Carp (Cyprinus carpio) can be found in small numbers in most canals and often grow to an impressive size. The species was introduced to the UK in the 13th or 14th centuries as a food item. They are mentioned as being a rare fish in the first angling book that we know of, probably written by Dame Juliana Berners.
Canal fishing for carp is a challenge, but potentially highly rewarding.Carl Nicholls, fisheries & angling manager
Dame Juliana Berners wrote that the carp is a dainty fish, but there are only a few in England. He is a bad fish to catch as he is so strongly reinforced in the mouth that no weak tackle can hold him. And as regards his baits, I have but little knowledge of them. But I know that the earthworm and the minnow are good baits for him always, as I have heard reliable persons say and found written in trustworthy books’.
There is no reliable evidence of natural recruitment of carp in canals probably due to temperatures not being quite high enough. With climate change things might be different in the future.
Appearance: Carp are easily recognised by their dark brown to bronze colouration. They have a large, rounded body and large powerful fins. Decades of selective breeding has resulted in three common strains. Common carp are fully scaled, mirror carp are partially scaled and leather carp have virtually no scales at all.
Size: In the UK a 50lb fish is exceptional. In canals a fish of 20lb and upwards is notable.
British record: 68lb 1oz (British record committee 2021)
Lateral line scale count: 33-40 (this is the dark row of scales along the central length of the fish's body)
Lifespan: Up to 50 years but 25-30 years is more typical
We like carp because: they are easy to catch, have a hard fighting nature and can be an impressive size
How to catch carp
Canal fishing for carp is a challenge, but potentially highly rewarding. A fish of 42lb 12oz was caught from the Grand Union Canal in 2000. Most canals hold a few carp but the skill is in locating their likely haunts. Look out for overhanging offside vegetation or reed beds. On warm and sunny days, carp can be seen basking in the warm water near the surface.
Your tackle needs to be appropriate to the circumstances. A weedy location will call for a much stronger line and a larger hook size than open water. While carp are generally bottom-feeding fish, they can often be caught off the surface with bread or dog biscuits as bait. This type of fishing is really exciting. Pellets, boilies or fjuka are the current favourite bait for carp. However, carp are greedy and smaller specimens will, on occasions, eat almost anything you put on the hook providing your bait presentation is reasonable.
Where to catch carp
Carp are present in most of our canals, but there are good numbers in the Grand Union, Oxford, Kennet & Avon and Stratford canals. Of our commercial fisheries, Blythe, Drayton, Naseby, Clattercote, Boddington Kiveton and Harthill reservoirs all have large heads of carp present.
Last date edited: 10 March 2022