A carp eating off the surface of the water

If you are just starting up carp fishing you are probably wondering ‘what do carp eat’?

Although in general carp are not known as predatory fish, they will in fact take small fish from time to time. Especially if there is a shortage of other food available. But what is a carp’s general diet and what are the best baits to use whilst fishing for them? Well, let’s take a look.

What Do Young Carp Eat?

When carp first hatch there is usually an abundance of food available. This will include things such as plant matter, mosquito and midge larvae, all types of insect larvae, water fleas, and other micro life that thrives in the water.

As they start to get a bit bigger they will also snack on small water snails, bloodworms, maggots, freshwater shrimp, tiny crustaceans, fish eggs, and small insects.

Once the carp get to a good size they will eat pretty much anything that moves that they can get into their mouths.

What Do Carp Eat Throughout The Seasons?

As the seasons change so do the carp’s eating habits. This is mainly due to weather conditions and what food is available to them in their natural habitat.

Carp are a bit like underwater hoovers they will feed pretty much on anything that is edible. But what do they eat throughout the seasons?

Food for Carp in the Spring

In the spring the carp are starting to warm up. This tends to kick-start their metabolism which is still quite slow at this time of year.

Due to their slow metabolism, they are not fully into feeding yet. Whilst fishing for them you will probably want to keep baiting up to a minimum. Small amounts of particle baits and a few boilies are a good shout.

If you throw in too much loose bait at this time of year you will end up wasting a lot of bait and over feeding the fish.

What do carp eat in the Summer?

As the water starts to warm up the carp start to think about something else. When the water reaches temperatures of about 22 degrees the carp switch to ‘spawning mode’. Whilst they are spawning the last thing on their minds is food.

This is a good time to hang up your rods for a bit and give the fish a bit of peace.

Once they have finished spawning however their appetite is well and truly back. Due to the water temperatures at this time of year natural food is in abundance. This is when I like to use natural baits such as worms, mussels, and maggots.

To be fair though all other baits will more than likely work well as well. The carp are also busy on the water’s surface enjoying the heat of the sun. This is a good time to do some surface fishing.

Bread and dog biscuits make excellent surface baits in the warmer months.

The Carps Autumn Diet

So, what do carp like in Autumn? Well pretty much most things that you chuck at them. As the water temperatures start to chill down a bit the carp know that winter is around the corner.

This signals that the natural food that has been plentiful is now beginning to diminish somewhat. Because of this, they start to build up their fat reserves in time for the bleak winter ahead. This is a good time to throw in plenty of loose bait such as particles, hemp, pellets, and boilies.

A shoal of feeding carp can eat an astonishing amount of food in one sitting.

What Do Carp Eat in the Winter?

In winter once the temperatures start to fall the carps metabolism starts to slow down. They don’t need so much energy now and turn very sluggish. Once they get to this stage they tend to go and hang about in the deeper water where it is a few degrees warmer.

Carp are notoriously harder to catch in these conditions and a lot of carp anglers don’t even bother trying.

If you are hardcore and still fancy your chances, keep your baiting up to a minimum and try single baits such as 1 boilie.

What are the Best Carp Baits?

Although carp like to eat lots of natural goodies that you will find living in the water, there are also lots of other baits you can try. Below are my personal top 10 baits that I use for targeting this magnificent breed of fish.

Boilies

Boilies are a type of carp fishing bait that is often used by fishermen. The boilies can be made with a number of different ingredients, but the most common recipe is flour, sugar, cornflour, and bicarbonate of soda mixed together.

This mixture will form a dough-like consistency which can then be shaped into balls or other shapes perfect for a hair rig.

Boilies are a great bait for carp fishing because they stay on the hook better than other baits. They don’t shrink or harden in water, so you can fish them for as long as you want without worrying about losing your bait to the bottom of the lake.

Boilies also come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, which makes it easy to find one that matches your preference!

Sweetcorn

Sweetcorn is a great bait for carp. Its sweet flavour and high starch content make it an ideal food source for fish. Even though shop shelf sweetcorn is spot on for fishing, in any local tackle shop you will find several different flavours of corn. Including my favourite flavour which is strawberry.

If you’re planning on fishing for carp, be sure to include some corn in your bait box! A good cheap, easy-to-obtain bait.

lots of grains of sweetcorn
Sweetcorn is a good carp bait

Pellets

There are a few different types of bait that you can use such as boilies, but one of the other popular baits is pellets. 

The main reason why people like using them is because they’re easy to use and can be very effective. It doesn’t take much work to get your hook baited with these and they have been proven time and time again to be more than enough for catching carp. 

You’ll find that there are many things you can do with the leftover bait after you’ve caught all of your fish too, such as feeding it to other animals or even using it as compost in your garden.

Hemp

Although carp absolutely love hemp, it isn’t exactly a bait you can put on the hook. It does work perfectly in ground bait though or thrown in on its own as a loose feed or mixed with other particles.

To use hemp you either have to buy it already cooked or buy it raw and simply boil it up. Hemp gives off an irresistible oil in the water that carp and most other fish find hard to resist.

Lots of cooked hemp seed
Most fish love hemp

Worms

My favourite worms for carp fishing personally are the mighty lobworms. These are quite easy to dig up yourself or purchase from most tackle shops nowadays. You can even get them delivered to your front door from places like willy worms.

If you have a cricket pitch near you try having a look on the surface of it a couple of hours after dark. Go armed with a dim torch and a good-sized tub and tread lightly.

You will be surprised what you can collect in no time at all.

