Buffalo Fish vs Carp: Identify Each Species Fast!

Thomas Krik

Written by

Thomas Krik

Marc Lowe


Marc Lowe

Buffalo Fish Vs Carp Fish

Are you often fooled by the looks of a buffalo fish vs carp? Distinguishing each type of fish is a common confusion among anglers and fish enthusiasts.

Due to their infinite superficial similarities, many trollers often mistake a carp for a buffalo fish. However, these fish have apparent features that make them unique from each other. A buffalo fish lacks whiskers, whereas a common carp has whiskers near its mouth.

Below, we’ll dive deeper into the distinguishing features of these two freshwater fish. Once you read the article, you’ll never confuse a carp with a buffalo fish!

To get an idea, here’s a quick summary of the differences between buffalo fish and carp:


Buffalo Fish Carp
Origin North America, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala Asia and Europe
Distribution United States, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico Worldwide
Color Grayish or washed-out appearance Silvery gray to brassy-gold, and brownish hues
Tail Color Dark blue to black Orange, red, or light brown
Mouth – Down-turned, smaller mouths

– Thick and rubbery lips

– Lack of whiskers or barbels

– Large and forward-facing mouths

– Lips aren’t stiff

– With whiskers on the sides of the mouth

Body shape Cylindrical Elongated
Behavior – Aggressive, bottom feeders

– Swim in a single direction when hooked

– Aggressive, opportunistic feeders

– Swim in any direction when hooked


Buffalo Fish: The Natives of North American Freshwaters


Buffalo fish, or simply “buffalo”, are large, freshwater fish native to North America, Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. They are characterized by their thick, elongated bodies, large scales, and sucker-like mouths.

Generally, buffalo fish has three main species, namely:

  • Bigmouth buffalo (Ictiobus Cyprinellus)
  • Smallmouth buffalo (Ictiobus Bubalus)
  • Black buffalo (Ictiobus Niger)

Each species has identifying features that make them unique. For example, the smallmouth buffalo thrive on shallower waters with lots of vegetation, while the largemouth buffalo favor mudflats.

Generally, buffalo fish are found in slow-moving rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. They are bottom feeders that like to feed on aquatic plants, small crustaceans, and insects.

Did you know that buffalo can live as much as 112 years? Additionally, they can weigh up to 80 lbs. Most buffalo species grow around 24 inches, but some may reach as much as 48 inches in length.

Carp: The Diverse and Adaptable Fish


Another group of freshwater fish is the carp. They belong to the family Cyprinidae which includes several species, such as the common carp, grass carp, and bighead carp.

These freshwater dwellers are native to Asian rivers. However, they have been introduced to other parts of the world as food and sports fish.

Carp are known for adapting to diverse environments, dwelling anywhere from lakes and ponds to rivers and canals. Moreover, they are resilient and play a vital role in the economy and ecosystem. Unlike buffalo, they have a varied diet, ranging from plants, insects, and small fish.

On average, carp can live until 20 years. They can range in length from 12 to 40 inches and weigh around 2 to 50 pounds. However, some carp species can hit impressive lengths and weights, up to 48 inches and 80 lbs.

Similarities Between Buffalo Fish and Carp


Despite their differences, buffalo and carp share a couple of similarities. These are:

  • Popular game fish

In addition to their ecological and economic significance, buffalo fish and carp have gained popularity as game fish in the US. Anglers seek out these species for various reasons, including their size, fighting ability, and culinary value. They are fast and aggressive, making them an exciting target on your next fishing trip.

  • Habitat and diet

Both species thrive in freshwater environments like lakes, ponds, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. They can often be found in slow-moving waters with abundant vegetation, where they feed on a variety of aquatic plants, insects, and small fish. Also, they are adaptable and can survive in different ecosystems.

Differences Between Buffalo Fish and Carp

Let’s delve into the distinct characteristics of buffalo fish vs carp.

1. Habitat


Buffalo fish live deeper in large lakes, rivers, and reservoirs with abundant aquatic vegetation. Meanwhile, carp are widespread in most calm freshwater environments worldwide. They are highly adaptable and thrive in shallow lakes, murky ponds, and slow-flowing rivers.

2. Biology


Both fish can grow enormously. However, buffalo fish are larger than carp. Some species can reach lengths of up to 48 inches, weighing over 80 pounds. They have a longer lifespan and can reach sexual maturity at around 3 years of age.

