Matuka BND
Bob Petti Male Dace
Bob Petti Golden Darter
Aaron Hirschhorn Marty's Dace
Will Taylor Scraggly Lake Dace
Will Taylor Clouser BND
Robb Nicewonger Disco Dace - 3 variations
Stan Jakubaszek New Age Dace
Doug Saball Simple BND - 3 variations
Chris DelPlato Marabou Thunder Creek BND

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