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.
READ: Troutbitten | That’s Not An Olive
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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T R O U T B I T T E N
Seems funny, but as a new fly angler (4years), when I started perdigons and big headed bead flies were so popular that they seem “Normal” to me. I remember when I first started fly tying and the fly I started one was a zebra midge. I remember specifically thinking “No way this is gonna catch any fish, it’s too small…….and the bead isn’t big enough!” Lol
I’m gonna try this as I am always looking to simplify my flies to tie more of them in a set time period, and to minimize my potential for messing the flies up with my lackluster skills.
Thanks for posting this.
I know what you mean about what we perceive as normal, John.
Also, I don’t necessarily believe that. B+H will catch more trout. But I do know I’ll learn something while testing. I already am . .
Oh I’m ticked off now, I have a small fortune invested in materials, and apparently all I need is a B+H? What am I to do with all the hours I spend at the vice?? All kidding aside, will be interesting to see where this takes us! I think it will work in many situations, but I doubt that 26” brown will gobble up a #2 B10s with a 4.5mm bead, vs same hook / bead w/ a sculpin pattern on it… shhh, don’t tell Cheech about this, he needs suckers like me buying materials
Hello my name is Mike I’ve been fly fishing for over 45 years and I really applied your question about the bead head jig high content that for the last 25 years the great craze of bobbers and jigs for trout fishing is nothing more than a testament that the jig is the best way to trigger a strike from all fish You may be crappie fishing or bluegill fishing or ocean fishing for perch blue fish stripers it does not matter a jig twitch of something bright and shiny is the best way to catch fish in the world so let’s circle back to fly fishing ask yourself a question do I want to fly fish
Tough for me to make out your point(s) there. But a few quick thoughts in return . . .
— Jig nymphs are unnecessary. All beaded flies invert
— Jig head streamers DO make a difference in the way the fly operates
— ” it does not matter a jig twitch of something bright and shiny is the best way to catch fish in the world.” Wow. Maybe. Sometimes, sure.
— “ask yourself a question do I want to fly fish.” Yes, please. And I do that every day. These questions about what is fly fishing are silly to me.
Go fish. Have Fun.
Thanks for nothing Dom! Lol!
If this works, I’ll be having a yard sale.
I’m in and I’ll keep you posted.
I don’t think the scientific method could be applied to this experiment, as there are too many factors that are impossible to control, let alone the huge variation in what fish will accept from day to day, water to water and fish to fish. But I do think that trout will take B+H flies often enough though, particularly if the bead is big, bright and shiny. But there should be plenty of circumstances where a more conventional fly would be more effective, e.g. slower and/or clearer water.
I don’t really love using heavy, excessively streamlined flies, as my personal view is they get into the zone easier (i.e. you don’t have to be as strategic about where your fly lands to get it down) but require more angler intervention to make them drift properly. My theory is there’s an optimal density for each run, but the angler has a certain amount of control over keeping the fly within the fish’s acceptable thresholds (which vary from fish to fish and water to water).
Lots of great thoughts there, John.
For the record, I’m using these in beads ranging from 1.5 mm to 4 mm. I’ve caught trout on all sizes.
1.5mm is tiny! The next step is surely a bare hook…? I’ll patent it’s name now before it takes off: H.
PS Oliver Kite has already documented the ‘bare hook nymph’, or ‘whisper nymph’, but they should really be called ‘skimpy nymphs’, as they still have a small amount of dressing.
Myself and a friend used to regularly trot for grayling on the Avon at Salisbury with a size 18 unbaited gold /gilt hook.
The “B+H” Surely you jest? February Fools?
Now that you named your lure (it sure isn’t a fly), you might as well name the method too because it sure isn’t fly fishing.
“Micro-jigging” perhaps. “Beading” is short and sweet.
Over 900 articles and you finally jumped the shark.
Read again, Rick. Because you’ve missed it. You’re on the wrong track here.
I’ve wondered the exact same thing! I’m in.
I hate the oversized bead look of flies tied that way. My limits are 2.8mm for a #18 hook, 3.3 for a #16. I’ll consider 3.5 for a #14. I generally don’t go above those sizes and I’d much rather drop shot an appropriately proportioned fly than oversize the bead.
