So who is Gav Astley, what’s he all about, where did he come from, and why does he bang on about bait all the time? Well I’m 35 I think, I have a lovely wife called Holly, a fantastic daughter called Olivia who’s 2 years old, a wonderfully supportive family, and some amazing friendships. I’m very blessed in many aspects of my life, which I’m hugely thankful for. I work as a Production Manager for one of the UK’s biggest labelling companies, a full on, full-time role which challenges me daily, and I thoroughly enjoy that challenge! I recently formed my own business, Beechwood Baits Ltd, which specialises in HNV carp bait, something I am truly passionate about.
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’, the monthly magazine. They were fishing a local lake know as The Trap, and to me it sounded magical, Perch, Roach, Bream, Carp and Tench, 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, however with three lakes on his land, the benefits were obvious to this job! During slack times work wise, he taught me how to fly fish for Trout. Something I havent pursued as much as I’d like to since, but will at some point. I have to say he also taught me a lot about the wider world, and 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, June the 16th, 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 ground-bait 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 early lunch time 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, The Trap really was where I ‘cut my teeth’ and the base a lot of my experience came from 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 pleasure 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 also I learnt that areas were not always devoid of fish as they may first appear, and subtle changes in approach or bait could uncover them.
Our junior winter league team, victorious again!
Once in the junior team and backed by Lionel’s Tackle 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! The picture above is me and the team receiving our trophy and medals from a journalist from the local news paper!
Whilst holidaying with family, I entered matches all over the UK, and without wanting to be 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!
Very happy times at Trevornick camp site, Cornwall.
This continued for some time, and culminated in me getting into the Junior Welsh Nationals, the year I competed held on Roath Park, South Wales. This was a turning point for me, the match through no fault of my own, or the teams, 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 wasnt the end of the world, but the swim very quickly became over fed as me and my accidental fishing companion both tried to win the fish. 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 to not compete anymore, and promised myself I’d fish only for my own pleasure, 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, the Tench, Crucian Carp and the very hard fighting hybrids that lived there at the time. They were all very hard to catch for me, it seemed easy for them to ignore my maggot baits, even the favoured bronze ones!
It wasnt long however before I mastered the Crucians, and could catch them at will during spring and summer. 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, I spent many, many summers 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 in The Trap until much later in my angling life. They seemed to take my baits if it took their fancy, 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 No. 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 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 size 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 would target these I promised myself, 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. The journey is nowhere near over, and I dearly love it.