By Mark Hieronymus
By now, most of y'all have gotten the memo - beads are a very effective method of fishing for steelhead. It should not come as a surprise that they work so well, after all, West Coast drift fishermen have been throwing Worden's "Li'l Corkys", at steelhead for over 60 years now, with much success.
With the rise in popularity of bead fishing has come an interest in altering the beads with nail polish, paint, or other additives to increase their attractiveness to fish. This practice, generally known as "painting" regardless of the actual additive, is a source of constant debate in the fishing community - some believe that well-painted beads can and do out-fish unpainted beads, while others think that painting is a load of hooey and prefer to fish their beads straight out of the factory packaging. We all know at least one guy who thinks painted beads are a load of bunk, and he seems to catch a fair amount of fish, so...is painting really worth it?
One of the "trade secrets" about painting beads is that, besides subtle changes or mixes in color, painting affects the "lustre" of the plastic, or the way light interacts with the surface of the bead. Just as a diamond looks like a hunk of cheap glass before it is faceted and polished to lively brilliance, an unpainted bead has none of the oily sheen and attractive twinkle of a well-dressed Metal Magnet.
By way of comparison, here are 2 photos of an identical series of beads, in identical order. This first set is of unpainted beads.
The "plastic-y" look and feel is inescapable, and there really isn't anything that says "hey fish, come eat me" other than a bit of color attraction...Will these unpainted beads catch fish?...Yes. If you throw them at enough steelhead, I'm sure you could get at least one to eat.
These are Metal Magnets, after the addition of 11 herbs and spices and a quick pass through the incubator.
The first thing that jumps out is the fact that the surface of the bead now has depth, and is a lot greasier-looking than the matte finish of a production bead. The next is the very slight twinkle, subtle enough to not scare spooky steelhead...Will these beads catch fish? They have, by the hundreds and hundreds.
Another aspect of fishing painted beads for steelhead (and a question we get asked all the time) is, "What color should I fish?" The answer is...try 'em all. Folks use different color beads to cover a wide range of conditions - water temperature, water clarity, water levels and water depths, available light, sky conditions, substrate colors, visibility windows...there are a lot of factors that play into color selection, so the best solution is to have a wide range of colors to choose from.
"Oh, you are just saying that because you SELL painted beads, and you want us to buy a bunch so you can go to Mexico and retire."
Well, sure, but we still think that having a wide range of colors to cover the different conditions you might encounter is the best way to approach it. Just like the guy who fishes only unpainted beads, we all know somebody that fishes just one color of painted bead and catches fish, and there are days when it doesn't matter what you throw at steelhead - you could throw hotdogs tied to water-ski rope at them, and they will still eat it. Those kind of days are few and far between, so here's a few observations on colors and when to fish them.
- On dark or overcast days, try darker beads - on sunny days, try lighter colored beads.
- For tannic water, try a darker bead first, and in clear water, try a light color.
- For low water, fish a dark bead - for high, greenish runoff, try a bright bead.
- Fish a light bead over a light bottom, and a more subdued bead over a darker bottom.
- For longer runs with fish throughout, try a darker bead first - for small pocket water and limited window-of-visibility situations, try a brighter bead.
It is important to note that these are just general observations, and are not to be considered hard-and-fast rules. In the course of your fishing, you are sure to encounter situations where the first choice of color turns out to be a dud and the hot bead for the day is some color that completely contradicts the above statements...in all of our combined years of steelhead fishing with thousands of fish to hand, the one thing that happens every year is someone says, "Huh...Never seen a steelhead do THAT before".
So now the cat is out of the bag...beads fish well for steelhead, and painted beads fish even better than unpainted beads. Fished on a short leader below a contrasting-color fly, painted beads are a good way to "get bent", whether you are a seasoned pro or a bright-eyed cheechako. Pick your colors wisely, but don't be afraid to switch beads if things aren't working out for the better - sometimes a color change is all the trigger that is needed to get "the fish of a thousand casts" to bite.