I have been guiding and fishing with beads for steelhead, trout, and salmon for over 20 years and trout beads are still one of my most effective baits. In this article, I will share my best trout bead types, sizes, colors, and rigging methods along with a tip on changing trout beads quickly and easily.
Fishing with trout beads is a great way to catch more trout and steelhead in rivers because trout beads imitate the fish eggs that trout and steelhead love to eat. Fishing with trout beads has become very popular and is a great alternative to using real fish eggs as bait.
Some call them steelhead beads, others call them trout beads, and some just call them beads. Beads come in glass or plastic and they come in a few sizes with lots of great color options. There are also some hooks that work well with beads that you should know about and I discuss all of this below.
Fishing With Beads The Right Way
I and many river guides around the great lakes region will have their clients fishing with trout beads when targeting trout, steelhead, and salmon in rivers simply because trout beads can be very effective when other baits just don’t seem to be working.
I think it’s the way we rig them and the fact that a tiny little bead is less intrusive than other bigger or more popular baits, and sometimes, especially when fish are being heavily pressured, or bombarded by many large spawn sacs, a less intrusive baits is required to get them to bite.
Knowing how to set the trout beads up and when to fish with trout beads is important which is why I will give you the same tips and advice on fishing with trout beads that I give to my clients and friends.
I will show you how to rig them up, the different ways to fish with beads, as well as what hooks to use when fishing with beads.
This article is a combination of fishing with beads for trout, steelhead, and salmon because I fish them all the with the same methods and rigging.
The only difference is that I might use a much bigger and stronger hook when fishing for salmon than I would when fishing for little brook trout, but both brook trout and salmon will eat the same sized bead and therefore they can be fished the same way.
I may also fish trout beads a little differently based on bigger or smaller rivers and will often use lighter lines for trout. I discuss my specific methods for trout on my page Bead Fishing For Trout – Easy Guide Secrets.
Steelhead Beads – Also Known As Trout Beads
Some anglers will know them as trout beads because there is a brand that I use called TroutBeads and also because they are used for trout fishing.
Other anglers will refer to them as steelhead beads but whatever you call them they are all basically the same thing and they can be used for fishing for trout, steelhead and can also be great for salmon.
Trout and steelhead beads are hard and come with a very small hole in them so they can be slid up the line and fastened onto the line and not onto the hook. There are also soft trout beads and I will discuss them and their pros and cons.
Steelhead Bead Sizes
Steelhead beads come in 4 different sizes which are good for clear to dirty water situations. A 6mm bead is about the size of a typical egg from a brown trout or rainbow trout and an 8mm bead is the size of a typical salmon egg.
I and many other anglers tend to use the 8mm beads the most around the great lakes rivers where salmon exist but this size will also work in any river whether salmon exist or not. The 8mm size is good for clear to slightly colored water conditions and in faster water situations.
The bigger trout beads get seen better in faster flows and therefore get picked up by the trout more often.
I will drop down to the smaller 6mm steelhead beads under very clear water conditions or during the spring when the steelhead or rainbow trout are spawning.
If the water becomes dirtier or is slightly off-colored I will go up to a 10mm or even the 12 mm steelhead bead size. I rarely fish the 12mm beads unless I’m fishing very big fast water or it’s very dirty.
Best Steelhead Bead Colors
The best steelhead bead colors are often shades of yellows, oranges, and pinks, however, the colors that will work the best will depend on the clarity of the water and the light conditions.
Different brands of trout beads will have different names for their colors. I cover those best colors down below in the section on plastic steelhead beads and glass steelhead beads.
Trout bead colors can also come with some unique patterns.
Common patterns are mottled trout beads which give the bead a cloudy or milky look. Some trout beads also come in what is called blood dot beads which have a red painted dot on the beads which is thought to attract the fish.
Best Hooks For Beads
Fishing with trout beads requires the right hook size and shape and some of the best hooks for fishing with beads are the Raven Sedge Hook or the Raven Specimen hooks.
