Fishing with beads is a great way to catch more trout and steelhead in rivers because beads imitate the fish eggs that trout and steelhead love to eat. Fishing with beads has become very popular and is a great alternative to using real fish eggs as bait.
Beads come in glass or plastic and come in a few sizes with lots of great colors
Fishing With Beads The Right Way
As one of the top river guides around the great lakes region, I have my clients fishing with beads for trout, steelhead, and salmon a lot of the time because trout beads can be very effective when other baits just don’t seem to be working.
Knowing how to set the beads up and when to fish with 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, different ways to fish with beads, as well as what hooks to use.
This article is a combination of fishing with beads for trout, steelhead, and salmon because I fish them all the exact same way.
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 fish the same way.
I may also fish them a little differently based on bigger or smaller rivers.
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.
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 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 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 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.
Beads colors can also come with some unique patterns.
Common patterns are Mottled beads which give the bead a cloudy or milky look and 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 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 Specialist 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 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.
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 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 beads and for all conditions I would go with a size 10 raven sedge hook.
In dirtier or faster water I may up-size my 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. 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.
There are other great hooks that I would use with beads and there some bad hooks that I wouldn’t 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
I will use the same hooks for all fishing methods when fishing with beads. See below for the best methods when fishing with beads.
Some of the best hooks for beads are:
- Raven Sedge Hook – get them at FishUSA.com – HERE
- Raven Specialist – 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 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 beads on bigger rivers I will use a float to suspend the beads just off the bottom.
The float allows me to drift the beads down to the fish, control the speed of the bait, and it allows me to cover the water well. 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. 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 beads is a great way to catch steelhead but because trout rivers can be much smaller and 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.
Plastic 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 don’t need to get down as deep.
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 and steelhead than plastic beads, and in my opinion, glass beads probably are better than plastic beads, but only because of a fault in the anglers presentation.
Glass beads are much heavier than plastic beads and I do not believe that glass beads are any 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 true reason why glass beads are catching more fish, then anglers that are catching more fish on glass beads should take this as a hint that there is something wrong with the way that they present their other baits and they need to fix that fault so that they can catch more fish on all their other baits too.
If you have to rely on a heavy bait to catch more fish you may be missing out on fish with other bait.
Other than the weight, glass beads and plastic 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 baits and getting those baits deeper with more weight which will likely improve your success with them. This may mean your will need to set up your leaders better so you can get any bait down and deeper like the heavy glass beads do. Check out my leader setup page.
Bead colors and sizes can make a big difference when fishing with beads and will affect how many fish you catch. On clear water, I use a smaller bead and in more 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 or made out of softer plastic or rubber and 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 being 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
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 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 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 even if the bead is in their mouth because they won’t inhale the bead deep enough to get hooked, and if I do hook a fish with the hook over 3 inches from the bead I tend to hook to many fish in the eye or the gill plate area which is not good for holding onto the fish or for releasing the 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.
I have 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 bait so it’s not snagging, and it’s also better for the fish to be caught on the outside of the mouth instead of deep in the throat which is often what happens when the hook is 2 inches from the bead.
Should your country, state, or province have rules that do not allow a bare hook to be used, some anglers will tie a piece of thread or yarn onto the hook so the hook is no longer bare and is considered legal. If this is a concern in your area please check with your fish and game department to be sure.
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, or it could mean that that particular bead 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.
Steelhead Bead Setup
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 by far my most productive steelhead bead rig when I am fishing with beads for trout or steelhead in smaller to medium-sized rivers.
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 6 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 and how 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 know 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.
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.
Ask A Pro – Ask Us
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 idea please let me know in the comments section below.