Carp (common)

Characteristics - gray to bright yellow on sides and yellow or white on belly; robust body that is compressed laterally with a long dorsal fin; conspicuous barbel on either side of mouth.

Foods - all types of plant and vegetable material. They will eat most anything.

Expert's Tip - carp love to explore and feed in newly flooded areas, try using worms or dough balls.

The common carp is one of the most abundant and widely distributed fish in southern Manitoba. They were initially introduced into our waters from Europe more than a century ago, and since that time this fish has naturalized into nearly all waters of the south. They occur in nearly every stream, river, and natural lake and in Manitoba no specific effort has been made to eliminate them. Expansive bodies of water such as lake Winnipegosis may hold some of the largest carp in the world (but no one really knows how big or how many there are!)

Common carp is a large fish with the adults weighing up to 50 pounds or more. Its robust body is compressed laterally, and a soft, fleshy mouth opens ventrally. A stout, serrated, spinous ray at the leading edge of the dorsal and anal fins is a distinctive physical characteristic.

There are more than 16 soft rays in the dorsal fin (native cyprinids have less than 10) and from 4 to 6 soft rays in the anal fin. Pectoral fin soft ray counts range from 14 to 17, and pelvic fin soft ray counts vary from 8 to 9. A conspicuous barbel extends from the posterior corner of the upper jaw and a smaller, less conspicuous one is found along the side of the upper jaw. The lateral line is complete and may contain from 33 to 44 scales. Body scales are large, displaying a diamond-shaped appearance and have a black dot in the front of each scale. Body color is gray to olive dorsally, golden-yellow to bronzy-golden laterally, and yellowish-white ventrally. Pectoral, pelvic, and caudal fins are yellow to orange-red in adults. Young fish have a dusky vertical bar on the caudal peduncle which fades with increasing age. Pharyngeal teeth are broad and form three rows in the formula 1, 1, 3-3, 1. Molar-like grinding surfaces characterize the middle rows.

Common carp do prefer warm water, either standing or with sluggish flow. They are, however, abundant in large rivers and can be angled with some consistency at structures which obstruct fish movement eg. weirs and locks (as are present on the Assiniboine river in Brandon and locks like those at Lockport). Carp adapt better than most fish species to pollution caused by sewage or agricultural run-off. They actually "thrive" in heavy effluent stretches and are very tolerant of turbid waters.

Carp are omnivorous feeders, taking both vegetable and animal matter in their diet. Aquatic insects, crustaceans, and small mollusks make up the bulk of their forage. They are particularly fond of tender roots and shoots of young aquatic plants and often "root-up" large quantities of vegetation and silt in their search for food.

Spawning occurs from mid-April through June when the adhesive eggs are scattered in the shallow water over vegetation, debris, logs or rocks. Splashing carp, with their backs out of the water, may be observed in shallow waters during spring --- Lake of the Prairies, an impoundment in Western Manitoba, is famous for its spawning Carp ---- it is also famous as the lake from which Manitoba's largest Carp was caught). Females can spawn more than 500,000 eggs over a period of several days, leaving several thousand at each spawning site.

The reputation of carp has gone through an interesting transition since its North American introduction. Originally, its purpose was to furnish a fine food-fish to replace rapidly dwindling native fishes. Its easy adaptation to pond culture and high-quality protein were touted as major attributes. Carp were distributed widely across the United States by the U.S. Fish Commission during the latter part of the 19th century, but problems developed rapidly as carp escaped from pond culture and spread into other habitat -- soon distribution and stocking ceased. It was as a result of these initial stockings that Manitoba received its genetic stock of common Carp.

Carp are able to dominate other fish species -- for two reasons. Carp, in their normal activities can change the aquatic habitat, and man has in many instances altered natural environments that favor carp.

At present Manitoba does not exploit these fish to any great extent, even though enormous numbers of monsterous fish live in the province. A jewel that has yet to be hewn.

Why Fish for Carp?

