Advanced Bead Fishing For Salmon: Guide Tactics and Setup

Bead fishing For Salmon

More and more anglers and river guides are revealing that beads are great when salmon fishing in rivers. As a river guide myself, bead fishing for salmon is something I’ve been doing for over 10 years, and at times, salmon beads will out-fish other well-known baits.

The reason bead fishing for salmon is so effective is that the salmon beads imitate the natural eggs exceptionally well and since they come in lots of sizes and colors they can match any river conditions.

Anglers that know how to rig beads properly and then fish them well will catch more salmon. I will reveal the best beads for salmon fishing and show you the most effective salmon bead rig.

Also, if you are new to salmon fishing in rivers be sure to check out How To Fish For Great Lakes Salmon in Rivers: Guide Tactics

Bead Fishing For Salmon: Do Salmon Bite Beads?

When I was just starting many anglers, biologists, and river guides told me that salmon DO NOT feed once they enter the river to spawn. If the salmon do grab your bait, it was said they do it out of aggression, instinct, or it’s a habitual strike response.

However, recent studies have even shown that salmon that enter the river to spawn will actually feed on eggs, nymphs, and pretty much anything they can. The study observed that salmon that fed during their spawning run had the ability to survive and spawn longer and more times. In the study, salmon eggs were the primary food found in the bellies of the salmon.

I know from personal experience they do feed. I have seen spawning salmon swim across a pool and grab lures, and large streamer flies. I have seen them chase and grab spawn bags as me or my clients are about to pull them out. I have even seen them come to the surface and inhale floats and indicators like it was a giant insect.

However, I’ve also seen salmon ignore every bait thrown at them.

Often, I think many salmon get very pressured by all the anglers chucking lures and big roe bags at them, and I have found during these conditions small less intrusive baits like flies and beads can be the only thing they will eat. Other guides and friends have also determined this to be true.

Which Beads Are Best When Bead Fishing For Salmon

There are two types of beads that I have found to be very effective when bead fishing for salmon. They are hard beads and soft beads.

Hard Beads For Salmon Fishing

Hard beads are my favorite for many reasons. Hard beads are easy to rig, they stay on the line, and they can take a beating from the rocks and from multiple salmon.

Hard beads can be made from plastic, glass, and the latest I’ve seen are ones made from rocks.

Plastic Beads

Mottled Trout Beads
Mottled and blood-dot colored beads are popular with anglers that fish with beads.

I mostly use the plastic beads because I like their almost neutral buoyancy which makes them hover off the bottom and move more naturally in the strike zone. They drift in the current similar to how a natural egg would move.

My favorite brand of plastic trout bead is the Trout Beads brand wich are sold here: Bass Pro Shops or FishUSA.com.

Glass Beads And Gemstone Beads

Glass Beads For Fishing
Glass beads like these ones from Creek Candy Company are great for trout, steelhead, and salmon

Glass beads and gemstone beads are heavy, and they sink fast and stay down and because of that, many anglers swear that they are more effective than plastic beads.

I have put plastic and glass beads side by side in the water and most guys can not tell the difference just by looking at them, and I am convinced that the salmon can’t either. So what makes guys swear that glass beads are better?

My theory on why glass beads work better for many anglers is simply that the glass beads sink into the strike zone fast, and they stay in the strike zone longer. I also beleive that most anglers do not adjust their depths effectively so since the glass bead will stay much deeper they get closer to the salmon.

Since I rig my beads a certain way and know how to properly weight my bead setup for maximum results I have not found a difference between glass and plastic beads when it comes to one being more effective.

I also know the rivers that I guide on exceptionally well and have spent years learning the depth of all my spots, therefore I always have my leader length set to the most effective depths. If you don’t know how to do this, I tell you in my article How To Know How Deep To Set Your Float – 2 Easy Ways.

However, not all anglers are as meticulous as I am or think like I do when it comes to their leader and bead setup and how they weigh things and therefore a heavier bead would make a difference on a leader with not enough weight or improper length.

The downside to glass and rock beads is that they can drag the bottom too much which can lead to the beads going under the salmon undetected or getting snagged on rocks more often, and also risking the glass beads breaking from the rocks.

I have yet to see a plastic bead break like the glass ones do.

A box of glass Beads for trout, steelhead, or salmon
One of my glass bead boxes that I use when bead fishing for salmon.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the glass beads are still very good especially if your leader and bead setup is properly done. I also like them because they come in multiple sizes and many great color options that you can’t get in the plastic ones.

