Carp AnglerHow ToLatest Issue

The Bait Guru, Gav Astley


How long have you been carp fishing? And why carp?

My angling journey started back when I was about 8 years old, and I fished for anything I could, on any water I could get near to. Living in Mynydd-Isa at the time I fished a local brook for small trout using worms and slugs, basically anything I could dig up out of the garden and on the bank. On family holidays we usually camped, and this opened up more opportunities to fish should we camp anywhere near a bit of water. I continued in this manner for a few years, mainly catching small trout from streams and brooks. Upon starting high school however, another wider angling world opened up when I became friends with a couple of guys who also fished. They fished mainly still waters, and for fish species I had until this point only read about in my then bible ‘Improve Your Course Fishing’, a UK monthly magazine. They were fishing a local lake known as The Trap, and to me it sounded magical -Perch, Roach, Bream, Carp and Tench, all spelt heaven for me! I hadn’t even fished with maggots before this point, but this was the going bait, so I would have to learn, fast. Around the same time, I was also working for a game keeper to earn some money. Most of my friends had paper rounds or milk rounds, but the three lakes on his land, the job offered obvious benefits! During slack times work wise, he taught me how to fly fish for trout, something I haven’t since pursued as much as I’d like to, but will at some point. I have to add that he also taught me a lot about the wider world, and the time I spent with him is time I value extremely highly. He’s sadly no longer with us, but memories of lessons learnt in his company are enduring.

Back then the closed season was still firmly in place, and on opening day, 16 June, my school friends took me to The Trap for the first time. We fished up on the far end, on The Point, one on the peg to the right and me across from them both. I had a fairly large patch of weed out in front, and a very weedy area to my right known as The Swans Nest for obvious reasons. That first day fishing The Trap was magical, and I’ll never forget it. I caught fish after fish, mostly roach with some perch mixed in. I quickly discovered that a small amount of sloppy groundbait with a few maggots in attracted and held the fish next to the weed bed. I had to be consistent with the feeding, flicking a small amount of bait in every cast or they would start to drift off. I have no idea how many fish I ended up with, but by lunch time when we had to pack up and cycle home I could not stop grinning from ear to ear. That very same day, I got back on my bike with all my tackle and rode the 3 miles back to the lake for another go. I was well and truly hooked! From then on I fished The Trap as often as possible, weekends, school holidays and evenings when it was light enough all year round. I also started to enter the junior matches and managed to get into the team, but The Trap was really where I ‘cut my teeth’ and the base of much of my experience in my angling. Fishing the matches taught me a great deal, as you draw pegs, not choose the best ones for the conditions. I’d got to know the water really well, so at any given time of year, and in any weather conditions I knew where the fish would be. This was a real eye opener as at certain times of the year huge parts of the water would seem almost lifeless. In matches it often happens that you end up fishing a spot where you wouldn’t normally choose to. This forced me to explore different options to try to catch a few fish, and I started to socially fish outside of the matches on spots I knew were going to be difficult, or at worst, fishless. This gave me a real insight into fish behaviour, and I also learnt that areas were not always devoid of fish as they may first appear, and that subtle changes in approach or bait could uncover them.

Once in the junior team and backed by the Lionel’s Tackle store who gave us all amazing support and help, I fished many varied waters, still and flowing, under a variety of conditions. We even formed a mini-winter league team, which we had some success with and made it into the local papers! While holidaying with family, I entered matches all over the UK, and at the risk of sounding big-headed, I did alright. I even started to enter senior matches, being then ‘sponsored’ by my mum for entry fees as I simply couldn’t afford the senior fees. She had faith though, and always got her investment back! This continued for some time, and culminated in me getting into the Junior Welsh Nationals which that year was fished on Roath Park in south Wales. This was a turning point for me, but the match through no fault of my own, the team or my sponsors, didn’t go to plan. Simply, the organisers had made a hash of the pegging, and I ended up double-pegged. It wasn’t the end of the world, but the swim very quickly became over fed as my accidental fishing companion and I both tried to win the match. After that match I felt a low in my stomach, and a huge part of the fun of fishing had been replaced by this feeling. I vowed after that match not to compete anymore, and promised myself I’d fish only for my own pleasure, as the very last thing I wanted to do was ruin my angling future by becoming too competitive. So, I turned my attention back to basics, and focused on my own angling. I’d learnt a lot from my junior match fishing, but it was now time to open a new chapter. I started to target the more unusual fish in The Trap such as the Tench, Crucian Carp and the very hard fighting hybrids that lived there at the time. They were all very difficult to catch – it seemed too easy for them to ignore my maggot baits, even the favoured bronze ones.

