There I sat surveying one of the many schools of carp as they cruised the shallows of a small inlet. I watched on quietly, not moving muscle, as small puffs of sediment rose off the bottom in the crystal clear waters. It suddenly dawned on me that I knew all about the best man-made carp baits from corn, boilies, pellet baits, pack baits, scents, attractants, hemp, etc., but I thought, what are the foods that carp naturally eat in the wild?
What Do Carp Eat?
Carp are omnivores, meaning they eat both aquatic vegetation and other bottom-dwelling creatures. Carp are very well adapted to locating high-value food sources both visually and by taste. This makes it very easy to target and catch them with a variety of different baits.
Foods that Carp Naturally Eat in the Wild
Always the opportunistic feeder, carp will feed on a variety of things. Once a food source has been found, carp are pretty likely to return to the location often and create habits that anglers have developed tactics to exploit. One such example are areas where people feed waterfowl bread and birdseed, if one looks closer, one will see carp using the same area feeding on the leftover bits on the bottom.
Being such a large fish, carp are required to eat often and in large quantities. Perhaps this is why carp will feed on such a variety of items and try or taste most objects before actually ingesting them.
How do Carp Find Food?
Although Carp eat many different things, at times, they can be quite fickle about what they eat. Often one can see carp ingesting food that they find only to see them spit it back out again. Carp will repeat this process over and over while they test whether objects are edible or not.
The Common Carp is a naturally well-developed forager. They have many features that greatly aid them in their search for food and determining whether it is edible or not. Carp feed on the bottom of bodies of water the majority of the time, but when conditions are right, they will use their natural senses to locate and feed on objects in a myriad of other locations as well. Some of these features are:
With all these advanced senses for detecting natural food in the wild, it is no wonder there are so many advanced carp baits on the market today. From scent attractants to bright neon-coloured baits, there aren’t many that anglers haven’t thought of to take advantage of the carp’s keen senses in aiding them in their effort to catch these formidable fish.
Where do Carp Feed?
Location, location, location!
Now that we have covered what carp feed on and how they find their food, I will touch on where carp find their food.
Carp Food Hot Spots
There are some areas in bodies of water that naturally have an abundance of foods that carp naturally eat in the wild.
How Weather Effects What and Where Carp Eat
Carp tend to gravitate towards areas in a body of water that provide oxygen, ideal water temperatures, shelter/cover and good sources of food. Weather can play a key factor in these habitats.
In my early days of carp angling, I always tended to fish in calm and shallow waters where I would be able to see the fish easier. Now that I know more about carp behaviour, I realize this was a mistake.
The majority of the time, anglers that set up in a wavy windy location where shallow water quickly drops off into deeper pockets will catch more fish. Rain and wind are two main factors that, at the right time of the year, can turn a relatively slow day into a flurry of action by triggering feeding behaviour. For more information on this, check out our article on Carp Fishing in the Rain.
This is due to the wave action. The waves stir up the sediment on the bottom, making it easier for carp to find food. The natural motion of the waves also increases oxygen levels in the water, thus allowing for greater carp activity.
What Carp Eat at Different Water Depths
Where in the water column carp are feeding can play a key factor in successfully catching a lot of fish and finding out exactly what they’re feeding on.
Carp prefer a variety of water depths for a variety of different reasons. They prefer deeper water for protection and shelter from predators, they like to suspend mid-water column when weather, water temperature and food conditions are right, and they also enjoy the shallow water for basking in the warm sun, finding abundant food sources and breeding. If you can find locations that provide most of these characteristics in a small area, you will surely notice an increase in carp activity and the amount of carp that you will catch.
Carp Feeding on the Bottom
The majority of the time, carp can be found cruising on the bottom of lakes and rivers. Most of the foods carp naturally eat in the wild can be located here, and it is where most anglers target the species in general. Foods that carp naturally eat in the wild on the bottom include crayfish, mussels, snails, aquatic vegetation and small invertebrates. There are a lot of man-made baits for targeting carp that feed on the bottom, including boilies, corn, pellet baits, pack baits, hemp seed, worms and bread. How to fish these baits will be covered in greater detail in future articles.
Carp Feeding Suspended in the Water Column
On occasion, carp can be found feeding in the middle of the water column. This happens when the vegetation or bottom substrate is not conducive to carp feeding. When feeding on foods mid-water column, carp are usually targeting taller vegetation or nymphs that are hatching and making their way to the surface. In these circumstances, it is best to use baits that suspend in the water column, such as pop-up rigs/boilies, suspending imitation flies while fly fishing or using a float with a sinking bait hanging from it.
Carp Feeding on the Surface
On warm, calm days, carp can often be easily spotted basking in the sun near the surface of the water. Some foods that carp feed on in the wild on the surface include damselflies, dragonflies, water striders, floating aquatic vegetation and hatching nymphs. When they can be found easily by sight, it makes for some exciting angling opportunities. Carp rarely feed on the surface, but if one can entice a carp to take a fly or imitation bait with a fly rod, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in carp angling.
Active Water Temperatures For Carp Feeding
In my experience, water temperature can be a huge factor in the feeding habits of carp. Optimum water temperatures for feeding carp are as follows:
In conclusion, Common Carp are well adapted to locating food in their natural environment. I hope this article was informative and aids in your angling adventures trying to catch these amazing specimens.
If you’re searching for more information on bait, be sure to check out Improved Carp Angling’s Guide to Carp Fishing Bait.