Bead Fishing for Rainbow Trout

July 9, 2009

in Alaska West, Gear, Tips

Just a couple to choose from.
Photo: Cameron Miller

Rainbow trout in Western Alaska eat a lot of salmon eggs. Over the years a lot of different flies like the Glo Bug have been tied to imitate salmon eggs, but recently it’s become clear that the most effective way to trick a rainbow trout into climbing on is to use a bead.

What’s a bead?

Just what you think it is– it’s a little sphere with a hole in it. Some are made specifically for trout fishing, while others can be found at your local craft store. Beads can be made of jade, coral, glass, quartz, plastic, fimo clay and any thing else you can make round, with the right color and size.

Rigging

Rigging beads is fundamentally pretty simple. You slide the bead on your leader, attach it to the leader with a peg or a knot (more on this below), and then tie on a bare hook 1-2 inches below the bead.

To peg a bead to your leader, you start by sliding the bead on, letting it slide freely and attaching the hook to the end of the leader, probably with an improved clinch knot. You then position the bead 1-2 inches from the hook and jam a peg through the hole in the bead, which holds it in place by pinching it against the leader. Beads have traditionally been pegged with the broken-off tip of a toothpick, but recently small pieces of 80-100 pound mono have been used as well.

The downside of pegging beads is that the bead can slide down against the hook when you don’t want it to. This can be overcome by using a bead knot instead of a peg.

Depending on the depth and current speed that you’re fishing, various sizes of split shot can be attached to the leader – generally 6 to 12 inches above the bead – to help get that bead bouncing along the bottom like a real egg. Finally, depending on the water and angler preferences, a strike indicator can be used, or not.

Note that some fisheries have rules regarding how beads can be rigged – including restrictions on how for the bead can be from the hook. As always, consult your local regs!

Which Beads?

The bead that you should fish depends not only on which species of salmon eggs you’re trying to imitate, but also how long they have been spawning. Live eggs look different than dead eggs, and sometimes that difference in color and transparency can be pretty important.

When in doubt, match the hatch! Have a look at the eggs that are tumbling downriver in the run that you’re fishing, and slide on whatever looks closest.
We’re fortunate on the Kanektok that our rainbows aren’t super-selective. In general, if you get it in the ballpark that fish is going to eat. The bountiful summer season is short, so they need to chow when they’ve got the chance.

That being said, here are some guidelines for which beads to use to imitate the eggs of each of our salmon species.

Kings

  • King beads usually range from 8 to 10 millimeters, but we’ve used “gum balls” up to 13 mm. These are quite a bit larger than a real king egg, but the fish love them, especially in the early season.
  • Favorite colors are live egg, tangerine, and 0range, and it doesn’t hurt to paint them with Sally Hansen Barely Pink nail polish.

Sockeye

  • Sockeye beads are smaller – 6 to 8 millimeters. If the fish seem choosy, go small.
  • Best colors are live egg, orange, tangerine, mauve and dead egg, and again Sally Hansen Barely Pink can help.

Chum

  • Chum beads range from 6 to 10 millimeters.
  • We like mauve, very light purple and purple haze.

Silvers

  • Again the size range is 6 to 10 millimeters.
  • Silver eggs are a bit deeper red. The standard sockeye colors work good, but try to go a bit darker red than pink.

Pinks

  • Even though we have a bumper crop of pinks every other year, pink eggs seem to be less of a factor. If you think the trout are on pink eggs, just get it in the ballpark.

Rick Sisler, one of our managers at Deneki Outdoors, has spent more time than anybody fishing rainbows on the Kanektok. He says, “The best overall bead I have ever used (by a long shot) is the 6-8mm pink coral bead. I have paid up to $10.00 for one of them. They are heavy so you don’t need any weight and the color is absolutely perfect as a dead sockeye egg (which all trout eat any time, no matter the species spawning in front of them). Unfortunately they’re also very hard to find these days!”

Ethics

In the early days of bead fishing, some people claimed that fishing a bead “isn’t fly fishing”. Others had a problem with the fact that the “lure” (the bead) isn’t attached to the hook. We’re not going to get into whether or not bead fishing is fly fishing. It’s fun, you do it with a fly rod and a fly line, and it’s very effective.

One thing is for certain – fishing a pegged bead properly is much easier on the fish than fishing egg flies like Glo Bugs. Trout can be aggressive when they see an egg, and standard egg flies often wind up hooking a fish deeply. Pegged beads tend to result in a hook that’s slid neatly into the outer part of a fish’s mouth, and that’s good for everyone.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous July 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Stupid question, but why is the bead not put on the hook?

Thanks

Deneki Outdoors July 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Not a stupid question at all!

That was actually the first step in the evolution of bead fishing– attaching beads directly to hooks.

