Do carp have soft mouths?

There is a statement I often here while I’m fishing, “Oh ! I’ve lost several fish because the Carp in here have soft mouths!!”

Most of the time I have a hard job accepting that carp in any particular lake have soft mouths. My own waters are gravel/sand pits where the bottom is hard and, well gravely… Yet I’ve heard the same comments that my fish have soft mouths. Surely fish feeding in such circumstances would be expected to have hard mouths!

I guess if you look at the mouth or any carp then yes there will be soft bits, that stands to reason, but where does this species of ‘Soft Mouths’ come from?

While trying to get my head around this question it has made me look at the way many people play fish. New anglers coming into the sport are often in such a hurry to get the fish in the net they put a ridiculous amount of pressure on the fish. Modern lines are strong and resistant materials, just try pulling for a break and you’ll see what I mean. So in the heat of a fight bending right into a fish with a 3lb test rod and 15lb line it stands to reason that the softest, least resistant part in the whole chain is the poor carp’s mouth!!

Most of the hook pulls I see could have been avoided by more feeling in the fight. Knowing how much pressure you can apply, the limits of your tackle, but more importantly the amount of pressure it takes to rip that hook out.

Direct pressure while the fish is under the rods tops is often the most critical point in the fight… but all too many people just want that fish in the net. The bigger the carp the more direct weight you’ll have to tow. So spare a thought for the poor fish’s mouth. I don’t believe most to the time they are particularly soft, just they are the weakest point in the chain.

What are your views?


4 thoughts on “Do carp have soft mouths?

  1. Hi Gareth,

    Just read your comments about ‘soft mouths’ and you do raise a few very valid points. A lot of the problems are down to how anglers play fish.

    But, I have fished several waters myself where the carp do indeed have very soft mouths – soft flesh which tears easily.

    One of the waters I fished during the late 70’s and early 80’s had a terrible problem with this. Around 2/3 of the carp hooked were lost by everyone die to hook pulls. I got around this one to an extent by using very soft 1 1/4lb rods so that I couldn’t pull too hard and suddenly the majority of the fish hooked were landed. These fish definitely had soft mouths.

    The bottom of this lake was totally covered in silkweed or silt weed whichever one you prefer to refer to it as. I would guess that the carps lips simply never toughened up as all they ever fed upon was weed which had the consistency of cotton wool growing out of soft silt.

    Interestingly almost every carp in this lake had terrible mouth damage which also indicates that they did have softer flesh than normal.

    If you remember back to when you were filming me at St Christophe last year I had lots of snide comments going off in the background (can you remember how many people were crowded around?) about how long it was taking me to land what ended up being a 54lb mirror.

    I think a lot of the onlookers would have actually been surprised how tight my clutch actually was. But, I didn’t go absolutely silly with it. Earlier in the week I had suffered a couple of hook pulls after leaning on a little heavier. Those fish appeared to have quite soft mouths too. Again it was a soft sandy type of bottom in a lot of the areas.

    It should always be a clue as to how tough the carps flesh around the mouth area is when you look at what they are feeding upon. Weedy lakes will give softer mouths. Gravel feeders will have tougher mouths.

    Hope this gets a few thinking.

    Best fishes
    Shaun Harrison (Quest Baits)

  2. Jon Perkins says:

    In general carp which spend most of their time feeding in silt or sand will have softer mouths, whilst carp from gravel pits and lakes with bottoms mostly formed from clay, stone etc will have quite hard mouths. Take a few moments to examine the mouth of the first fish you catch when fishing a new water and you will get an idea of how hard or soft it is.
    Whilst carp with soft mouths are more prone to hook pulls from the hook tearing out, carp with hard mouths are more prone to hook pulls because the hook has not gone in far enough and taken a good hold! Whether they are hard or soft, its not really an issue, because they are the way they are, tryting to prevent hook pulls is a matter of experience, and sometimes playing a fish too softly can be as lethal as playing it hard. A carp is trying to get rid of the hook from the moment it feels the first sensation of it, and they can become quite good at getting rid of it !! Hookpulls are a fact of life when carp fishing, everybody gets them – get used to it, throwing the rod down and swearing is not attractive, the one that gets away is always a big one (not !)

  3. Gareth says:

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for your good comments… I do tend to agree with you though that the big ones aren’t necessarily the ones that get away. Often I see anglers bully the small fish, and with modern gear, line and hooks the weakest link it their mouth.
    Some small fish ie. 15-20lb carp, really don’t want to get landed, no matter how hard you try to control the fight, you can only excerpt so much pressure before the hook hold gives… In my experience of fisheries often the runs waters with smaller sized carp, suffer the worst mouth damage..


  4. Jon Perkins says:

    Yes, definitely true, in my experience also, the doubles are normally the fish with the worst mouth damage, because they are bullied to the net or hauled out of weedbeds. This is often due to a lack of respect for the smaller fish, which is well out of order, I really cannot abide this attitude, a 15lb carp should be treated with the same respect as a 40, it is still a carp and a living creature, if you fish then you are already putting the carp through some stress, the least you can do is to respect it and care for it to the best of your ability.

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