Carp Fishing: Carp Varieties
1. The Crucian Carp (Carassius carassius)
This is something of a poor relation of the common carp (see below) and is rarely caught intentionally because of its small size, the British record fish being 5 lb 10 oz 8 drm. It may be recognized immediately by its lack of barbels at the mouth. In the normal form the crucian is deep-bodied and reminiscent of thein shape, and, even without searching for barbels, the angler would be aware that this is no ordinary carp. However, a variety exists which has a body shape similar to that of the common carp; in this event the lack of barbels is sufficient to distinguish it.
Crucians are good aquarium fish when taken young, being attractive and easily tamed. They may be caught by most carp methods, most successfully by float-fishing with ROACH bait.
2. The Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
The back is dark in colour, varying between a grey-green and a slaty-blue. The flanks are paler and may be straw-coloured or olive-green with a hint of pink; they have a metallic appearance. The belly is yellow, orange, cream, or buff with a pearl-like lustre to the scales.
The body shape is broad, but laterally compressed to give an oval body section, and the back is humped as it rises in a strong curve from the head to the leading edge of the dorsal fin. The dorsal fin is long, extending from about halfway along the body almost to the tail. It is concave along the top edge with the leading spines conspicuous, and lightly serrated at the rearward edge.
The abdominal and paired fins are light-coloured to blend with the belly and may be pink, red-tinted, or streaked. The anal fin is short and the paired fins are large and powerful.
The mouth is terminal and slightly inferior, with thick leathery lips. The barbels, of which there are four, are quite conspicuous, two of them in the upper lip, and the others at the corners of the mouth. In wild fish the body is fully scaled, but scaling is subject to considerable variation in the domesticated varieties, which are usually deeper in the flanks, fuller in the body, and generally heavier.
Other Carp varieties
Fundamentally the possession of a long dorsal fin and four barbels indicates the common carp, but the varieties, although bearing these characteristics, occur in several forms.
The first is an albinotic and gold-coloured form of decorative origins which is called the hi-goi, or golden carp. Apart from its colour it is exactly similar to the wild fish, although under extremely good conditions it may also be fuller bodied.
The other varieties are collectively known as king carps because of their larger sizes in maturity and their greater growth rate capacities. These are of two main kinds, one being scaled or partially so, the other being virtually unsealed.
The leather carp is almost entirely devoid of scales except for a few, stunted and irregular, at the fin roots. To compensate for the lack of scales the skin is tough and leathery. In this form the dorsal fin is usually shorter than that of wild or scaled fish. The leather carp is also very much less resistant to poor climatic conditions and is found in warmer places, becoming less common in colder regions. It is, for example, common in Israel where it is bred for food, but scarcer in eastern Europe. The farther east the less common it becomes, and the farther south the more likely it is to succeed.
The body of the mirror carp is partially scaled, the scales often being distorted and extra large, in scattered patches or in even rows. The dorsal fin is normal. The mirror and leather carps are biologically the same fish, being simply genetic variations from the same brood or batch of fish, and often of the same parentage. The mirror, however, is very much hardier than the leather carp, and even in fairly good conditions, where unpredictable percentages of each kind result from a given spawning, the leathers die off younger and in larger numbers than the mirrors, many more of whom survive to maturity.
A third type of carp also occurs. This is the more normal fish, having the appearance of the wild variety, but sharing the fuller body and higher growth rates of the cultivated ones. It is fully scaled and may either be scaled evenly like the wild fish, or possess the larger, distorted and irregularly shaped scales of the mirror carp. It is usually quite distinguishable from the wild variety by its greater depth of body.
Distinctions of this kind are considered by some to be pedantic but they are necessary if the background of the various carp varieties is to be understood. This also involves a consideration of the history of the carp, as it spread during the Middle Ages from unknown sources in the Far East into the countries of Europe.
Carp are not indigenous to Great Britain; although the exact date of their introduction is obscure, it can be fixed with some certainty between the years 1300 and 1400. The fish were obviously imported for food purposes and traditionally belong in monastic or manorial ponds and lakes. Being highly fertile and capable of surviving out of water for some time, the species soon spread fairly evenly throughout the southern counties of England, where its value as a food during Lent could hardly be over-estimated. Furthermore, the arts of husbandry were soon put to work on it to produce bigger and better strains.
