What Do Carp Eat In the Wild? – Natural food and feeding habits

Know what carp eat and what they feed on in their natural habitat by reading on. After you’re done, you’ll be able to leverage these tips and get your hands on the right bait using items from the tackle shops.

what do carps eat in the wild

Food Particles Carp Anglers Should Look For When Trying to Catch Carp

Generally, the list is endless. If you’ve been carp fishing for quite some time, you’ll know that the carp’s diet is incredibly diverse. There are so many food items that carp find tasteful and get significant nutritional value from.

That wide array of carp feeding interests starts with more natural foods such as aquatic vegetation, plant matter, waterborne insects, fish eggs, and freshwater shrimp, stretching all the way to insect larvae, sweet corn, benthic worms, and even some meat baits. Wait, there’s more:

  • Leeches
  • Dangling fruits
  • Mollusks
  • Crayfish and dead fish
  • Aquatic plants
  • Small insects, mosquitoes and midge larvae
  • Clams and mussels
  • Invertebrates and aquatic worms
  • Fish eggs

Where Can a Carp Angler Do Some Fruitful Carp Fishing?

Where Can a Carp Angler Do Some Fruitful Carp Fishing

Now that we know, more or less, what to look for when trying to catch carp, we need to understand where can we find these foods so that we can go about our carp fishing adventure successfully. Several items go into making this diverse diet.

Shallow Water Spots

Shallow water spots are created by sudden changes in the tract nature of the water body, which makes carp feeding much easier. The sudden drop from a deep spot to a shallow one helps with the accumulation of different materials that can all act as natural carp baits.

That could be small fish, water fleas, or abandoned bait such as artificial corn and sweet potatoes. All of that will pile up in a shallow area.

Moreover, carp fish do prefer these shallow secluded sites as they can bask in the sunlight as much as they want while sifting through all of the possible food items. Carp are highly opportunistic feeders and will try everything around them to decide whether or not they like it.

River Bends

Surely, you’ve watched anything on National Geographic that’s related to river sports or hiking and have found that river banks enjoy a few qualities that make them an optimal spot for carp feeding.

Since the water is going incredibly fast before the bend, then it hits the banks on each side of the river, and it forms a deep pocket while plonking all of its goods there. As the current is weaker, and mostly the area is smaller, carp can scout the entire river width while graciously looking for natural carp baits.

River Mouths

The river mouth is where the river opens into a bigger waterfront. Hence, this is a spot of deposition. Here, you’ll find countless fish species, not just carp species, looking for food. That’s thanks to the warmer temperatures, speed decrease, and current moderation.

Does the Water Column or Water Temperature Determine Where Carp Feed?

Does the Water Column or Water Temperature Say in Where Carp Feed

Yes, of course! Carp feed on different items on the menu according to various temperatures and levels of the water column.

For instance, if it’s a warm day during the spring or the summer, you’ll find that carp will prefer to stay closer to the surface. This is because they’re way more active up there and will like to enjoy the sunlight.

With these circumstances, carp feed on things that are already present on the surface, such as hatching nymphs, any floating vegetation, and tiger nuts, if grown close to the banks.

As a matter of fact, you can use many of those things, specifically tiger nuts, as bait when you’re trying to catch big carp near the surface, as they attract carp exquisitely.

Now, what if carp have chosen to stay a little bit lower towards the middle of the water column? Here, river carp eat things that are already in the river and within reach.

That includes fish eggs, nymphs, more fish, and plants making their way from the bottom of the water towards the surface. Besides, some of the other baits used by fellow anglers, along with a hair rig, float in the water column.

Finally, there’s the floor of the waterfront. This is where carp truly flourish, as they literally have an all-you-can-taste buffet. Carp eat everything after they taste and like it. They smell anything they remotely like, pass it through their mouth, and then use their taste buds and organ to determine whether they’ll start digesting that or expel it through their mouths or gills.

As for the water temperature, just like all other fish species, carp have their own cycles and preferences for different seasons. For example, they’re most active in the summer and early spring; then, they stop feeding when it’s spawning season, around the late spring.

After that, it’s fall, and although the activity decreases, carp know that they’re on the front steps of winter, so they start bulking up on food, trying to prepare themselves for the coming coldness.

As we reach winter, catching carp is almost impossible, as their activity levels are at their lowest, their metabolism at its lowest, and their feeding needs are also at their lowest. When they do come out to feed, it’s done as fast as possible so that they can go back to their shelter and reserve their energy.

How Do Carp Go About Finding Natural Food Sources?

