The first large scale introductions of Grass Carp into the UK was carried out as an experiment in weed control on the Lancaster Canal by Liverpool University, with fish carefully being introduced into netted off sections to reduce the weed. Following some success, they were introduced more widely, but despite their inability to breed naturally in this country their introduction is now carefully controlled by the Environment Agency.
Grass Carp have a long, torpedo shaped body, a broad rounded head and a short snout and while they are related to Common Carp, they have an appearance more akin to a large Chub, for which they have sometimes been mistaken. The Grass Carps mouth is set at the very end of the head (not under slung like their cousins), and has thin lips and no barbules, their eyes are smaller and set lower on the head than those of normal Carp and their body is covered with large scales, with those on their upper flanks having a dark fringe and a black spot that give a somewhat chequered appearance.
The backs of their long bodies range in colour from dark grey, olive green and any shade of brown from gold to bronze, with this colour fading down their flanks to give way to pale cream or silver colouration on the their lower sides before giving way to a white belly: the fins are generally pale to dark grey in colour.
Grass Carp, also known as the White Amur, are a non-indigenous species to both the UK and Europe, having originated in the Amur River (the 9th longest river in the world), bordering Siberia and China, they do not breed in the UK or mainland Europe. They inhabit freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers, preferring areas with slow currents or still waters that are heavily vegetated, though are capable of dealing with a range of temperature and salinity variations as well as low oxygen levels and water temperatures from 0 degrees C to 33 degrees C +.
Whilst Grass Carp are unable to spawn within this country or mainland Europe, females can and sometimes do become conditioned for spawning, producing eggs and becoming gravid. Their weight may increase considerably as they are able to produce between 50,000 to 100,000 eggs/kg of bodyweight, normally spawning at temperatures between 22-27°C in their natural habitat. When they do so, their semi-buoyant eggs, which are heavier than water, need to be carried within a fairly strong river current to enable them to develop on their journey downstream. With only a small percentage avoiding being washed out to sea or being eaten en-route, those that actually make it to warm backwaters hatch successfully and feed on the abundant plankton, algae and luxuriant weed growth.
Rivers with similar habitats to that of the Amur River exist in the USA and there is now concern about their spread and their future stocking may be limited to infertile fish. The world record fish is a fish of 80lb caught from Lake Wedington, Arkansas, USA in 2004, where they have bred successfully within the long river systems since their introduction in 1963.
Grass Carp, as the name would suggest, do eat aquatic weeds and plant material and do eat considerable amounts, especially when young, however they will also feed on invertebrates and molluscs.
In the cold waters and short summers of the British Isles, Grass Carp are quite slow growing, between 1-3lb a year being possible in good conditions. The UK has probably yet to see the maximum size for these fish yet, but they are grow in excess of 65lb in France and in the more stable climates of central Europe with longer, hotter summers, they can grow very quickly indeed with 10lb in a year being reputed.
Continuous stocking programme’s are required in order to maintain them as a species due to their inability to breed, but some care has to be taken with the numbers that are introduced in order to restrict their impact upon the aquatic weeds within a given fishery.
The tackle employed will be the same as for general Carp fishing, with the Grass Carp within the two weedy FAS waters being quite large, adequate tackle should be used.
Grass Carp are more active in the warmer months (April to October) and tend to roam in shoals in the central areas of lakes where they can often be seen cruising near the surface showing their dorsal fins, they will feed freely in the warmer spring and summer months.
Legering (carp style) is the preferred method and they can be caught on a variety of baits – maize, sweetcorn, tiger nuts, peanuts, hemp, boilies (fruity flavours are usually better), and maggots can also be effective: try presenting baits popped up just off the bottom or buoyant fashion. Bites aren’t always typically carp like, often resembling Bream, and dropbacks are frequent.
During hot sunny still periods, Grass Carp will feed on the surface where they can be specifically targeted as a species, being caught on the usual baits, e.g. bread, dog biscuits, floating boilies. They are easily spooked when surface fishing for them, but it is the only way to actively pursue Grass Carp and try to avoid other Carp, since any other method will simply involve indiscriminate hooking of any type of carp.
Be careful when playing Grass Carp, despite their torpedo shape, they can sometimes appear to put up a disappointing fight, but will frequently just follow you in when winding in. This gives the impression that you have only a small fish on, but they will fight furiously when under the rod tip, especially when they see the landing net. They can explode and start to shoot off in all directions, occasionally jumping to avoid the net, so slacken off the clutch on your reel to allow the fish to take line or you risk a break off or hook pull!
Once the fish is in the landing net the fight doesn’t always end there. They will often thrash about violently in the water and sometimes jump clear out of the landing net.
Please be especially careful when unhooking Grass Carp, they are notorious for thrashing around on the bank and it is better to carry the fish to a level grassed area of bank and use a large unhooking mat and plenty of water and try and keep the fish covered during the unhooking process. It goes without saying that care needs to be taken when photographing Grass Carp as they are powerful fish which can wriggle vigorously when being handled.
On FAS waters, Grass Carp will only be found where they have been stocked by the Society; you will therefore find them at just two fisheries, Badshot Lea Big Pond and Mill Lane. Since they do not breed in the UK, we only have the fish that have survived since they were first stocked into these fisheries, fortunately they have done very well and both waters hold many fish to 20lb with specimens to 34lb+ at both lakes: though some smaller low doubles are to be found at Badshot Lea from a later stocking. The fish often give away their presence by their dorsal and tail fins sticking out of the water whilst they cruise the surface.
The official Society record is 35lb 0oz, however, larger fish have been caught, but claims for record status not submitted.
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