Carp have long been a popular gamefish in Europe and parts of Asia, but they’ve largely been ignored by North American anglers. However, this is beginning to change, and many US-based anglers are beginning to open their eyes to the fun these fish provide.
However, fishing for carp is quite different than fishing for bass, bluegill and trout (although it does have a few similarities to catfishing).
And while you may get lucky and catch a carp on a bait and rig designed for some other species, you’ll have the best luck by using a bait that specifically appeals to carp.
Most carps are scavengers, who subsist on a variety of different food sources, including aquatic plants, dead fish, invertebrates and various fruits and seeds that fall into the water.
Some species – for example, grass carp – predominately feed on plant materials, while others consume more animal-based food sources.
For the most part, carp baits fall into one of three categories: natural, homemade or commercially produced. Each type of bait can be effective and has its share of devotees, so don’t be afraid to experiment when trying to figure out the best bait for the fish in your area.
Natural Carp Baits
Natural carp baits are often the most productive baits, although some baits work better in some waters than others. You’ll have to determine the best option for your area by experimenting with a variety of different options.
Some of the most popular natural baits include:
Corn is likely the most widely used carp bait among anglers, and given its efficacy, it is easy to see why. Different anglers prefer different types of corn, but sweet corn is generally the preferred choice.
Interestingly, canned corn often works better than corn pulled straight from the cob, likely because of the salt, sugars and other additives canned corn contains.
While it is unlikely that wild carps will encounter many tomatoes rolling around on the bottom of their lake, they appear to find them irresistible.
It can often be helpful to pierce the skin of a tomato in several places to allow the juices (and therefore the scent of the tomato) to disperse in the water. Similarly, you can cut the cherry tomatoes in half before sliding them on your hook to achieve the same effect.
Earthworms and other squirmy invertebrates often become prey for hungry carp, who find them by rooting around in the soft mud at the bottom of lakes and rivers.
Be sure to use fresh, healthy and vibrant worms, who will move enticingly and exude their characteristic scent.
A variety of mollusks – including snails, slugs and mussels, among others – make excellent carp baits. Many carp anglers have the most success using these types of baits near reeds and other types of aquatic vegetation.
These types of areas often hold living mollusks, so they make great places for you to place your bait.
Commercial Carp Baits
Commercial baits are often more convenient than natural baits, and some of them outperform natural baits in some locations. There are countless varieties of commercially produced carp baits, but three of the most popular include the following:
An alternative to real corn, artificial corn is designed to look, function and smell just like the genuine article. Usually made out of PVC, artificial corn baits are reusable, which means you can use them over and over again to catch plenty of carp from your local lake.
However, it pays to shop around for the best version of these products, as many fail to float in the way real corn does.
Boilies are preformed bait balls that are made from various grain meals, meat meals and binding agents, which are then boiled before being packaged. Boilies are some of the most popular carp baits in widespread use.
Note that some boilies must be kept refrigerated (or even frozen) when not in use to prevent them from spoiling. Some boilies are designed to float, while others rest on the bottom.
A number of fish-attracting pastes or doughs are also available for carp anglers. Typically, these types of bait are formed into a small ball and then wrapped around a hook.
These products are quite similar to many of the homemade carp baits, but they are more convenient and typically keep for longer.
Homemade Carp Baits
Carp anglers are nothing if not enterprising, and they’ve created a variety of different baits that can be made at home, in the kitchen.
Homemade baits are especially favored by serious carp anglers, as they can produce large batches of baits, which usually cost less than their store-bought counterparts.
There are a variety of different homemade bait recipes used by anglers, but most feature various combinations of bread, grains, flours, syrups and oils can be worked into small balls and used as carp bait.
Eggs are often used in the creation of these baits, as it works like a binding agent and helps to keep the bait together.
A few examples of recipes include:
Peanut Butter Doughballs
- 3 slices of bread
- 1/2 cup of oatmeal or grits
- 1 cup of peanut butter
- 1/4 cup of flour
Cut the bread into small cubes, mix them in with the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Scoop out small amounts of the mixture and form them into balls around the shaft of your hook.
- 1 cup of corn, bran or wheat flakes (cereal)
- 1 cup of flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl while adding small amounts of hot water. Once you’ve achieved a paste-like consistency, begin forming small amounts of the bait around your hook.
- 1 box bran, wheat or corn flakes (cereal)
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 5 tablespoons honey
- Flour (as needed)
Combine the cereal flakes, cheese and honey in a bowl and mix in enough hot water to create a doughy consistency. If the dough turns out too hard, you can mix in a little flour to soften it.
As you can see, there’s more than one way to catch a carp. Most carp populations exhibit individual preferences and tendencies, which can make some baits work better in some locations than others, and some anglers just prefer to use different baits than their peers.
Ultimately, you’ll likely need to experiment with several different options before you arrive at the one that works best for you.
We’d love to hear about the baits you like to use to catch carp. Let us know your favorites, as well as the ones that’ve never produced fish for you.