Carp, on the other hand, typically grow to around 36 inches in length and weigh between 20-50 pounds. They survive shorter than buffalo and can reach sexual maturity at a similar age to buffalo fish.

3. Physical Appearance


If you look at the picture of a buffalo fish, you’ll notice that they have a thick, elongated body shape, large scales, and a sucker-like mouth. They have a silver or white belly and a dark gray or black back, giving them a ghostly appearance. Their distinctive features include pointed heads, big eyes, and turned-down mouths.

In contrast, carp have a more robust and stocky body with large scales. Their color varies from olive or brown on the back to golden or yellow on their bellies. The long barbels define carp from buffalo, as well as their pouted mouths.

4. Fighting instincts

When it comes to angling, both buffalo fish and carp are known for their fighting skills. Hence, they are popular targets for sport fishing. Buffalo fish are powerful fighters but more controllable than carp.

Carp are also strong fighters, known for their endurance and ability to pull hard on the line. Once hooked, they’ll aggressively swim all over the place to shake and escape your hook.

5. Taste

Curious how a carp or buffalo fish taste? The flesh of buffalo fish flesh is dense, firm, and has a mild flavor. Like salmon, carp meat is moist, flaky, and oily. The taste is subtle and not at all fishy.

You can prepare both fish in various cooking methods, such as pan frying, smoking, and baking. The next time you go camping and fishing, you can grill the fish in smoldering wood, too!

Quickly Identify Buffalo Fish and Carp



To identify a buffalo fish, specifically bigmouth buffalo vs carp, you can pay attention to their superficial attributes. Besides color, you can pay attention to the following features:

  • Eyes: While carp have their eyes positioned in the middle of their head, buffalo have eyes at the top of their heads.
  • Dorsal fins: If you see a narrow-rounded dorsal fin, that’s probably a carp. In contrast, buffalo fish have wide, arched dorsal fins.
  • Scale patterns: The scales of carp resemble a curved design across the midline of their bodies. Meanwhile, buffalo scales have a straight pattern that runs along their midline.
  • Tail (caudal fin): Carps have a forked tail with a color that matches their body color. Buffalo fish have long, beautiful tails, which can be golden, blueish, or blackish.

Popular Fishing Locations

1. Buffalo Fish


Many anglers also discuss the top destinations for catching each species, including common carp vs buffalo fishing locations. Fortunately, you can find either fish in most freshwater systems.

  • Across the United States, buffalo can be found in most northern states, including Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. In the southern United States, buffalo fish are also abundant in Oklahoma, East Texas, Florida, and Louisiana.
  • You can also catch buffalo fish in the Mississippi River and Hudson Bay areas. These are common destinations that have a plentiful supply of buffalo.
  • In addition, you can visit larger river systems like the Milk River and Qu’Appelle River in Canada. These rivers are connected to Lake Winnipeg, so carp are sure to dwell there.

2. Carp


From well-stocked lakes to pristine rivers, carp fishing enthusiasts have multiple options when finding the perfect spot to cast their lines.

  • Common carp are predominant in most freshwater systems across the US, Canada, and around the globe.
  • In Europe, the carp is a highly regarded game fish. However, in North America, it has a less-than-desirable reputation as an invasive species and pest.
  • Because they offer an exciting and challenging experience, many Americans nowadays are drawn to carp fishing. If you’re one of them, the Great Lakes should be on your list of locations. This lake houses a large number of carp.

Best Seasons and Techniques When Fishing for Each Specie


Generally, buffalo fish are active and easy to catch in the summer months. Hence, this is the perfect time for a buffalo fishing adventure. Since these fish are aggressive and fast, catching them requires specialized equipment and techniques, such as bow fishing or using weighted jigs and bait.

Meanwhile, spring and fall are the best times to go carp fishing. Technically, you can use a variety of baits to entice a carp. Explore different techniques and lures to find the suitable option in your location.

Final Thoughts

The debate about buffalo fish vs carp never seems to end. However, one thing is clear. These are two fascinating freshwater fish species with distinctive habitats, biology, physical appearance, taste, and behavior.

Further, these species possess unique and apparent features that can help you identify your catch. Whether you’re a novice or a skilled angler, recognizing these differences is essential for a successful fishing experience!

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