My favorite glass beads come from CreekCandy Bead Company and you can get them at FishUSA.com

NOTE: I’m going, to be honest, I have never used gemstone beads and was only recently made aware of them from a reader who posted on my Steelhead Fishing With Beads page that he is using them with success. I looked them up, and they look similar to glass beads, and my assumption is that they should weigh and fish similarly to glass beads.

Fishing Tactics For Hard Beads

There are two things you should consider if you want to fish with hard beads effectively. These things stem from the fact that these beads are hard as a rock and have no scent so when a salmon bites them they will know within a couple of seconds that your bead is not edible. They will spit beads out fast.

Therefore, you need to set the hook lighting fast, so you do not miss the fish and so you do not give the salmon the opportunity to spit the bead out.

You also need to ensure your angles on your leader are correct. Aggressive trotting (checking your float) with beads is a big mistake. Trotting is a very effective part of float fishing, but only if it is done correctly. In fact, proper trotting in my opinion can produce 10 times more salmon.

If you are not sure what trotting is, I discuss this on my page Controlling Your Speed For More Fish When Float Fishing.

Soft Beads For Salmon

Soft Plastic Eggs For Steelhead and Tout
Soft plastic Steelhead beads can be very good for steelhead, salmon and trout.

Some anglers are using soft beads for salmon with great success. These soft beads are made from soft rubber or plastic and imitate the look of real eggs.

I don’t use the soft beads very often simply because they are less durable, they fall off the line easier than hard beads, and they are limited in colors.

The upside to soft beads is that they are softer and aren’t likely going to be spit out as quickly as hard beads.

Some of the best soft beads are:

Best Bead Sizes For Salmon

Most beads come in size 8mm which is about the size of a single salmon egg. Hard beads also come in 6mm which is about the size of a steelhead or trout egg.

Both the 6mm and 8mm beads are good options in low clear water or when trout eggs are present. For most fishing conditions I have found the 8mm size bead to be best.

Under high water, fast water, or dirty water, hard beads and some soft beads will come in 10mm and 12mm sizes.

Best Bead Colors For Salmon

Fishing beads for trout - A great selection of beads

There might be over 100 different colors available if you shop all the different brands of beads.

The best color for salmon is tough to say because on one river a natural orange color might be best while on another river, peach, or red might work better.

I have also seen salmon and steelhead switch color preferences as the day progresses. Early morning they might be all over a hot pink or hot orange but will only each yellow or white later in the day.

River conditions and water clarity also play a big part in what color is best. In high dirtier water using a larger bead in Chartreuse, Hot Orange, or Red will likely be best, but more natural oranges, yellows, peach, and soft pinks might be best in clear water.

That is why it’s best to have a variety of different colors on hand to test out what the salmon want. A good selection is the Troutbeads Steelhead Selection or the P-Line Trout Bead Assortment available from FishUSA.com.

Best Bead Hooks For Salmon

An image showing how to rig a trout bead
I rig my trout beads about 1.5 to 2 inches up from the hook using a rubber bead peg to secure the bead to the line.

Salmon are big and strong and can bend cheap hooks or thin wire hooks.

For this reason, I use only a couple of tested and proven hooks that work well when salmon fishing with beads.

  • Low Clear Water: Raven Specimen Hook in size 8 or maybe a size 10 on smaller rivers
  • High And Fast Water and Large Rivers: Raven Specimen hook or the Daiichi X510 salmon hook in sizes 2 to 8. The bigger the river and the faster the water or, the dirtier the water, the larger the hook size I will use. Many west coast anglers are using size 2 or 4 while great lakes anglers are using size 6 and 8.

More on the best hooks for steelhead, trout, and salmon on my page Best Hooks For Float Fishing

Proper Presentation When Bead Fishing For Salmon

When bead fishing for salmon, angles have the option for float fishing with a spinning reel, a baitcasting reels, or a centerpin reels.

You can also effectively fish beads when bottom bouncing or drift fishing.

There are some anglers, myself included that are now fly fishing with beads under an indicator or when Euro Nymphing.

Whatever method you choose to do bead fishing for salmon it is very important to present your beads properly. The proper presentation can 10X your results and it’s often the reason why most river guides will catch so many more fish than the average angler.

Learn More:

Salmon Bead Rig

The salmon bead rig that I have found to be the most productive on most rivers is the same as what I use for steelhead.