That being said, I bet without doubt that the bead and thread will catch fish. If perdigons and zebra midges catch fish then what won’t work??? A bare hook the size of midge would probably work if drifted appropriately IMO.
Of course a jig will catch fish
But is jig fishing , really considered fly fishing
Jig fishing is easiest way to make any fish strike
Just a reaction strike
All bobber and jig fishing for trout does is put the fish down and stops them from naturally feeding on insects
Thanks for the comment, Mike. Just too much to unpack here in the comments section. And this isn’t really an article about jigs anyway.
But I don’t agree that jig motion is the easiest way to make a trout strike. Rather, a convincing dead drift is much more often the key to fooling trout.
Yes, jig fishing, as you’re calling it, is considered fly fishing. I tied a fly. Here, I’m going to fish it. If you think a jig isn’t a fly, you might consider all forms of additional weight, then, not fly fishing. (No split shot, bead heads or sinking lines.)
This bobber and jig fishing thing, I guess I’m not familiar with, because I can’t imagine how that would stop trout from feeding naturally on insects — underneath, anyway. If there’s any skill to the presentation, it need not spook fish.
Thanks for this, Dom! I’ve just started tying and am leaning toward simple/less is more patterns, like the idea of taking something to the extreme and then perhaps experiment with adding materials back in and see if there’s a sweet spot.
I’ve been listening to older Orvis podcast episodes recently and just heard an interesting discussion between Tom and Tim Flagler from August 1 2019. Around 1:25:00 they talk about orientation of the flies in the vise vs in the water and how we often get stuck on the side profile. Tom made the point that fish perhaps see our flies head on more often than not. Maybe this is part of the B+H recipe’s ability to work, like you often point out, give em less to reject since their view of the fly may well be very different than we imagine.
Eagerly awaiting March when I can get a resident license after my Fall move to Western MT. Planning to toss around some B+H, might even steal some craft beads from my daughter and see if the fish care weather it’s a legit “fly fishing” bead or not.
My bad, I got the time stamp wrong. They discuss the orientation around minute 50. Later they have a chuckle over the B+H concept too.
I like it. I’m in.
I have been resisting getting into tying flies ever since I found your site and podcast. Unfortunately, you may have presented me with an unassailable reason to jump in: simple tying and the community aspect of helping with the research after you have done so much to help us.
Ha. Well, you can keep it simple, no matter what you choose. I’d start tying. It’s a great way to improve, all around.
I will hold off on throwing out my bins of nymph tying materials until the results of the tests come in.
Well, I would never suggest that a bead on a hook is all you need out there. This is simply a test, a fun experiment. And I won’t be throwing out any of my own flies either.
This is actually a fascinating question. I have had much success through the years using eggs. I’v also been convinced that many trout take a beadhead, especially one with an oversized bead, for an egg. But, of course, things aren’t as simple as that. It may be that they don’t take a bead for an egg, but that they take an egg or a bead just because it’s an interesting thing drifting in their direction. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that the “fly of the day” is simply a fly that the fish haven’t seen much of. A B+H surely fits the bill. So, I’ll play, but I suspect that the real reason fish might take a B+H is either because they think it’s an egg or because it’s something that they haven’t seen before.
I’ve heard the egg theory about beads before, but I have a hard time with that. A painted bead, maybe. But to me, a metal bead doesn’t look much like an egg. I might be wrong, obviously. What I like that you said best is “it’s an interesting thing drifting their direction.” That’s how I see things. And then don’t turn them off.
Great thoughts, Alex.
Then, Dom, you should limit the experiment to unpainted beads and not colored beads that might be taken for an egg. There are enough variables already in the experiment without introducing the possibility of imitation.
Yeah, but I might be wrong.
You do that.
I’ve been wondering about this for awhile. Seems most flies and their variations are kind of pointless. On a good day, I never seem to stop catching fish once my fly is falling apart. It can be a hook, bead and some thread left and they take it just the same. I’m sure it depends on the area though. Some fish are more picky than others I guess
Some guides out West use Daiichi red 3XL curved nymph hooks undressed as annelid larvae. They work on the San Juan.
(I know, those aren’t wild fish,)
In 2019 I floated the Bow River with a guide. When I got into the drift boat I saw a bare red hook on the tag. I joked and said “what’s this”? He laughed and said it’s a “SW”. I responded, “what’s an SW”? His answer “Secret Weapon”. We caught a third of our fish on it.