I use the same hooks for steelhead as I do for trout but I change the sizes of hooks based on the size of the trout bead, the speed of the current, the depth of the spot, and the clarity of the river.
I use hooks between a size 8 and a size 12 for both steelhead, trout, and salmon. I rarely go smaller than a size 12.
There is no need or benefit to go to a hook smaller than a size 12 even if the steelhead bead is as small as a 6mm bead.
I prefer not to use a hook bigger than a size 8 in clear or slow-moving water because hooks bigger than that can weigh the trout bead down too much preventing a natural-looking drift, and also because the fish might see the hook and not hit the bead.
If I had to choose one hook size for all trout beads and for all conditions I would go with a size 10 Raven sedge hook. The reason this is my go-to hook is that it’s a great hook when I need a stealthy lightweight hook but will it also work in dirtier water.
However, I find that the Raven Specimen hook does hold onto fish better so I use it when a stealthy hook is not required.
I also use the Specimen hooks or a stronger hook when fishing for salmon. The Raven Sedge hooks are not strong enough for salmon.
There are other great hooks that I would use with trout beads and there are some bad hooks that I would never use. Check out the best hooks that I use which are also tested and proven to work well with steelhead beads, see them on my Best Hooks page
In dirtier or faster water I may up-size my trout bead to a size 6 or maybe even a size 4 because the extra weight of the bigger hook can help you get your bead down to the fish faster.
In dirtier and faster water it’s less likely that a fish will see the hook too so a big hook works. The other reason I may go to a bigger hook in faster and dirtier water is that a bigger hook tends to hold better once the fish is hooked.
If you find that you are hooking and fighting fish but a lot of them are coming off, meaning the hook tears out, you probably need a bigger hook or you need a different hook shape.
Some of the best hooks for beads are:
- Raven Sedge Hook – get them at FishUSA.com – HERE
- Raven Specimen – get them at FishUSA.com – HERE
- Gamakatsu – get them at FishUSA.com – HERE
- Blackbird – get them at FishUSA.com – HERE
Steelhead Beads – Fishing For Steelhead With Beads
Fishing with trout beads for steelhead is no different than fishing with beads for trout or salmon unless the water that you are fishing is different.
Very small trout streams may require a slightly different setup and presentation in a 5 foot by 5-foot spot that is only 2 feet deep, compared to a bigger steelhead spot that has lots of current speed in a 20 foot wide, 100-foot long spot.
If I’m fishing with trout beads on bigger rivers I will use a float to suspend the beads just off the bottom.
The float allows me to drift the trout beads down to the fish, control the speed of the bait, and it allows me to cover the water well.
There is a lot more to float fishing than just watching the float drift down the river, and anglers that understand this will catch far more fish. There is a reason why fishing guides do things a certain way. Check out my float fishing page so you know how to do this well.
If you are going to use a float, which to some is known as a bobber, I recommend using the right bobber size and style for river fishing. If you use the wrong float you may limit how many fish you will catch. . Check out my Best Floats page.
I will use the same steelhead beads, the same hooks, and often the same presentation for trout, steelhead, and for salmon and only change the way I’m fishing with beads based on the type of water, speed, and depth.
Trout Beads – Fishing For Trout
Fishing with trout beads is a great way to catch steelhead but because some trout rivers can be much smaller, they will require adjustments in your presentation and in your setup so you catch more trout.
Since using floats in shallower runs and pools doesn’t always work so well, the best method for trout fishing with beads in this type of water is to use an advanced bottom bouncing method. You can see how to do this on my page on Bottom Bouncing.
With the advanced bottom bouncing method, you can easily adjust for shallow waters that are 1 foot deep to spots that are over 4 feet deep with nothing more than lifting and lowering your rod tip. You are also able to fish 3 foot long pockets or 25 foot long pools using this bottom bouncing method.
Plastic trout beads are by far the most common types of steelhead beads because they are readily available and they are cheaper than glass beads.
I use the Trout Beads brand with great success and mostly use the 8mm size.
Plastic steelhead beads also come in lots of great colors and 3 or 4 good sizes.