Words alone have seldom convinced a sportsman that the carp has merit as a sport fish. Indeed, say "carp" to many fishermen and non-fishermen alike in North America, and you will invariably elicit a multitude of negative responses.

Throughout the worldwide distribution of carp these negative attitudes only persist in North America. In Asia, carp is the "King of Fishes." Europeans hold this fish in highest esteem as both a sport and commercial food-fish. Great Britain fishermen rank carp second only to trout as a game fish. Catch and release carp fishing is prevalent -- and there just aren't enough carp to go around! The British Carp Anglers Association has records of individual fish being caught 300 to 500 times each during their lifetime. It is also an important fish in competitive angling events in England.

Not until they have given carp fishing a try do fishermen realize what a sporting opportunity they have been neglecting. While the popularity of carp fishing in Manitoba may never rival that found in other parts of the world, carp fishing nevertheless is becoming increasingly a part of our angling scene. But methods are still lacking. Inconsistency in catches is more common than not.

Our carp resource is perhaps the largest in Western Canada. . This abundance and the resultant availability of carp makes them an excellent candidate for increased utilization -- especially rod and reel angling.

Tackle Selection

Probably more good fishing equipment has been put to the ultimate test by carp than by any other fish. Carp are powerful, brutally strong fish that typically make long runs and have a propensity for thick vegetative cover. They also grow quite large. With this in mind, it is advisable to obtain equipment capable of handling large fish with these physical and behavioral characteristics. A medium-action, fiberglass rod, 6 feet long or longer, will improve your chances of landing a good fish. Carp will pass up a bait which offers any resistance when ingested. For this reason, most ardent carp anglers prefer open-face spinning reels.

Line strength and type depends upon water conditions, potential obstacles, size of fish, and angler expectations. In general, 6- to 12-pound test line is adequate. Although not crucial, monofilament in either clear or green is preferable to braided or any of the highly visible lines.

The size and style of hook used for carp fishing influences the number and size of fish caught. There is some indication in lakes that treble hooks out-fish single hooks, while in streams there doesn't appear to be any measurable difference. Remember that when dough baits are used, treble hooks will hold the bait longer than single hooks and will require less rebaiting. When smaller single hooks, such as No. 6, 8, 10, or 12 sizes are used, smaller carp will be caught. However, a greater number of larger carp will also be taken if the hooks are kept baited. Carp larger than 1 1/2 pounds are taken more often with hooks smaller than No. 6. The best single style hooks are No. 6 or 8, short-shanked, and straight-eyed. Treble hooks in sizes No. 8 through 12 give excellent results and may be baited with a variety of baits. The hook should be tied directly to the line with an improved version of a clinch knot or similar style knot. Sinkers should be used only if the weight of the bait is insufficient to maintain position on the bottom or if additional casting distance is required. If sinkers are used, they should be the egg or slip-sinker style. A stop must be employed to prevent the sinker from touching the bait. A barrel swivel or split shot larger than the hole in the sinker is a good choice. Again, it is imperative that the fish can not feel resistance when the bait is ingested. In general, always use the least possible weight necessary to get the job done.

The use of a bobber is not recommended in carp fishing since they offer too much resistance when a fish takes the bait. If the need for a bobber arises, such as might be the case with an inexperienced angler, use a quill or pencil-type, not a ball-shaped bobber.

Bait Selection

The two most commonly used carp baits are canned corn and dough bait. There are unquestionably thousands of secret recipes for dough bait, each with its most ardent advocates. However, in some tests of carp baits in Nebraska using some of the more common "home brews" (anise oil, molasses, vanilla, beer and cereals), the results showed that canned corn was nearly twice as effective in running water as dough baits. There was no marked difference between bait-types when tested in lakes. When canned corn was crushed and added to dough bait, the dough bait was equally as good as corn. Of the thousands of possible recipes it is definitely possible that several might have the "magic makings" for carp. But for the majority of homemade concoctions, dough bait that does not contain canned corn probably adds more to the spirit of fishermen than that of the fish. One advantage to dough bait comes when fishing snag infested waters; hooks covered with dough bait hang-up less often. The disadvantage is that many dough baits are soft and wash away readily in water.