This rig can be adjusted for multiple depths. You can add more weights and more length as needed.

It is best to keep the bead 1.5″ to 2 inches up from the hook. You can secure the bead to the line with various methods but most angler prefer to use what is call bead pegs.

Bead pegs are thin soft plastic or rubber that look similar to a toothpick. They can come in many colors including clear.

FYI, some guys actually use toothpicks. Just push it into the hole to secure the line, snap off the toothpick, then trim off the access.

A trout bead rig

You can see the proper bead placement in this picture. You can also see that this bead was secured to the line using a red bead peg.

Having the hook 1.5″ to 2″ from the bead provides a better hook up, however, in some areas, fishing with a bare hook like this is illegal.

If your state or province will not allow you to use a bare hook, anglers will tie some thread onto the hook so that it’s not bare. I’m ot telling you to do this, or that this will make it legal in your area, but this is what anglers and guides are doing to get away with it.

You can see the red bead pegs in the picture below. Each peg can be used 2 times and trimmed to conceal the peg.

I prefer the TroutBead pegs from FishUSA.com over all other methods for securing beads to the line because they allow the bead to slide down when a fish has it in its mouth for a better hook set.

For more rigs including shallow and deep water bead rigs, and 2 bead or two bait rigs check out Fishing With Beads.

I use a Lyde bait holder for pre-rigged beads
I use bait holders to organize my pre tied bead rigs.

Rigging up your bead on the river can be time-consuming and even difficult with cold wet hands.

Changing bead requires cutting off the hook, pulling off the bead, adding a new bead, putting in a bead peg and timing it, then tying the hook back on.

I pre-rig my salmon beads at home so I can get me and my clients re-tied and back fishing quickly.

Bead Fishing For Salmon Q&A

As you may already know, I like to keep things educational, so this is where I answer some readers’ questions about bead fishing for salmon.

Do King Salmon Eat Beads?

Absolutely yes, King salmon which is also known as Chinook salmon do eat beads, and most of the salmon I have caught on beads were king salmon. In fact, I have personally caught King salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon, and Atlantic salmon using beads.

Do Trout Beads Work For Salmon?

I don’t think there is a whole lot of difference between beads used for trout or the ones labeled trout beads. In fact, I have used beads found in craft stores with good success which goes to show you the salmon don’t care as long as the size and color are right, and they are rigged up and fished properly.

Did I miss anything? You can ask questions or provide more tips or comments about bead fishing for salmon in the comments section below.

How Do You Store Your Salmon Beads?

Bead box for day use storage
This is my on-the-river day bead box. I have two of them with me at all times. When this box is closed, it fits in the palm of my hand.

With all my beads use small compartment boxes often known as bead boxes. At home, I have large bead boxes to organize and store my beads. I have smaller pocket-size day boxes that I can easily carry a variety of beads and the rigging components.

Tight Lines

Graham

3 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this article. Going to try this method out. Thanks for all the important information!

  2. If your bank fishing for KIng Salmon .. Beads are no doubt the most popular method used .. In my over 30 + yrs of Salmon fishing the No Cal Rivers .. a lot , it’s easy to say that probably at least 90% of the fish I’ve caught from AK to Ca have been on beads or Lil Korkies and bead combo with a size #2 Owner Octopus hook tied with a roe knot so the hook hangs straight , We (buddies) used to run 12 lb Trilene Big Game and landed many Kings over 50 lbs .These days I run anywhere from 12/20 lb Yozuri Top Knot or Seaguar ivizx fluorocarbon .. Far as bead sizes , I like 5/6 and 8 mm and I run 3 beads most of the time .. Usually a Chartreuse float bead sandwiched between 2 smaller egg orange beads .. I never bother using many different color combos for Salmon cus It works everyplace I’ve fished … Salmon and especially Kings Love to Hate Chartreuse … they attack it .. better always have this color in your bead box and lots of them , lures whatever bait your using for Kings … gotta have some Chart in it …. Other colors not so much …So if your gonna bead fish Salmon you Specifically want to have plenty of those two colors .. and lil korkies in size 12 ..Chart clown ..I guarantee no matter the water color , clear stained or muddy , weather it’s sunny or cloudy … If the fish are in the river they’ll eat that combo … Steelhead love it too … and for Cohos ..try a hot pink sandwiched by black rondel and .. hold on …
    Fish On to y’all

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