Steelhead love beads. Why are they so effective?

Bead Fishing 101: Why are beads effective?

Love them or hate them it is undeniable that bead fishing is one of the most effective ways to fish for Steelhead, Salmon, and Trout.   So why does bead fishing work? 

The answer is simple, beads = eggs.  A single bead looks identical to a single Salmon egg floating downstream.  To most fish this is irresistible and will elicit a strike.  So the real question is why are fish so keyed into eggs?

A steelhead caught with a mottled blood dot bead

A Steelhead landed with a mottled blood dot bead.

Reason #1: Abundance.

Eggs are one of the cornerstones in rivers ecosystems.   A spawning female salmon will lay anywhere from 1,000-10,000 eggs and only 10% of them will hatch.   Those other 900-9,000 eggs are eaten by fish, racoons, ducks, and other wildlife.  They are the foundation of the entire ecosystem.  This is one reason you always see such a flourish of wildlife activity on salmon streams in the fall.  All animals are preparing for the winter – feeding on eggs or the salmon themselves.

It is obvious that the majority fish and wildlife do not have the privilege of being picky about what they eat.   This leads us to why eggs (beads) are such a good bait: they are what is available.  With millions of Salmon laying thousands of eggs each year all the local wildlife is clued into their spawning period.  For fish it has become instinct to eat any available Salmon eggs.  When you properly present a bead to a fish who has this instinct, they will strike.

It is far more effective to mimic their most abundant food source than to entice a fear or aggression strike with other lures.

#2: Nutrition

It makes sense that the fish are keen on Salmon eggs with so many being readily available.  But their desire to consume these eggs goes much further than this.

Salmon eggs are one of the most rich and nutritious meals available for fish.   1 ounce of Salmon roe contains 6 grams of protein, 1.8 grams of fat, 0.4 grams of carbs.  As well as many necessary vitamins and minerals.   Salmon, Steelhead, and Trout are carnivorous, and crave a diet high in protein and fat.  Fish eggs are literally the perfect choice for their dietary needs.

#3 Availability

So far it makes sense that these fish will eat eggs.  There are millions of them available, and they are the ideal food for them to consume.  However the simple availability of these eggs is probably the most important reason for their consumption – they are easy to find and eat.

Salmon Eggs Hatching into Alevin.

Salmon Eggs Hatching into Alevin.

When the salmon are spawning there are eggs everywhere.  Floating out of redds, falling out of fish, and on the end of hooks.  All these discarded eggs meander downstream with the current as their guide.  They will bounce on the bottom, swirl in eddy lines, and float aimlessly until eaten.

Salmon, Steelhead, and Trout – like all animals – are opportunists.  When given the opportunity to feed, they will typically take it.  This is the case for eggs (beads).  While fish feed on flies, midges, emergers, smaller fish, mice, and other prey, it’s far easier for them to eat the eggs which are simply floating downstream towards them.

In the fall when the Salmon spawn trout will regularly sit below Salmon Redds and consume all the free floating eggs.   In this situation if you toss a bead on your line and present it correctly you are almost guaranteed a strike.   With food so readily available these fish have no reason to go search for other sources.

#4 Conditioning

All these reasons make sense for Trout, but it is still hard to understand why a Salmon or Steelhead going to spawn will eat eggs.  All in all this comes down to conditioning.

Fish are creatures of habit.  These fish spawn in a freshwater stream.  They fed on eggs for years in order to grow strong, and swim out into the ocean.  This cycle has happened thousands of times.  Whether it is learned or inherited – eventually the consumption of eggs become instinct.  These Salmon are feeding less when they enter fresh water, but when an egg presents itself they can not resist consuming it.

All creatures have a drive to survive.   A huge part of that drive is to eat.  For Salmon entering freshwater their drive is transitioning from self-survival to survival of their species (spawning), but this does not happen immediately.  They are still driven to eat, especially when one of the best food sources available floats past their face.

What about crushing other eggs to protect their young?

If you have talked to enough fishermen you have more than likely heard this theory.  Fish “crush” the eggs to prevent them from spawning so that their own eggs have a better chance.

While this is a decent theory, I don’t buy it.   The main reason this theory is so popular is due to another misconception – that Salmon stop eating as soon as they enter fresh water.  We have caught too many fish with eggs down their throat to think that these fish are simply crushing these eggs.  They are eating them.  If you cut hatchery Steelhead and Salmon bellies open they are often full of all types of food – including Salmon eggs.  Most anglers tend to catch more fresh chrome fish because the older and more spawned out they get, the less they eat.  If you see someone haul in a spawned out salmon they are typically snagging.  Occasionally you accidentally drum one up using a spoon or spinner eliciting an aggression strike.

Wrapping it up

Using a bead to mimic an egg is almost a no-brainer.  They are the same size, shape, and color.  After understanding why fish are so keyed into eggs as a foodsource, it is obvious why beads make a good synthetic lure.

Thanks for reading.  We hope you enjoyed it.  In the next article of this series: Bead Fishing 201, we discuss how to rig up and fish with these beads.

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