There are three varieties of carp which are commonly caught in the UK: Common, Leather and Mirror
Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
Mirror and Leather Carp are both sub-species, and whilst they differ in appearance, they are still classified as the same species – Cyprinus carpio
Common, mirror and leather carp are all particularly wily, hard fighting fish and in the UK have an average weight of 6-15 lbs (2.7-6.8 kg) and grow to an average length of 18-26 inches (45-65 cm).
Despite this, in the UK they are able to reach impressive weights in excess of 40 lbs (18 kg) and a fish above 15 lb (6.8 kg) is very possible and would be considered a decent specimen.
VU – Vulnerable
All varieties of carp have very large, rubbery mouths with four barbules – two above the upper jaw with the other two at each corner of the mouth, these two barbules are particularly prominent. Carp lack teeth in their mouths, but have formidable pharyngeal teeth. These are used to crush food items, such as snails, and allow the fish to eject the unwanted shell and swallow the nutritious parts.
Carp are heavily bodied fish which have tremendous power and are one of the best (if not the best, depending on who you ask) fighting fish in UK waters. They lack scales on their heads, males are typically smaller than females and also have pectoral fins which are more pointed than their female counterparts.
The common carp is a fully scaled, deep and full-bodied fish that is, for the most part, a golden colour. The top of its head and back is a bluish brown, the flanks are a brilliant gold colour and the underbelly is off-white, although it transitions to yellow towards the rear. The dorsal fin is long and grey/brown in the colour, the front section of this fin is tough, with a front spine that is sharp. The lower portion of their caudal and anal fins are generally an orange-red colour.
It is worth noting that the common carp can vary significantly in colour, so the carp described above will not always be the common that is caught. Their backs can range from dark grey to brown, and the flanks can be deep bronze, golden, pale brown, or anything in-between.
Warning: Common carp have a tough, front spine that is present in the front part of the dorsal fin. Care should be taken regarding keep nets, as the fish can become hooked in the mesh.
The leather carp lacks scales and so is completely smooth, it can have some scales along the dorsal line and the wrist of the tail. In pretty much every other aspect though it is the same as the Common Carp. Leather carp are a rare catch in the UK and are far more common on the continent.
The mirror carp gets its name from the distinctive, overly large, golden scales which decorate its flanks which were said to resemble mirrors. Excluding these scales, the mirror carp is pretty much the same as a common carp, although its flanks can range significantly in colour, from olive, deep bronze and even pale yellow/grey specimens being commonplace.
So how do we catch one?
The following information is consistent for common, leather and mirror carp and therefore we will refer to them simply as carp.
Carp can be caught using a wide range of baits, some of which seem bizarre. For instance, cat and dog foods, potatoes, dog biscuits, prawns, cockles, all manner of high protein baits which can incorporate strawberry or banana flavours, and much more, can all be used to catch a carp.
They will also take more traditional baits such as maggots, casters, freshwater swan mussels, worms, cheese, sweetcorn, pork luncheon meat and bread baits. All of which are usable on ledger or float setups, a piece of floating crust can be a remarkably successful bait when the fish are surface feeding on a hot summer’s day.
A bait which works well on one water, may not work as well on another, and vice versa.
Carp are a very hardy fish that can survive in a range of habitats and are resistant to low oxygen levels and therefore pollution. Typically found in still or sluggish waters, carp favour shallow and warm spots with soft muddy bottoms that boast plenty of vegetation and aquatic life. Despite preferring slower waters, carp are more than able to successfully colonise rivers, including fast flowing ones. Here the fish adapt and their bodies become more streamlined and muscular as you would therefore expect, river caught carp are often great fighters.
They are mainly bottom feeders but will often rise to the surface to take a floating morsel. It takes a while to ‘grow’ a good carp water, so most lakes or rivers with healthy, big carp will have been around for a long time. Carp thrive in warm waters and so typically reach their maximum sizes in warmer climates, carp found on the continent will pretty much always dwarf UK grown carp.
A Note On Spawning
Spawning season for carp is serious business and many carp fisheries will close during this period to let the fish get on with their business in peace. They usually spawn once water temperatures reach a steady 17-22°C, this typically takes place in spring or early summer, it can be encouraged by rainfall and can even happen multiple times per season. They spawn over submerged aquatic weeds, particularly in shallower areas.
The process is an energetic one with plenty of splashing and crashing as the larger females are pestered by small groups of male fish. The pale yellow eggs are dispersed in a random fashion during spawning and attach to aquatic life as they fall through the water. These eggs are then fertilised by the male fish, with the fry emerging within 2-8 days, depending on the water temperature.
