Grass carp and common carp share many similarities, but you can differentiate them as well. You may have reeled in a carp and wondered about the type of carp that you caught. Especially in certain regions of the United States, like South Carolina, you have to know how to differentiate them because they have laws to protect the grass carp, but they don’t have laws to protect the common carp. How can you tell the difference between a grass carp and a common carp?
Common carp have a pair of barbels on the sides of their mouth, and they have a down-turned mouth. Grass carp, on the other hand, are thinner in shape than common carp. Grass carp have a much shorter dorsal fin than common carp. Common carp are usually brown or yellow, and grass carp are silver.
Join me as we explore the differences between the common carp and the grass carp. The two may share names, but they have plenty of differences.
Grass Carp vs Common Carp: Which One Tastes Better?
Let’s address this one right away. You can eat common carp, but the darker meat tastes stronger than other carp species. Some believe that common carp taste like mud. You must prepare it well if you want a good flavor. This rule applies to all carp including the grass carp, however.
Grass carp will have a better fillet texture than common carp. Some of this also depends on how you prepare them, but I would usually list the grass carp as a much better-tasting fish. Older carp will also often have a stronger fishier flavor than younger carp because they had more time to accumulate pollutants, which can also make them more dangerous to eat.
The final factor will depend on what they are fed. Both act as bottomfeeders, but grass carp tend to eat more underwater grass. Common carp, on the other hand, feed off of the bottom, and they often suck up a lot of mud and water that they filter through their gill rakers.
They both spawn at around the same season, which you can learn more about here.
What Do Common Carp Look Like?
Have a look at the larger body of the common carp in the photo. The common carp will always have large and thick scales. They will swim with a full covering of scales on them. Their body shape is deeper than a grass carp, and the dorsal fin on them goes all the way to the back. The males and females look similar, which can make it hard to distinguish them.
Adult common carp will have a brown or olive-colored appearance, depending on the region. Once you learn the difference between a common carp and a grass carp, you won’t ever struggle too much to tell the difference since they do have a big difference in appearance.
You will commonly see this carp reach between 1 and 2 feet in length. In terms of size, they will reach between 30 and 40 pounds, but it depends on where they inhabit. Some waters will have a better environment for them to where they will reach larger sizes.
What Do Grass Carp Look Like?
The grass carp in the photo are the ones on the bottom of the photo with the common carp higher up. It provides a nice contrast, and you can easily see the difference. Contrasted with common carp, grass carp don’t have a long dorsal fin, which is the easiest way to tell. Along with a short dorsal fin, grass carp have more of an oblong shape, and they will have a slightly flat head with small eyes. You would say that grass carp have more of a shape like a torpedo.
Unlike common carp, which eat nearly anything, grass carp are predominantly herbivores. This explains why you see them protected in South Carolina because they help to clean up the state waters. The one thing that they don’t tell you is that they sterilized those fish so that they don’t overtake the waters. Grass carp are still technically an invasive fish. Some fishermen like to catch them because of the challenge of catching them.
Grass Carp and Understanding the Laws
Grass carp are trickier than common carp, and you want to know the laws of the region where you will catch them. In some regions, the state sterilized them, and they serve as eaters of the aquatic plants. They protect them in some regions, but in other regions, grass carp have become problematic and overtaken the waters, and you can’t release them.
Always check the local laws in advance before with grass carp. With commons, you can always expect that releasing them back into the water is illegal because of them being an invasive species. Grass carp are invasive, too, but when a local government protects them, they have sterilized them so that they won’t threaten our state waters.
With that said, the biggest issue with grass carp is that once they eat all the underwater weeds, they go after the local fish populations. This explains why the DNR is careful about how much they release into the waters.
Grass Carp vs Common Carp: Which is the More Desirable Catch?
If you were to take common carp vs grass carp, which would you consider the better catch? In general, grass carp will be a better catch. They taste better because they feed cleaner from other carp. Grass carp that weigh anywhere from 40 to 110 pounds have a reputation of putting up a hard fight. Many anglers have taken a liking to grass carp for their fighting skills.
Common carp, while difficult to put on the end of your line, have a reputation as one of the hardest fighting fish next to bowfin. Commons like to hide out in murky water, and they will often create pollution to achieve this. They might stir up the mud in the river bottom. Whenever in clear water, they spook easily.
