What Do Carp Eat? Exploring Carp Diet and Feeding Habits

If you've ever wondered 'What do Carp eat?', you're in the right place. This guide will explore the diet of Carp, their feeding habits, and more.

Guides & Information
Simon Palmer

Published: May 16, 2023

Carp are a popular species of fish for both recreational fishing and aquaculture, known for their adaptability and resilience. Understanding their diet and feeding habits is essential for those who wish to effectively manage carp populations, as well as for anglers seeking to increase their chances of success. Carp are omnivorous creatures, meaning they consume a variety of organisms, including organic detritus, small crustaceans, insects, and even seeds from aquatic plants.

Feeding behaviour in carp is highly influenced by factors such as water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, and salinity. Typically, carp are most active in feeding when the water temperature lies between 18-20°C, with their optimal growth temperature at 20-25°C.

Different species of carp, such as the grass carp, have varying dietary requirements and feeding habits. For instance, the grass carp’s feeding behaviour is greatly affected by dissolved oxygen levels, as they stop feeding when these levels fall below 3 mg/l, with an optimum feeding range of 5-8 mg/l. Adept anglers and aquaculture professionals must bear these factors in mind to better understand carp feeding habits and ensure successful growth and management of these adaptable fish.

What do Carp Eat? – Carp Diet Overview

Omnivorous Fish

If you’ve ever wondered, “What do Carp eat?”, it’s important to know that Carp are omnivorous fish. This means they consume a variety of both plant and animal matter, making their diet quite diverse. This adaptability to different food sources allows Carp to thrive in various environments. Specifically, Carp are known to eat a wide range of foods, which answers the question, “What do Carp eat?”. Their diet includes plant matter, zooplankton, fish eggs, and even dead fish. However, despite their broad diet, they are not frequent predators of other fish.

Natural Food Sources

In their natural habitat, carp primarily feed on organic detritus, which is primarily of plant origin. Other natural food sources carp commonly consume include:

  • Chironomids: Aquatic insects that are a significant part of their diet.
  • Small crustaceans: Such as crayfish, which provide essential nutrients.
  • Gastropods: Small mollusks that are a good source of protein.
  • Aquatic plants: Carp help in seed dispersal of aquatic plants.
  • Fish eggs: Contribute to their protein intake.

Carp feeding habits vary depending on factors such as water temperature, with feeding activity generally increasing in warmer temperatures, between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius.

Commercial Food Sources

For carp raised in captivity or when targeted by anglers, commercial food sources are available to mimic their natural diet. These can include:

  • Pellets: Formulated to provide essential nutrients and amino acids to promote growth and health.
  • Boilies: Round bait made with a variety of ingredients, often used in conjunction with a hair rig for angling.
  • Groundbait: A mixture of various attractants and ingredients to draw carp to specific fishing locations.

It is essential to consider the seasonal behaviours and feeding habits of carp when using commercial food sources for angling or fish farming purposes. By understanding their natural diet and preferred food sources, we can optimise carp health and growth in various settings.

Feeding Habits of Carp

Carp Feeding Triggers

Feeding Habits of Carp

Carp are opportunistic feeders and their diet can vary depending on the availability of food sources and water conditions. They predominantly feed on organic detritus, chironomids, small crustaceans, and gastropods. Water temperature plays a significant role in the feeding habits of carp; they are most active when the water temperature is between 18-20°C. Carp prefer oxygen-rich areas, and during the colder months, they can be found feeding in shallower water, which is warmer.

Sensory Systems

Carp rely on their highly developed sensory systems for locating food. Their olfactory system allows them to detect food particles in the water, while their lateral lines and taste buds help to identify the type and texture of the food. Carp are also attracted to different scents and flavours in the water, which is why anglers often use flavoured bait to increase their chances of success.

Carp Activity Patterns

Carp feeding activity is influenced by the time of year, water temperature, and weather conditions. In early spring, carp come out of their winter depths and feed in the shallows, often preferring minnow lures, nightcrawlers or imitation worms over corn bait. During mid-spring to early summer, carp spawn and do not feed while spawning. After spawning, their feeding activity resumes, and they can often be found feeding in large groups in oxygen-rich areas of the water body.

