Ah those were the days…growing up on a little trout creek was an epic way to spend my youth!
Bead Fishing: A Case for NOT Matching the Hatch
Fishing with beads is certainly all the rage these days for trout, dollies, grayling, steelhead — and even salmon. Delivered via a fly rod or fished under bobber on spinning gear, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of both hard plastic and soft beads. The little orbs work in a myriad of situations but are perhaps most effective when spawning salmon are present.
You’ve probably read about — or experienced — how trout and char in particular can get frustratingly selective when there are lots of loose eggs awash in a spawning stream. They see the real thing drifting along by the thousands so if your offering looks even slightly off, it’s going to get ignored. That’s of course how pegging the bead up away from the hook got started but anglers soon found that there was a lot more to it than that.
Having exactly the right size bead to match that of the spawning species is often essential — as is matching the color of the egg in terms of species and freshness.
Match the Hatch?
While “matching the hatch” is the key to success in most situations, I have also found that there are times when you can throw convention out the window and go almost the opposite direction.
The fist time I learned this lesson was on a small stream near Bristol Bay. I had a couple anglers who wanted a break from conventional salmon fishing and liked the idea of going after trout and dollies with a fly rod. I had just the place: A long, shallow flat absolutely loaded with spawning chums. I pulled the little sled over on a gravel bar and walked my guys up to the spot.
Before we fished, we climbed a high bank and looked down onto the flat. There were probably a couple hundred salmon working on redds in there. Behind the salmon were dozens and dozens of dark, slightly smaller shapes — big rainbows and char that were gorging themselves on eggs.
Chum eggs are pretty good size, so I rigged my guys up with 10 mm beads in a light orange color to perfectly mimic the eggs the salmon were releasing. I pointed the anglers in the right direction and then grabbed my needle nose pliers in anticipation of the un-hooking madness that was sure to come. Only it didn’t…
Neither of my dudes got bit on their first few casts but I’d seen that happen before. It was simply a matter of switching out the bead color. The color of a salmon egg can vary, based on location, water temperature and how long they have been in the water. So, I gave the clients a couple slightly different shades or orange and peach and set them back out into the run. Same result. Well, perhaps the eggs were older than I expected, so I switched them out to more opaque models since real salmon eggs turn cloudy or creamy when they’re dead.
After a half an hour of working over a teeming horde of actively feeding fish without a grab, I got frustrated and put a 12 mm hot pink BnR Tackle bead on one of the guy’s rods.
I really didn’t have a good reason for it other than the fact that I had run out of conventional wisdom. Well, you can probably see where this is headed: The guy immediately started catching a good 3 plus pound dolly or rainbow on every single cast! I switched my other client to the “pink wonder” and he quickly got in on the fun too. They must have landed 30 gorgeous fish off that flat — every single one with that funky pink ball in their mouths.
Since then, I have pulled that one out of my bag of tricks many times when the bite was lackluster. It doesn’t always produce the same results that I saw on that first day but it has been a trip saver on many occasions. I’m not totally certain what’s going on in those cases but my best guess is the color change somehow makes it easier for the fish to key in on the bead. It may just be that the pink (I’ve also tried dark red and chartreuse with good results) stands out just enough against the zillions of orange eggs down there.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The “stand-out” bead may appeal to the predatory instinct that fish use to spot the one wounded baitfish in a school. They’re used to locking onto the loner or injured forage fish against a backdrop of hundreds or thousands of others and that may be what, in effect, is happening in this situation.
Of course, it’s hard to say but whatever the reason, I know changing to a completely contrasting bead — even when the conditions suggest you shouldn’t — is definitely something to keep in the back of your mind when the fish are playing hard to get.
I have also found that there are days when a technique I call “Thunder Beading” out-fishes all others. It’s really just a hyped up name for using a much larger bead than you’d normally would.
Just like the technique I described above, I stumbled onto this one by accident. One afternoon on a tributary to the Nushagak River, I had a couple clients casting 6 mm beads to match the small sockeye eggs that the rainbows, dollies and grayling were munching on.
The fish they were catching were relatively small — the grayling were all 12-13 inches and the trout and char were topping out around 18 inches. Still, my guys were having a ball catching fish every cast. I, on the other hand, was getting bored. They boys didn’t need my help so I was just hanging out on the bar watching the occasional school of fresh silvers work their way upstream.
Though silvers can become monotonous later in the year, those were the first of the season and I desperately wanted to hook one. Not armed with any silver-specific patterns, I decided I’d put on the biggest thing I had in my box — a 16 mm orange soft bead that somebody had given me to try. That thing looked like a golf ball in my bead box next to all the other 6 to 10 mm sizes but it was the only thing I had that seemed large enough to get a silver’s attention.