Carp fishing is almost entirely a summer sport as the fish become very dormant during winter, with that said, carp will feed in winter if there is a prolonged mild spell, so look out for such an occurrence. They feed at virtually any time of the day, but the best times to fish for them are early summer mornings, late evenings and the first few hours of darkness.
Favourite Feeding Places
Carp are often found close to the bank and cruise around the edge when feeding, particularly if the weather is hot. Carp thrive in lakes with heavy weed growth and soft silty bottoms. They are omnivorous, and so in these situations are surrounded by food. Their natural diet is very varied and includes aquatic plants, seeds, snails, insect larvae, worms, molluscs and crustaceans.
Some anglers refer to carp as ‘pigs’ due to their tendency to eat virtually anything that they can find whilst ‘grubbing’ around at the bottom.
Grubbing refers to the process of searching through the silt and mud at the bottom that the carp will go through.
The water is made cloudy during this process and the carp will often destroy vegetation as a result. This can affect other aquatic life through the destruction of plant life and by changing the colouration of the water, leading to less light penetration. In many other countries, such as the US and Canada, carp are seen as a pest, although this opinion is beginning to change.
Take a look at some rod-caught records and you’ll get an idea of the impressive sizes that carp can reach. Despite these catches, fine tackle is generally the way to go, but should, of course, be strong.
Once hooked, carp have a tendency to make for the closest weed bed, meaning that if you’ve hooked a big fish, it’s going to take some serious work to prevent it from reaching safety. However, before you’ve even hooked one, there are a few things to keep in mind. Continuously drawing in the bait to check it is still intact is a waste of time. Carp take a while to make up their minds about if they’re going to take a bait or not, if it’s then snatched away from them, it will frighten them and can lead to them not feeding at all. You don’t need to be incredibly strict with the position of the bait, as carp will take from the surface as readily as the bottom, so if the bait finds itself in an area that you didn’t want it to be in, don’t worry. Ensure that the tackle you use is not too obvious, if the carp can easily see the tackle, they will absolutely not feed.
A good technique, if conditions permit, is to cast out beyond any weed beds, with your line resting on a lily leaf, draw the bait in until is positioned just under the surface at the edge of the leaf. Carp love grubs found on the underside of these leaves, replicating the appearance of one can lead to bites.
Small/Average Sized Carp
When after small to average sized carp, go for a carp rod with a test curve between 1.5-1.75 lb and pair it with fixed spool loaded with 100m+ of 10 lb mainline. Ledgering allows for a broad range of rigs to be used, but there is no need to be clever and a simple bolt rig will do the job and prevent tangles too. Nowadays, electronic bite indicators are a pretty standard tool and should be used when ledgering, as should a landing net, a medium/large, padded unhooking mat and wide weigh sling.
As you would imagine, if you’re wanted to catch big fish, you need strong tackle, a common choice by anglers is a carp rod with a 2-3 lb test curve, paired with a fixed spool loaded with 150m+ of 15 lb mainline. Again, when it comes to ledgering there are a wide range of rigs which can be used. Again, don’t forget to use an electronic bite indicator, landing net, medium/large, padded unhooking mat and a wide weigh sling.
A 33 lb carp
Stalking involves using a pair of polaroid sunglasses to spot the fish, this can include locating already feeding fish and fishing for them, or pre-baiting several swims where fish are known to regularly pass through or feed at. Once the fish have been located, the angler seeks to catch one identified fish, whether it be alone or within a small group.
Stalking can be done using a range of different tactics, from ledgering to float fishing, depending on a range of factors such as baits, swim, weeds, weather, snags, etc.
At its core, this just means using float baits like bread crusts or dog biscuits as free samples and waiting for the carp to start feeding with confidence. Once they’re enjoying their free lunch, start to fish for them. Don’t cast into the middle of the feeding fish, as this will likely scare them off. Instead, cast to the edge of where they are feeding.
Just like with bream, a stream of bubbles rising to the surface will often give away the position of carp. These bubbles arise as the carp forages amongst the mud and silt at the bottom whilst looking for food.
Below are a few simple “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to carp fishing:
DO allow your bait remain in one position and do the same yourself.
DO return the fish carefully to the water.
DON’T stamp about on the bank (this is true for all types of fishing, regardless of which species you are looking for).
DON’T taint your baits with the smell of your hands, by handling them too much.
DON’T get worried that your bait has fallen off when it hits the water.
DON’T be under the impression that you need to use shark tackle because the record fish is such an impressive weight. You are far more likely to link up with a 4-pounder than a forty-four pounder.
DON’T panic when you feel your fish. Carp are particularly powerful fish. A 1 ½ lb carp is capable of towing a boat with two people in it for a fair distance.
Despite the difficulties mentioned here, carp fishing is a fantastic sport and once a beginner has landed one, he will most likely want to go for them again and again.