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The Art of Choosing the Right Bead

By Mike Cole
D72315b1The sun peeks through a layer of overcast clouds and a light upstream breeze keeps the mosquitos to a minimum as the smell of decaying salmon creeps its way into the surrounding air. In the stream several alligator colored chum salmon are fighting to find a place where they will dig deep into the gravel to deposit the eggs that will become the next generation. This is August in Alaska; the time of year that trout and char take advantage of the salmon egg feast. Staring at an open bead box, it's hard not to overthink a simple task: selecting the correct bead.

One might think that with the thousands of salmon eggs floating down stream that anything round and orange will get gobbled up. Unfortunately this isn’t true in most situations. Knowing what size, color and style of bead to use can be the difference between catching a few trout and char and catching a LOT of trout and char. It can also be the difference between hooking a 30’ rainbow or having him ignore every offering you make. The right size and color can also mean the difference between fishing a run and catching only Dollies or finding the big rainbows you are really after. In other words, the right bead can be the difference between a fair day and an epic day on the water.

braddollyThere are many considerations when picking the best beads for a fishing situation. A good way to start is to think of two primary factors:
1. What species of salmon are you fishing behind?
2. What stage of the spawn is currently going on?
These two factors give you a quick reference to size, color and style of bead which may be most effective.

If the bead you chose still isn’t working then you will need to consider secondary factors such as:
1. What are the weather and light conditions like? 
2. What are the water conditions in terms of water speed and clarity? 

The stage of spawn and how it affects bead color:

Each species of salmon has a basic color and size to their eggs as they are freshly released. Beads that match these newly laid eggs are often referred to as “fresh” or “live.” As the egg ages, this coloration will change and the size of the egg may increase as it becomes older. Beads that match the more mature eggs are often referred to as “milky” or “turning.” Sometimes the egg will D72315cdeteriorated to the point of being opaque, those are considered “dead eggs.”

Early in the salmon spawn, trout and char will tend to key in on beads that best resemble eggs being freshly laid. As more and more salmon spawn and more eggs are getting kicked out of the redds, trout and char will have the choice of fresher eggs, milky eggs and dead eggs. Given the choice trout will go for eggs that are fresh or have some milky whitening to them, but they will often pass on dead eggs. As the season progresses and the end of the spawn comes into sight, the amount of fresher eggs diminish and the trout and char will have to make due with opaque and dead eggs.  

How weather conditions affect your bead choice:

Weather, water and light conditions can both benefit and create trouble for you while bead fishing. Bright sun, dark skies, murky and crystal clear water conditions all play together in determining how fish see beads. When fishing in high water, fast current, or glacial/murky water, you will often want to bump up a size. Even if kaylaRainbowthe eggs in the water are close to 8mm in size, a 10mm or even a 12mm bead will show up better. Additionally, dark colored beads show up better in these conditions than light beads. Conversely, if the water is low and clear, you will want to bump down a size.  

Another weather related factor is cloud cover. For example, say you are productively fishing a 6mm Mark’s Trout Food in Dark Roe among spawning sockeye on a sunny day. All of a sudden clouds roll in and the fish stop biting, you should try switching to a lighter colored bead such as Natural Roe or Tangerine.

Keeping these environmental factors in mind will help you change IMGP0279your tactics and keep on hooking fish. 

Matching the bead to the salmon:
The following is a guideline for choosing which beads best mimic eggs in the early and mid stages of the spawn for each salmon species.

Pink Salmon  (Humpy Salmon) eggs are best represented by 8mm-10mm beads in peach and light orange colors.
- Check out these beads:
Mottled TroutBeads in Peach Roe, Glow Roe, Orange Clear and Montana Roe.
Great Lakes Steelhead Beads (GLS Beads) in Atomic Orange, Brilliant, Hot Egg, Super UV Tangerine and Tangy.
Mark’s Trout Food (individually hand painted beads) in 8mmPinkEggs Orange Clear, Glow Roe and Natural Roe.

Chum Salmon (Dog Salmon) are best represented by 10mm beads in peach and light orange colors.  
- Check out these beads:
Mottled TroutBeads in Peach Roe, Glow Roe, Peachy King, Mango, Orange Clear and Montana Roe.
Great Lakes Steelhead Beads (GLS Beads) in Atomic Orange, Brilliant, Hot Egg, Super UV Tangerine and Tangy.
Mark’s Trout Food (individually hand painted beads) in 8mm Orange Clear, Glow Roe and Natural Roe.
Mark’s Metal Head Magnets (individually hand painted beads) in KateBeadGlow Roe, Orange Clear and Tangerine.

Chinook Salmon (King Salmon) have eggs similar in size to chums but king eggs are darker orange.
- Check out these beads:
Mottled TroutBeads in Natural Roe, Tangerine, Mandarin Roe, Peach Roe  and Orange Clear.
Great Lakes Steelhead Beads (GLS) in Atomic Orange, Brilliant, Creamsicle, Hot Egg, Hot Sauce, Scrambled Persimmon, Super UV Orange, Tangy and UV Blood Red.
Mark’s Metalhead Magnets (individually hand painted beads) in Dark Roe, Natural Roe, Tangerine and Orange Clear.


DollyBeadSockeye Salmon (Reds) have the smallest and reddest eggs of all the salmon. Their eggs are best represented by 6mm beads, occasionally 8mm as well.
- Check out these beads:
Mottled TroutBeads in Dark Roe, Natural Roe, Tangerine, Mandarin Roe and Hot Cherry Roe.
Great Lakes Steelhead Beads (GLS Beads) Brilliant, Creamsicle, Hot Sauce, Super UV Orange and Scrambled Persimmon.
Mark’s Trout Food (individually hand painted beads) in Dark Roe, Natural Roe and Tangerine.

doubledollyCoho Salmon (Silvers) typically spawn very late in the year, but if you find yourself around them then you will want 8-10mm peach and orange colored beads.
- Check out these beads:
Mottled TroutBeads Natural Roe, Tangerine, Mandarin Roe, Peach Roe  and Orange Clear.
Great Lakes Steelhead Beads (GLS) in Atomic Orange, Brilliant, Creamsicle, Hot Egg, Hot Sauce, Scrambled Persimmon, Super UV Orange, Tangy and UV Blood Red.
Mark’s Metalhead Magnets (individually hand painted beads) Dark Roe, Natural Roe, Tangerine and Orange Clear.

The specific beads listed above are for the early and mid parts of the spawn. However, if you are fishing the late stages of a salmon spawn, you will want more washed out dead egg colors.

For dead eggs check out these beads:flesheggs
TroutBeads and Mottled TroutBeads in 8-10mm in Apricot, Peach Fuzz, Dark Peach, Salmon Pearl, Shrimp Pearl, Sun Orange and Cotton Candy are good colors to have in the box and will cover all salmon species.

Now that the bead fishing secrets have been spilled, choosing the best beads for trout fishing in Alaska should be a piece of cake!
If you are preparing for an upcoming trip, try to do a little research and see what salmon will be running/spawning, as this will help you pick out the best beads to fill your box with.

If you want a ready to fish assortment, check out one of Alaska Fly Fishing Goods Bead Selections.

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