I waited around for a few minutes until the next migrating pod of coho came into view and then I lobbed my “Thunder Bead” into the run ahead of them and was shocked to see the indicator go down immediately. At first, I thought I’d hooked the lead coho but then realized I was fast into a 26-inch rainbow! Purely coincidence…or so I thought!
As it turned out, I started putting a pretty good beat-down on really nice trout and char with that kooky jumbo egg. It didn’t take long for the clients to notice I was catching much larger fish than they were so I handed one of them the rod with the big bead on it and he caught several good fish from 22 to 28 inches before he finally lost it on a snaggletoothed chum’s dorsal fin.
I’m always fascinated by what makes fish do what they do and the riddle of the big beads catching big fish kept me up thinking that night. We didn’t even know there were any big fish in that section of creek until I started using that tennis ball of an egg imitation. The obvious answer to it is the whole “big bait, big fish theory” but I wanted to read more into it.
As I noted earlier, trout can get crazy-selective when they’re focusing on eggs, so this behavior was pretty weird. Could it be that the big egg simply presented a better protein gained for energy expended ratio to the trout and dollies? Hypothetically, it took the same amount of energy for the fish to move to and grab the 16 mm bead as it would for them to take one of the sockeye eggs half its size. So, all things bing equal, the monster egg presented a better deal to them — especially when you consider it was fall and the fish must inherently feel the end of the season coming sooner than later.
There’s always a good chance that I’m over-thinking the situation and that the big bead was just easier to spot — kinda like the pink one in the sea of orange eggs I described above. I suppose you could also argue that, due to large size of the bead, there was less competition for it. The grayling certainly couldn’t get their little whitefish mouthes around it, nor could the smaller trout. Therefore, one could theorize that the largest fish in the run would be the most interested in the “Godzilla Egg.”
I suppose its sometimes best to just accept that something works without overanalyzing it. Just take my word for it, there are times when the biggest bead in your box is the one the fish will want!
I have also found large beads to be the ticket when the water is off-color due to the fact they are more visible. The larger profile of a 14 mm or 20mm bead in extremely cold water can sometimes coax otherwise lethargic fish in to striking when smaller presentations are ignored. Thunder beads also really seem to shine when there are no spawning fish in a river. Though the fish aren’t dialed into eggs at that time, they are still very familiar with the round shape and color of a large bead and eat them frequently.
Since I started fishing a lot of larger-sized beads (even up to the 40 mm size), I have noticed that salmon are pretty keen on them as well. Kings and silvers in particular have a taste for big beads but I have also caught plenty of chums, pinks and even reds on them as well. And that’s what really makes fishing these things fun — you just never know what you are going to catch when you have one on the end of your leader our tippet.
I guess the moral of the story here is to remember that fish often act in ways that we don’t fully understand. In the context of fishing with pegged beads under either a bobber or an indicator, keep in mind that perfectly matching the hatch doesn’t always ensure success. There are times when going against the grain and throwing something completely different at the fish pays huge dividends.
I’m a big fan of BnR Soft Beads, which you can get HERE.
FishWithJD’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide
Well, it looks like we’re all going to be doing a lot of holiday shopping online this year thanks to the pandemic and all, so I thought I’d help make things a bit easier and throw some suggestions your way. Happy Shopping!
Cool Fish Stickers
From Michael Zontos Art are these awesome little fishing-related gifts. MZ is a truly gifted fish artest/biologost from Eureka CA. $5 or any 5 for $18. Order via email: [email protected]
Light Tackle Surf Perch (Kindle)
My wife can spend all day on the beach…so can I… as long as I have a rod in my hand! If you know someone like me, do yourself a favor and give them my slick little guide on how to catch surf perch. $2.99 BUY HERE
Rod Glove Spinning Rod Cover
These are brilliant! Like socks your fishing rods, Rod Gloves are so nice for keeping things from getting all tangled up when transporting rods in the car and in the boat. I swear I must have like 75 of these things! (The also come in casting models too). $6.99 ORDER HERE
Plano Guide Series Two Tier Tackle Box
In the good old days as kids we used to carry a couple Pautzke’s salmon eggs and some splitshot in our bottom lips and head out for a day of trout fishing. But for under ten bucks the angler you’re buying for can be much more civilized — and actually keep their gear in a proper box! $9.99 BUY HERE
Bass Patrol Rubber Football Jigs