When trout fishing with beads I prefer the plastic ones because the rivers are not as deep and the plastic beads don’t need to get down as deep. This is helpful because you don’t want to drag the bottom with your trout bead.
Use: 6mm and 8mm
Medium Clear Water
Use: Size 8mm is best
Use: Size 10mm or 12mm
Hot Cherry Roe
Mottled Natural Roe
Some anglers swear that glass beads are much better at catching trout, steelhead, and salmon than plastic trout beads, and in my opinion, glass beads probably are better than plastic beads, but only because of a fault in the angler’s presentation.
Glass beads are much heavier than plastic beads so they get down fast.
I do not believe that glass beads are actually better than plastic beads for any other reason then they sink and get into the strike zone faster and they stay there longer.
If that is the only reason why glass beads are catching more fish, then anglers that are catching more fish on glass beads might have a problem with their leader setup or their presentation and that could be causing them to miss fish when using other baits.
If you are catching more on glass beads than plastic beads, you might want to consider that there is something wrong with the way you are presenting your bait and figure out how to fix this so you will catch more fish when using lighter baits.
If you have to rely on a heavy bait to catch more fish you may be missing out on fish with other lighter baits.
Other than the weight, glass trout beads and plastic trout beads are the same! They feel the same, they even look identical to me and to the fish, they are both hard as a rock, and they both do not have a scent that would attract more fish.
There is no other reason for glass beads catching more fish than the plastic beads except for them getting deeper or maybe having a slightly different sound when bumping the rocks on the bottom which could be a possibility except that anglers fishing sandy bottom rivers with glass beads also claim better results with glass beads.
If you are catching more fish on glass beads I recommend considering increasing your depths with other lighter baits and getting those baits deeper with more weight on the leader which will likely improve your success with them.
This may mean your will need to set up your leaders better so that you can get any bait down and deeper just like the heavy glass beads do. Check out my leader setup page.
Trout bead colors and bead sizes can make a big difference when fishing with beads and will affect how many fish you catch. In clear water, I use a smaller beads in natural colors, and in dirty water I will use bright colors and bigger beads.
The best trout beads on the market come from CreekCandy Bead Company and you can get them at FishUSA.com
When fishing with beads, I change my sizes based on the conditions. See the chart below for sizing and the best colors to use.
The Best Glass Steelhead Beads Are:
Medium Clear Water
Size: 8mm and 10mm
Dirty Water - 12 inches or less vizability
Size: 10mm or 12mm
Clearwater Candy Corn
Frosty Chartreuse Hyper UV
Clearwater Atomic Peach
Blood Shot Embryo
Clearwater White Widow Hyper HD UV
Blood Shot Candy Corn
Clearwater Atomic Chartreuse Hyper HD UV
Frosty Brown Roe Hyper UV
Bow Roe Hyper UV
Natural Sucker Egg
Toxic Berry Hyper UV
Blood Shot Candy Corn
Trout Crack Hyper UV
Securing Beads To The Line
You can secure the beads to the line using what are called rubber bead pegs. You can also secure the bead with a toothpick, or with bobber stops, or even with small rubber bands.
For proper bead placement see below in the bead rigs section.
There are also some knots that anglers will use to secure the beads to the line. You can see the bead knot method on YouTube
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. You can see how to use the BeadPegz method on my YouTube Channel Here – Coming Soon..
I put all my beads in a trout bead box. One of the best boxes is this large TroutBead box from Fish USA.com.
Soft Steelhead Beads
Soft steelhead beads are made out of softer plastic or rubber and they can also be a good bait for catching catch trout, steelhead, and salmon.
Soft steelhead beads go on the hook instead of the on the line and can be removed and changed more easily than hard beads.
Trout and steelhead may hold onto soft beads longer but they may also see the hook easier through the translucent bead and then avoid eating the soft beads.
Soft beads are not used very often on the rivers because they do not seem to be as effective as hard beads.
