Although it does not grow to the same enormous size as its domesticated cousins, the cunning wild carp is popular with many anglers who like a long and furious fight
The wild carp is among the most majestic and beautiful of our freshwater fish – and the most difficult to catch. To Izaak Walton it was ‘the queen of rivers’. With an ample supply of food it can grow to a large size to become an extremely strong and tenacious fighter and a fish with a cunning second to none.
Unfortunately, the wild carp is slowly becoming less widespread, not only in Britain, but throughout the world. One reason suggested for this is that the introduction of the ‘King’ carp strain into many habitats has caused interbreeding, thus losing
forever the purity of the wild carp stock. However, there is evidence to suggest that with adequate spawning facilities, the true wild carp and the selectively bred ‘King’ carp will not spawn together.
Probably, the most significant reasons for the drop in numbers have been, with the enormous increase in popularity of carp fishing since the 1950s, the detrimental changes which have taken place in their particular habitats, and because the species has been overshadowed to some extent by the faster-growing ‘King’ carp.
Identifying the wild carp
The wild carp has a much more slender body, similar in some respects to that of the chub, than the cultivated species, which is often hump-backed and much deeper. In Britain the wild carp seldom exceeds 10lb in weight, although a few over 15lb have been captured, and the maximum, under favourable conditions, is probably about 25lb.
Coloration is variable, depending mainly on the environment. Usually, the top of the head and body are dark brownish-blue, the sides bright golden, and the underside off-white near the head, changing to a yellowish near the tail. The dorsal fin has the same colour as the top of the body, as does the upper portion of the tail, while the lower part of the tail often has a reddish-orange tinge. The pectoral, ventral and anal fins vary between slate grey and pale reddish-orange. Variations in colour in individual fish can take place throughout the year, and are especially noticeable during spawning.
Maturity is usually reached be-tween 2 – 4 years, with the male often maturing earlier than the female. The time taken appears to depend to a large extent upon temperature, for under artificially controlled conditions carp have reached maturity after only 4-8 months.
The wild carp is an adaptable fish, which is capable of living in a wide variety of habitats in Britain. Gener-ally, however, it favours shallow lakes and ponds, rich in aquatic vegetation, and still, sluggish, or slow-moving rivers and canals. Since Britain is at the northernmost limit of the area in which carp reproduce, it follows that, in general, the distribution and occurrence of the species are greater in the south of these islands than in the north. The most northerly wild carp fisheries in the British Isles are Brayton Pond, near Aspatria in Cumbria, and Danskine Loch, in Scotland.
Adult wild carp typically inhabit warmer environments, such as shallow areas of ponds and lakes, or slack eddies in rivers, usually where there is aquatic vegetation. On rare occasions, they have been noted in swift mountain trout streams, and netted to depths of nearly 100ft.