Common carp are a large coarse fish found throughout the world, in fact they are found on every continent apart from the North Pole and South Poles!
Common carp are a fascinating species and there are several subspecies and hybrids. These are a favourite species among anglers and with good reason!
Common carp (scientific name Cyprinus carpio) are a freshwater species of the Cyprinidae family. Many of you will be familiar with this family as it includes other varieties of carp such as mirror carp and grass carp and also barbel, roach and tench.
Common carp are also called European carp, however anglers often refer to these as simply “commons” to differentiate them from other varieties of carp.
The original and wild Cyprinus carpio are rare (which is hard to believe given the ubiquity of the farmed version) and can be found in the Danube River in Europe. The wild species is actually listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. It is debatable whether the wild species ever existed in the UK or it was only the farmed variety which were brought over.
There are many other species of carp which are actually varieties of the species Cyprinus carpio. These include mirror, leather, koi, ghost and F1 carp. Common carp interbreed with crucian carp to create “F1 carp”. F1 carp would form naturally in the waters where the two species would naturally form hybrids.
As the demand for F1 carp has grown, they are now artificially bred on a large scale to supply fisheries and they are a popular fish for anglers. In addition to F1 carp, there are also, now, “F2 carp” which are created from two F1 carp spawning. Common carp are also known to form hybrids with other varieties such as goldfish.
There is a small demand for common carp in garden ponds however their cousins the goldfish and koi carp are far more popular for this purpose, probably due to their brighter colours.
Common carp are farmed around the world. They are very popular as they are very fast growing, considered easy to rear and, unlike salmon, they do not need fresh running water. The purpose of farming the fish is as use as food and for use as an angling fish.
Carp farms can be found across Asia in countries such as China, Japan and India where they are grown together in rice paddies as they will fertilise the crops. They are also grown in Europe, particularly in eastern Europe where freshwater fish are a popular eating fish. Believe it or not carp are actually the most common fish which are farmed across the world.
Carp have been popularly consumed throughout history. The Romans ate carp with abandon and are credited with introducing them from Asia throughout Europe (maybe even in the UK). In Asia there are records which show that carp were being consumed as far back as 300BC.
Throughout the Middle Ages monks grew carp in their stew ponds for the table. In the UK they are not widely consumed as they are thought to have a muddy taste. Carp are a very popular eating fish in Eastern Europe and in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland it is a popular fish to eat whole during Christmas.
Carp are popular to eat whole as they have rows of Y-shaped bones which makes them difficult to fillet.
Distribution and Habitat
Carp are native to eastern Europe and Asia. In their native habitat, they can be found as far north as Russia and Ukraine, as far east as Vietnam and China, as far south as Croatia and Azerbaijan and as far east as Hungary and Austria.
Carp are extremely widespread and have been introduced to over 80 countries. Amazingly, they can be found as far afield as American countries including Canada, the USA, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. In Africa, they can be found in many countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Mauritius.
They can be found in Asian countries where they are not native, including India, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
They can be found in European countries where they are not native, including France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Spain. They can also be found in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
In areas such as Australia and the USA, carp are treated as invasive pests. In southern Australia it is illegal to return the fish to the water. There are attempts to remove them from the waterways in the USA.
The reason they are treated as pests is that they are fertile, mobile, long lived and their feeding damages the ecosystems. There is also little demand in these countries for carp as an eating fish.
Carp can be found in some slower moving rivers but they seem to prefer stillwaters such as ponds and lakes. They can be found in some faster rivers and they have different, more streamlined bodies in these environments. Carp can even be found in brackish water in some locations.
Carp are an amazingly hardy species. They can tolerate cold and warm temperatures – between 3 and 34 degrees Celsius. They can survive in waters with a low oxygen content by breathing at the surface.
They move to deeper areas of water in cold weather where the water temperature is higher. They will survive water which has a frozen surface.
Common Carp are large, heavy fish with deep bodies. They have dark coloured backs which is usually dark grey, dark brown or black. Their flanks are bronze, olive green, dark yellow or brown in colour.
They have creamy white bellies. The colour of the fish can vary greatly, however some fish have a slight black colour where their scales join the skin. The scales are relatively large and they do not have scales on their heads.
Carp have long dorsal fins which are black or dark grey in colour. Their caudal fins are also black or dark grey in colour. The anal and pectoral fins are usually a lighter colour, and can be orange and red however this depends on the environment.
Like other members of the Cyprinidae species such as barbel, carp have four barbules on the sides of their mouths (two on each side). One pair of barbules are found immediately to the corner of their mouths and are quite long and the other pair are located higher up the mouth and are shorter.
They have thick, rubbery lips and their upper jaw slightly protrudes. Carp do not have teeth, but have pharyngeal teeth which crush food before swallowing.