How Do Carp Go About Finding Natural Food Sources

As you can see, the common carp, and every other carp species, are quite serious about its food. In fact, mostly when they’re in their natural habitat, they know very well how to search for food.

That’s because of the fantastic evolution carp fish have gone through throughout the years, which have definitely been spotted and recognized by many anglers as years have passed. Let’s discuss this a little bit more.


First of all, carp significantly rely on their mouths, which you must have seen if you’ve been carp angling for quite some time and will notice if you’re just starting out. Carps’ mouths are meant to bring in a lot of food, enabling carp to sift through it and decide what the carp will keep and what they’re going to discard.

Mouth Cavity

The mouth cavity itself is long and leathery. Plus, it’s wholly lined with chemically sensitive cells. What do these cells help carp with? They tell Carp whether or not this food is good or bad before they decide on whether they like it or not.

That’s in addition to an extra taste organ in the palate that sucks the silt and other detritus into the mouth and closes on it, trapping it against the lower surface of the mouth. Then, the carp starts using the same organ to decide what will stay and what will be expelled.

Teeth and Taste Buds

Unlike humans, carp’s teeth don’t just stop at the boundaries of the palate. As a matter of fact, carp’s teeth extend all the way into the pharynx, so they have pharyngeal teeth and molars that are incredibly strong.

These impressive molars are fully capable of crushing anything that carp eat completely so that their intestinal tract can digest them. FYI, carp don’t have stomachs, it’s more of a tube from their mouth to their anus, and digestive enzymes are secreted all along this tube.

Now, back to what we were saying, these carp molars are capable of churning tiny crustaceans, clams, molluscs, insects, mussels, and every other natural baits for carp fishing that gets thrown at them.

Another thing that we must tell you about carp is that their taste buds aren’t just in their mouth, but almost all over the bodies, on their barbules, which we’ll discuss later on, and even under their fins.

These buds act as a radar for any food particles that they might like. So, carp will definitely pick up on it if anything is floating around them. Let that be aquatic vegetation, plant matter, or any type of bait.

Antenna-Like Structures

Antenna-Like Structures

Now, this is an exciting bit. If you look at the face of carp, you’ll find that they have antenna-like structures that look like this fish is sporting a respectable moustache. These moustache-like protrusions that emerge from the mouth area, called barbules, have a gigantic role in the food search.

So, what’s the point of these structures? Well, they work on eliminating the blind area that carp fish normally have right under their mouths.

They act as food detectors, telling the fish that there’s a particular food item present in the water around them and that it has XYZ nutrition value or that they’ve smelt the bait on this hair rig before. Subsequently, barbules take the carp feeding habits to a whole new level.


What all anglers always hear about fish is that they have bad eyesight. However, that isn’t the case when we’re talking about carp fish. In fact, common carp, or any other species, have excellent vision.

They can see moderately, which is more than what you can say about most other fish, in the dark, and they can see with both their eyes. Plus, since they’re placed on the sides of their heads, they’re blessed with a wider view of their surroundings.

As a result, if you try and sneak up on carp, they’ll definitely see you. Consequently, apart from the blind spot right under their mouths, carp can see all of the food presents around them.



Carp fish has an amazing olfactory system that’s connected to its memory. In other words, if they’ve approached a certain bait that was connected to a hook and they managed to escape, they’ll hardly ever approach the same bait again. They certainly learn quite fast!

Moreover, they’re able not just to determine the smell of a particular prey but also the nutritional value present in it, such as glucose, amino acids, sucrose, and more. Accordingly, they only go after prey that won’t just taste nice but also give them the power and energy they need. That’s how smart they are!


Carp are incredibly fussy species. They scare away quickly and are always on guard. In fact, if you’ve been carp angling for quite some time or trying to catch big carp, you’ll know that even your own bait will scare the carp away. That’s thanks to their tails and fins, which allow them to move incredibly fast, no matter their body weight.

Pectoral and Pelvic Fins

The carp fins are highly developed, allowing them to change direction and speed quickly according to their liking. If they detect certain food in the water, they can stop immediately and search for it. As a matter of fact, these fins allow carp even to move backwards if they feel like they’ve missed something.


If you look carefully at the carp you’ve caught, you’ll find that it has a rounded tail. This rounded tail gives it the extra push it needs to cover the entire water body during its active hours, completely disregarding its body weight, hence supporting the fins even more.



At the end of the day, we return to the fact that carp take anything and everything they like into their mouths. They’re omnivores, so they can eat plankton and vegetation, in addition to maggots and insects, among many other food items.

They basically eat whatever they find in the wild, which makes coming up with bait after bait for them much easier. If you’ve seen that carp enjoys other types of food and bait, let us know in the comments!

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