what color for bead fishing

Bead Fishing 301: What Bead Color and Size?

bull trout with pink color bead

There are thousands of different bead color and size combinations on the market.  As bead fishing catches on there is a new bead company every year.  As a result choosing the correct bead color for Steelhead or trout fishing can be overwhelming.  In this article we will break down what beads to use when.

Match the Eggs.

If you’ve read our other two articles:  Bead Fishing 101, and Bead Fishing 201, you know that the fundamental goal of bead fishing is to mimic individual Salmon eggs floating downstream.  To do this you must match the eggs available in your system.

The first piece of matching bead color to eggs will be understanding what species of Salmon is spawning.  There are slight differences in each species’ eggs.

pink eggs for bead color comparison

Pink eggs are the most cloudy directly out of the salmon. 6-10mm beads.

chum eggs to determine what color bead fishing

Chum eggs have a darker color, even purpleish in some light. 6-10mm beads.

king chinook eggs to determine bead which color bead

King Salmon eggs are generally the most clear and biggest. Use 8-14mm beads.

sockeye eggs to determine which color bead

Sockeye eggs are similar in appearance to King’s but smaller. Use 6-10mm beads.

coho eggs to determine which color bead

Coho eggs are more red than the other species. 8-12mm beads.

This is the foundation for selecting the right bead.  The next section is far more important.

 Match the cycle

When eggs are deposited into a river they go through a specific cycle.  Therefore the best way to match the eggs available  is by understanding that cycle.  The speed this happens varies largely due to Salmon species, water temperature, and water clarity.

1. Live or Fresh eggs.

live eggs - What color beads fishing

This is stage one.  The Salmon have just arrived, and are beginning to spawn.  These fresh eggs are typically translucent and orange.

Some good bead colors to use:  Tangerine, Orange Clear, Natural Roe, Ruby Roe, Dark roe, or Carmel Roe.

Our Favorite bead color is Orange Clear.

The key to this period of time is your bead being translucent.  However don’t get hung up here, it is over quickly.  Soon most of the eggs will begin to turn to the next stage.

2. Fresh-Dead or Fresh-Fertilized

fresh dead eggs for bead color comparison

In this stage the eggs take two different paths: Fresh-Dead, or Fresh-Fertilized.    The difference is germination.  The eggs which receive milt from a male are fertilized.  Due to this these eggs appear slightly cloudy.  The ones which are not germinated become very cloudy.

Some good bead colors to use are: Glow Roe, Carmel Roe, Fluorescent Orange, Peachy King, or bright mottled beads.

Our favorites bead colors are Glow Roe and Peachy King.

This transition does not happen overnight.  Some eggs are deposited weeks or even months before others.  If you are fishing closer to the salmons initial arrival use less cloudy and more translucent beads.  If you are a month or two away from their initial arrival use more cloudy/white beads.

3. Dead or Eyed Eggs

dead eggs for bead color comparison

This is the final stage of the egg bite.  The germinated eggs will  be very white and have obvious eyes inside of them.  The non germinated eggs will turn fully white and then a shade of yellow or apricot.

Some good bead colors to use are: Cotton Candy, White, Mottled beads, Snow Roe, Mauve, Cream, Apricot and Blood Dot.

Our favorites bead colors are Mauve, Apricot, and Mottled Peachy King Blood dot.

Again this does not happen overnight.  Transition slowly and use beads which make that transition possible –  Mottled Glow Roe and Mottled Peachy king.  As you approach the end of the egg bite you will be using beads like Cotton Candy or White.

Other Factors

There are many factors to selecting the right bead color.  For example if you are fishing a pocket you may want to thread on a brighter presentation.  The fish do not have long to see your bead.  You want it to be noticeable.  On the contrary if you are fishing a long run try a darker bead first.  The fish in this run may spend more time following the bead (they will feel more comfortable).  You will want the bead to be as natural as possible, and to not gain any extra attention.   This can be very effective in drumming up and hooking into the bigger, smarter fish.

Water Color

The color of the water is always a factor with fishing lures.  There is no difference with beads.  Here are some general guidelines for water color.

  • In clear water, use a lighter color bead.  Our favorites: Glow Roe, Mauve, Apricot.
  • In tannic water, try a darker bead color.  Sun Orange, Ruby Roe, Dark Peach.
  • In green water, match the eggs using the techniques above.
  • On an overcast day, try a UV bead.
  • On a sunny day use a lighter bead.
  • If the river bottom is dark, try a darker bead.
  • If the river bottom is light, try a lighter bead.


Last but not least is pressure.  So many steelhead runs get pounded with beads.  In the middle of a season it is a good idea to start mixing your presentation, so you are offering the fish something they have not seen before.  We like to toss on a floro-orange bead mid season pegged above a Pats Rubber Legs.

Wrapping it up

As we said there are thousands of combinations of beads out there.  Don’t overthink it.  Match the eggs available in your system.  On some days you may have to work harder and think more about what you are threading on – that’s just fishing.  Most often you will know what period of the egg cycle you are in, and what you are trying to mimic.

The nice part of using a dual bead rig as outlined in Bead Fishing 201 is that you have two different presentations.  As the beads transition out of fresh and into fresh dead you can offer up a bead color which matches each step.  Only use the same bead color on your top and bottom line if it is obviously outperforming the others.   With hundreds of days of bead fishing behind us we have only done this a handful of times.  Be creative, and always adapt your presentations.  You should be able to figure out certain beads which work well for you, and others which you enjoy experimenting with.


1 Comment
  • Eric

    December 18, 2018 at 5:30 pm Reply

    When selecting color of bead based on the three phases, What’s your go to size beads based on conditions for them?

Post a Comment