Apr 23, 2014
Beadheaded nymphs are everywhere and some anglers have nothing else in their boxes but beadheads. Shortly after the gold-beaded flies were introduced to the U.S. from Europe, they quickly developed into a fly shop phenomenon. Every nymph now had to come in a version with a gold bead, and Orvis even went so far as to register tradenames like Bead Head Pheasant Tail to try to muscle others out of the territory.
Are beadheads the panacea that many considered them to be? My answer is…yes and no.
First, all beadheads aren’t alike.
- The standard version had a gold-colored brass bead at its head, but other finishes like, silver, copper, black and other colors have become popular. Fly tiers have also used clear glass beads and colored ones of all colors.
- Ingenious anglers also came up with tungsten beads, which are twice as heavy as the standard brass ones. Much more expensive, but sink the fly deeper faster.
The first beadheads were a godsend to fishing guides and remain an extremely important tool in their boxes. Beads added a fish-attracting flash and sank the fly quickly, making the standard indicator & nymph rig into the deadly and now guide-standard bobber and beadhead(s) rig. It’s a staple, certainly in the West and especially in driftboat fishing. Beginners and non-casters can catch fish with a minimum of skill – outstanding if you’re a guide and handy if you’re just a regular angler too.
A number of guides I’ve talked to who fish pressured water tell me that the standard gold beads don’t work as well as they used to. Many fish have come to regard that golden sparkle as a warning signal, not an attraction. Fish aren’t intelligent, but they do learn to avoid trouble.
Many guides, ever adaptable, have taken to using black beads instead, and with good results. In New Zealand particularly, the craftiest guides have switched almost completely to black beads. They still get the sinking properties, but have given up on gold as an attractant.
Beadheads, especially large or heavy ones, are not meant to be false cast. Keep your false casts to a minimum to avoid tangles or a nasty bang on the head.
For all their benefits, beadheads, in my opinion, have had a pernicious side
effect. Using beadheads means also employing a bobber to float them off the river bottom. “Casting” a bobber and beadhead or two means essentially lobbing the whole rig in an ungainly fashion that barely resembles fly casting. If you want to learn how to fly cast, you should take some time away from the deadly bobber & beadhead rig. I think it will be a pleasant experience casting a weightless fly with your line looping gracefully back and forth. Give it a try!
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