Paul Curran was more than happy to tail this steelhead for his son Jackson on the Oregon Coast. The fish ate a bobber dogged BnR Soft Bead in middle of a serious rapid.
I’ll never forget the first time I fished a single bead for steelhead. I was in college and had been listening to some kid at a party talk all winter about how many steelhead he’d been catching trip after trip. To be quite honest, I didn’t believe a word of what he said. I had been pounding the river fairly diligently that winter and hadn’t seen any evidence to support the kind of numbers he was claiming. One night at a party I overhear Chad telling someone about how many steelhead he caught that day and I’d had enough.
“Dude…. You’re full of $#!*?#,” I so eloquently stated while spitting Copenhagen into a Sprite bottle and slugging down another Keystone Light.
Luckily for me, he was more concerned about proving he was kicking my ass on the river than kicking my ass right there and within a few minutes, we decided we were going the fishing next morning. I figured, why not? If we did well, I was going to learn something. If we sucked, my suspicions would be confirmed that this dude is full of crap.
After a few quick pit stops along Valsetz Highway to rid myself of the previous night’s beverages, Chad Lynch, Randy Bales and I slid Chad’s little tin drift boat he’d borrowed indefinitely from the barber in Monmouth into a perfect green river. I had no idea what I was about to take part in, but I was almost sober and ready to check out this “bead fishing” thing Chad had been talking about. We did well….
Fast forward 10 years and bead fishing isn’t whispered about through tight lips between buddies anymore. Now it’s shouted about on rooftops by myself and a million other steelhead enthusiast. I’m sure it was similar to the craze when Buzz Ramsey started pioneering back trolling steelhead plugs from a drift boat or when Jim Bradbury figured out that steelhead would crush an oversized crappie jigs under a bobber. I wasn’t around for those discoveries, but I heard for a while, many steelhead fishermen were certain the best mouse trap had just been built.
Like effective techniques that came before the bead, there were some people who tried hard at it and were successful. Others halfheartedly dabbled with it and defaulted back to their tried and true methods that worked for them in the past. Then there we’re the people who dove into the technique, but not just using it, but thinking about why it worked. How it worked. What your gear was doing under water every second of every drift. Furthermore, they immediately started devising and testing ways to make the technique even more effective. I’m one of those. I’ll give credit where credit is due. Chad showed me how he bead fished and it got me a ton of steelhead. A dude named Jason showed him one day on the Alsea. Regardless, once people started to duplicate the oversized Alaskan trout fishing technique, changes needed to be made to stay ahead of the curve. Throughout my de-tail tampering, I’ve learned a few absolute certainties about bead fishing and a few details that seem to matter to people, but not to steelhead.
‘TIS BETTER TO HAVE HOOKED AND LOST
One certainty of bead fishing is that while bead fishing can produce a ton of hook-ups, the landing ratio is often flat out catastrophic. I can recall dozens of days where bobbers were draining in every hole, but less than a handful of fish actually made it all the way to the net. Nonstop action, but when it was all said and done, I felt crappy about the final result. It’s just the nature of the beast when pegging a bead or at least stopping a bead a few inches from the hook. The spacing allows for a more natural movement and presentation. It also causes fish to often be hooked in the very corner of the mouth or even outside the mouth, under the chin. Either way, fish hooked like that aren’t nearly as easy to keep attached throughout an acrobatic battle as a fish that swallowed a bait and has the hook in the roof of its mouth or in the tongue. That being said, out of the hundreds and hundreds of steelhead I’ve seen landed on a pegged bead, I don’t think I ever watched one mortally bleed. A little something that makes me feel pretty good about fishing beads for fish I have no intention of keeping.
MONO VS FLOROCARBON
There’s a million different arguments as to whether or not fluorocarbon makes a difference versus monofilament leaders. I’ve tried just about every brand of fluorocarbon and mono out there and all the data I’ve gathered point to one conclusion. As long as you’re using a reasonable sized mono, most fish don’t care. Notice, I said most.
I firmly believe that an unmolested, unharrased, fully-left-alone steelhead, is one of the meanest and most aggressive critters in the sea. That being said, once they’ve been floated over, cast at, had baits pulled away from them and otherwise been totally screwed with, they get a little leery. That’s where fluorocarbon comes in handy. You might just get that pushed around fish to eat when he would have ignored an offering with a more noticeable line attached to it. Fact is, some fish care, some don’t. I’m of the mindset; why not give yourself a chance at all the fish?
PEGGED OR SLIDING?
I think we can all agree that the bead works better when it’s pegged off the hook. What I’ve heard a lot of debate about is whether or not is should be actually pegged in place or freely sliding and stopped an inch or two above the hook.
The argument for freely sliding is that is looks more natural when it’s allowed to move. It can whoosh around and gyrate and jiggle and do whatever drunken dance move it wants as the current pushes it downriver. It can also separate from the hook. A little detail I’m not crazy about.
A fixed bead, on the other hand, is always going to be two inches off the hook or wherever you put it. So the question boils down to this… Is the added motion from the bead worth allowing it to get further from the hook on occasion?
This dime-bright buck picked up a 12mm bead in a very shallow, fast tailout.
To offer my opinion on that question, I’ll ask another question. Which way is easier to set up and takes less time to rig? I’ll even go further and ask which one is cheaper? Oh! Maybe most importantly, which way fishes longer without having to make adjustment to the bead or stop? When you can answer those questions, you’ll have you answer as to whether sliding or pegged is better. That’s all that seems to matter because as far as I can tell, the fish don’t care and the landing ratio is a wash.
HARD BEAD OR SOFT
This is a very interesting question. Admittedly, I’ve fished hard beads a much longer so I’ve caught a lot more fish on them. Now that there are so many great soft bead options like the B&R Soft Beads and the Lured Incognito beads, I’ve found myself starting to change over.
You can’t help but think that when a fish picks up a soft bead versus a hard bead, they’re going to chew on it a little longer giving you an extra second or two to get the hookset. Reasonable theory for sure and a very justified reason to give the soft beads a try. Now let me play Devil’s Advocate.
If you have a bead pegged off the hook, what’s the advantage of the fish chewing it longer? I mean, they’re not going to keep chomping away on a soft bead until they swallow it. They couldn’t swallow it if you let them chomp on it all day. The hook will catch on the edge of their mouth before it lets the bead get too far down their throat making me think that the land ratio will be the same with a hard or soft bead.
That being said, I think there is a huge difference between hard and soft beads, but it’s not how long a fish will eat them. It’s about the difference in buoyancy and whether you’re wanting the bead to sink or have more lift.
With the exception of a few brands, hard beads sink. Soft beads tend to float or at least be neutrally buoyant.