For over 15 years, I have been steelhead fishing with beads in rivers. Beads are one of my three go-to baits that I use when I’m guiding because they imitate single-free drifting salmon or trout eggs that steelhead love to eat.
Fishing with beads is an excellent technique for attracting steelhead, as these beads imitate their preferred food source—fish eggs. By understanding the right bead types, sizes, colors, and hooks to use, you can significantly enhance your chances of success in steelhead fishing.
I first heard how effective beads were for steelhead from anglers coming into my fishing store to buy them. That was around 2006, but now, I would think that most steelhead anglers and most steelhead guides, myself included, are using beads with great success.
In this article, I will share valuable insights on bead selection, rigging methods, tips for changing beads quickly, and some tips that will improve your steelhead bead fishing game.
Bead Selection: Trout Beads, Steelhead Beads, or Just Beads?
Beads, whether referred to as trout beads or steelhead beads, essentially serve the same purpose which is to imitate salmon or trout eggs and to catch steelhead.
Steelhead beads come in different materials such as glass, plastic, and even rubber, offering a variety of sizes and colors.
All options have their advantages, and I will discuss the pros and cons below.
Understanding the types of beads available and their compatibility with different fishing conditions is crucial.
Recommended Hooks for Steelhead Fishing With Beads
Choosing the right hook is crucial when fishing with beads. Hooks such as the Raven Specimen hooks and Gamakatsu Octopus hooks have proven to be effective.
The hook size should correspond to the bead size, current speed, water depth, and river clarity.
Generally, hooks ranging from size 6 to size 10 are suitable for steelhead in all types of water.
Although some anglers will use smaller size 12 and size 14 hooks, it is not recommended to use hooks smaller than size 12, as they may not provide sufficient hooking and holding power.
Conversely, hooks larger than size 6 can weigh down the bead, affecting its natural drift and potentially deterring fish from biting. It’s important to find the right balance to maximize hookups and prevent fish from spitting out the bait.
For most clear to slightly murky water conditions I will use a size 8 or size 10 hook. In dirtier water or faster currents, I like to use the size 6 hook.
FYI, in case you aren’t familiar with hook sizes, the smaller the number, the larger the hook. So a size 6 is larger than a size 10.
Steelhead Fishing With Beads In Rivers
I only use beads in rivers with the current. Since beads are artificial with no scent and a hard texture, in a river, as the beads drift past the steelhead they have less time to inspect the bait, they either grab it or they don’t.
I’m this way with many of my favorite artificial baits.
Methods of Fishing for Steelhead With Beads
Float fishing, which involves suspending the beads just above the riverbed, allows for controlled drifts and thorough coverage of the water.
Bottom bouncing and drift fishing, on the other hand, require a different setup without the aid of a float/bobber, and a different presentation, suitable for specific river conditions. All methods can be effective for catching steelhead, and the choice between them depends on the angler’s preference, or better yet, the size and characteristics of the river being fished.
I will change methods based on the conditions so my clients continue to have the best chance of hooking up.
Steelhead Bead Sizes
Beads are available in four sizes suitable for various water conditions. A 6mm bead is similar in size to the eggs of brown trout or rainbow trout, while an 8mm bead replicates the size of a typical salmon egg.
Around Great Lakes rivers where steelhead can be found, the 8mm bead size is the most common size. However, this size is effective in any river, regardless of the presence of salmon.
Larger beads are more visible in faster currents, making them more enticing to steelhead.
Under clear water conditions, I use smaller 6mm beads. For dirtier or slightly off-colored water, a 10mm or even 12mm steelhead bead may be used. I have found that 8mm beads are good in clear to slightly murky water.
Best Bead Colors for Steelhead
The ideal bead colors for steelhead fishing are often shades of yellow, orange, and pink.
However, the choice of colors depends on water clarity and light conditions.
Different brands offer a variety of color options, including mottled beads and blood dot beads which are just colored beads with a red dot on them.
The effectiveness of specific colors may vary, so it’s important to experiment and observe which colors yield the best results in different fishing situations.
I have spent years experimenting with all the colors and sizes in all types of conditions and through the seasons. Follow my bead charts for which colors are best based on the conditions.
See my color charts below with the 3 types of beads.
Advantages of Plastic Beads for Steelhead Fishing
I use hard plastic beads, such as the popular TroutBeads brand, are widely used for steelhead fishing due to their availability and affordability compared to glass beads.
Hard plastic beads are slower sinking than heavy glass beads and therefore are suitable for shallower rivers under 8 feet deep, as they don’t need to sink as deep as glass beads.
However, I tend to use the plastic beads more than all other beads because, as long as your leader is set up and weighted properly, I find that the buoyancy of the lighter beads provides a more realistic appearance, similar to a real salmon eggs drifting with the current, which can entice more bites.
Although, there are many anglers that find glass beads are more effective, which I will discuss below.
Plastic beads come in a wide range of colors and sizes, offering versatility in different fishing situations. Plastic beads are especially effective in rivers with sandy bottoms or when targeting steelhead in shallower water.