It wasn’t long however before I mastered the crucians, and could catch them at will during spring and summer. I sat on the Long Bank, 6m out on the pole with 6″ of line on the bottom and a healthy bread flake on the hook, placed exactly in the right spot, so I spent many, many summer evenings with fish in the net and a big smile on my face. They fought like nothing I’d experienced before, and I caught them to around the 2lb mark, which looking back was quite impressive! I literally held my breath every time I caught one, from the second the float started to slide away, through the pause to make sure it had taken the bait fully, the strike, the fight, every heart stopping moment and eventually finally getting it in the net. It was magical, all beautifully framed by the dusk sun light, the best time to target them. Though I caught a few, I never really did master the Tench until much later in my angling life. They seemed to take my baits if it took their fancy, but if it didn’t, then nothing I did seemed to interest them. I had a few successes with cheese paste but no really consistent results. I later discovered the world of pellet fishing, which led me to experiment with pellet pastes, and low and behold, this was a Tench banker, and the crucians didn’t mind a bit of pellet paste either!

Fishing The Point on The Trap one day, late summer if I remember correctly, I was having a really memorable day. Fishing comfortably at about 5m on the pole, using red maggot I’d caught fish all day long, some nice skimmers and Perch too. Then, out of the blue, I had a bite, and my 1lb line and tiny float attached to my # 4 elastic all rapidly disappeared into the depths followed closely behind by my pole tip. This was easily the fight of my junior angling life! Taking my pole out to its maximum length the elastic just kept on going, I could feel it straining through the pole section in my hands. I followed the fish all around the 4 pegs of The Point houses and finally back into my swim. This carried on for about half an hour, if not more. It felt like a lifetime, that’s for sure. After all the strain, my home tied spade end #22 hook held firm, and I landed a fish I hadn’t targeted yet as I deemed them almost mythical and beyond my abilities – a stunning Common Carp of about 8lb. So, they weren’t mythical, or impossible to catch even. One day, I promised myself, I would catch them, but that didn’t transpire until a few years later. Education had to be completed first, and after high school I went onto college and eventually onto university to study environmental science. Little did I know at the time how crucial a broad knowledge of biology, chemistry and the environment would serve me well in the development of my baits.

Taking fishing back up after returning home, I again fished for some of the species that interested me most, Tench, Crucians and Bream. However now I had a new target on my radar – big carp! I started fishing some local commercial waters with a couple of friends from work, and as can be expected on these venues we did really well. What made us different though was our approach to bait – we’d try, and experiment, with all sorts of things and ideas, something I have taken much further today and am now specialising in.Since those days on the commercials I continue to fish them in much the same way, only today my baits are much more advanced and refined, but they are great places to get some action and test some new ideas and theories. I really enjoy spending nights on the bank in the bivvy, exploring new, less pressured waters, searching out big fish at home and abroad with friends and family. My PB’s are a little higher these days, though I still have lots of targets and goals I want to achieve. Spending time on the bank these days is as much of a pleasure as it’s always been, and though my goals have shifted and my approach has evolved, the fundamentals of fishing and the pleasure it brings are still there.

Do you make or buy your boilies?

There are others who make great baits, but I could not personally have confidence in anything other than bait I have formulated and crafted myself. A lot of people talk about the HNV theory, but I feel there is only a handful that actually take it to the extreme length it demands to get the very best from it.

How much bait do you use in a month?

It varies massively, depending on the water I’m fishing, the time of year and what else is going on in my life. I have two young children, so they are my priority over my fishing. That said, to give you an idea I probably go through about 10kg a month on the water I’m currently fishing, and that would be over 3 short sessions, each a maximum of 10hrs.

Favourite boilie, bird food, fish meal, milk protein, or a combo. and why

It really doesn’t matter on the base source, what matters is the profile balance, the availability of the amino acids and the solubility of the bait overall – food signals are king.

When did you start to experiment with your own baits?