Anglers looking to target carp should be aware of the carp’s feeding habits and sensory systems when scouting their chosen body of water. By understanding carp activity patterns and adjusting their bait and approach accordingly, anglers can improve their chances of successfully catching carp.

Natural Foods for Carp

Aquatic Vegetation

Carp, specifically Cyprinus carpio, are known to consume various types of aquatic vegetation. They feed on tender parts and seeds of water plants, which provide essential nutrients for their growth and survival. Carp are not picky eaters and will consume a wide range of plant matter found in their natural habitats, making them a successful species in diverse environments.


Invertebrates play a significant role in the carp’s diet, consisting of insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and other small invertebrates. Carp’s barbels help them detect these organisms in the water column and at the bottom of their habitats. They consume insects in their various life stages, such as larvae and pupae, as well as small crustaceans like waterborne insects and freshwater shrimp. Carp are also known to feed on invertebrates such as crayfish, snails, and mussels found at the bottom of water bodies.

Fish and Fish Eggs

While carp are predominantly omnivorous, they do occasionally consume other fish and fish eggs. Their diet includes fish larvae and smaller fish, which they may come across in the aquatic environment. Carp are also known to feed on detritus and particles in the water column, contributing to their diverse feeding habits. Zooplankton and other small organisms in the water column are also consumed, making carp effective at exploiting various food sources available in their habitats.

By understanding the natural foods and feeding habits of carp, it becomes clear that their ability to thrive in diverse environments comes from their adaptable and versatile diet. Their consumption of aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, and fish and fish eggs, along with their opportunistic feeding behaviours, allows them to survive and flourish in various aquatic ecosystems.

Baits and Additives for Carp Fishing

Carp Diet

Carp fishing is a popular activity amongst anglers worldwide and employing the right baits and additives is crucial for success. Carp species are diverse, so understanding their feeding habits can make a significant difference when trying to hook these elusive freshwater fish.

Carp Flavour Additives

Carp can detect smell and taste very well, which makes the use of flavour additives crucial. However, it’s important not to overdo it as carp can become wary of strong-smelling baits. Subtle flavoured dips, lightly thinned down with lake water, may be more effective for catching carp. Popular flavour options include sweet or fruity additives, such as peach, pineapple, or strawberry flavours, or savoury additives like fishmeal or liver.

Carp Attractants

Attractants can stimulate a feeding frenzy in the carp, increasing an angler’s chances of success. Natural attractants include enzymes, amino acids, and extracts that are widely available for purchase online. Liquid additives, such as cold-pressed oil from nuts or seeds, can enhance groundbait, making it more appealing to carp species.

Natural and Meat Baits

Carp species are omnivorous fish, feasting on macrophytes, benthic worms, and small aquatic organisms. Therefore, natural and meat baits play a crucial role in the carp angler’s arsenal. Some recommended natural baits for carp include:

  • Maggots: An excellent live bait for carp, particularly effective for common carp species.
  • Aquatic worms: Carp find the movement of worms irresistible, making these a top bait choice.
  • Freshwater shrimp: A popular option for bottom-feeding carp, freshwater shrimp mimic the carp’s natural prey.
  • Sweet corn: Carp are attracted to the colour and taste of sweet corn, and preparing corn with Kool-Aid can increase its appeal.

Meat baits comprise another effective carp bait category, with options such as:

  • Mussels, clams, or snails: These bivalves provide a meaty texture that can entice carp.
  • Berries: A source of natural sugars, berries can stimulate bottom feeders like carp.
  • Fry, fingerlings, and juvenile fish: These smaller fish species can appeal to carnivorous carp, such as river bends or river mouth-dwelling carp.

In conclusion, understanding what carp eat can significantly enhance your fishing success. Using a diverse range of baits, additives, and attractants that align with the carp’s natural diet can significantly increase the likelihood of catching carp. Anglers should experiment with various bait, bait size, and flavour combinations, paying attention to the specific dietary preferences of their target carp species. This approach is based on the principle of mimicking what carp eat in their natural environment. However, it’s important to take care not to overwhelm the fish with strong scents or flavours, as this can deter them rather than attract them.