Tis this season for BIG rainbows in Alaska, especially on the Naknek river here at Rapids Camp Lodge, where the rainbow trout are particularly mega.
Salmon eggs make up a huge portion of the diet for our Alaskan rainbow trout, which is why bead fishing is arguably one of the most effective means of targeting trout with a fly rod in our neck of the woods.
However, contrary to popular belief, fishing beads for trout can be extremely technical, going well beyond simply pegging a plastic bead above a hook and tossing ‘er in. Trout, especially big trout, can become extremely selective to eggs making every nuance of the process important.
Bead Fishing for Trout: Matching the Hatch
The salmon runs of Bristol Bay are world-renowned for both their quantity and quality of fish. In fact, just this year, on July 3rd of 2017, over 500,000 sockeye salmon swam past our own Rapids Camp Lodge on their journey up the Naknek River en route to their respective spawning grounds.
The eggs that each of these salmon drop become a critical food source for our rainbow trout population, and therefore we do a lot of bead fishing to imitate these eggs. No matter how prolific the egg drop is, however, trout can still become extremely picky as to what eggs they prefer at a given time. Thus, matching the “hatch” becomes important. Yup! we get pretty nerdy about beads up here.
When it comes to selecting the right bead, one of the most important variables at hand is size, as this relates to the species of egg in which trout are honing in on. Beads come in all shapes and sizes, but as a general rule:
- 4mm beads best imitate trout eggs.
- 6mm beads best imitate sockeye and pink eggs.
- 8mm beads best imitate chum and silver eggs.
- 10mm beads and above best imitate king eggs.
Another important (and often overlooked) variable to selecting the right bead is the life cycle of the spawn. Early in the season, you want your “freshies” or “live” eggs, best imitated with bright oranges in various tints for each species present. Later on, as the spawn begins to slow down, its time to make the transition to your “dead” eggs, best imitated by more of a pale orange, brownish, yellow, or even white beads.
You can experiment with all of this further by using different nail polishes and/or pigments. This is a great way to customize your beads, not only to create a more realistic ‘milky’ appearance of a natural egg but also to separate your offering from the many factory beads a particular fish may have already seen. For example, an old legendary polish of Bristol Bay is the Sally Henson 434, which was considered by many to be catnip for trout, but is sadly now discontinued. Nonetheless, when it comes to bead fishing, fish and fisherman are constantly coevolving to outsmart each other, which keeps fishing fresh, interesting, challenging, and most importantly, fun!