The main reason we don't do that any more is that trout tend to inhale eggs really strongly, so hooks attached directly to beads wound up hooking the fish deeply inside the mouth of the fish and doing more damage.

When you create a small gap between the bead and the hook, the hook almost always pins the fish cleanly on the outside of its mouth, which does far less damage to the fish.

Michael Gracie July 16, 2009 at 6:42 am

Andrew – I've found beads useful as an add-on too, floating them on the 'tippet' section of a streamer leader.

Deneki Outdoors July 16, 2009 at 6:48 am

Great point Michael, and one that we honestly just missed in the post! We also like sliding a bead on above a flesh fly pattern to create the infamous 'steak and eggs' combo.

bill October 15, 2009 at 6:16 am

Beads kick ass all over the country here in Ohio they haven't quite caught on yet but the steelies LOVE them! I hate it when I hear that "thats not fly fishing" but the main principal in our sport is match the hatch and how does it get any better then a bead? And like you said its alot easier on the fish, so far I have yet to gut hook a fish on the bead. Its allways nestled right in the corner of the mouth, and if your sceptical about that try a small circle hook just dont do a power house hook set!

sjoerd November 19, 2009 at 4:35 am

Good morning, I like to read the articles about rigging a bead etc. But….. it is not easy to read the words that are printed over a darkblue part of the page. Please leave those blue prints away or place all the text on the white paper. Thankx

sjoerd sienmensma from the netherlands

DKREGGER April 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm

in some parts of california we’ve been fishing salmon with beads on casting rods and reels for thirty or fourty years,, no need to anchor the bead here. its always worked!!!

ben July 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I have been using a nail knot on the line to keep the bead from sliding down. How are you using the 80-100 pound mono?

Thanks

andrew July 2, 2011 at 9:18 am

Hi Ben,

To use the heavy mono, you just cut it into short pieces, less than an inch long, and jam a piece into the hole of the bead like you would with a toothpick – after you’ve slid the bead onto the leader. This pins the bead to the leader and some folks think it work s a little more consistently than a toothpick.

Andrew

Tom Larimer December 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Small Weed Wacker cord works great for pegging beads as well. Make sure to cut the cord at an angle before insertion.

scott owens January 7, 2012 at 4:35 am

When fishing for Kings in NY, I sometimes use beads, however, instead of a empty hook on the bottom I have learned to ties on a egg pattern fly. This seems to increase my hits and hook-ups.

dan May 22, 2012 at 6:21 pm

use a bristle of a silicone barbecue basting brush as a peg. it slides a bit but no line damage

Amber June 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I wondered if anyone knew if this was a legal way to take trout in Iowa? We dont have much for fly fishing here so reading/regulations arent as well published as other states. We have a lot of laws regarding foul hooking, etc. so if anyone could tell me if I can or can’t do this in my state that would be awesome!

andrew June 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Hi Amber,

Thanks for swinging by. My quick read of the Iowa fishing regulations didn’t see anything prohibiting bead fishing – but you should definitely give them a call to make sure.

Have fun out there!

http://www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/fish/regs_fish.pdf

Ben September 13, 2012 at 9:49 am

I’ve been researching a trip to Alaska for awhile and finally got the green light from my wife as a 40th birthday present for next year. I’ve had it narrowed down to a few places, with Alaska West at the top. But sadly, this is why I won’t be booking a trip to Alaska West. I want to flyfish. I want to swing flies for salmon on my two-hander. I want to twitch mice over rainbows. I don’t care about being “put-on” fish by whatever means necessary. I could care less about how many I catch. I rank bead fishing right up there with bobber fishing and fishing with bobbers is for little fat kids. Isn’t there at least one outfitter in Alaska that doesn’t use beads?

andrew September 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

Hey Ben

Thanks a lot for getting in touch – we really appreciate your candid input.

Obviously we fish beads for trout at Alaska West. We also fish mice, sculpins, leeches, flesh flies and more. Plenty of our guests decide not to fish beads, and plenty of our guests decide never to use an indicator. Our trout fishing is actually far more varied than in many other places in Alaska (where bead fishing is the main approach they use).

Beads are one weapon in our arsenal, but by no means the main way we fish for trout.

Honestly, my guess would be that there aren’t any outfitters in Alaska that never, ever fish beads.

Mark September 27, 2012 at 10:36 am

Ben will no doubt be able to hook some salmon while swinging flies on this two-hander. He might even trick a trout or two on mice. It’s a good thing he doesn’t care about how many he catches because I suspect he will spend most of his time watching “little fat kids” like me catching big rainbows and dollies on beads while he practices his casting.