How to Catch a Grass Carp: What Bait to Use
Especially considering how they eat mostly weeds, how do you put a grass carp at the end of your line? One of the most surprising things that you could use is sweet corn. Since grass carp are largely herbivores, they love vegetables like sweet corn as do other fish. Put two or three at the end of your hook and wait for the carp to start biting.
Cherry tomatoes give you another example of a bait that the grass carp like to go after. How hilarious is it that they remain true to form even with vegetables? They still appear to want to go after it.
Some of the other foods that you can use to catch grass carp include:
- Pellet dog food
- Bread dough balls
Expert Tip: Feed corn tends to cost less than canned corn, but you will need to soak it for several days to let it ferment before you can use it. Some use feed corn to bait the grass carp, but you will want to check your local regulations ahead of time to ensure that this is legal.
The best bait for grass carp will usually be anything that is plant-related since this fish loves to feed off plants. It differs from the common carp in that regard.
How to Catch a Common Carp: What Bait to Use
Like with grass carp, you can use canned corn or dough balls to put them on the end of your line. In fact, canned corn or dough balls will be the best bait for common carp. However, commons are more likely to target boilies than grass carp. In fact, many carp anglers choose boilies as the go-to choice for bait when they go after commons. Something about the scent of boilies has been known to drive the carp wild.
Natural baits are another good choice, and commons like to feed on insects, which makes it a good choice. Grass carp don’t do this as frequently, but they will occasionally go after flies. Like grass carp, common carp like to feed on nightcrawlers.
The one danger of these baits is that the sunfish also like to feed on all the baits mentioned above. That means that you may catch more sunfish and bass before you put a common on the end of your line. You will need to cast into an area where common carp are overpopulated to ensure that you catch them.
Some of the best places where you can find commons will usually be near the reed beds and lilies. They’re especially found in the river systems, and the same goes for grass carp.
How Long Do Grass Carp Live?
Out in the wild, grass carp will usually only live for between five and nine years. When taken out of their natural environment and put into an aquarium, grass carp have been known to live for up to 20 years, but this isn’t as common. Most grass carp don’t live past 10 years. Grass carp are more like a minnow species, and they come from Asia.
How Long do Common Carp Live?
Unlike grass carp which have a much shorter lifespan, common carp live an average of 20 years out in the wild. However, when you put them in an aquarium, their lifespan goes up even higher, and they have lived for up to 47 years. This makes them a much longer-lived fish than the grass carp. Unlike the grass carp, common carp were imported from Europe in the 1800s, and they have been in our waters ever since.
Many Similarities between the Two
I talked about the differences between the grass carp and the common carp. The biggest advantage of understanding the differences will be when it comes to laws and regulations. In some areas, they protect the grass carp, but they do not offer the same protections for the common carp. Putting a common carp back into most state waters will still be illegal because it is an invasive species. Grass carp can be different and pose some confusion.
In many ways, however, grass carp and common carp have more in common than differences. The only thing is that I would prefer to eat grass carp over common due to their better diet. They will taste better. Either species will be bony to eat, and they share a lot of commonalities as well. You can easily tell the difference between the two once you know what to look for.
Check out this short video to clear up any confusion about the differences between the two:
The only time where it might pose a challenge is when bowfishing in a state where they protect the grass carp. You don’t always have the time to watch for that species, and trying to identify it in the water can pose a challenge.
Expert Tip: When in doubt, don’t shoot. If you can’t solidly identify a grass carp, don’t take the shot in areas where they protect them. This keeps you from having to pay an expensive fine. Unfortunately, bowfishing doesn’t allow for catch and release since the fish will die if you shoot them. The arrow always kills them. Angling, on the other hand, will usually allow you to put it back in the water.
Grass carp and common carp do have a few differences, but they remain the same on the whole. The biggest difference will be in their appearance and what they like to eat. Grass carp tend to be more vegetarian than commons. However, even commons will go after vegetables like sweet corn. This makes it difficult to say where the differences are at least in those regards.
If you enjoyed this article, maybe you would like to learn more about carp and fly fishing. Check out this book here titled “The Best Carp Flies: How to Tie and Fish Them.”