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The Common Carp

The fish, what it looks like, its habits, lifespan, how to catch it, carp ponds, taste, recipes ...

Generic Characters. - Body covered with large scales ; a single elongated dorsal fin ; lips fleshy ; mouth small ; teeth in the pharynx, but none on the jaws ; branchiostegous rays


In the famous book about fish and fishing: "The Complete Angler", the writer Isaac Walton refers to the Carp as: the 'Queen of Rivers', a 'river-fox', a 'stately, good and a very subtle fish', and a fish which is 'hard to catch'. Although this classic work was written back in the 17th Century and much else about the world has changed, the character of the carp has not changed! It remains a prize fish for many anglers and because of its strength a fish which not everyone can catch.

The Carp inhabits ponds, lakes, and rivers; preferring, in the latter those parts where the current is not too strong. It thrives best on soft marly or muddy bottoms. Carp are said to live to a great age, some say even in excess of hundred years! As they age they lose their rich colour, their scales, and become grey, just as most other animals do.

The Carp is has the ability to live a long time out of water. Carp have been keep them alive for several weeks, by hanging them in a cool place, with wet moss in a net, and feeding them with bread steeped in milk; and taking care to refresh the animal now and then by throwing fresh water over the net in which it is suspended.

Though not so rapid in their growth as some fish, Carp have attained three pounds weight by their sixth year, and six pounds weight before their tenth year. 

The Carp was in former times of great value as food, and hardly the ruins of a monastery in existence remain where the remains of the old carp pond cannot be easily made out. The monks, probably in part because of the difficulty of acquiring sea fish, established carp ponds, where they could get a fish at any moment, either for a feast or a fast day.

The muddy flavour of carp is due to the food which they eat, namely, the water-plants and the various insects and larvæ ; especially, I believe, the larvæ of midges and gnats, which they find in the mud. Carp also eat young shoots of water-plants and large waterbeetles, and I recommend that in carp ponds the water should be let down, and grass seed sown along the edges and mud. When the grass has sprouted shut the hatches, and let the water cover the grass, which will afford excellent pasture for the carp. 

An important food fish, the carp is extensively farmed in Europe, its fast growth, large size and tolerance of low oxygen conditions making it an ideal fish for intensive culture. These features are the prime cause of its widespread distribution, as it has been cultivated since the Middle Ages and introduced into many countries as a food fish. Carp are a fine angling fish, since their size and caution in taking a bait makes it especially prized. Carp catching, particularly of large specimens, is a specialised sport.

In Poland and other countries of central and Eastern Europe the Carp is a traditional Christmas meal. All over Poland during the month of December, street corner traders have live carp for sale. The carp are taken home and kept alive, often in the bath, until Christmas Eve when they are served up with much the same ceremony lavished on turkey or goose in countries like England and the USA. In most of eastern Europe, Carp is even available in tins in a tomato based sauce, much like sardines!

If you plan on eating Carp, they should never be cooked when first taken out of a pond, but be placed in a container in running water. This will help in getting rid of their somewhat muddy flavour. Here is a traditional carp recipe from Poland:

Carp with Soured Cream Sauce
    • 1/4 cup butter
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1/2 cup of sour cream
    • 1 lemon (juice)
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 carp, 3-4 pound, cleaned and ready to cook
Grease a shallow making dish with butter. Season carp inside and out with salt and pepper, place bay leaves on butter and place this on your carp. Cover with sour cream and lemon juice. Bake in oven 350 F for 40 minutes or until brown. Baste frequently. Serve with potatoes. Makes 2 large servings.

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