Now, that was the ultimate guide fly. Quick and easy to tie.
the red hook works we call them naked ladies.
From Gary LaFontaine and the theory of Attraction
Exaggerate the trigger
All flies should do this
Flies are tied to catch the fisherman first
hey , one of the famous English guys did this years ago . his name escapes me now . I believe it was just a little wire on the front of a hook . this is all just fun . as long as ur classy and respectful I don’t care how you fish . but I do find that lee wulffs comment about sometimes the fish deserve the safety
of the deeper water, to come to my mind these days . great site . thanks
Right on. It’s a fun experiment, and it’s also a learning experiment. This is a good way to get some idea for how much the bead matter or doesn’t.
I don’t understand how Lee Wulff’s quote applies to this fun, learning experiment.
Some perdigons with dark bodies are practically what you’re talking about. Does snipping the tails off count?
Joe – Youngstown, OH
Ha. No. But it would be close, right?
Really interesting thoughts. Personally, I hope the feedback from the tests supports that the patterns I’ve worked so hard to learn and tie well work better! (Not to mention it will be confirmation that all the time and money spent in material was worth it). To Rinella’s point about extremes, let’s say B+H consistently catches 5x as many fish on average. would that personally change the way you fish? Very interesting post
I doubt that anything like 5X will happen. But would it change the way I fish? I’m sure it would change the way I look at flies.
I often fish a Rainbow Warrior. It looks like nothing that lives in the stream but it catches fish. I’ve caught rainbows and brookies on it but very rarely a brown. So that would indicate to me that brookies and rainbows are attracted to flash whereas browns need something that approximates what lives in the river. I’m going to join the bead and hook study but I may break my results down further into the types of trout I catch.
Interesting. I do well with an RW on these wild browns. Many days, it’s my first changeup, if my standard stuff isn’t hitting.
OK, so much for that theory. 🙂 Of course, there is no accounting for my fishing technique (or lack thereof). Still, I like this idea. I’ve just tied a few B&H’s for the test.
I will give it a try. Very nnovative and provacative, Dom. Thanks!
I have often seen fish attack a split shot pinched on a line (sunfish, small bass and perch) I’ve also seen small fish attack the bare monofiliment line where it breaks the water tension. We had this discussion in my weekly tying class when Kevin Compton came to demo tying his favorite nymphs. Does it really matter what is wrapped on the hook when there is an oversized bead? Wouldn’t it be tragic if a bare bead catches more trout and that the dressing materials cause just cause them to bite less often? I’m in.
It would be kinda tragic. Yes.
Bare hooks go way back, even for the king of gamefish. Read Jock Scott. Blueshank, Redshank…
I think trout love eggs so much that they always react to them even when nothing is spawning. The bead looks like an egg to the trout. Gear fisherman know that there is often a “hot” color that works better one day over another. Seems like the same concept in a small package. I know that big browns often prefer something pink on the Madison. Don’t know why that is but a pink and brown girdle bug has put some nice fish in the net.
I said above, I don’t think trout see metal beads as eggs. But maybe I’m wrong. Colored, painted beads, I think, yes. But I can’t see a copper bead like an egg.
Thinking about it, though . . .
According to my states game and fish commission, there is an equal # of browns(wild) to rainbows(stocked) per stretch of river. I get to fish generally at least once a week. But the catch ratio for most, including myself, is easily 20 – 1. So our browns are pretty hard to come by even with the best looking bug on the best day. The dark has been my only exception to a higher brown ratio.
So I am curious about the B+H test; and will gladly tie the easiest fly of my life, only to see if it works… and if not, then at least I can still wrap some pheasant around it and call it good.
I’ve got a theory on the ratio of browns to rainbows (most of our waters aren’t stocked). I think browns and rainbows often feed and hold certain water types at different times, with the occasional overlap depending on the weather/food. On rivers I fish with a fairly even split between rainbows and browns, I tend to catch browns earlier in the morning and later in the evening, in faster, shallower riffles and where creeks flow in to the river. I also seem to get a higher ratio of browns when fishing streamers, but then I’m usually using streamers when I’m targeting browns…
I’m always interested in testing theories. Starting now when I catch and post it’ll be #troutbitten #B+H
There ya go
I think in general we overcomplicate our offerings — “fly tying stuff”
Find the trigger and keep it simple. I’m lazy and have not put a tail on any nymph for years, and my catch rate hasn’t dropped a bit. We all know a PT tail lasts just a few fish anyway. 🙂
If a Hares ear w/o a tail is a Walt’s, a PT without a tail must be just fine too (it is).