In Britain, however, carp breeding became neglected during the Industrial Revolution, when the rapid spread of steam transport made sea fish easily transportable to the larger cities. So naturalized stocks of carp, neglected in their unused stew-ponds, acclimatized themselves to wild conditions and became the forbears of the fish we now call the ‘wild carp’, which is to be found in lakes and ponds all over Britain.
In Europe, however, stronger religious traditions and the considerably greater distances involved, together with the rather slower spread of steam transport, meant not only that the carp survived to compete successfully with sea fish as food, but also that the art of farming them improved considerably. This resulted in highly successful carp strains being evolved. These showed a tremendous growth rate far in excess of that of the wild fish, as well as an ability to attain far greater general proportions and maximum sizes.
From time to time since about 1920 numbers of highly cultivated fish were brought into Britain and stocked in various waters. These were often of the carp varieties, and are today known (with their progeny) as the king carps.
Not only are these fish larger and faster growers than the now naturalized wild carp but, being of the same species are capable of interbreeding with them. This has resulted in intermediate forms of fish at almost every possible level between the fully domesticated fish and the wild fish. It has most certainly produced an improvement in the wild fish where the two kinds are mixed and the different characteristics are reproduced in the progeny. Now it is possible to see fish which by their scaling are mirror carp, yet by their depth of body are wild carp; the possible permutations to be found are practically endless. Provided fresh importations are continued, and as long as anglers are eager to catch big carp, the chances are that the average standard of carp caught will progressively improve. If, however, such importation ceased altogether, the once-cultivated fish would, over generations, revert to the size and growth capacities of their own wild forbears.
In view of what has been said about carp varieties it would be surprising if growth rates were not highly variable. The figures given here, therefore, while based on work performed on actual fish, can by no means be taken as averages since the growth rates of carp almost certainly vary from lake to lake.
The domestic fish can attain a weight of 2.5 kg (5 lb) during their third year, but the wild fish may take five or six years to grow to this size. In fifteen years, domestic fish can achieve 14 kg (301b) in weight, while the wild ones rarely exceed 6.2 kg (14 lb). In ideal conditions, domestic fish surpass these rates, as the capture of Richard Walker’s British record carp in 1952 indicates. This fish weighed 20 kg (44 lb) when caught, and was calculated to be fifteen years old. It remains to be seen how long this fish will continue to live in the London Zoo aquarium, where it has reached an age in excess of twenty-five years.
Obviously, interbreeding between domesticated and wild fish will reflect growth rates somewhere between the extremes mentioned and, to be safe, keen carp anglers must study their own local fish and calculate for themselves the growth rates applicable to their own waters. This is by no means a difficult task, provided anglers are willing to collect scales and take careful measurements over a period of several years.
Carp are found in rivers, but are far more at home in still waters, where the conditions of life suit them and the tempo of life is slower. Lake fish are usually larger than river fish, and their food is very varied, consisting of insects, micro-organisms of the bottom detritus, worms and crustaceans, plankton and algae, and various kinds of weed. In waters which are much fished these ratios are undoubtedly supplemented by angler’s baits — usually eaten long after the anglers in question have left for home.
Carp shoal, but even the younger ones show some individuality and wander off independently at intervals. Older and larger fish tend to become more solitary except during the breeding season in May and June, when the fish gather among the weed, forming small groups comprising a single female and several males. The eggs are shed on the weed and sink to stick upon the stems.
Carp soon resume their normal behaviour patterns after spawning, shoaling, and patrolling the water as they grub about the bottom for food, being assisted in the search by the taste buds on their barbels which enable them to locate concentrations of food in the bottom mud.
Feeding occurs in temperatures roughly between 12° C (56° F) and 20° C (69° F). During the early season, the fish may feed at any time of day or night as temperature and water conditions become suitable. Towards September, when the cold creeps over the water, they feed in the shallows which first receive the early morning sun and warmth, but as soon as the colder weather sets in between October and November, they become torpid until the approach of spring again. They may feed on exceptional days when winter sun suitably warms the waters, but they are generally in a condition of semi-hibernation and may indeed actually bury themselves in the bottom layers of fine soft detritus or mud. In rivers they seek out the warmer reaches during winter and may be taken at intervals throughout the year, although it would require considerable optimism on the part of the angler to fish specifically for them in winter.
In the very hot weather when carp are not feeding they can be seen basking in the shallows or surface waters and come on to feed towards sunset or as the temperature falls as a result of cooling winds on the surface. A great deal depends on both the size of fish and the depth of water in question. Carp behaviour in deeper waters is much affected by wind, feeding being induced in one region when others are totally unsuited.