Use: 6mm and 8mm
Medium Clear Water
Use: Size 8mm is best
Use: Size 10mm or 12mm
Hot Cherry Roe
Mottled Natural Roe
Benefits of Glass Beads for Steelhead Fishing
Some anglers believe that glass beads outperform plastic beads when it comes to attracting steelhead and I would bet for most anglers that is true.
The main advantage of glass beads lies in their weight, which allows them to sink quickly and remain in the strike zone for a longer duration. For this reason, many anglers will benefit.
However, it is important to note that the effectiveness of glass beads may be attributed to factors such as the angler’s presentation and their leader setup.
After watching thousands of anglers fish, I still believe most anglers do not get their boats deep enough which is usually due to improper leader setup and the ability to detect the bottom and adjust their presentation.
Glass beads are heavy, like a weight, and they get deep, which is why I believe they catch more steelhead than identical-looking plastic beads.
If you find that glass beads yield better results, consider adjusting your presentation technique or just add more weights and length to your leader to achieve greater depth with the lighter baits.
For glass beads, I and many anglers prefer the beads from Creek Candy Bead Company.
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
Soft Beads For Steelhead
Soft beads made of softer plastic or rubber can also be effective for catching steelhead.
Soft beads are often rigged directly onto the hook, or threaded onto the leader, and they offer easier removal and replacement compared to hard beads.
While some anglers believe that steelhead tend to hold onto soft beads longer since they are soft like reel salmon eggs, I’m not entirely sure of this.
Tips for Rigging Beads
Proper bead placement and rigging are essential for successful steelhead fishing.
Positioning the bead approximately 1.5 to 2 inches above the hook offers several advantages and this is how most anglers around the great lakes fish.
However, check the fishing regulations as positioning the beads means you are using a bare hook which is not permitted in some areas. I will leave a tip below to possibly get around this law.
For full leader setups, check out: 5 Best Steelhead Rigs
Why place the bead on the line?
Placing the hook farther from the bead reduces the likelihood of the fish detecting it, resulting in more hookups. Secondly, when the fish inhales the bead, the hook tends to get caught on the outside of the mouth as the bead is going deep in the mouth which, improves hook-setting and hook-holding efficiency.
Avoid rigging the bead too close to the hook, as this can lead to deep hooking the fish in the throat or decreased hookup rates.
Securing Beads to the Line
There are several methods for securing beads to the line, including rubber bead pegs which I use the most, toothpicks broken off or cut to length, bobber stops, special loop knots, and even small rubber bands.
Rubber bead pegs, such as the TroutBead pegs, are recommended for their ability to allow the bead to slide when a fish takes the bait, which I and other guides believe results in better hook sets.
It is important to choose a method that securely fastens the bead so it does not slip on its own.
Organizing and Storing Beads
Managing a wide assortment of beads can be challenging, but proper organization ensures efficiency on the water.
Using bead boxes with individually covered compartments helps prevent accidental spills and allows for easy access to different bead sizes and colors.
Carrying a smaller day box with a selection of beads suitable for the fishing trip at hand can help reduce bulk and facilitate quick changes.
Guide Tip: Many of my clients and buddies have been impressed with this tip. Pre-tying bead rigs in advance saves time on the water and enables seamless transitions between different bead setups. With a pre-rig, I can change a bead in less than one minute.
This has been a lifesaver in icy cold conditions since rigging a bead from scratch can take some anglers over 5 minutes.
The next section is far more important than most anglers realize so don’t skip it.
Effective Hook Sets
When a steelhead grabs a real salmon egg, it’s soft, juicy, has some scent or taste, and they will swallow it. But, Beads are hards and a rock with no taste. The hardness of steelhead beads means that fish are likely to spit them out quickly if given the chance. How quick? Less than 2 seconds!!
Therefore, developing a trigger-happy approach to hook sets can significantly improve your hookup rates. This means the second your float moves, set the hook. I’ll often set the hook before the float even goes under.
Do Beads Snag Fish?
I’ve heard anglers tell me they stopped steelhead fishing with beads because they snag too many steelhead in the belly, fins, or tail. They believe that beads snag fish! But is this true?
My answer is yes and no.
Yes, beads tend to snag more fish than other baits, but that is the fault of the anglers doing something wrong.
Snagging fish by accident can often be attributed to delayed hook sets. Slow reactions on the angler’s part may result in the fish already spitting out the bait before the hook is properly hooked.
Since the bead is spit out so quickly, by the time the angler reacts to the float going down the beads is out of the mouth and alongside of the fish as the hook is set. This quick spit or slow hookset results in snagging the steelhead in the body.
By setting the hook quicker, which I do, and which I teach my clients, you can minimize accidental snags and increase your chances of landing fish successfully.
Don’t let a few more snagged fish prevent you from taking advantage of steelhead fishing with beads.
Fishing With Beads in Different Water Environments
While fishing with beads is effective in rivers with current, it is not recommended for still-water environments such as lakes or ponds. Beads lack scent and sink quickly, making them less effective in still water where fish have more time to inspect the bait.
Additionally, there are more productive bait options available for lake fishing and my policy is to use the most effective bait possible. It’s always better to choose baits that offer better attractant qualities and something the fish will hold onto.
Steelhead Fishing With Beads Q&A
If you have any questions or some advice you would like to share about steelhead fishing with beads, let me know in the comments section below.