Common Carp - Cyprinus Carpio

The common carp is not naturally native to the British Isles but after being artificially introduced to the UK, it has been selectively bred and reared for commercial purposes.

There are three varieties of common carp, which can be distinguished from each other by the number of scales found on their body.
The common carp or Cyprinus carpio has a body full of small, evenly distributed scales, whilst the mirror carp, another form of the common carp, has a lesser number of larger, shiny scales.

The third form of the common carp that has been selectively bred in the UK is called the leather carp, which does not contain any scales at all on its smooth and polished frame.

This cultivated version of the wild carp that is native to Eastern and Central Europe tends to be much more slender and streamlined than the UK artificial fat-bodied type.

The carp is one of the hardest-fighting fish that is a real challenge for many anglers.

Common Carp Identification

The common carp is a fast-growing species of fish that can reach an impressive weight of over 50lb and a length of several feet. They also live for many years, much longer than most species of fish.

The common carp has a deep and compressed body that ranges from a golden yellow to a bronzy brown colour. Although the common carp is heavily scaled, there are no scales on its head.

Another distinguishing feature of the fish is its long dorsal fin that travels down the length of its back. It contains approximately 20 branched rays, the first being a strong toothy spike with a serrated edge. This fin is also concave in shape.

Similarly, the broad anal fin also contains a number of spines and approximately 7 soft rays.

The common carp has a large underslung mouth, useful for rooting around and feeding on the bottom of the lakes and rivers where it dwells. Additionally, carp have four sensory barbules hanging from the side of its mouth. Two are positioned at the edge of the upper lip and two hanging from the corners of the mouth.

The carp has a toothless mouth but does have a set of pharyngeal teeth located at the back of its throat.

Common Carp Habitat

The common carp is one of the most widespread species of fish, being found in many waters across the globe from Europe to Asia and New Zealand.

The wild carp is native to the rivers of Eastern and Central Europe and was introduced to the UK in the Middle Ages. Since then, this species of fish has been reared artificially and introduced to most lakes, reservoirs and other still waters of England and Wales. They are not as common in Scotland or Ireland.

Although the common carp is found in some slow-moving rivers in lowland areas, its preferred habitat is in still water such as gravel pits, lakes and reservoirs that are rich in plants and vegetation.

They tend to move around in shoals of five fish or more.

Natural Common Carp Food

Carp are bottom feeders and therefore eat just about anything found on the muddy bottom of their natural habitat. Much of their diet consists of small crustaceans including snails, shrimps, mussels and crayfish and they are also partial to insects, insect larvae, worms and aquatic plants. A large proportion of their food is found amongst the surrounding vegetation.

Although their underslung mouth suggests bottom feeding, they are quite happy to take food from the surface if it is available.

Carp tend to feed more readily in the warmer weather but if temperatures drop below 14°C (57°F) it is more difficult, yet not impossible, to coax the fish to take the bait being offered.

Common Carp Reproduction

As with feeding, spawning is dependant on water temperature. Carp require a temperature of between 20°C and 22°C (68°F - 72°F) for a period of about three weeks before they are able to spawn. In many cases, it is possible that carp do not spawn every year in the UK if it is too cold.

If conditions are optimal, spawning will take place during the months of May and June.

The female is cajoled by several competing males into depositing thousands of sticky yellow eggs amongst the weeds and vegetation in the shallow areas of the water.

The eggs attach themselves to the plants and hatch within a week or so. The survival rate of the young fry is minimal, as they are either eaten by predators including the pike or die due to bacteria.

The female carp releases about 250,000 eggs in one spawning, most of which do not survive.

Those that make it through the first few months of their new life, are quick to grow, often reaching a weight of 4oz (115g) in their first year and 1lb (455g) by their second. In warmer temperatures this growth can be doubled.

The Common Carp's Vital Statistics

  • Average weight: 10lb (4.5kg)
  • Average length: 25 inches (63.5cm)
  • Specimen weight: anything over 20lb (9kg)
  • Life-span: can be over 40 years
  • Current UK Common Carp record: 64lb (Bluebells Lake, Northamptonshire)

Rivers with big common carp include:


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