Even my Perdigons are sans tail, they still work just fine — and they’re a good percent of the way to a H+B.
To me sink rate is more important, so I want some super skinny and some bulky nymphs of the same bead size, so the H + B can’t cover some situations, it’ll sink too fast.
All interesting stuff, and fly tying is fun so no harm in making creations will all sorts of “magic materials” lashed on, but at the end of the day — if we can sort out something that is a trigger and/or attracts the fish, and then avoid giving them a reason to NOT eat, it is all we need.
Nice. Well said.
I’ve actually done this bead only, years ago, and not purposely. When I first started tying flies they were far from durable, I was catching trout from a Class A Wild Trout Stream, the nymph I was fishing was slowly coming apart, but the trout kept taking it, so I kept drifting it, when it was down to just a 3mm bead and a few wraps of lead wire that was glued to the shank and some chewed up thread that got glued to the lead I got 2 more trout and called it a day. Never tried it since but I think there’s days that the trout will absolutely just take a bead and thread. Just out of curiosity maybe? I would imagine they “hit and spit” a lot of things coming down the drift because they don’t know if it’s food or not. Just my 2 cents worth, tightlines.
Dom you’re killing me. Even if your theory is proved correct I plan to reject it. Because I enjoy tying flies. Particularly when it is cold outside or coming down horizontal sleet I love going to my tying bench and creating something, making it beautiful and getting all the. proportions right with the wing sitting just so and so on. It is an art and furthermore in my minds every fly I tie catches a fabulous fish. I think that just slapping a bead on a hook is a mugs game and not worthy of our traditions.
So although you may be right about this please do not tell me about it if you are
Ha. There ya go.
Honestly,I don’t know that I have a firm theory. I just want to see what happens.
Isn’t it great that it can mean so much to all of us? I mean this with all sincerity…Dave Whitlock (of Blessed memory) was the epitome of your thoughts/opinions of the true craft and artistry of fly tying…and I’m completely in awe of that! I, however, find myself on the other end of the tying spectrum (in all fairness, not for very long), and am very interested to see what comes of this. I completely respect your position though for all the reasons you mentioned. My flies may not reflect much beauty, but the fish I catch surely reflect Nature’s art, so…here, here! (Said with a tequila in-hand in Mexico).
… but isn’t just a simple Perdigon a prove for the theory that it doesn’t need much more than a Bead and a Hook ?
Well, almost, right? But we believe what’s behind the bead on a Perdigon matters. That’s why there are hundreds of variations.
I will give the experiment a go. My favorite is when people say they tied a “subtle natural looking nymph with no flash” and completely ignore the giant flashy bead that looks nothing like a normal nymph!
I have another experiment planned for this year for fun, how many different flies can I catch fish on in a day. They definitely prefer some patterns over others some days but I feel like presentation is crucial and I could catch using a lot of different patterns in a day.
“My favorite is when people say they tied a “subtle natural looking nymph with no flash” and completely ignore the giant flashy bead that looks nothing like a normal nymph!”
I’m intrigued with the idea. It sure will narrow the focus on presenting the fly.
Perhaps the experiment could be further refined by noting whether bead color makes a difference. For example, do copper beads really outperform silver beads?
Sure, we’ll pay attention to that.
Must I remind you again:
Fly fishing is on the surface.
If you are below the surface you are not fly fishing your dredging (not that there’s anything wrong with that)
Have to disagree, that’s an opinion, or we wouldn’t be allowed to nymph in FLY fishing only areas
READ: Troutbitten | Where the Lines are Drawn
Mike, I’m usually not this curt, but you are wrong. Fly fishing is absolutely not just dry fly fishing. If that were true, then swinging wet flies for Atlantic salmon would not be fly fishing, but that is one of the ultimate fly rod sports.
