Fly Fishing - Using Beads for Trout

Trout on flyTrout fishing has come a long way from the days when the dry fly was considered the only sporting way to catch this regal fish.

However, the question of what is and what isn’t a fly has raged on unabated ever since. Some anglers still hold fast to so-called ‘traditional flies’ that were condemned as unsporting only a decade or two ago. Luckily, most anglers have accepted that fly-fishing is an evolving sport, with new fly innovations added every season. Beads are one of the more recent additions.

My own introduction to beads happened some years ago when still chained to an office desk. My only relief from the daily grind was my lunch hour, which I often spent browsing through the latest fishing magazines in some of the downtown bookshops.

On one of those visits I came across an article on trout beads in the American Fly Fisher magazine. The article described in some detail how to use roe-coloured beads instead of Glo-bugs for upstream nymphing.

I ended up so engrossed in absorbing as much as I could without buying the mag that I only became aware that somebody was standing close behind me when I felt some heavy breathing on my neck. When I turned around I recognised my fishing mate, Sharney Way, eyeing the same article over my shoulder.

On the way back to the office we discussed the potential of this new discovery for our next Tongariro foray. This trip was still several weeks away, and during the wait I forgot all about the article, but, as it turned out, my mate Sharney had not.

After our fishing party assembled in Turangi, everybody started keenly eyeing each other’s fishing tackle, the fly boxes in particular, for the latest ideas and creations. When Sharney opened his fly box we were gob-smacked. Instead of the expected Glo-bugs, there were rows upon rows of glistening orange beads. His fly box looked like a jewellery sample display, instantly earning him the nickname of Michael Hill, Fly Fisher.

He confessed that since reading the article he had been busy hunting down roe-coloured beads all over New Plymouth. Eventually he had found an orange-coloured bead chain in the children’s toy section of the Woolworths supermarket. Unfortunately the chain contained only a few beads of the right size, which he soon wasted during his experiments attaching them to hooks. He eventually became such a regular visitor to the kid’s toy isles, that he started wondering if the Woolly’s female staff suspected him to be a paedophile.

Finally he found the solution by heating the hook shank with his cigarette lighter and then pressing the bead on top. The hot steel melted the plastic, and after cooling the hook remained firmly attached.

Good looking as they were though, I was not convinced that the hard beads would work as well as the soft Glo-bugs. How wrong I was. Over the next few days Sharney slayed the gullible rainbows, easily out-fishing everyone in our party. There was only one problem: Sharney had a very low back-cast; whilst a soft Glo-bug might have survived this destructive habit, the beads shattered into tiny shrapnel when the slightest impact with the riverside boulders occurred.

During that winter our pool of choice was the now dried-up Breakaway Pool. After a few trips I began to notice glitter among the stones, and on closer inspection identified this as coming from bits of Sharney’s smashed beads.

On another occasion I saw several of the beaded flies in a wet-fly box that an angler was drying out on a boulder. When I asked him if he had also read the bead article, I was quite relieved when he said: “No, I picked them off the bushes beside the Breakaway Pool.”

Without doubt, Sharney’s new flies proved to be high-maintenance tackle.

During that winter we all melted orange beads onto hooks and caught a lot of trout on them, but alas Woolworths dropped the toy chains, so our bead supply was abruptly cut off. We looked in vain for suitable replacements, and during the next ten years or so pretty much forgot about fishing with beads.

But as they say, good things have a habit of popping back up. Just last summer an Alaskan friend mentioned that over there no one was using Glo-bugs any longer. The new egg patterns for trout and salmon are now plastic or glass beads in all the egg colours imaginable. What intrigued me was their way of mounting them. Instead of melting them onto a hook as we had done, they thread them onto a trace before tying on the hook. Then they slide the bead one to two inches up the trace and fix it there with a toothpick or a special knot. It all looks a bit weird, but apparently this arrangement prevents deep hooking.

I wonder if they have ever tried to melt them onto a hook as Sharney Way did all those years ago? I can’t recall that we ever had a problem with deep hooking using Glo-bugs, or while experimenting with beads. I think in running water the drag of the indicator and line belly sets the hook as soon as the bead is taken.

Last year I received a packet of assorted beads and special Owner Mosquito hooks from my Alaskan friend. Quite frankly, the large variety of roe colours – even mottled ones – and the range of bead sizes blew me away. He also alerted me to a website: for further product information, including how to rig and fish the beads. The site is well worth logging onto, in order to see the extent of their use in this Arctic flyfishing paradise.

Unfortunately, the beads arrived shortly after I returned from my last (and hopefully soon to be forgotten) Tongariro trip for the year. The fishing had been so poor that I suspect not even the yummy-looking Alaskan beads would have made much difference.

So now it’s another season, and although conditions are still not ideal, I’m looking forward to exploring their potential.

 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News

2009 - by Herb Spannagl
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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