Our Outdoors: Get A Bead On It

Bigger trout, like this 16-inch brown, may hold deeper in streams and need a little extra weight to get down to.  A beaded pheasant tail nymph was the ticket and is a popular pattern on which to add a bead head.

When it comes to fast moving water, or big fish lurking below the school, nothing gets an angler down to business like the addition of a heavy, flashy bead at the front of a fly.  Whether it is a rapidly-flowing stream harboring trout in deeper pockets or tucked into the slow water of pools several feet deep, or the larger panfish that occupy the bottom strata of the group in a lake or a pond, a bead helps get traditional fly offerings down to these fish and set off strikes with a bit of extra attraction.  All beads aren’t created equal however, and as the fly tying season progresses, keep in mind exactly how these accents factor into a fly pattern and its presentation while at the vise, long before they ever hit the water.

The options for bead color, size and material have greatly expanded in recent years.  Here a black bead rounds out the darker pattern of a flashback zebra nymph.

Foremost, beads add weight to any standard nymph or wet fly.  They get the buggy-looking offering down in the water column a whole lot faster and a great deal deeper than any standard pattern could. While they may appear less natural than a standard brown, black or olive thread-head on a non-beaded pattern, they carry with them a flash and sparkle that can excite trout or panfish and trigger a reaction strike that makes for an easy hookset.  In the rough and tumble of rushing trout streams, bead-head nymphs and streamers can be used to target fish that are holding in slightly deeper pockets and set off takes that might not occur when an unweighted nymph drifts overhead, out of the zone.

Beads occupy extra space on a hook as well, so make certain that the shank can support a bead without crowding the body of the fly pattern.  For pheasant tail, hare’s ear or similar nymphs, consider going to a longer hook to avoid cramming the materials behind the bead head, making for an odd-proportioned pattern.  Most fly hooks marked “2XL” will provide ample space to add a bead without reducing the thorax, body and tail of a standard pattern, as their shanks are twice as long as the same sized standard hook.

Beads add flash to muted or standard patterns, or top off more ostentatious offerings with even more zing, like a bright copper bead capping off this lightning bug nymph. 

With the rise in popularity of beaded flies in the last 20 years, there is a much wider variety of colors, shapes and materials of modern beads to be incorporated into patterns.  Where there were once only the metallic hues of gold, silver and copper available to fly tiers, there are now a number of painted and prismatic colors available to provide even more synchronicity or stand-out flash to a pattern.  Additionally, beads are no longer limited to being round in shape, as everything from cones to hexagons to fish-skull beads are available to add weight and hydrodynamics to a pattern and better help match the hatch.  What’s more, with the advancement of tungsten as a much faster-sinking (though more expensive) material available to those crafting their own flies, a number of popular patterns are incorporating tung-beads as a way of getting even further down to fussy fish.

With the added depth in the presentation of a beaded fly, line management and awareness is key to picking up on soft or deeper takes. On several occasions, I’ve sent a beaded fly into the depths of a still pool and barely seen the line twitch with the take of a trout holding near the bottom.  In these instances, where working deep corners or mid-stream pockets, the addition of a small foam or yarn strike indicator up the line will help better detect the bite on a beaded fly.   Be ready to set the hook at the slightest bump, twitch or jerk that is telegraphed by the indicator.

While “half-inch, brown and buggy” is a good guideline when putting together patterns right now for trout, panfish and other fly-rod targets next summer, adding a bead provides an option to get down to business on fish that aren’t feeding right up against the surface.  With all of the options available today, beads give fly anglers all sorts of opportunities to experiment with color and shape and are a vital addition to any fly box filled with popular or stream-specific patterns one wants to tie up and put out on a variety of waters next season…in our outdoors.

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