Koi carp and ghost carp are large coarse fish found throughout the world. Koi carp and ghost carp are fascinating subspecies and, as they have been bred for their looks, they are beautiful fish. These are popular both for outdoor pond enthusiasts and anglers alike!
Koi carp and ghost 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 subspecies of carp such as leather carp and mirror carp and also chub, rudd and gudgeon. Koi carp are sometimes known as “Japanese koi carp”, “Japanese koi” or simply “koi”.
Ghost carp are sometimes called “ghost koi” however in the UK they are generally known as ghost carp.
Koi carp and ghost carp are derived from common carp and these subspecies share their scientific name Cyprinus carpio with common carp (as well as other subspecies such as mirror carp).
Koi carp are the result of selective breeding stretching over an extended period, perhaps even hundreds of years. It is thought that carp were brought from Persia (now Iran) to China, and then from China to Japan over 2000 years ago.
The word “koi” is thought to have been first recorded when a carp was presented as a gift to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius 500 years ago.
After many years of carp being reared in rice paddies in Japan, where carp were introduced to eat mosquitos and as a source of food, some fish had mutated to various colours. The coloured koi carp were interbred to create stronger colours.
The distinct patterns of koi carp today originated in Niigata in north west Japan in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Koi carp have been known in Japan as flower carp (“Hanogoi”) and fancy carp (“Moyoogoi”). It is thought that the word “koi” is derived from “goi” to differentiate koi carp from common carp. Koi carp in Japan are currently known as “nishiki”.
Koi carp are revered in Japan as they are symbols of strength and their ability to overcome obstacles, for these reasons they are the national fish of Japan. Apart from isolated areas in Japan, koi carp were not known to the rest of the world until 1914 when they were displayed at a public exhibition in Tokyo.
Ghost carp are a hybrid between common or mirror carp and koi carp. It is possible for a male and female ghost carp to spawn, however there will be a percentage of offspring which will revert to their ancestral type.
Ghost carp grow quickly and can compete in the wild for food with other carp subspecies and interbreed with other subspecies.
Koi carp are an extremely popular pond fish due to their varied and stunning colours. There is also a lesser demand for ghost carp. There are 22 varieties of koi carp and each will have different colours, patterns and scaling.
Having bright colours puts koi carp at a disadvantage with predators as they are more visible so some ponds have been designed to prevent predators such as heron, otters and cats from eating them. Koi carp can be trained and may even eat out of your hand.
Koi carp and ghost carp are grown in captivity mainly for stocking fisheries and for garden ponds. These are a very popular species as they are desirable due to their colouration, as well as being fast growing, considered easy to rear and unlike salmon they do not need fresh running water.
Koi carp and ghost carp are reared from Asia to Europe to satisfy the demand. Carp as a whole species (including common carp, mirror carp etc) are actually the most common fish which are farmed across the world.
Distribution and Habitat
Ghost carp and koi carp are generally bred in captivity, however there are records of these fish in public waterways. Carp in general are native to eastern Europe and parts of Asia.
In their native habitat, carp be found as far west as Hungary and Austria, as far north as Russia and Ukraine, as far east as Vietnam and China, as far south as Croatia and Azerbaijan.
Carp, including other subspecies, are extremely widespread and have been introduced to over 80 countries. Incredibly, they can be found far outside of their native range. They can be found in American countries including Canada, the USA, Haiti, Guatemala, Chile and Guyana.
In Africa, they can be found in many countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Algeria. Carp can be found in Asian countries where they are not native, including India, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines.
In addition, 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 the Oceanic countries of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Carp will tolerate some slower moving rivers but they seem to prefer stillwaters. Carp can even be found in brackish water in some locations.
Carp are a very hardy and will tolerate vast differences in temperature between 3 and 34 degrees Celsius. Carp can survive in waters which are not very oxygenated by breathing at the surface.
They move into deeper areas of water in winter which will have a warmer water temperature. They will survive in very cold countries where the water will freeze over.
Koi carp and ghost carp are large, heavy fish with deep bodies. Unlike other carp such as mirror and leather carp, they are generally fully scaled fish although some varieties may have fewer scales.
Similarly to all carp species they do not have scales on their heads. They have long dorsal fins. The colours of the fins differ depending on the colour of fish.
Koi carp are incredibly diverse in colouration. Some varieties will be a pure colour such as orange while others will have mixed colouration and may be orange and white for example.
Some popular colours include Yamabuko Ogons (which are metallic yellow), Showa and Sanke (which are red, white and black) and Shiro Utsuri (which are black).
Koi carp will slowly look more and more like common carp with each generation. They will revert entirely in only three or four generations.
Ghost carp can also be found in different colours. There is white ghost carp which are created by breeding mirror or common carp with Purachina koi. There is also yellow ghost carp which are created by breeding mirror or common carp with Yambuki. The colours of ghost carp tend to develop and brighten as they age.
As with other carp species, koi and ghost carp have thick, rubbery lips and their upper jaw slightly protrudes. Carp do not have teeth, but their powerful pharyngeal teeth crush food before swallowing.
Carp are a large fish, however some specimens can grow to truly huge sizes. Carp tend to grow quicker in warmer waters so that specimens in warmer European countries such as France and Italy will grow faster than in the UK.