Wintertime bass love jigs slow crawled along the bottom and these babies are really nice quality and are my go-to models. Plus how can you go wrong with anything that has bass and football in the name? $2.49 – $3.09 BUY HERE
HookUp Bait Tube Jigs
Tube jigs will literally catch just about anything that swims: The smaller sizes will get you bass, trout, panfish and more and the larger ones can be used for everything from stripers to lingcod to tarpon and everything in between. $10.99-$19.99 BUY HERE
Pitbull Tackle Braided Line Cutters
In the old days, we used to cut monofilament line with our teeth… but you’d have to have a set of choppers like a mako shark to get through braided line. That’s where these line cutters come in handy — your favorite angler will absolutely love these ( I have 4 pairs!)…and so will their bicuspids! $12.99 BUY HERE
The River Why
One of the great fishing books of all time! $16.99 (paperback) BUY HERE
Beckman Live Well Net
This is a fun gift for the live bait angler…or person who routinely comes home with tiny fish on your list. I know, a live well net doesn’t seem all that exciting but Beckman builds the best nets out there and this cute little guy will be a big hit. Every time I see one at the store I have to play with it! $15.25 BUY HERE
G-Ratt Sneaky Pete Glide Bait
When big bass and stripers are on the menu, the erratic glide action of Sneaky Pete and his big brother, Pistol Pete are almost like having your own private fish whisperers! $19.99 BUY HERE
The Ultimate Guide to Steelhead Bank Fishing (for Kindle)
Give the gift of steelhead! Another one by yours truly here — close to 300 pages of hardcore-how to info in this e-Book to help your angler catch more steelhead..and be less grumpy when they come home from the river! $11.99 BUY HERE
Simms Big Catch Hat
Every angler needs a lucky fishing hat! So, if the rodsmith on your holiday shopping list has been striking out lately, maybe it’s time for a change. $24.95 BUY HERE
Karecell Rechargeable Hand Warmer
Cold winter fishing days can be made a little bit nicer with warmer hands. Your favorite angler can drop these in a pocket and have toasty digits all day! $22.99 BUY HERE
Lew’s Speed Boat Bag
It’s always nice to have a water resistant bag on winter fishing trips, where you can carry all your stuff — rain jacket, lunch, extra tackle, inflatable fish for pix in case you get skunked, etc. $34.99 BUY HERE
Rapala High Contrast 50-lb. Digital Scale
Anglers are known to stretch the truth a bit when it comes to the size of the fish they caught. Well, you can keep ’em honest and get some accurate weights for your fave fisher if you stuff their stocking with a. $39.99 BUY HERE
P-Line 6.5″ Aluminum Fishing Pliers
All anglers need a nice set of pilers…and since these are aluminum, they won’t end up like most of mine…coated in rust and totally frozen shut. $24.99 BUY HERE
Catch More Steelhead Online Course
If you’ve got a steelhead angler on your list who is struggling to catch fish, my gigantic online course will help them immensely. Packed with over 6 hours of on the water video instruction, lectures, how-to diagrams and more…it’s got everything a beginner needs to start catching fish consistently. $49 when you use coupon code XMAS
Simms Headwaters Half Finger Fishing Gloves
They won’t keep that fishy smell off your holiday angler’s hands but they certainly will keep them warm! Plus, with the finger tips cut off, anglers can still tie knots, etc. $51.71 BUY HERE
Fishing Rod 3-Panel Art Print
Well, when it’s gray, cold and dreary at home, a little something like these print can brighten the day and send your angler’s thoughts to warmer climes…you can almost smell the salt air (and diesel) can’t ya? $56.99 BUY HERE
BnR Bobber Dogging Kit
Got a steelhead junkie you’re buying for? You can’t go wrong with some BnR Beads! The bobber doggin pack (if you’re not an angler don’t even ask :) comes with everything you need to get started — beads, weights, stops, swivels and bobbers. $56.37 BUY HERE
Scotty Lake Troller Clamp-On Downrigger
This portable little unit is more than just cute…its a fully functional fish catching machine and perfect for the angler who has a small boat. $73.11 BUY HERE
Onyx AM-24 Standard Inflatable Life Jacket
Inflatable lifejackets are a must-have for boaters and waders alike. When worn, they are comfortable and you hardly know you have it on. Go into the drink, however, they automatically inflate and can literally be real life savers. $114.99 BUY HERE
Douglas Sky G 5-Weight fly rod
If you really want to spoil the trout fly fishing aficionado on your list, they’ll love this amazing and award-winning wand of fluff chucking nirvana. Nine feet long and as light as a feather, this thing is a joy to fish! $795 BUY HERE
Bote Inflatable Kayak / Paddleboard
How cool is this personal 11-foot fishing machine?? Drop-stitch technology makes this inflatable about as rigid as a hard boat…but this one’s packable enough you can throw it on a plane or the trunk of a car! $1,399 ORDER HERE
Bass Lures for Salmon??
Sometimes silver salmon and bass almost seem like the same fish. They both like soft water and wood for example. But will they bite the same lures?
What lives in this mystery creek?
As usual, I’m exploring Alaskan backcountry creeks and this one had quite the surprises in it!
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