John February 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

This is a great article on bead fishing and Deneki Outdoors is a very respectable outfit. I’m not sure if I would call bead fishing – fly fishing but it sure is fun using a fly rod. Beads are one weapon in my arsenal but by no means is it the main way that I target trout. It would be sad if that gentlemen(Ben) didn’t visit Alaska because people use beads. I’m sure if you are paying the money the guides will let you fish any way you want. I have a friend that makes incredible clay beads and he just started to sell them. Check him out on Facebook under The Great Alaskan Bead Company.

Chris May 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Great write up thanks
I’ve come to find a problem with the bead knot with stealhead, they break the line at the knot. I think it maybe the same as the problem as when you have a wind knot on the leader/tippet. JMO.
You can also try a rubber band as the peg, cut a large rubber band at a angle so you can insert it in the bead, get a hold of it and stretch the rubber band and slid the bead on, with the rubber band stretched insert your tippet. Cut off excess. Now its adjustable.

andrew May 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Great idea, Chris – thanks!

Gary May 9, 2013 at 7:27 am

Call it beading, call it flossing or call it what it is . Snagging.

Ken May 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Gary, how can it be snagging if the fish chooses to take the bead into its mouth and then subsequently gets hooked? i.e. the exact same thing that happens with any fly designed to cause a fish to take the fly into the fish’s mouth. The fish would not be hooked if it did not choose to take the fly or bead. Of course sometimes fish get foul-hooked no matter what terminal tackle you are using. I fish chironomids in lakes a lot and every year I foul hook several fish on them. I’m pretty darn sure those fish took the fly and got themselves hooked when they spit it out and turned away; I can’t imagine that they accidentally bumped into it as they were swimming by…

If a fish is lined (flossed) because the leader swung into the fish’s mouth with no choice by the fish to take the leader into its mouth, the current pulls the leader so that the hook eventually catches on the mouth and then the fish – a passive participant – is hooked, then I agree – that’s snagging. However, if the fish won’t be hooked unless it chooses to take the bead (or fly) then it’s not snagging, it’s angling – the angler has put a visually attractive object in a position that caused the fish to actively participate and take it into its mouth, and a hook attached to that object became embedded in the fish.

BTW I attach beads to my leader by passing the leader through the bead three times. The bead stays put about an inch above the hook. I chamfer both ends of the hole with a drill bit to remove the sharp edges that can cut the leader.

Phil May 9, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Great article, Deneki.

Best,
Phil
Fish Ranger!

Bert September 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

Re the bare hook behind the bead…what type of hook do you suggest…? and might a circle hook benefit the catch & release process?

Rick B. January 12, 2014 at 1:03 am

I’ve used the rubber band (using a needle to pull the rubber band thru the bead’s hole), and I’ve also put the bead on the leader and then tied a double surgeon’s loop about an inch long. I just slip the hook onto the loop. I also leave the tag about an quarter of an inch long. Of course , when I center pin fish I do a lot of funny things…

fishkamp February 5, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Hey Andrew,
If you are still checking comments on this article:
After spending way to much time in the nail polish isle I went onto Sally Hansens site and noticed they don’t make the Barley Pink color you recommend. You have any idea what color you all are using now?

Kyle Shea February 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

fishkamp,

You’re right unfortunately they have discontinued the Barley Pink color and a few other favorites. The favorite color changes from guide to guide, but I’ve had luck with Sally Hansen’s Brilliant Blush. Even had luck with a straight white color called ‘fog’ before. Anything to give the milky appearance an egg takes on once it has been in the water a while.

Feel free to experiment though. Trying something new often keys into those big ‘smart’ fish that have seen it all before. Changing up either the color of polish OR the actual color of the bead can often result in a entirely different look. Thanks for reading!!

Thomas March 5, 2014 at 5:49 am

Not to beat a dead horse, but there are many beads on the market now with blotchy, milky colors in pink, red, orange themes… Would you also paint those beads or are you painting more “solid” color beads to achieve the look of these new beads?

Great article! Thanks!

John June 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm

You should advise your readers that in some areas of Alaska — within Bristol Bay drainages, for example — fishing a bead above a bare hook is illegal, notwithstanding a lack of enforcement of the regulations. This can be cured by modifying the hook itself, with something as simple as a few wraps of thread, converting the hook into a “fly” while the bead is still considered an “attractor.”

John June 26, 2014 at 5:54 pm

To clarify my last comment: in “fly-fishing only” waters in Southwest Alaska it’s illegal to fish a bead above a bare hook. See Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game Southwest Alaska Sport Fishing Regulations Summary, p. 6 (“Methods & Means”). Otherwise, a pegged or free sliding bead is OK. Note that fishing a dropper is also generally illegal in “fly-fishing only” flowing waters in Alaska (again, notwithstanding lack of enforcement). But then, anybody who needs to fish a two-fly rig to catch fish here in Alaska needs a new hobby anyway.

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