Some of the best soft beads are:
- Berkley Gulp! Alive! Floating Salmon Eggs – get them at FishUSA.com or at Bass Pro Shops – HERE
- Berkley PowerBait Magnum Power Eggs – Get them at FishUSA.com – HERE
- Magic Salmon Eggs – Get them at Bass Pro Shops – HERE
- Atlas Plastic Eggs – get them at FishUSA.com
Another very popular soft bead that I have used and liked is the Death Roe Soft Beads.
How To Rig Beads – 3 Best Bead Rigs
When fishing with beads I always position my bead 1.5″ to 2″ inches up from the hook for 2 reasons.
First and most importantly, the hook is less likely to be seen by the fish when it’s farther away from the bead which means more hookups.
Second, as the fish tries to inhale the bead the hook almost always gets caught on the outside of the lip which self hooks the fish which then decreases my chances of losing a fish to them spitting the hook out too fast.
If I go any longer than 2 inches I have found that I may miss more fish because the hook is too far away from the fish to self hook them.
Even if the bead is in their mouth the hook may not be in the mouth if it’s too far away because most fish will not swallow a hard bead deep enough to get hooked. And if you do hook a fish with the hook over 3 inches from the bead I tend to hook too many fish in the eye or the gill plate area which is not a good spot for holding onto the fish and you will lose more fish.
If I go shorter than 1.5 inches or with the bead touching the hook I tend to find that the hook goes too deep in their throat which makes it harder for releasing the fish unharmed or for just getting the hook out at all, which is why I never advise putting the hook and the bead too close together.
Some river guides believe that the hook too close to the bead will be seen too easily and the fish won’t bite it. They also believe that the bead can act as a leverage point at the lip and the hook can come out easier. Both of these I think are possible which is why I always have my hook 1.5″ to two inches from the bead.
I have also heard some people saying that a bare hook is considered snagging but in this case, there is never the intention to snag a fish and the fish are eating your beads so it’s not snagging.
In my opinion, having the hook away from the bead is better for the fish too because the hook usually gets caught on the outside of the mouth instead of deep in the throat of the fish.
Should your country, state, or province have rules that do not allow a bare hook to be used like this, some anglers will tie a piece of thread or yarn onto the hook so the hook is no longer bare and is now considered legal. If this is a concern in your area please check with your fish and game department to be sure.
Single And Double Bead Rigs
When fishing with beads I will use a single steelhead bead rig in water that is 3 to 8 feet deep, but when I fish water that is 4 to 10 feet deep, I will often use a double steelhead bead rig so that I can cover the bottom and cover higher up in the water column.
With the double steelhead bead rig, I will often use two different bead colors to see which one the fish prefer. If one color gets hit more than the other color it could mean that the fish prefer that color. But, it could also mean that that particular bead they want is in the strike zone more often than the other bead so it gets hit more.
If one bead is getting hit more often, instead of putting on two beads of the same color, I will keep switching the bead color on the one that doesn’t get hit until I find a color that they want. This way I have 2 colors on the line that are hot colors. You could also run 2 of the same colors if you wanted to see if that works.
Steelhead Bead Setup
This is my standard single trout bead rig that I use when guiding for steelhead or for trout on very big or fast rivers.
For trout, I will drop down to a 3 to 6-pound leader section at the bottom and for salmon, I will up to a 10 or 12-pound test leader.
This is the same for the leader diagram below.
This is the 2 bead rig that I use when I’m guiding.
You could add a bead and bait combination instead of two beads.
It is up to you to experiment with which bait goes where but my rule of thumb is that my confidence bait goes on the bottom.
Trout Bead Setup – Bottom Bouncing Rig
This is a traditional bottom bouncing rig that I use as a steelhead bead rig when fishing with beads in shallow and faster pools.
It can also be used in deeper and bigger rivers that are too deep for float fishing.
There are some other variations to set this up and to fishing with it which can be seen on my Bottom Bouncing page
Shallow Water Bead Setup – Advanced Bottom Bouncing Rig
This is my most productive steelhead bead rig when I am fishing with beads for trout or steelhead in smaller to medium-sized rivers where there is a lot of pocket and shallow runs.
