Differences between Catfish and Carp

People can confuse these fish since catfish are related to characins, carp, and minnows. They will look the same to an inexperienced eye, especially at a glance. However, if you pay attention, the two have many differences. For example, carp have scales that catfish do not have, and catfish have whiskers that carp do not have, so if you pay a little more attention, this should be clear.

Although they both occupy the same freshwater habitat and can be caught with similar baits, they should not be confused as one. Therefore, here are the differences between the two fish and how to identify them.

The differences between catfish and carp

There are, of course, some similarities between catfish and carp because they come from the same family but are different species. Here are all the ways you can identify a catfish and a carp through their many differences. Once you know the basics, you will never mistake one for the other.


Carp have scales

You see, catfish have smooth bodies without any scales. The body of a catfish is thick and slimy, which is kind of unique among fish. This thick body of catfish can differ in color from species to species, but all catfish will have this regardless of where they came from.

On the other hand, all species of carp will have scales on their bodies. Some species of carp, like the Asian carp, are covered in scales, while other species, like the leather carp, have only some scales on the sides of their bodies. Sometimes the scales on carp are very long, even longer than most other fish. This is one huge difference between the two.

Catfish have barbels

Catfish have a lot of barbels or whiskers near the mouth of the fish. These are sensory organs that help the fish detect danger and also find food. These barbels are a unique feature that catfish have, due to which they also got their name.

However, as catfish do, carp do not have these barbels or whiskers on or around their mouths. Some species of carp have short barbs, but they differ from the catfish’s long cat-like whiskers. This physical difference will also help you identify the two fish.

The way these two grow

Carp are fish that never stop growing, and sometimes they can get very big. The way that the carp’s body grows is much different than how the body of a catfish grows. Of course, this difference will not be visible when the fish are juveniles, but as they grow older, it will become apparent.

Carp grows larger but not much longer, so their bodies are large but not as long as they are growing. A carp will end up taking a more bloated look around the mid portion of their body. However, the body of the catfish is more balanced, and it grows on both sides; it gets larger and longer as well.

The habitat

Although these two species can occupy the same water, they will occupy very different places in the water. Carp come from muddy water where they can hide well, and they move in groups of five to six. Carps also prefer fast-moving water compared to still water.

Catfish occupy the river currents underwater, where they wait in search of prey, swimming along the current to ambush. However, these two fish do come to shallow water to spawn, so you might find them together during the spawning season.

How the fish taste

Carp and catfish taste very different, and the skin of catfish is often preferred over that of carp due to its taste. Not only that, but the skin of carp is also harder to remove due to all the scales on their body.

Besides that, carp have a lot of bones, so they are harder to eat, and when combined with their oily meat and fishy smell, which makes this not a popular fish. The taste of both catfish and carp can be muddy, but catfish have a firmer texture and a sweeter taste, and they are preferred. Moreover, most catfish come from catfish farms, so they are cleaner without any muddy taste.

However, both fish are edible, and carp can taste good as well if it is prepared right. Since it does not have much of a taste of its own, it can take up flavor pretty well.

One is easier to catch

It is said that catfish are much easier to catch than carp. This is because catfish have barbels that can detect smell better, which means they can be much more easily lured towards the bait than carp.

Carp can also hide better than catfish. Once caught, both fish will put up a fight, but carp will stay near the surface and be very aggressive in their fight. In contrast, catfish will try to swim towards the bottom of the ocean and then try to break free. Catfish are easier to lure, but it is not any easier to lure at the top compared to carp.

Catfish drawing

Which fish is better?

Both of these fish serve their own purpose in the water. Generally, catfish are more popular and widely eaten compared to carp. Carp are also seen as an invasive species because they eat anything they find and are not overfished.

Commercially, catfish are caught and sold more. If you go to a restaurant, you might find a catfish dish, but it is almost impossible to find a carp dish on the menu. Therefore, when it comes to popularity, catfish will win, but that does not make this fish better than carp.


There are some similarities between catfish and carp as they are both from the same family, omnivorous, and found in the same rivers and lakes, but there are many differences between the two as well.

Physically, they are very different, as carp have scales and catfish have whiskers, but they also differ in taste and how they react when caught. It is easy to distinguish between the two if you know the differences. Hopefully, now you will be able to identify catfish and carp based on what they look and taste like.

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