Why Do Beads Work? - J.D. Richey

Why Do Beads Work? - J.D. Richey

Unless you have been up looking for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat...or maybe stuck in an elevator for the past several years, you know that beads are the latest “big thing” in the world of steelhead and salmon fishing.


What is it about beads that salmon like so much? 


To be clear, I’m not referring to long leader, tiny bead flossing here. I’m talking instead about fishing larger pegged beads under floats. They are incredibly effective. That much we do know. But have you ever thought about why these little orbs work so well? I mean really thought about it?

Well, being that I’m kinda weird and probably spend more time thinking about why fish do what they do than interacting with my own species, I’ve mulled this subject around in the ol’ noodle quite a bit.

Connecting the dots is pretty simple when you consider the original pegged bead users were mainly fly anglers targeting trout behind spawning salmon. It’s the good ol’ match the hatch scenario—when fish are keyed in on eggs, you better give them something that looks like the real deal.




That steelhead will eat a bead isn’t that much of a stretch either, considering the number of fish caught on straight Corkies, Glo Bugs and yarnies over the years. Plus, steelies have also been known to post up behind salmon redds and pick off loose eggs.

It was when I started catching kings on them, however, that I really started wondering about the mystical powers of the bead. My first several salmon seemed like simple coincidence and I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. But when I kept catching Chinook on them, I realized it was more than dumb luck. To make sure I was really seeing what I was seeing, I’d do little impromptu “taste tests” on the water—and run even numbers of bait and bead rods at the same time. The results blew me away almost every day: the beads would either keep up or outfish the real thing.




I took that to another level last summer while guiding in Alaska. I felt bad about the number of fish that were swallowing my eggs so I started messing around with giant 20mm soft beads from BnR Tackle. The short version of the story is once I started running the big balls, I never looked back. The kings went nutty over the things—and not just jacks, either. I caught nice big adults on the 20’s every day all season long—and didn’t gut hook another fish!

While excited by all that success (I love learning new stuff and expanding my knowledge of fishing), my brain was also bogged down by confusion. All the years I have spent trying to perfect egg cures to get the exact right smell...and then the stupid things eat little unscented globe of plastic.

What gives?

You gotta admit, it’s a real head scratcher when you think about all time we spend messing with how our offerings smell. Plug wraps, egg cures, herring brines, commercial sauces, gooey liquids, oils and on and on. Am I suggesting all that stuff is a waste of time? Absolutely not! Despite off of this, I still believe whole heartedly in scents. But I have also seen these kooky beads go toe to toe with bait. I guess in the end, we have to just accept that two separate things can be equally true.


It seems as if there’s just something about a perfect sphere that tickles their pea-sized brains in the right way.


This is the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night. Not in a bad way—my brain’s just always trying to reconcile the data that it takes in from a day of fishing. In the case of beads, it’s not just me. I have spent hours talking with fellow guides and fishing buddies about what makes beads so effective.

Nobody seems to have the answer. I’ve kicked a million different theories around and have finally just come to the conclusion that fish are, for reasons not totally understood, drawn to a perfect sphere. It seems as if there’s just something about that shape that tickles their pea-sized brains in the right way. I’m not sure if it sparks a feeding response or an intruder attack type action—or both—but there’s no denying beads have the power of attraction.




Case in point: I have tried a zillion rubber egg clusters over the years and have never done much good on any of them. Back in the 1990’s I thought I was into something drifting Gooey Bobs and bought a bazillion of them...most of which I still have in a box somewhere in the dark recesses of my garage. For some reason, the sphere shape works way better than a faux cluster.

I’m just tossing out ideas here but since there isn’t much in a salmon or steelhead’s world that is perfectly symmetrical like a little plastic ball, maybe a bead really stands out against the back-ground of irregular shapes and patterns underwater. Could that be why fish are drawn to them?

Or maybe it’s a matter of beads having the right blend of being attractive while not being intrusive. In other words, fish may be able to see them well enough but they are still small enough not to present a threat.



A few friends of mine and I always talk about how there always seems to be more questions than answers the deeper you dig into the subject of fishing. So, maybe it’s time to just call it a day and stop thinking about the whys of bead fishing and just be happy in the fact that salmon, trout and steelhead like to bite them.

My brain is starting to hurt anyway! Until next time...


Fish with JD:



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1 comment

Good article. I love reading about fishing and what is going on in the fishing world. I’m eighty years old now and still have a deep pasion for fishing and still can’t get enough of it. I

George Jameson

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