Carp vs Catfish: Here are the Differences

Carp and catfish are two kinds of fish that have a tendency to look a lot like each other. There are notable differences between the fish, but they still manage to get a lot of fishers confused. 

In this article we’re going to look at all the ways that catfish and carp differ and how you can tell them apart from each other and why that information is useful to know for anyone who likes to fish. 

Are Carp and Catfish the Same Thing?

It can take a lot of time and experience to be able to tell the difference between a carp and a catfish at first glance. Though the fish look very similar, they are actually different fish. 

Upon first glance, you can tell the difference from visual cues. Carp have large scales, even larger than most other fish you will see when fishing, whereas catfish have no scales.

Catfish also notably have whiskers around their mouth, much like a cat’s whiskers which is where they get their name. 

It can be easy to confuse them because both carp and catfish live in freshwater, tend to be about the same size, they are both bottom feeders and omnivores, and can both be caught with the same kind of bait. 

Though they share a lot of similarities, they do have very notable differences as fish. 

How to Identify a Carp

The biggest way to identify that the fish you caught is a carp and not a catfish is that carp have large, visible scales. All breeds of carp have scales and no catfish do.

Even leather carp who are named so because they have smoother skin, have scales on the sides of their body. 

Carp also do not have whiskers, or barbels, like catfish do. Their sense of smell is not as great due to their lack of whiskers, Carp are more difficult to catch than catfish because they tend to be more wary of bait.

They will put up a big fight once they realize they’ve been hooked which can make them more difficult to catch than catfish. 

How to Identify a Catfish

Carp vs Catfish

Catfish are most easily identified by their whiskers, or barbels, located by their mouths. These barbels give catfish a highly tuned sense of smell for hunting.

Luckily for people who want to fish for catfish, their barbels and sense of smell make them more likely than carp to smell and take your bait. 

One other way to identify catfish is that they don’t have scales. Their skin is smooth and slimy and can vary in color. Carp will always have scales and pretty noticeable scales. If you see scales, you have a carp, if you see whiskers, you have a catfish. 

Does Carp Taste Like Catfish?

Both fish are edible, though the preference often lies with catfish. Because of all of their scales, carp can often have a much tougher flesh.

Bottom feeder fish in general, tend to not be the most appetizing fish on their own, but properly caught and prepared, carp can taste like catfish.

Although if the carp you caught is from dirtier, stagnant water, they have been known to have a very “muddy” taste. One thing you can do to help improve the taste of a carp is to detox the fish.

If it came from muddy water, it’s going to taste muddy because that’s what its diet has been.

You can keep the carp alive for a few days in a bucket of water which can help eliminate the muddy taste. 

If you want to get the best texture from a carp, make it taste like a salmon, oily and flakey, you need to place the carp on ice immediately after catching it. Additionally, you should only try to eat carp that was caught in fresh clean water to avoid that muddy flavor. 

Carp also have a lot of very sharp rib bones and if the fish isn’t prepared properly, you’re going to find yourself stopping to spit out bones with good regularity. 

Catfish are more commonly seen on seafood menus for many reasons. One is obviously that catfish are easier to catch. But the more important reason you are more likely to see catfish on a menu than a carp is simply that catfish taste better. 

The flavor and texture is compared to whitefish, tough but mild. But typically restaurant catfish are coming from catfish farms and not caught because of the risk of the same muddy flavor that other bottom feeders can have. 

Will Catfish Eat Carp?

Catfish and carp are both omnivorous which means they eat both plant matter and meat. Catfish are well documented for eating smaller fish that live in their environment. They tend to go for bluegill, perch, shad, buffalo, and yes, small carp. 

Are you likely to see a catfish and a carp of the same size battling it out to the death for the sake of a meal? No, neither fish is really looking for a fight. They’re bottom feeders, they eat what is easy and convenient.

But if a big catfish comes across a small carp, that is an opportunity a catfish won’t pass up. 

Catfish have also been known to eat dead fish as well, so they are not particularly picky about their diet. 

The opposite is not true, however. Carp won’t eat catfish. It’s not because they are above eating catfish, but carp are not big hunters. They are even lazier with their eating habits than catfish.

If a carp eats another fish, it tends to be an accident or an opportunity.

They don’t tend to go out and try to hunt other fish because they get plenty of food from bottom-feeding. Carp are not skilled predators and will only eat another fish if they can pin it to the ground and slurp it up. Otherwise, they find it’s not worth the trouble. 

Can You Use Carp as Catfish Bait?

Carp vs Catfish

You can use carp as catfish bait, but you probably won’t. That’s not a challenge, it’s just a fact of ease. Using asian carp as bait is not legal everywhere, they are an invasive species of carp so using them as bait is typically frowned upon.

There are, however, asian carp farms that breed the fish for bait in enclosed water sources in states where it is legal. 

Catfish love the taste of asian carp. They’ve gotten used to having these carp around because of how invasive they are and have grown accustomed to their flavor.

Carp are also very oily fish so when they are cut up and used as bait, they release a lot of scent that can attract big blue and channel catfish.

They have really strong scent receptors in the form of their whiskers so the oily carp sends their scent right to the catfish’s whiskers. 

Whole carp is not great bait for catfish, but because of their oily, highly scented flesh, cut carp has been proven to be a highly effective bait for catfish. Just make sure you check your state’s laws and regulations around asian carp to know whether it is legal to use as catfish bait. 

Do Catfish and Carp Eat the Same Thing?

Catfish and carp are both bottom feeders that tend to live in very similar environments so unsurprisingly, their diets are very similar to each other.

They coexist in the same rivers and ponds in the same regions for the most part so it comes as no surprise that they share their taste in small fish and plant life.

The main difference is that catfish are sometimes more aggressive and eat small fish and even birds. Carp don’t often eat small fish unless it’s convenient for them and will not eat birds.

Carps mostly feed on vegetable plant life in the water and sometimes dine on some nice fish eggs but catfish are more likely to eat small fish.

Both are omnivorous so they both eat plants and meat. 

There are a lot of similarities between catfish and carp, they both live in freshwater rivers and ponds, they both are bottom-feeding omnivores, and they even have similar sizes and shapes.

If you know that catfish have whiskers like cats and carp have scales, you are on the right path for being able to quickly and easily identify the fish you want to catch. And once you know which one you’re dealing with you can know better what kind of bait to use.