Pretty much from the start of my angling career, as most anglers do I wanted to find the perfect bait; the only difference with me was I kept pushing at that desire and still do to this day.

How did you start the process of learning about boilies?

About a million hours of researching scientific white papers about fish anatomy and feeding, about the water itself, about chemistry and biology. My scientific background helped me in this, because I knew where to look for things, and I understood them when I found them.

When you make your own bait, what’s the most important for you, i.e. longevity on the hair, leakage, etc?

It has to be a true HNV bait, and it has to have good balanced solubility of the food signals; it’s no good putting a totally insoluble marble on the hair, and equally it’s no good putting a lump of slop on there either. Also, something lots of people overlook is that it is really important how the chemical food signal reacts with the water once it’s dispersed in the water – it cannot just float to the top, or sit on the lake bed, the signal needs to travel through the water in the correct way.

As a home roller, a lot of new rollers find it a challenge to get their ingredients, what advice can you pass on to them?

This is really very simple, and it’s an issue every home roller will encounter in every country – the answer is to hunt for your ingredients far and wide – the more difficult they are to get, the better your “edge” will be over other anglers when you get your bait right. I have used potato flower, home ground shrimp, and all sorts of fermented liquids, hundreds of essential oils, herbs, minerals, weird protein sources, home ground and prepared fruits.

Research what you have available to you, and utilise it to the maximum.
I remember one of my very first baits had a high percentage of a form of “muesli fruit and nut” in it, and it was a very effective bait.
Later I refined the bait to only use the individual elements of the muesli that I wanted, and removed the ones I didn’t, but you get the idea – the muesli was good enough at the time, and easy to get hold of from my local health food store.

Favourite, never-leave-out ingredient?

Hydrolysed Whey Protein – super expensive, but its amino acid profile fits my baits perfectly

How much research do you do before starting to actually mix and roll?

These days, not so much, I’ve pretty much done that part now; but my first “proper” bait took me two years to research and formulate on paper

What equipment do you personally have in your bait kitchen?

As you would expect hundreds of ingredients, from the very standard to the incredibly whacky!

A 5kg dough mixer, 5kg air tube, all sizes of rolling tables from 10mm to 20mm. That is pretty much all I need to make bait in volume – its more about the layout of the kit for efficiency than what you have kit wise. Keep everything at the right height to save your back is now the #1 tip, if you don’t, you WILL regret it.

Are you a fan of artificial flavours?

Nope, some give slight advantages to bait, and I will occasionally use them at very low levels to complement other main ingredients, and by low, I mean 1.7ml per kg of finished bait – but that’s it. One of Beechwood Baits most successful baits, the FEED+X, had zero flavour in it, artificial or otherwise.

Artificial colours?

If they are safe, absolutely yes, though this is more for locality reasons than fish catching – dark baits to deter birds, bright baits for visibility in coloured water, bland colours for spooky fish and so on. The problem with colours is that pigment has a bearing on all manner of things in a bait, not just the colour that we see (that is totally irrelevant) but in solubility, matrix, the way the signal is perceived through the water and so on. Pigment is a huge topic all on its own, and the simple colour of baits doesn’t do it justice at all.

Favourite size of your bait


Favourite liquid foods

Krill Hydro, Minamino and Salmon Oil – (lobster oil mixed with some CPSP90 is a really nice liquid).

Boil or steam?

Boil, always. The less time you have your baits exposed to any kind of heat the better if you’re making a HNV bait. If you’re not making a HNV bait, or a bait with any protein or nutrition in at all, then steam it to death if you like, there is no goodness in it anyway.

How often do you experiment with new mixes?

Literally never at the moment, I still fish with the Musselberry every trip, and why would I change it as it never lets me down?

What does a kilo of your home mades cost you?

About £6

Are you a believer in the HNV theory?

Yes! (Check out his insider discussion on HNV in a future issue. – Ed).

Advice to prospective home rollers.

Go for it, and ask people for help – if you are courteous about it, just like when you are on the bank asking for help, you will get good advice. The absolute key is having a scientific knowledge and a huge desire for research and testing. Believe it or not, the desire to catch fish alone is not enough.

Eggs or egg replacers?

Eggs, because most replacers are just forms of egg/egg components anyway.

Best advice you ever had regarding your own bait.

Catching fish is the only feedback or advice that counts about a bait.

Related Articles