The carp is by far Britian's most popular species. It graces almost every single stillwater and has found its way into almost every river and canal. Carp can even be found in the infamous Norfolk Broads system too.
It is a fabulous species that, when small, provides great year-round sport. But when they have grown on and packed on the pounds, they offer a real challenge to those anglers who are prepared to sit it out and wait for a specimen to come along.
Carp originated from Eastern Europe and Asia, when monks brought them into this country to rear in stew ponds for the table. They grew quickly in these small, food-rich ponds and therefore provided a reliable year-round food source many moons ago.
There are different varations of carp - in terms of their scale patterns - but they all feature the same physical appearance: an extremely powerful, paddle like caudal (tail) fin, long and distinct fan-like dorsal fin and a protruding mouth featuring a pair of barbules either side.
Common carp are fully-scaled. Their scales are of an equal size throughout the length of their body. These carp tend to be slightly thicker across the body than other carp, and have the ability to pack on the pounds very swiftly indeed, given the right conditions and a plentiful supply of natural food.
Mirror carp have scales of different sizes running the length of the body - some scales may be the size of your thumbnail, while others may be as long as your index finger. They are very pretty fish and, like the common carp, will quickly increase in weight until they reach net-busting proportions. There are fully-scaled mirror carp (bodies covered in differnt sizes of scales) and linear mirror carp (having a line of scales running along each side of the fish).
Leather carp are quite rare. They are completely devoid of any scale patterns at all, or sometimes having a feint line of small scales alongside their long dorsal fin. Again, leather carp can ascertain great weights given a plentiful food supply.
There is also the crucian carp, which is a totally different strain of plump little carp. Click here for details on this great little fish.
In the main carp tend to have cream bellies, golden flanks and chestnut brown backs and shoulders, but this colouration will depend upon the water clarity and quality. In heavily coloured stillwaters the colouration tends to fade with the fish being rather pale, but compare that to a fish caught from a crystal clear, well oxygenated gravel pit and you'll find hues of silver, ble, bronze and even gold adorning the carp's flanks and fins.
There are strains of more exotic carp available to tempt anglers too. Quite a number of fisheries stock the smaller and more plump crucian carp (Carassius carassius) that is great fun with light tackle and small baits. You may come across the long, sleek and chub-like grass carp (Ctenopharyngoden idella), possibly a ghost carp or even a koi carp, but these species are few and far between in most British waters. But of the new variants of carp available you are most likely to encounter the F1 strain of carp, bred specifically to provide great and frantic fishing in all weathers, and also to pile on the pounds rapidly. These carp are a commercial fishery match angler's favourite.
Carp are voracious feeders, particularly in stillwaters. Their bulk and somewhat aggressive nature see them bully other fish out of the way so that they can engulf what's left of angler's baits thrown in after a session. They feed at all levels of the water depending upon the water temperature. They are equally content hoovering up food that has settled on the bottom as they are taking insects, bread and floating baits off the surface - and of course anything that falls inbetween.
They will eat both animal and vegatable-based food - nothing gets past a carp when it's hungry!
Look out for...
The margins are a magnet to feeding carp of all sizes.
Night fishing offers the best chance for mega specimens.
Surface fishing tight to lilies is brilliant during the summer.
Best baits for catching a carp...