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 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.
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.
- 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 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 beads range from 6 to 10 millimeters.
- We like mauve, very light purple and purple haze.
- 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.
- 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!”
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.