One of my early mentors in the wide world of fishing once told me that man has yet to create an artificial bait with the same look and nutritional value as a natural fish egg. There’s something about these literal balls of energy, whether it’s the sheer number in the water during spawning or their sky-high protein content, that has fish willing to keep biting. Tributary anglers across the world know how effective fishing with trout and salmon eggs, and their many variations, can be. Some of the biggest steelhead I’ve had the opportunity to land, and admittedly lose, were taken with eggs. My preference is to always have fresh eggs whenever I hit the water, and I will not leave home without them if I can help it. But what do you do when there are no fresh eggs available? And besides, they can be messy, smelly, and a lot of folks don’t like the idea of taking eggs from a mature female for bait. I get that; those are all valid concerns.
For those egg enthusiasts who have not yet heard the news or seen the light, enter the bead. What are beads and why have they become a go-to bait for chasing trout and salmon? Not your typical arts-and-crafts style decorative items, these beads I’m referring to are small imitation eggs that are replacing natural eggs in the containers of vests and tackle boxes across the nation. Simple in design but powerful in the water, beads have arguably become my top-producing artificial bait over the past several years of stream and river fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead. Beads are available in more colors and sizes than most other baits, offering the opportunity to “match the hatch” perfectly when fish are spawning and eggs are the dominant food source in the water. Many beads on the market are made of plastic, with popular brands including Troutbeads or Mr. Derk’s. Other materials are becoming more common to offer anglers different ways to fish, such as Creek Candy Bead Company Sinkz Beads
that sink fast and work great in fast-moving water.
My favorite advantage of beads over natural or cured eggs is that beads can take a serious beating without losing their integrity or potency. Whether they are snagged on the bottom or one-on-one with a mouth full of teeth, a single bead allows anglers the opportunity to catch multiple fish where a natural egg usually only offers one.Another advantage of beads is that they are designed to be fished several inches above the hook. Plastic and other hard-material beads have a hole or slot through the center which the tag end of your line passes through before the hook is tied on.
Beads are then “pegged” or fastened in place on the line to maintain that distance between the bead and hood. Popular pegs include Troutbeads Peggz which come in a variety of colors to match the color of the bead you are fishing. For beads made of softer materials like Lick-Em-Lures, the hook can be tied to your line first and the hook can pass through the bead like any other bait.
When fishing with beads and you get a strike, the bead is generally pulled out of the mouth of the fish when you set the hook, and the hook slides in to take its place. It may sound like a strange way to hook a fish, but I promise that hookup ratios are not impacted (and I would argue are often increased) when fished correctly. Be sure to check your local regulations as some regions have restrictions on the distance between the bead and the hook. Approach fishing with beads as you would other natural fish food. I recommend starting with a selection of natural colors. You can’t go wrong with pink, peach, red, orange, and yellow color variations. If Chinook salmon are in your water, or other fish with relatively large eggs, look to beads between 8-12 millimeters. If brown trout or steelhead are dominant, try 6-10 millimeter beads. When the water is dirty, up your bead size and move to brighter colors. Even when fish aren’t spawning, they still recognize the value of eating eggs and will often strike at beads.
Beads offer an inexpensive and highly successful way to fish for trout and salmon, and when fish are picky, you want to have a selection of sizes and colors to offer. They are lightweight, easily packed, not messy, and look about as close to natural eggs as an artificial bait can possibly look. Beads often produce, regardless if fish are feeding on eggs or not. I will highly recommend beads to anglers up and down the stream and have seen their magic work time and time again. Pick up a selection of beads before you go on your next trout, salmon, or steelhead outing and watch the fish roll in (to your net).