By the way, dry fly fishing is much easier than nymph or streamer fishing. With dry flies you can see the take, and you can more easily see if your dry fly is dragging.
What if someone invents a bead that floats?
Will the trout take this new “dry” as willingly as they do below the surface?
Are we still dry fly fishing?
Are we still fly fishing?
“What if someone invents a bead that floats?
Will the trout take this new “dry” as willingly as they do below the surface?”
No, because trout eat a dry fly for the profile they see underneath. And I don’t think a round bead could ever simulate that.”
“Are we still dry fly fishing?
Are we still fly fishing?”
Respectfully, I don’t care what names anyone else gives to the fishing I do. I fly fish because it catches more trout and gives me more options to present what a trout eats, day to day. I’d fish bait if it worked better.
And elitism sucks, by the way.
If it’s on top ,be it a bead,worm,nymph,tennis shoe it’s fly fishing. Doesn’t have to be “fly”just on the surface. Love the banter
I tied a few. We’ll see how it goes.
Damn, Dom… I am SO I on this! However…still a tequila in-hand in PVR for just a few more days. THEN, I get to work on this!
I haven’t even begun reading the 71+ responses above mine yet, but suspect that there’s a LOT of interest in your test! Might I suggest a “report back in” in 1-year so that we effectively cover all seasons? Maybe you can set up a spreadsheet we can fill to include whatever variables you want to capture/consider.
In flight test of new airplanes, there’s a general “envelope” (slow/fast airspeeds and high/low altitudes) the manufacturer predicts based on wind-tunnel and new digital techniques, however the test pilot gets out there and not only tests the envelope/maneuver, but sometimes redefines it and then gets to name it (i.e. “B+H”). Let’s do this!!
I read somewhere that the plural of anecdote is not data. Sounds like a fun test but due to too many uncontrollable variables I don’t think we can read too much into the outcome.
Oh, it’s not an anecdote, and we most certainly can read into the outcome. All we’re looking for is whether trout eat it or they don’t. Over time, given enough anglers, enough days and enough rivers, it will be easy to tell if trout eat it much or they simply do not. And what can we determine, if they DO eat the B+H a lot? That’s easy too. Just like I said in the article, it would suggest that what you put behind an oversized bead is of little consequence. It’s not a trivial exercise. Hell, I trust my own experience, from what I see already.
This is fishing, so no, it will never be a controlled scientific experiment. But taking your sentiment beyond this situation would mean that none of us can trust much of anything that we experience out there. But that would miss one of the keys to being a good angler — observing objectively and knowing what to trust.
Thanks, Dom! This is a great read, and you’ve got yourself a subscriber now. 🙂
Related, but not exactly the same: years ago, a buddy showed me a pattern that was a white bead with red thread and a gold rib over it (I think it’s called an “ice cream cone”. At least that’s what he called it). One look at it, and I thought, “huh…I could tie that with the bead and then just light wire wrapped behind it.”
So I did. And, it works.
Occasionally. In the right places.
Which, I guess, is all that matters. 🙂
Oh man, this is really fun, Dom. Thanks for the prompt! I’d like to throw in the possibility that “action” has big part to play in this discussion. My theory, at least on my home water, is that it might depend on what stage the stone fly drift is in. That is, I can have two stone fly nymphs that are identical except for the bead and one will work at certain times and the other at different times. I can be dead drifting a bead head through spots I know hold fish and get no reaction at all. Many times if I switch to the unweighted version with split shot, bam- fish on. The switch also often works in the opposite direction. This can be the case with smaller nymphs like BWO’s, etc. Btw, I’m leaning towards CERTAIN coppery beads as stand-ins for eggs. I’ve found them to work best during times when eggs are most effective. I know, correlation doesn’t equal causality, BUT…
Good thoughts. Thanks.
Jesus, this is strangely controversial. I like the idea of crowd sourcing the experiment. I will add a column to my spreadsheet.
Ha. I KNOW. Funny where people draw their lines, isn’t it? But we all have them.
“I’ll fish for trout, but NO WAY I’ll do that.”
Tried it today in the stream through Deadwood, SD. Was just above freezing and ran a two nymph setup with a pheasant tail and a bare bead – both #16, switched the fly position after each fish. 3 for each. All of the takes were on the point fly.