How to catch trout and salmon on beads

How to catch trout and salmon on beads

Did you know that you can catch trout, steelhead, and salmon on simple beads? It's true. That's why we carry a full line of drift beads in a wide range of colors. These little beads can help you catch a lot of fish. We'll show you how.

People have been catching fish on salmon eggs for decades. First they fished with the real thing, which usually meant cured salmon eggs. Later people developed soft plastic salmon eggs and salmon egg flies. Fishing with a bead follows in this tradition. Beads can be used in areas with artificial lures only regulations, although they work pretty much anywhere you find trout and salmon.

Anglers started using beads for steelhead and salmon several years ago. It proved to be a very effective tactic. People took notice and bead fishing became more popular. Salmon and steelhead are still being caught regularly with this method. Now an increasing number of people are also using beads for trout in rivers and streams. To put it simply, they work. But how do you catch a fish on a hard plastic bead?

Matching the hatch with beads

The key is that the beads look like food that trout, steelhead and salmon know and eat. Fish have to spawn. In moving water, many species scatter their eggs over gravel. Eggs come loose and tumble down the stream. Trout, steelhead and salmon regularly feast on these eggs.

stripping salmon eggs

Trout and salmon eggs come in different colors and sizes. Using beads you can match them all. The size of a chinook or king salmon egg is 8 millimeters. They have a yellow to orange color. So we sell 8 millimeter orange beads. But there are other colors and sizes. Some look like the eggs of different species. Some look like dead or moldy eggs. Others simply stand out with bright colors and elicit a strike. They all catch fish.

Natural colors are great in clear water. That means orange, yellow and chartreuse beads. Bright or neon colors can work when the water is murky. These colors can also attract bites from otherwise inactive fish. Pink is a color that seems to work all the time.

Rigging a fishing bead

You might look at a bead and wonder how you would ever get it on a hook. You don't actually put the bead on the hook. Instead you fasten it to the line just above the hook. The fish eats the bead and the hook gets stuck in the side of the fish's mouth. This makes hook removal easy.

how to rig a bead for fishing

The basic rigging of a bead is quite simple. First you run your line through the hole in the bead. Then you tie a hook on at the end of your line. Next, you peg the bead about an inch above the hook. You do that by pushing something down into the hole in the bead to make it stay where you want it. We sell purpose built silicone bead pegs for this, but you can also use things like a piece of very thick monofilament line or even a toothpick. That's really all there is to it.

Fishing with beads

Of course fishing a bead effectively is another matter. If you simply throw a rigged bead into dead water and let it sit there, it is extremely unlikely that you will ever catch a fish. Beads are constructed of hard plastic. They look like real in the water, but they don't taste or smell like fish eggs. So you have to trick fish into thinking they are a real fish egg.

fishing beads

Fish like trout, steelhead and salmon in rivers normally hunt by finding a good lie and watching food drift by. When they see something that looks good, they pick it up. Things that don't look good are simply ignored. This also applies to fishing. If your bait, lure, fly or bead doesn't look natural, fish will refuse it.

Dead drifting beads

So the key is to make your bead drift naturally with the current. You are aiming for a "dead drift." You want your bead to look just like a loose egg would in the same water. If your egg drags against the current it will be ignored or maybe even spook the fish. The same applies if your bead comes rocketing downstream faster than the current. Beads are round so they drift nicely.

how to fish trout with a bead

There are two ways to drift a bead. The first is put some split shot or twist-on lead on the the line above the bead. You have to experiment until you find the right amount of weight to get the bead down and bouncing along the bottom. If you put too much weight the bead will snag. Not enough and it will drift high and fast. Once you get things right you cast above the fish and let the bead bounce with the current. If you feel a tug or the bouncing stops, you set the hook. 

The second way to drift a bead is to fish it under a float. This is very effective and can help you pull off a dead drift. Match the float with your tackle and the size of the water. E-Z Floats and Ball Floats are both great for light to medium approaches. Clear Steelhead Floats are good for big waters. Your float serves as an indicator that you can watch on top of the water. If it floats faster than the current or drags along the surface and leaves a wake, you make adjustments. You want the float to drift right with the current. Using a float also lets you adjust the depth of your bead and helps you detect bites.

Try bead fishing

There are times when it seems that nothing will work. We've all been there. If trout, steelhead or salmon are the target that can be a good time to tie on a bead. In the case of steelhead and salmon on the spawning run they may not even be feeding much or even at all. Still they might pick up eggs drifting in the current.

There is much debate over the reasons for this. Some say it is a way for the fish to eliminate competition for their offspring. Others say it is a reflex. Recent studies indicate that it is simply a way for the fish to ingest protein. What we do know is that salmonoids on a spawning run do pick up eggs that drift their way.

Trout that spend their entire lives in rivers and streams also take beads without hesitation. They work especially well during spring and fall spawning seasons. The trout might think they are trout eggs. Or they might think they are sucker spawn. They could also bite purely out of instinct. That might explain why beads can even catch hatchery trout in the middle of summer.

We are still learning. That is one of the great things about the angling pursuit. Yet there are things we already know for sure. One is that fishing with beads is a good way to catch trout, steelhead and salmon. Since they don't cost much it is a good bet to keep at least some beads with you when you're out on the water. They may help you catch fish you would otherwise miss.


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