Bead fishing is not a new tactic by any means, but certainly is a tactic becoming more widely accepted by Midwest/Great Lakes steelheader's, particularly in recent seasons.
Usually around the last week of October in the Great Lakes Region our phones start blowing up from our guides in New York and in Northern Michigan who are getting their first crack at the seasons first steelhead. And the majority of that action is on "steelhead" beads. Why are steelhead bead's so effective at particular times of the year? Pretty simple actually, thy look just like single loose eggs rolling down from spawning salmon.
In reality, steelhead beads are becoming a go-to presentation method for targeting pre-spawn and spawning chinook and coho, as well as steelhead during the entire float fishing season. Steelhead bead fishing has come a long way, even over the past two to three years...and the advancements have been significant.
A few years back, plastic steelhead beads were all the rage. Nowadays, savvy float fishermen have caught on to soft-beads as the premier presentation for a number of reasons. First, a few of the soft beads available on the market actually sink at the same rate as natural roe, compared to hard plastic beads which can sometimes float. The natural sinking presentation is HUGE in terms of the beads effectiveness. Death Roe from Seneca New York are one of the most prominent soft bead manufacturers.
Don’t give up on the hard beads though...day in and day out they produce more fish than just about anything else. We have recently become very fond of Lazy Larry’s ez-bead and ez-peg system. Changing a bead without cutting and having to re-tie a leader is very time saving. Being able to quickly change colors of even a very subtle difference as water clarity changes throughout an outing is huge. Even being able to downsize bead size quickly when it becomes apparent that larger sizes might not be working is another big advantage. We have caught an unbelievable amount of fish on the Lazy Larry bead system due to its flexibility on bead change outs.
Steelhead bead fishing is pretty straight forward, most manufacturers have good rigging demonstrations on their websites and facebook pages. Usually you are looking to position the bead around 1.5"above your Tail Out float hook. Size of your Tail Out hook is determined by matching the "gap" of the hook from the shank to the tip with the size of the bead you are using. The bead (in the case of soft) will be yanked right down into the gap of the hook when a fish hits it.
Generally speaking, early in the bead season around mid-late October you are tending towards larger beads in the 12mm or even 10mm size. This will put you in the size 4 or 6 Tail Out hook. As we move towards late November and into December, you will generally find 10mm or 8mm size beads will become more productive, which puts you into a size 8, 10 or even 12 size Tail Out Hook. Water clarity and fishing pressure also plays a role in hook size selection when fishing beads. Don't be afraid to run a double bead setup as well, with a larger 12mm bead above a 10mm bead.
Steelhead beads can and will produce all through the season and into the spring spawn. Don't be afraid to try a few different colors, first favoring natural looks of peach and pink, or even chartreuse when the water is heavily stained. Blues, Greens and Purples will work at times as well, don't be afraid to experiment. Certain river systems have their own top producers, as an example the West side of Michigan does really well on different shades of yellow, heads above almost any other color.
Whichever your preference in size of fluorocarbon leader, which will generally be dictated by water clarity and fish size, be sure to keep the overall leader length in the 18 inch range from your micro swivel. Have a few pre-tied leaders ready to go....soft beads are easy to pull off and put back on right over the hook if you need to change out colors or sizes. You may even want to pre-tie some bead leaders with Skeena Hooks as well in matching sizes. Often times we will find hookup percentages change dramatically when fishing beads, depending on the style of hook. Always start with the Tail Out and then move to the Skeena Hook if you are not sticking fish consistently. Tail Outs are specifically designed for fishing beads and small bags, but Skeena's will do equally well when fish are striking from the side or under the bead and quickly turning away. Remember to go down one or two sizes when moving to Skeena reverse bend hooks, for comparable hook strength to that of a Tail Out hook.
For more information regarding selecting the correct single hook size and style for fishing steelhead beads, please refer to this article.