Maggots

Anglers have been using maggots for carp since the 1800s. Maggots are great bait because they can be purchased in bulk, and they will stay alive underwater for hours.

The downside to using maggots is that you need to keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to use them, so make sure you plan ahead before your next fishing trip.

They really are a very versatile bait for most freshwater fish.

Some bronze coloured maggots in sawdust
Carp love eating maggots

Tiger Nuts

Carp love tiger nuts.

Why do carp love tiger nuts, you ask? 

Maybe it’s the taste that they’re attracted to or maybe they just like how crunchy and easy to eat they are. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: carp LOVE them! 

Tiger nuts come from a plant called ‘Cyperus esculentus’. They can be eaten raw or cooked and typically have an earthy flavor profile with a nutty undertone. Some people also describe them as tasting similar to peanut butter but with a bit of an onion-like aftertaste.

Luncheon Meat

Luncheon meat is another bait that carp seem to love. It is readily available in all supermarkets and is fairly cheap to buy. Hair rigging the meat is a perfect way of presenting it.

If you go to your local tackle shop they will probably sell flavoured luncheon meat as well. I find the strawberry flavour works well with most types of carp.

Just don’t forget to take some kind of knife with you to cut the meat into cubes.

A lump of luncheon meat
Luncheon meat is a good bait that carp love to eat

Artificial Flies

Carp like most species of fish are quite partial to taking the odd fly or bug off the surface of the water. For this reason, as most fly fishermen will tell you, having a go at fly fishing for carp would be well worth a go.

You would certainly need some hefty gear when tackling carp on the fly but the rewards would certainly be worth the effort. The takes will be quite intense.

Bread

Bread is a brilliant cheap affordable bait that carp simply love. There are many ways of using bread as bait but one of the best ways is freelining it on the surface.

This method works best in the warmer months when the fish are up in the water.

Some slices of white bread
Bread is a good budget bait

Do Carp Have Teeth?

As I have mentioned, carp eat almost anything they come across. This includes things such as small crayfish and snails. So how do they get through the hard shells? To look at a carp it looks as though they have quite soft mouths, so how do they munch on their food?

Well, all carp including the bigger ones such as mirror carp and common carp all have teeth. These are called pharyngeal teeth due to where they are situated.

Unlike fish such as pike and zander, carp teeth are situated down the back of their throat. This is the reason why they look as though they don’t have any.

Carp’s teeth aren’t sharp like you might think they are. In fact, they are a bit like human teeth. They are designed for crushing rather than ripping, for this reason, they do not need to be sharp and pointed.

Do Carp Have Taste Buds?

Yes, carp do indeed have taste buds. These are mainly found in their lips and their barbules.

The barbules are the long dangly bits of fleshy skin that are situated on either side of their mouth. They are very sensitive and full of taste buds and nerve endings. These help the carp in finding food sources whilst rummaging along the bottom of the river/lake bed.

When fishing for carp some good baits to try would be sweet ones and fishy ones.

These flavours tend to send the carp’s taste buds on one. Strawberry and krill flavourings are two that immediately spring to mind and are well worth a try.

Do Carp Feed At Night?

100% carp feed at night, and carp fishing at night is well worth doing. In fact, most anglers only really target them at night. This is because in general, this is when they are most active.

You can, and will catch carp in the daytime, especially on commercial fisheries but they do mostly feed in the night-time hours. Dusk and dawn are also very good times for targeting them.

If you are a beginner to carp fishing and fancy fishing for them at night, it is worth taking someone experienced with you. Unhooking and handling fish at night can be a bit of a pain until you gain some experience.

To Conclude

So what do carp eat then? The answer is just about anything you can get on a hook and present nicely to them. These 10 baits are what I believe to be the favourite and most productive baits for catching carp. 

Be prepared to have a good selection of smelly baits available and to put some serious hours in if you want to take up carp fishing.

All these baits can and will catch carp on the right day at the right venue. So get out on the bank and start experimenting. Tight lines and enjoy your fishing.

Top tip: Try different things until you find what the carp want on the day. and just enjoy the experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do Carp Eat?

Carp have a varied diet that changes with their growth and the seasons. Initially, they consume plant matter, insect larvae, water fleas, and micro life. As they grow, their diet expands to include small water snails, bloodworms, maggots, freshwater shrimp, tiny crustaceans, fish eggs, and small insects. Adult carp are less selective and can eat almost anything they can fit in their mouths.

How Do Carp’s Eating Habits Change with the Seasons?

Spring: Carp’s metabolism is slow, so they eat less. Particle baits and a few boilies are recommended.
Summer: Carp focus on spawning at around 22 degrees Celsius and eat less. Post-spawning, they have a strong appetite and natural baits like worms, mussels, and maggots are effective.
Autumn: Carp eat almost anything as they prepare for winter by building fat reserves.
Winter: Carp’s metabolism slows down, making them sluggish and harder to catch. Minimal baiting with single baits like a boilie is advised.

What are the Best Baits for Carp Fishing?

The top baits include boilies, sweetcorn, pellets, hemp, worms, maggots, tiger nuts, luncheon meat, artificial flies, and bread. Each bait has unique characteristics that make it effective in different conditions.

Do Carp Have Teeth and Taste Buds?

Carp have pharyngeal teeth located in the back of their throat, used for crushing rather than ripping. They also have taste buds in their lips and barbules, which are sensitive and help in locating food.

Do Carp Feed at Night?

Yes, carp are known to feed at night and are most active during this time. Fishing for carp at night is often more productive, with dusk and dawn being particularly effective times.

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