Dough Bait Recipes

One favorite recipe, one that will stay on the hook and can be cast into the swiftest water without difficulty, yet is soft enough for a delicate hook set, consists of equal parts of yellow corn meal and white flour mixed together plus enough water to give the mixture the consistency of biscuit dough. The mixture is dropped into boiling water a spoonful at a time and allowed to cook for 5 minutes or until it is cooked throughout. It can be tested by removing a good-sized lump and breaking it open; when the doughball is yellow clear through, it is done and can be removed from the boiling water to cool. As soon as it cools enough to be handled, all of the dough lumps are kneaded together into a large ball from which individual baits are pinched, as needed.

While not as satisfactory as either of these recipes, one that can be prepared quickly, is fresh bread with a little moisture added and then kneaded into a heavy dough. As an all-around bait for carp, there is no doubt baits prepared in this manner will function adequately. In using any dough bait, the best results can be expected when the bait is freshly prepared. Stale bait does not stay on the hook nearly as well as fresh bait. You should be aware that dough bait used in cold water -- below 55 F -- should be fairly soft since there is a tendency for it to become firmer when immersed in cold water. Likewise, dough baits kept in the refrigerator and then cast into warm water may become too soft. Additional flour will add firmness under these conditions.

Small baits are usually considered the best for carp. Some anglers prefer a small, round ball of bait placed on the tip of the hook only, while others use a pear-shaped bait and cover the entire hook. Both methods give excellent results.

Angling Techniques

In its simplest form, carp fishing in lakes should be done with slack line. The bait is cast out, allowed to sink to the bottom, dragged for a short distance to take the bend out of the line, and then 3 to 4 feet of slack line is stripped off the reel after the rod is in position. The hook should be set as the line begins to tighten. Do not wait for the feel of the bite.

In streams, the current will take the slack out of the line so the line must be kept tight. The hook should be set immediately in warm water, on a firm bite or line movement. In cold water, the hook should be set when line movement is noticed. If snags or thick vegetation pose a problem, a longer rod will allow the angler to drop his bait in a more vertical fashion. Both of these techniques are satisfactory under the majority of conditions; however, as with most species, to catch more fish and bigger fish a few additional techniques should be considered.

Greater distance can be achieved in casting by using a longer rod -- up to 10 to 11 feet in length. These rods also allow for quick line pick-up which provides for a more forceful hook set. To use these long rods most effectively two rod rests should be utilized and the rod tip should point toward the water. This arrangement will provide the least resistance to biting carp. Veteran carp anglers almost universally employ bite indicators, which range in complexity from a simple piece of paper draped over the line to rather elaborate commercial electric activated indicators.

An inexpensive, yet highly reliable indicator, can be fabricated using a small piece of styrofoam. Make a slit in the styrofoam just wide enough to accept the line. Attach this "flag" to the line directly in front of the reel. Line is then stripped off the reel and the flag rested on the ground. When a fish picks up the bait and the line begins to move, the indicator will rise from the ground. It is preferable to pick up the rod, take up the line, and set the hook all in one motion.

Excellent fishing may be found throughout the day in cool weather. However, during the heat of summer, early morning and evening produce the most consistent catches. Fishery research studies on carp fishing concluded that the best fishing in lakes usually occurred between 10 AM-1 PM when the water temperature was 35 degrees to 55 degrees F. Carp fishing in Manitoba is generally regarded to be the best during June and July. High water levels usually slows carp fishing. Good success occurs when the water is fairly clear and the weather not too warm.

Where to Find Them

Where to fish may or may not pose a problem depending upon whether or not you prefer fishing in a lake or river. In general, carp may be found any place in a river where one might expect to catch fish. Deep holes and driftwood piles will produce good catches from a seemingly inexhaustible supply -- day after day. Fishing below lowhead dams is always productive. Carp populations in lakes may represent a substantial portion of the standing stock of all fish species and individual fish may reach tremendous size, but fish may prove more difficult to catch.