Carp and bass are very similar in the fact that they are both large freshwater fish living in warm lakes and rivers. The main difference between carp and bass is their size, as carp grow larger and more powerful than bass.
After my fair share reeling in both, here are my thoughts on carp vs. bass and which one is better to catch and eat.
Main Differences Between Carp and Bass
There are more than a dozen bass species, with largemouth and smallmouth bass the most common. In comparison, there are many more carp species, as carp belong to Cyprinidae, the largest group of freshwater fish on earth. The most prevalent carp species are common carp, mirror carp, and leather carp.
Not only do carp and bass look different, but they also have certain habitat and diet preferences that set them apart. Another key difference is the carp’s larger size, which makes stronger fighters on the line, although bass are known to put up quite a good a fight too.
Carp vs. Bass Appearance
One way to tell carp and bass apart is by their appearance. Most carp are much bigger than bass and have larger, noticeably circular scales. Carp don’t have the same telltale strip as bass either.
- Common carp are brown, yellow, or gold in color with large scales and a mouth that turns downwards. As large omnivores, common carp have long dorsal fins with a hump, two whiskers in the upper jaw, and big, shiny scales. They weigh 5-30 pounds on average but may reach up to 80 pounds, with an average length between 15 and 30 inches.
- Mirror carp are brown with a yellow or white belly and lighter fins. Their tail fin tends to be light brown or even reddish sometimes. Mirror carp are plumper, deeper, and rounder than common carp, with irregular patches of scales usually found toward their backs and tail fins. Most mirror carp weigh 15-30 pounds fully grown and measure around 25 inches long.
- Leather carp are brassy green with tinges of bronze and gold and a yellow-white belly. Their fins are light olive, golden, yellow, or orange, and these fish noticeably lack scales, giving them a leather-like appearance. Leather carp have a blunt snout and small triangular heads. They measure 15-30 inches and weigh 10-30 pounds on average, although some get up to 50 pounds.
For the most part, bass are smaller than carp, but they are still some of the larger fish you will catch in lakes or rivers. Bass are part of the sunfish family, and largemouth and smallmouth bass are the top lake varieties.
There are a few bass varieties like striped bass and black sea bass that thrive in saltwater too, unlike carp that don’t live in the sea. Small, consistent scales and pointed, spiky fins are a few ways to tell bass apart from carp.
- Smallmouth bass have brownish-green and black scales with lighter yellow bellies and lateral lines running down their bodies. Smallmouth bass usually measure 12 to 16 inches but big ones get close to 30 inches long. As the name suggests, these are the smaller lake bass, weighing just 4-8 pounds as adults on average.
- Largemouth bass are most similar to carp in terms of size, with wide, chunky bodies and big mouths. They are grayish-green with dark flank stripes and long upper jaws. Their jaws extend past the eye, compared to smallmouth jaws that are usually in line with the eye. Most largemouth bass are 12-40 inches in length and weigh between 12 and 20 pounds.
Carp and Bass Habitats
Carp and bass both like warmer water temperatures. The ideal carp habitat is 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit in lakes, streams, and reservoirs. Carp are more commonly found in slow-moving waterways rather than raging rivers. While carp tend to hang near the bottom in soft, muddy conditions, they are incredibly hardy and will tolerate nearly any environment they find themselves in.
Bass also like warmer water, preferring 55-70 degree temps and deeper lakes, ponds, and rivers. Like carp, bass are adaptable and learn to live in their environment. That’s why bass and carp coexist for the most part, although in rare cases they may eat each other’s eggs or young juvenile fish if they are really hungry.
While smallmouth and largemouth bass are seen as native fish in many U.S. lakes and rivers, carp are considered invasive. It doesn’t take long for carp to develop dominance in their ecosystem, but the increased turbidity they create by stirring up dirt on the bottom actually gives bass an advantage.
Carp make the water muddier, which protects bass eggs from predators and helps bass focus on feeding.
Carp and Bass Diets
Both carp and bass take full advantage of whatever they find to eat underwater. Carp are omnivores that eat many aquatic plants, insects, fish eggs, and crustaceans. Carp stir up crayfish, worms, and smaller fish on the bottom of the lake bed, plus plenty of algae when they come across it.
Bass have a similar diet and are opportunistic feeders just like carp. Crappies, crayfish, lizards, herring, and insects are just a few of the things bass eat.
Sometimes largemouth mass eat smaller bass if they are super hungry. Although carp and bass diets are similar, there seems to be enough food to go around in their shared habitats. Plus, feeding carp can distract bluegill from preying on bass eggs in lakes, helping the species survive and replenish.
Carp populations need to be controlled to protect other species. Carp may hog food sources such as algae and make it harder for smaller fish to survive. There aren’t as many concerns with bass and their daily diets, as bass are in higher demand and considered native across much of the country.
Fishing for Carp and Bass
Bass are the more popular and highly sought-after gamefish compared to carp, but plenty of people like to catch carp too.
Carp often get a bad rap as invasive species that lower water quality, however, they are fairly easy to catch even from shore. Some carp are more hesitant than others and will shy away from movement on the line.
That being said, carp are hungry and are usually intrigued by baits like sweet corn or live worm. The same goes for bass, which are fairly easygoing but need heavy lines and hooks to reel them in.
Carp and bass may be fished all year, with fluorocarbon working especially well for carp that may spook easily with a more noticeable line.
Most bass anglers opt for mono or braided line to accommodate bass power and determination as they are reeling them in. Size 4 to 8 hooks are recommended for carp and for bass, you can’t go wrong with size 4 to 6/0 hooks.
Chumming, where legal, is commonly used to catch carp, but bass are likely to explore food floating on top of the water’s surface too.
The best weather conditions for catching carp include moderate or warm temperatures, both in the air and in the water, and stable or slowly falling low air pressure. An overcast sky and winds coming from the south should give you a higher chance of carp biting.
Bass are more likely to bite during mild spring or fall days. Bass like warm water just like carp, but if it’s too hot, they will swim deeper to cool off and are less likely to take the bait. With a sensitivity to light, bass tend to bite when it’s cloudy or low light around dusk or dawn.
Cooking Carp and Bass
Lastly, the carp vs. bass debate isn’t complete without discussing the flavor of each of these fish. Both tend to feed off the bottom, which can make them taste a bit murky, although usually carp have a stronger fishy taste.
That’s why many anglers will only eat carp caught in clear waters. The muddier the water where it came from, the more likely the carp is to taste slightly earthy and muddy.
In comparison, bass have fewer bones and a clearer, fresher taste. Although bass isn’t as popular of an eating lake fish as trout or walleye, it still tastes pretty good when properly prepared and freshly grilled. Carp is definitely the less common fish to eat with more anglers eating bass after a big day fishing.
Carp and bass are two big freshwater fish to consider for recreational fishing, with both displaying impressive power and fight. Carp grow to be larger than bass and are some of the fiercest lake fish to reel in, but many bass bites force anglers to work overtime to complete the catch too.
Carp are considered invasive and overpopulated in many areas, unlike bass, and you can tell them apart by their physical characteristics such as color and scales. Adult carp have large, round scales or splotches compared to the small, closely-packed scales on bass.
In terms of eating, bass normally taste better than carp with less of a muddy, murky flavor. That’s not to say carp can’t be delicious too, but you just have to find the right fish in the right spot. Both carp and bass will offer a bit of a challenge in terms of catching them and reeling in thanks to their sturdy size and powerful pull.