Ghost carp, being hybrids tend to grow quicker than koi carp. Pure bred koi carp are generally slower growing and weaker than hybrids so they will not grow as quickly.
In the UK, carp generally grow to between 5 to 15lb on average (approximately 2.25 to 6.8kg). The British record for Cyprinus carpio as a species stands at 65lb 14oz.
The average length of carp is around 18 to 26 inches (45 – 65cm) however you could find larger and older specimens which can be much bigger and can grow up to 48 inches (120cm).
The average lifespan of carp is around 10 – 50 years, 20 years is thought to be average for a ghost carp. Koi carp in comparison can grow to incredible ages, and can live over 100 years. A fish named “Hanako” in Japan was an amazing 226 years old when he died in 1977!
How they Feed
Carp are omnivorous and incredibly greedy. They will search for just about anything edible in the water and will disrupt the bottom of the water to find their food. For this reason they have been nicknamed “freshwater pigs”.
In a similar way to other species of the Cyprinidae family such as barbel and gudgeon, carp use their barbules to detect the micro-organisms which live within silt and mud on the bottom of the water.
As carp scour and disrupt the bottom of the water, clouds of mud and silt can be seen in the water which can be seen this from the surface.
This process of disrupting the silt and mud can severely disrupt the environment of the water as the continuous clouds prevents plants from getting sunlight and it can disturb other species in the water.
In addition to finding food on the bottom, carp will generally feed at any level in the water and will even eat insects or other food from the surface.
Carp will happily feast on aquatic plants, algae, invertebrates, molluscs, snails other fish and crustaceans such as freshwater shrimp. They seem to have a strong liking for freshwater mussels.
Carp begin to spawn when they reach sexual maturity, this is usually between the ages of two and three years. The timing of when carp spawn depends on the environment in which carp live.
Spawning begin when the temperature of the water reaches between 16 to 22 degrees Celsius. In the UK this is ordinarily (depending on the British weather!) late spring or early summer.
When it is time to spawn, Carp will move to areas with thick weed in shallow water. It is recorded that carp prefer to spawn after heavy rainfall as the water rises. The carp swim side by side, the females deposit their eggs which males dash to fertilise them.
The orange or yellow eggs are very sticky and attach to the weeds. Female carp can lay up a staggering one million eggs and can spawn more than once each season.
Unlike other species, carp do not protect the eggs from predators. The eggs normally take three to eight days to hatch, however this depends on the temperature and area where they were deposited. The juvenile carp will remain attached to the vegetation for 2 to 4 days until they fully consume the yolk sac of the egg.
Once they have absorbed it the juvenile carp swim away and will be around 8mm in length. The juveniles will stay in the shallow water between the weeds for protection and they will move into deeper waters as they age.
The juvenile carp will be targeted by predators such as perch, pike and heron, however the older, larger fish will be too big for predators.
How to Catch
Carp are almost always actively fished for in still waters. Many fisheries will advertise the fact that they stock koi or ghost carp but these may take more searching to find. Ghost carp are prized by anglers as they are thought to be more intelligent than many other large fish which makes them more challenging to catch.
Once you have found a good fishery which stock the fish, you could try various locations within the water to find them. You should look out for reed beds, overhanging trees or any overhanging vegetation from the banking as carp use these areas for cover.
In terms of bait, the boilie and pellets are still a preferred bait by many carp anglers (including us!). Other good tried and tested baits include dog biscuits, worms, bread, peanuts, luncheon meat (you could flavour this for extra smell), maggots, casters, sweetcorn, mussels, brandlings and red worm.
As always, try taking a few baits and change them if you are not getting any interest in your chosen bait.
Carp can be caught with several methods, however float, ledger and feeder are probably the most popular ones. You can feed on the surface for carp so float fishing would be better suited to this.
If you are going for specimens then ledger and feeder are the more popular methods as the larger fish are likely to be deeper in the water (although this is not always the case!).
It is difficult to advise on the exact tackle for carp as it will depend on what subspecies you are looking to catch and the weights you are going for as this can vary.
Loose feeding and groundbait is extremely effective to get carp feeding. Loose feed some of your hookbait or sweetcorn and maggots work well. You can get creative with the different types you goundbait you could make, but whatever mixture you use try to include some of your hookbait in the mix.
Carp are extremely good fighters it may take some time to bring the fish in. Once the fish is ready, use a good landing net (around 30 inches) to hold the fish.
Allow time for the fish to relax in the water as they use up a lot of energy in the fight. Use a weight sling to lift the larger fish for more support. Try to lift the fish slightly away from the banking so that nothing which sticks out could injure the fish.
Lift the carp directly onto a good carp unhooking mat which is at least as large as the fish (get a padded one if you can). Carp are generally easy to unhook as the hook will usually be found in the Carp’s thick rubbery lips, however have forceps or a disgorger on hand in the unlikely event that it is deep hooked.
You can weigh the fish (a tripod is excellent for this) and take photos but do not stand high in case you drop the fish. Keep the fish wet and ensure that the slime does not dry out if it is out of the water for prolonged periods.
If you would like more information on how to fish for koi carp or ghost carp, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!