Know Your Target: Common Carp

From Jake --

Growing up an avid angler fishing for walleye, bass, and perch, I never understood why so many people gave carp a bad rap. I never ran into carp while out pulling lines on the Saginaw Bay, unless close to shore or in the river. Mostly, I only saw them when their dorsal fins would breach the surface, and I paid them no attention because they weren’t the fish I wanted. Carp rarely directly impacted my fishing experiences, so I didn’t care to learn how to target or avoid them.

Now that I am bowfishing, carp are what I am after! So, I figured why not shed some light on what I have learned and why bowfishing carp is so important, especially if you’re like me and ignored them in the past!  

There are many different types of carp. For this article, I will focus on just one – the common carp. Common carp are not native to the United States. European and Asian diets paved the way for carp to make it to North America. At some point in the 1800s, someone got the bright idea to introduce carp to our land as a source of food, like on other continents. The history books are a little unclear as to who started the movement, but after the early 1800s there were commercial fisheries and government agencies growing and stocking carp within the United States. According to USGS, the earliest known observation of carp within the US was in New York in 1830. Fast forward 150 years later and common carp can be found in every state within the continental US.

Without getting into too much science, I’ll quickly explain what went wrong with this approach. Over in Europe and Asia, they domesticated the common carp. They put a tremendous effort into fish farming practices that developed the best strains of common carp; one well-known for table fare was the Koi fish. Domesticated fish are much different than wild common carp. Even though you can argue that most fish are now considered domesticated at some level, Koi (and other species) are specially bred. Leaving it up to mother nature (for the most part) has left us in the United States with a much different variety of wild common carp, which for most doesn’t appeal to modern tastes.

Common carp are found in freshwater. They generally like to live around vegetation and slower-moving waters. Ponds, lakes, rivers, and areas close to land in large bodies of water can all support carp. In fact, even the worst areas, like highly-polluted and stagnate waters, can’t keep these fish from propagating. They are hard to kill! Carp are also omnivorous which means they eat almost anything - plants or animals. As their environment changes, they can adapt to eat what is available. This is where carp get their bad rap. Carp are bottom-feeders. They disturb the floor of the body of water when foraging, uprooting vegetation and making the water murky. They also are known to eat other fish eggs in the process. As carp feed and breed in a body of water, it quickly becomes less likely to sustain other species of sport fish. According to the National Park Service, carp consume and reproduce at such a fast rate that they can also push out other species due to overcrowding. Female carp lay millions of eggs and fry (baby carp) can reach over a foot in a little over a year. Once they are fully-grown, Common carp have no real predators besides humans. 

So, finding carp while out bowfishing shouldn’t be too difficult. Look for shallow water, generally five feet deep or less. Although carp can be found anywhere in a body of water, carp prefer murky or cloudy water that is almost standing still. Find areas by the shore in a body of water or a slow-moving river and look for lots of vegetation in the water. Carp can be chased day or night, but if you target them during daylight hours, they do spook easy. A slow approach and an accurate strike from a safe distance should help you pull one in.

For more information about common carp, check out these resources:

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