How Carp Feed - carp visible in shallow water

Many carp anglers that frequent the banks of your local carp fishing venues like to believe they know how to catch carp and in a lot of cases this will be the case.

However, one thing that many anglers lack knowledge on is how carp behave beneath the surface. By learning these carp habits and behaviours you can greatly increase your catch rates.

In this post I’m going to focus on how carp feed to provide you with all the knowledge you’ll need on how carp feed below the surface with a look at anatomical and movement factors.

This knowledge should aid you in planning approaches to your next fishing sessions to hopefully get a good few more fish on the banks.

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  • How Carp Feed

    To get to the bottom of how carp feed I’ll be referencing various scientific studies that have been carried out to gain greater insights into the feeding patterns of carp.

    These studies get rather technical rather quickly but I’ll try my best to keep it as easy to understand as possible so you can work out how these feeding behaviours relate to your carp fishing.

    Feeding Mechanisms in Carp

    How carp feed - Carp Feeding on BottomTo fully get to grips with how carp feed the first study I’m going to be discussing is “Feeding Mechanisms in Carp“. This study was carried out to determine how carp filter food to consume only food particles and expel inorganic particles.

    The study was carried out with a focus on carp during “benthic” feeding. This may sound confusing but it basically just means when carp are feeding on the bottom. Due to carp being bottom feeders the majority of their feeding time will be “benthic”.

    This study aimed to find out how carp can segregate between the edible food resting on the bottom of the lake and the unedible food stuffs such as gravel small stones and other debris at the bottom of the lake.

    This is extremely relevant to us anglers as this basically sheds light on how the fish are consuming the bottom baits on the swim you are fishing which will give you an idea of how particle baits such as groundbait are ingested.

    The study takes a look into two ways it is thought that carp consume and sort food sources from non-food sources when bottom feeding. These two hypothesis are as follows;

    “when engulfing food mixed with inorganic particles during benthic feeding, cyprinid fish use protrusions of tissue from the palatal organ to retain the food particles while the inorganic particles are expelled from the opercular slits”

    “In crossflow filtration, the particle suspension is pumped parallel to the filter surface as filtrate exits through the filter pores, causing the suspension to become more concentrated as it travels downstream along the filter.”

    “We used high-speed video endoscopy to determine whether carp Cyprinus carpio use crossflow filtration and/or palatal protrusions during benthic feeding”

    I’m sure you now know what I mean by these studies getting technical rather quickly but don’t worry I’ll break this down into basic terms.

    The first thing the study takes a look at is if feeding carp use lumps of tissue at the back of the mouth (buccopharyngeal cavity) to keep the edible particles and then expel the non edible particles through the “opercular slits” or part of the gills in more basic terms.

    The next thing that is looked at is if carp use crossflow filtration to separate these edible particles. This is basically sieving particles through “filters” in the mouth of the fish that can determine and retain edible substances and expel unedible substances through mainly taste.

    It was found that carp, when feeding on small particles, don’t seem to use the lumps of tissues to keep edible parts. However, when larger food stuffs were fed these bumps were used to retain these and then the larger unedible debris were spat out from the mouth.

    When food particles with lower density than the inorganic materials were sucked into the mouths of the carp, cross flow filtration allowed for large numbers of less dense food particles to be separated rapidly from large numbers of unedible substances.

    This study helps to show exactly how carp consume different types of feed from groundbaits and particle baits on the bottom too larger food substances such as micropellets.

    Food Handling in Carp

    The next study that helps to shed light on how carp feed and their behaviours under the water is the study of “Food Handling in Carp“.

    This study focused more on carp behaviours and not so much on the anatomical areas of carp feeding.

    This section will help to show you exactly how the carp interact with food stuffs such as large boilies and pellets to show you why sometimes carp might investigate your bait without getting hooked.

    Light and x-ray cinematography was used to build a picture of the external and internal process of carp consuming various food types.

    Ten patterns of head movements were recorded with distinct feeding actions. These twelve feeding patterns were;

    • Particulate feeding
    • Gulping for intake
    • Rinsing
    • Repositioning
    • Selective retention
    • Gathering from branchial sieve
    • Transport
    • Loading of teeth
    • Crushing
    • Grinding
    • Deglutition

    The study suggests that carp have a high level of energy at dusk and night but are readily trained to feed at any time of the day but if you really want to improve your chances get out at these times.