This steelhead rig is an adaptation of an advanced nymphing setup used by myself and by world champion tournament fly anglers around the world.
This method is better than any other method I have used when fishing with beads in spots that are 12 inches to 4 feet deep.
This method gets your bead 6 inches to 1 foot off the bottom almost all the time which is where most fish feed. The added sighter up the line allows you to adjust your depths and see even the subtlest takes from trout and salmon.
There are a few things you need to know about this setup first if you want to fish it well which you can see on my Bottom Bouncing page.
How To Fish With Beads
Fishing with beads can be done using spinning reels, a baitcasting reel, or many guys that Centerpin Fish will use beads. If you want to learn to Centerpin fish better check out my page on Centerpin Fishing For Beginners.
There are two main methods when fishing with beads in rivers that I teach my clients.
Fishing with beads either requires using a float also known as float fishing or doing something known as bottom bouncing. Both these methods are great for catching trout, steelhead, and salmon in rivers and I will discuss them further below.
It is not advised to fish with beads that are stationary and held on the bottom by a heavy weight since the bead is hard, has no scent, and may be picked up and then spit out within seconds.
When fishing with beads you need to set the hook faster and more often since the steelhead beads are hard as a rock and the fish will pick them up and try to spit them out within a second or two. If you are slow on your hook sets you may miss more fish.
It’s also not advised to trot or check your steelhead beads too far ahead when using a float for the same reason.
If you are fishing with beads and you check or trot your bead way out in front of your float they will grab the bead and then spit out the bead before the float even moves, and this means you won’t even know that they were there. This happens more often than anglers realize when they trot too much with artificial baits.
If you are not sure what trotting or checking a float is and you want to know more about float fishing or better float and leader angels that will ensure that you catch more fish check out the page on Float Fishing.
Quick Change Trout Beads
One of the big downsides to fishing with beads is that in order to change your bead you often need to cut the hook off, then slide the bead off, then put a new bead on, then secure it in place, and then tie the hook back on.
That ends up taking a lot of time that could be better used to catch some fish. And on very cold days it’s even tougher to do when your fingers are freezing.
That is why I and many guides and the serious anglers that I know will pre-tie our bead rigs.
A pre-tied bead rig, also known as a bead leader, allows you to quickly make a change with only one knot.
I simply make up 10 to 20 pre-tied bead rigs when I’m at home and I secure them to a rig holder like the Lindy Rig holder in the picture below. You can usually get the Lyndy Rig Holder at this link.
I make my bead rig leader about 14 to 16 inches long. Remember that you might lose an inch or two when you tie it on so keep that in mind.
I will often double up this 12 slot rigger or I will have 2 or 3 of them for different sized beads and different colors.
Bead Storage And Organization.
I have a tone of beads! Lots of colors, sizes, and types of beads for all the different conditions. There is no way I could bring all my beads with me on a guide trip.
At home, I store all my beads in large bead boxes.
On the river I only take what i call day boxes which is just enough of an assortment of beads to last a few days or more and as the colors deplete I just add more.
These day boxes are small enough to fit into a fishing vest pocket or a fishing pack.
Guide Tip: Use a bead box that has each compartment covered.
This way if you drop it you wone be spending the next 30 minutes picking up all your beads and you won’t need to reorganize all of them.
Fishing With Beads In Lakes
I do not fish with beads in lakes and do not recommend fishing with beads in lakes or ponds because the beads have no scent, they sink, and they are very hard so any fish that will bite them will quickly spit the bead back out.
There are also many other baits that would be far more productive than fishing with beads in a lake so I would never use something that is less effective at catching fish.
Cool River Fishing Accessories
Simms Taco Bag
It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.
Duffel Bags and Stream Packs
Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.
Waterworks Release Tool
Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.
When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.
Got A Question About Fishing With Beads For trout Or Salmon
I have been guiding for over 20 years and I have been fishing with beads for longer than that. If you have a question, comment, or would like to share an idea or a tip, please let me know in the comments section below.