Beads are the best. We can summon endless theories for why, but trout love eating bright, metal beads. Gold, copper or silver, even painted and faceted beads have made their way into our fly boxes. No doubt there’s a time for flies without bead heads, but oh my, there’s a time for them too.
Why do trout eat a bead head fly? Is the bead a simple ornamental piece at the head, or is it the trigger that creates the effectiveness of a pattern?
When I look at a bead head nymph, I see the bead first. And I think trout do the same.
Twenty years ago, the proportions of a nymph were maintained. The first bead head flies I saw were carefully crafted to prevent that round metal globe from overtaking the pattern. The bead at the head of a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear was often integrated with the wing case. The bead on a Pheasant Tail nymph completed the taper. That made sense, and it looked “natural” enough. I do remember the outrage from a local fly shop worker, who refused to fish a bead head. He was offended by the metal head, saying it made the fly a lure. Fair enough. But damn, they were effective, and a few years later, I heard that he’d sheepishly slid them into his fly box.
Now, so many years later, I find my own sensibilities are offended by modern bead head creations. But I’m getting used to it. The modern standard is a bead that is about two sizes larger than what I usually thread onto the same hook. The result is a fly profile that is overtaken by the bead, and I have to wonder . . .
. . . Do the materials behind the bead even matter?
In most cases, I think what’s behind the beads on these exaggerated flies is of no consequence. Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Trout are eating the bead. And a little thread, fur or ribbing added to the hook means nothing to the trout.
The trend toward lighter flies and more streamlined creations that sink faster (and the dismissal of split shot) has resulted in over-beading as the new standard.
I’ve talked about this with my friends. And if the bead takes up sixty or seventy percent of the real estate, I believe the rest of the fly just doesn’t matter.
So let’s test it . . .
I was going to check my theory for about a year and then report on my experience. But I realized the test would be a lot more valuable with a larger data set coming in from the Troutbitten audience.
So let’s do this together. Tell your friends.
- Any Bead
- Any Hook
- Dark Thread
Secure the bead with thread. A taper is alright, but don’t overdo it. Put nothing else on the hook.
Fish your bead-on-a-hook flies as tags and on the point. Fish them when the action is hot and as a changeup when things are slow. Test without bias. If fish are eating your bead-on-a-hook, replace it with an overbeaded fly carrying the same bead size and color. See what happens.
In a Troutbitten article that I published years ago, I told the story of a front-ending fishing companion who circled back downstream to tell me he had the trout dialed in on a Blue Winged Olive nymph. It was an oversized orange bead on a small hook with a tiny bit of thread and a few fibers of CDL. “That’s not an olive,” I told him.
But it sure was a fish catcher.
Testing rigs and flies on the water is fun. It provides the next reason to get back out there, and it center-focuses us on something new. Testing also takes the pressure off. You’re not out there to catch every trout. You’re out there to experiment — to investigate and assess results against a theory. Along the way, and with an open mind, you find the value of fishing without expectations — and you might just be surprised by the results.
Do trout eat the bead-on-a-hook better than a nymph with dubbing or micro-tubing behind it?
Maybe. I’ve been fishing the B+H for a couple months (see that, I have a name for it), but I’ll hold off on sharing my own results.
The bead-on-a-hook sure does drop fast, and if you want something slim, then adding nothing is the finale. There’s your end-point.
My theory on why trout eat a fly is simple. I want to attract them to the fly but not turn them off. Because I believe trout (especially wild browns) are looking for reasons not to eat our flies. In this case, the bead attracts, and there’s nothing else for them to reject.
A while back, I heard Steve Rinella mention something that stuck with me. When you have a theory, he said, test the extremes.
I’ve already added a dozen materials to the hook after starting with a bead head slipped up to the head. We’ve all been doing that for years. Now let’s test the opposite.
B+H. The bead-on-a-hook fly. Who’s in?
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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