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Carp Nutrition is an important subject as it has implications on both the long term health of the carp as well as our catch rate. There is also a seasonal aspect, as the carp is a cold blooded fish its metabolism and ability to digest certain food stuffs varys according to water temperature.
There are basically a number of nutrients a carp needs for healthy growth and maintenance. Much like most animals this is a balance of protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals, fibre and carbohydrate. An unbalanced diet can result in many health problems, for instance excessive fat consumption was linked to a number of fish deaths in the 1990s. Studies showed many dead fish with bloated and fatty livers.
Another example of this potential problem manifests itself in particle preoccupation. Certain particles such as peanuts are argued to have an almost obsessive effect on carp which can lead to them to having a poor diet from a nutrional perspective.
There is also of course the issue of bait attractiveness. It has long been thought that carp, like many animals are adept at judging the food they eat for nutrional content and choosing food stuffs accordingly. This is certainly common sensical as why would a carp carry on eating something that makes them feel ill. This nutrion based logic spurred on the HNV, High Nutrional Value, approach to bait making pioneered in the 1970s where traditional baits such as small boiled potatos were shunned for the new high protein baits.
Protein forms the essential building block for fish growth and maintenance. There are a wide range of proteins needed for fish and these are essentially different amino acids. Like humans carp can synthesise certain proteins but also need to consume others for optimal health.
Whilst the HNV bait explosion saw the appearance of baits with 70 or 80% or even more protein content it is generally accepted amoungst fish biologists that adult carp cannot effectively utilise much more then 30-40% of protein content.
Additional protein content may be broken down for energy or passed thorugh but arguably adds no benefit to the bait. There is an argument for higher levels for young growing fish but as carp anglers tend to be targeting larger fish this is not really necessary.
Protein sources for modern boilie making are predominantly fish meals and milk proteins. However other bait sources such as wheatgerm and hemp seed do offer protein content. Wheatgerm particularly does offer around 25% protein however the profile of amino acids in this protein is deficient in some areas required by carp. So whilst foodstuffs like this are a useful addition to the bait making arsenal, wheatgerm is especially good for winter due to it's easy digestablility, they should not consitute the baits entire protein content. Essentially plant proteins cannot provide every amino acid required.
Lipids or Fats
Whilst excessive fat consumption is known to cause problems in pretty much all animals they still form an essential part of the nutritional profile. It is generally considered that around 5% fat content is around the correct amount. Additional fat rarely needs adding as existing bait ingredients such as fishmeal contain some fat content. The addition of certain fish and seed oils can help provide essential fatty acids though they should not be used in excessive quantities.
Carbohydrates are essentially the fuel an animal uses on a day to day basis and may also be stored in the form of fat for times when the fish is less active, for example the winter. These may form sugars, fats or more complex carbs. Due to the fairly basic nature of a carps digestive tract they have limited ability to digest the more complex carbohydates such as cellulose. The ease of digestability of simpler carbs such as sugar may explain the carps famous sweet tooth, especially in the winter when digestion is slower.
Vitamins and minerals
Carp require a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Again these are present in a variety of sources so a bait with a mixed nutrional protein should provide most of these. Certain minerals exist in higher concentration in certain food stuffs, milk products of course offer good calcium quantities and blood meal good iron content.
Some fibre content is required for most animals to aid digestion. In the carp even with a simple digestive system fibre content helps the fish becoming blocked. Too much fibre though can lead to food passing through too quickly which can negatively impact on the absorption of essential nutrients by the fish.
Last Edited by: erikb on the 03 January 2009