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Beads: The Bare Naked Truth

dolly on bead sqby Mike Cole

Have you ever wondered why grown men and women spend their free time painting plastic beads......Lurking in fly shop aisles looking for just the right color.....Elbowing teenage girls out of the way to purchase various shades of nail polish.......Standing mid-stream, mumbling to themselves, while staring intently into their enormous selection of beads? Why do they go to all this trouble when they could just use a glo bug? 

Because beads work!

It is just like matching the hatch of mayflies, caddis, or stoneflies on a trout river. Beads can better match the eggs drifting out of salmon or trout redds during a spawn. A bead drifting down the river looks so much like a real salmon egg that trout and char often can't tell the difference. And chances are, underwater, you couldn't either.

Beads are all the rage right now and it looks like they won't be going out of style for a long time. This isn't to say that beads are the only egg pattern that will work in Alaska; old standby flies such as glo bugs still have a time and a place. But if you are fishing rainbows or dollies at the height of the spawn or in a heavily fished area, beads are the way to go. We can help you choose your beads, rig them up right, and fish them effectively.

Choosing the Correct Bead

A little research can really help you prepare for your next trip in Alaska. Here are a few tips to help you choose the beads needed to make a successful trip:

First -  Determine what species of salmon spawn in the area you plan to visit. The different species of salmon have different sized roe (eggs.) Sockeye (Red) salmon produce the smallest roe. Typically a 6mm bead is used to imitate sockeye roe. Pink (Humpy) and Coho (Silver) roe are medium size. Start with an 8mm bead if these fish are spawning. Chum (Dog) and King (Chinook) salmon produce the largest eggs. An 8mm or 10mm bead is a good size for these big boys and size does matter most of the time. You can easily find beads in 6mm, 8mm, 10mm and even 12mm which means that there is a bead for any situation.

Another rule of thumb is to fish smaller beads in slower water where fish have more time to inspect the bead, and fish larger beads in faster water and chutes where the bead is going to drift by the fish at a faster rate. In those situations a larger target for the trout to key in on is better.

Second - Figure out run timing. This will be a major factor in determining what beads to use. The different species of salmon spawn at different times. As well, run timing can differ from year to year depending upon what Mother Nature has in store. Check fishing reports for the area you are planning to fish. Knowing how things are going will help you show up with the right beads.

Third - Choose the color that will catch the big one. Soon we will devote an entire article to this topic but here are the basics. For starters, it is important to understand that eggs change in appearance after they are laid. An egg that has just come out of a salmon is said to be a “fresh” or “live” egg. It will often be orange and have an oily sheen to it. After the egg has been in the water for some time and is free floating it will appear as mottled light pink or peach. Finally, it becomes a “dead egg” and has a darker more solid appearance. Try looking around in side pools to see what the eggs look like. Also look for eggs washing along the river bottom. Try and match your size and color to these.

If you still don’t know which eggs the trout are feeding on, a good rule of thumb is to start with a live egg bead. Some good live egg colors from the Troutbeads brand include Natural Roe, Dark Roe and Tangerine. If live eggs don't do the trick try mimicking an older egg. The Mottled Beads Series from Troutbeads are very effective at creating the look of an egg that has been out of the spawning bed for a while and is free floating. These are a favorite target of trout. It is also important to carry a good selection of dead egg colors like Dark Peach and Salmon. These beads can be deadly, especially late in the spawn. Alaska Fly Fishing Goods stocks pre-packed bead selections, like our Kenai Deluxe Bead Selection, that will give you a wide bead selection to choose from.

How to Make a bead rig

There are several ways to make bead rigs with different styles of leaders. Most anglers use a strike indicator but it isn't mandatory. How you choose to fish is up to you. A typical leader is 4-7 ft of straight 8, 10, or 12 lb. monofilament (usually Maxima Ultragreen) and about 2 feet of 8-10 lb. fluorocarbon tippet. The idea behind this simple two-part leader is to get the leader to hang vertically in the water column. This reduces drag on the leader and leads to a drag-free drift. Standard 7 ½ - 9 ft tapered leaders can also be used. Tie on an easily adjustable indicator so that you can change depths quickly. If split shot is needed attach it to the leader at the tippet connection. Hooks should be stout short shanks in size 4, 6, or 8 to match bead size and fish size.

Attaching the Bead

This can be done in many ways but here are two of the easiest. The first employs a round toothpick. Slide the bead onto the leader and attach the hook using your preferred knot. Slide the bead within 2 inches of the hook. Insert the toothpick into the bead facing away from the hook. Use a twisting motion to help lock the bead into place on the leader. Next nip the toothpick as close to the hook as possible. Normally there will be a little bit of the toothpick exposed. Using hemostats or pliers, carefully push/crimp the remaining part of the toothpick into the bead. Be cautious not to fray the leader and not to crack or chip the bead. There is also a toothpick-replacement called the Peg It. Peg Its are tapered like a toothpick only they are made of a soft pliable material and are much easier to cut than a wooden toothpick. Peg Its are inserted into the bead, pulled through until the wide end is just inside the bead, and the remainder is nipped off.


The second method uses the bead knot. The bead knot is fast and easy because it doesn’t require pegging the bead. The down-side is that the leader weakens more quickly. First slide the bead through the leader like you would if you were to peg it. Now run the leader through the bead the same way a second time so that the bead is attached to the leader via a loop. Now slide the bead up the leader so that you can attach the hook. Once the hook is attached, slide the bead back down the leader towards the hook. Once you have the bead in place, open the loop up by pushing the leader through the bead towards the hook. Once the loop opens on the outer side of the bead, take the hook and wrap it through the loop 8-10 times like you would a clinch knot. Now pull tight. If done correctly the knot will snug up into the bead with none of it exposed.

How to Fish a Bead

Bead fishing techniques are very similar to nymphing techniques. In the most common scenario you cast 45 degrees upstream from the fish that you are targeting, get a good up stream mend and dead drift the bead. Trout key in on eggs that are dislodged from spawning beds and are drifting down the river. Often there is a lot of food in the river during the salmon spawn, so trout can be picky about the presentation and selection of beads. At the same time, don’t be surprised if a trout charges 5 feet or more to grab a bead. If you’re sight fishing to a particular fish and it doesn’t eat the first bead you throw at it, take your time and try a different bead color or a different size. Maybe try changing your approach. Chances are you will be able to get that fish to bite. Good luck and have fun!

**Please note that in the State of Alaska beads are considered attractors, not flies. When fishing beads in Alaska’s fresh waters, a bead that is fixed or “pegged” so that it cannot freely slide on the leader, cannot be fixed more than 2 inches from the hook.

***Also note that because beads are not considered flies, you cannot fish them in fly-fishing only waters with a bare hook. In fly-fishing only waters a fly tied of traditional means (with thread) must be used with beads. A thread wrapped hook with a pegged bead will suffice in fly-fishing only waters under state regulations. Please check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for further information.


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