    The twelve feeding steps follow a sequence similar to the one below.

    1. Carp use their olfactory system to sense salt, flavours and particles in the water that bring them in from the surrounding areas to your bait but I’ll discuss this a little further later on.
    2. Once the carp has found your bait they position their larger mouth over the bait and suck rapidly propelling the bait into their mouth where it is fixed between the upper and lower jaw for under a second.
    3. The fish rapidly pumps water over the bait and washes off any silt or unedible matter and then tastes the bait to investigate if it’s worth swallowing or not.
    4. This takes around two seconds. If the carp likes what it tastes the bait will be repositioned to the front of the mouth by drawing water through the gills with its mouth closed. In this position the bait will be further washed by pumping water through the mouth. This step is quite often missed out if the bait is “clean” after the first rinse. If its not too keen on the bait it will spit the bait back out and move on.
    5. If the carp has chosen to consume the food item it will then be slowly positioned to the back of the throat where the teeth are found.
    6. The fish will then wait a few seconds before the “chewing” begins.
    7. The chewing lasts for around few seconds and the mouth of the fish remains open during the process.
    8. The food is then swallowed to compete the feeding process.

    By knowing this feeding sequence the set up of your rigs and bait can start to make a little more sense.

    When carp suck in your bait they spend a few seconds tasting the bait. If you have hooked your bait straight onto a hook you run the risk of the carp spitting the bait because of the strange object in the food.

    This is why hair rigs come into play. By leaving your bait directly off the hook you reduce the risk of the carp sensing anything wrong with the bait and moving to the next stage where your hook will be sucked fully into the carp’s mouth.

    You can see some of these actions in the video below which records carp’s behaviour underwater.

    YouTube video

    How do Carp Find Food

    How carp feed - carp feeding on surface

    It’s all great knowing how carp will consume your bait once they have found it, but how exactly do they find your bait in the first place? You’ll find out in this section.

    Carp are great foragers and use various method for scouring for food in every layer of water. Just because carp are bottom feeders they don’t necessarily always feed on the bottom.

    Carp use their sense of smell, eyesight and even an olfactory system that lets them sense any dissolved food stuff in the water.

    The carp use the follow method for sourcing food;

    • Barbels – Two barbels protrude from the side of the carp’s mouth with two smaller barbels above the mouth. These are not just for show and are used to detect food on the bottom of the lake directly under its mouth where it can’t quite see. These barbels also have taste buds that quickly detect if the item they are touching is edible or not.
    • Mouth – Carp have an excellent sense of taste as their mouths have chemical sensitive cells that define if a food substance is edible or not. Carp actually expel around 97% of what they take into their mouth for tasting.
    • Pectoral and Pelvic Fins – The fins of the carp are lined by taste buds that further aid in finding food sources close to the fish.
    • Eyes – These fish have excellent vision with two eyes on either side of the head. This vision is used to not only look for predators, anglers on the banks included, they also use them for sourcing food. This is why brightly coloured baits seem to work well as the carp’s attention is drawn to them.
    • Olfactory System – The olfactory system allows the fish to sense dissolved substances in the water such as salts, sugars and proteins in baits that help to bring carp in from the surrounding area to your baits.

    That’s All!

    These reports and studies are great at taking a greater looking into how carp feed even though they are rather technical at some points.

    I have tried my best to decipher the technical jargon and provide you with some easy to understand information so you can learn fully the carp feeding process.

    By knowing this added information you should be able to add an extra edge to your fishing and it will even give you some more information to spread around your fishing partners.

    If you have anything to add or any questions feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

    4 responses to “How Carp Feed? – In-depth look into Feeding Habits”

    1. Alan Russell says:

      Nice little article thanks. I am new to fishing and this was very informative and interesting. Environmental factors would also be good. Such as how to read eddies in rivers. Temperature affecting feeding. How rain influences feeding.. These are all factors I need to learn.

    2. Michael collingwood says:

      Would much appreciate the guide thanks

      • Drew says:

        Hi Michael, if you enter your email into the pop-up that appears when you land on the website or click the “Free Guide” tab at top of the page you can get the free method feeder guide to your email. Any issues give me a shout, cheers.

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