Compared with the more frequently caught cultivated varieties (commons, mirrors and leathers), the true wild carp looks every inch a fighter. Long bodied and almost barbel shaped, even small ones are hard fighting, fast moving fish. Bronze-green on the back with primrose yellow underparts and a red-tinged tail, a ‘wildie’ in prime condition is a beautiful fish.
Same but different
Although it is the same species as its cultivated relatives, the wild carp has several biological differences. It is stronger and more resistant to disease, probably due to the much’ higher levels of haemoglobin, sugar and vitamin A in its blood. The distinctive hump behind the head (which is always present in cultivated carp) is absent in the true wildie.
Even in food-rich waters the wild carp is a slow grower. In perfect conditions it reaches a weight of around 16 lb (7.3kg). Most fish weigh less than half this. Like all carp, the ‘ – . ‘ ; wild commons spawn in early or mid summer, laying their eggs on weed.
Originating from an area around the Caspian Sea, the carp was introduced throughout Europe by the Romans, who realised its potential as a food fish. It is not known if the Romans brought carp to Britain, but the advent of Christianity certainly accelerated its spread westwards.
With the establishment of monasteries it became necessary for the monks to have a source of fish to eat during their ‘fasting1 periods – over 100 days a year. By the Middle Ages carp were stocked in church and private ‘stewponds’. Adaptable and robust, the fish spread across Britain, thriving until the 19th century introduction of cultivated carp.
Carp on ice
Up to the beginning of this century carp were netted for food. Every large house had a lake, and every lake had its ice-house. Ice was cut from the lake in winter and stored in large underground chambers. Well insulated by many feet of soil, the ice would last through the summer months.
In times of plenty, great hauls of carp were packed away in these early refrigerators for future use. Many old moats, lakes and ponds still have the remains of an old ice-house on their banks.
Once prolific, true wild carp are now in decline. Over the last 30 years, increased demand from anglers has meant massive stocking of fast-growing cultivated carp. This has produced interbreeding which dilutes the pure wild strain. Fortunately, some anglers are now trying to preserve remaining stocks of this ancient species.