If you find carp in faster flowing water then their appearance is likely to be different. They will have a more streamlined look in contrast to the slower water ones which have deep bodies. Whichever fish you find, they are a very handsome species.
Carp are a large fish, however some specimens can grow to huge sizes. Carp grow to larger sizes in warmer water than in the UK. Specimens of over 70lb can be caught throughout Europe, however the largest was caught in France in 2010 by Martin Locke (from Kent, UK). The fish was caught near Bordeaux and weighed in at a whopping 94lb!
In the UK, carp will generally grow between 5 to 15lb on average (approximately 2.25 to 6.8kg). The British records stands at 65lb 14oz.
The average length of carp is around 18 to 26 inches (45 – 65cm), however the larger and older specimens will be far larger and up to 48 inches (120cm).
The average lifespan of carp is around 10 – 50 years, however there may be older specimens in prime locations.
How they Feed
Carp are omnivorous. They have been known as “freshwater pigs” as they are not fussy, greedy and will sift through mud to find their food.
Carp use their barbules to detect the micro-organisms which live on the bottom of the water. They search through the mud and silt to detect the organisms. This leaves clouds of mud in the water and you can sometimes see this from the surface.
This can severely disrupt the ecology of the water as this will prevent plants from getting sunlight and it can disturb and disrupt other species in the water. Carp will also eat insects or other items from the surface.
Carp will happily feast on aquatic plants, algae, invertebrates, molluscs, snails other fish and crustaceans. Among their favourite food is freshwater mussels which they eat with the shell (saltwater mussels can be a good bait!).
Carp reach sexual maturity between the ages of two and three years of age. Spawning is dependent on the environment in which carp live. Spawning will begin once the water temperature reaches between 16 to 22 degrees Celsius, which is late spring or early summer in the UK.
Carp will move to areas with abundant weed in shallower waters. They seem to prefer to spawn after rainfall when the water rises. The male and female carp swim side by side and the females deposit their eggs which males then fertilise.
The eggs are adhesive and stick to the weeds. The eggs are orange or yellow in colour. Healthy female carp can lay up to one million eggs and can spawn more than once per season.
The eggs are not protected by the parents. The eggs hatch in three to eight days, depending on the temperature. The juvenile carp will remain attached for 2 to 4 days until they fully consume the yolk sac.
Once they have absorbed it the juvenile carp will be 8mm in length. The juveniles will stay in the weeded areas for protection from the currents and predators. As they grow older they will move into the deeper water.
The juvenile carp will be targeted by predators such as perch, pike and heron, however the larger fish will be too big for predators to target.
How to Catch Common Carp
Carp are almost always actively fished for in still waters. Many fisheries will advertise the fact they stock large carp.
Once you have found a good fishery, you could try various locations to find carp. A few areas to look out for are reed beds, overhanging trees or any overhanging vegetation from the banking.
Carp use these areas of cover so you could increase you chances by fishing there. Carp can sometimes be seen from the surface as they bask in the sun, which can be very frustrating if you aren’t catching any!
In terms of bait, the boilie and pellets are a firm favourite of many anglers (including us!). Carp are greedy and will generally go for a large variety of bait – we have even talked to anglers who even prefer extremely meaty or spicy baits.
Some good baits include dog biscuits, bread, worms, peanuts, luncheon meat (you could flavour this for extra smell), maggots, casters, sweetcorn, mussels, brandlings and red worm. It’s worth trying a variety to see what works for you.
Carp can be caught with a variety of methods, however float, ledger and feeder are probably the most popular ones. If you are going for specimens then ledger and feeder are the more popular methods and should yield good results.
It is difficult to determine exact tackle for carp as their weights vary so much. In general, you should go for a good rod with a 2lb test curve fitted with a fixed spool reel. For larger specimens you will need 10lb+ main line and 8-12lb hook length (20 with a size 4 – 10 hook, depending on your bait.
Carp are attracted to groundbait and you can get creative with the different types you could make. Try to include some of your hookbait in the mix.
Once you bring your catch in to land, use a good landing net (go for something around 30 inches) and give the fish some time to relax in the water. Lift the fish away from the banking so that it is undamaged by roots and anything sharp near the banking.
Lift the carp directly on to a good carp unhooking mat (this can sometimes be a two man job if anyone is close by!). Try not to lift too high from the ground in case you stumble and drop the fish.
When unhooking the fish, keep in mind that the hook will usually embed in the rubbery lips, but have forceps or a disgorger on hand in the event that it is deep hooked.
You can weigh the fish but not too high above the ground (a tripod is excellent for this). You can also take photos but do not stand high in case you drop the fish. Keep the fish wet, if you see white mucus forming then it’s natural slime is drying and you need to wet the fish.
There are several varieties of treatment available for wounds on carp so you could take one of these along to treat hook wounds. If you notice anything unusual such as sores you should report this to the fishery owner.
If you would like more information on how to fish for common carp, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!