Considered a nuisance fish by most anglers in America, carp in Texas seem to be as divisive a topic as the Dallas Cowboys, the legalization of marijuana, or Kinky Freidman. Some love them, many hate them. Discussions about carp can quickly become as heated of a debate as one about UT vs A&M, putting sauce on Bar-B-Que (notice the spelling), or wind turbines. As carp fishing (especially fly fishing) becomes increasingly popular in Texas, this divisiveness may get further entrenched. All sides of the carp debate feel solidly correct, but what is the truth...are they trash fish, do they destroy the environment, are they a prize catch? What are these carp in Texas and what is their impact?
In this five-part series, Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing, will attempt to dive deeply into the subject to root out as much CORRECT information as possible. Be sure to understand the facts before you make a decision.
|Common Carp Courtesy of Chris Sorel|
What are Carp?
In our first article, Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing will cover the "carp" of Texas. What are the different carp that live here, and maybe more importantly, what are other fish that often get mistaken for carp? Presenting information about how to help you identify the different species of carp that currently reside in our state.
What many fishermen often refer to as "carp" are actually multiple species of fish that are all often referred to by this same nickname. The most common of these species being Common Carp, followed by Grass Carp, Silver Carp, and Bighead Carp. None of these species are native to Texas, or North America for that matter, and each has its own characteristics and impact on the ecosystems they are now a part of.
There are also several native species in Texas, many very similar to one species or another of non-native carp, that are all-to-often mistaken, misidentified, and sometimes vilified as carp. To start this series, and help educate everyone, Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing will cover a few of those in this article as well.
The "Carp" of Texas
Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
By Viridiflavus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8185742
The most common "carp" found in Texas is the Common Carp. They are now found all over the state, pretty much anywhere that has freshwater has Common Carp. Common Carp are members of the minnow family, and are often recognized by their large size, large scales, and the barbels on their upper jaw. Typically, their coloration ranges from brassy greens, to golden browns, to silvers, and they come in many different varieties that were developed for commercial reasons. Koi, Mirror Carp, and Israeli Carp, are all varieties of the same species, the Common Carp.
|Mirror Carp caught by Ben Patrick, photo courtesy of Jim Gray|
Native to temperate regions of Europe and Asia, common carp are not originally from Texas, but easily adapted and have been here long enough to now be considered naturalized in most of our waters. They now exist (and often thrive) in freshwater systems all over the state. These are a hardy species of fish that can tolerate a variety of environmental conditions, including low oxygen levels and a wide range of water temperatures (34 - 106 degrees Fahrenheit).
Common carp are omnivores, with a diet consisting mainly of invertebrates, plants, seeds, and can and do eat the eggs of other fish species. They spawn in shallow, weed filled areas, with females often laying more than 1,000,000 eggs in a season.
Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
|Grass Carp, https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dezidor|
Grass Carp, also known by other names such as White Amur or Asian Carp, are another species often just called "carp" here in Texas. Although less common in most Texas waters than the Common Carp, Grass Carp do still exist here, almost always intentionally added to waters by man in an effort to control unwanted weed growth. And, when stocked at the correct numbers, vegetarian Grass Carp can be effective at controlling this growth. They are almost 100% herbivore (the only Grass Carp that eat anything other than plant material are fingerlings under 3 inches in length) and can eat up to three times their bodyweight in plants a day. However, this can lead to issues (more on this in the next few articles.)
Grass Carp are a major food source in their native regions of Asia, and supposedly can be great table-fair. They are typically silver to olive in color, and can easily be distinguished from Common Carp because they lack the barbels of Common Carp and also lack the "golden" coloration of most Common Carp as well. They have a oblong body with large scales (although smaller scales than most Common Carp), and typically can be caught up to 80 lbs. Reports of Grass Carp of up to 400 pounds have been found.
To stock Grass Carp in Texas, you must be granted a permit and the fish must be triploid (sterile, non-reproducing) fish. However, there is one known reproducing population in Texas, located in the Trinity River-Galveston Bay area. Grass Carp spawn in the spring, when water temperatures reach 59-63 degrees.
Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and Bighead Carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis)
Silver Carp and Bighead Carp are both found in Texas, although in lesser numbers and locations than either the Common or Grass Carp. Both of these species have been know to pose problems for waters where they are considered invasive. They compete with native juvenile fish for food, eating microscopic plants and animals.
When small, Silver Carp and Bighead Carp can often be confused with Gizzard Shad, and this can present problems as Silver Carp get transported with Gizzard Shad to waters that they do not already exist in. Adults can grow up to four feet long and weigh over 60 lbs. Silver Carp are present in waters in Texas, but are mostly confined to the northeastern parts of the state. Bighead Carp have been found in Bexar, Jones, and Taylor Counties, in the Upper San Antonio and Brazos River drainages.
The Native "Carp" Lookalikes
|Smallmouth Buffalo, Photo courtesy of Christine Corley Murrell|
|The Mouth of a Smallmouth Buffalo|
Photo courtesy of Jim Gray
|River Carpsucker caught by Will Cross|
Another Texas native that resembles a "carp" (and even shares a name, kinda...) is the River Carpsucker. River Carpsucker are found throughout Texas, but prefer smaller streams with clean water. They often swim in schools, and are very skittish and difficult to "stalk" and catch. Their coloration and mouth shape can look similar to that of a Common Carp, and often leads to misidentification.
Photo courtesy of Odom Wu
|Common Carp caught by Pat Kellner|