Bead Fishing for Salmon: Better Than Roe?

Last Updated: April 3, 2022

We’ve been using salmon roe as bait for years, but recently our salmon fishing friends have been talking a lot about bead fishing. The last time I was at my salmon fishing guru’s place, he had a tackle box full of different shaded orange beads. At first, I thought he’s taken up a new hobby in crafting!

But fishing for salmon with beads is a proven technique that gets results. It also allows you to avoid the egg curing process and save money by reusing your beads. But is it a better technique than using actual salmon roe? We’re here to find out.

In this article, we’ll detail how to make a salmon bead rig, how to fish it, and whether we think it’s better than real salmon roe. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to start bead fishing for salmon!

What is Bead Fishing?

Bead fishing is a technique that uses a plastic bead meant to imitate a fish egg. Salmon, steelhead (especially when nymphing for steelhead), and trout all eat other fishes egg as food, as well as out of aggression during their spawning seasons. 

The typical bead fishing rig is an appropriate sized hook for the size of fish you’re going for, a monofilament leader, and a combination of weight and floater that allows the bead to look natural in the water.

The color and size of beads you can use vary depending on the time of year you’re fishing and the species of fish you’re fishing for.

Author Note: Common sizes for beads include 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, and 14mm. Typical colors range from a light pink to a dark red or orange. We’ll go into more detail later on in the article on what size and colors combos make sense depending on the type of fish and time of year you’re fishing.

Bead fishing works well for steelhead, salmon, Arctic Grayling, and Dolly Varden.

Tackle Needed for Bead Fishing

Before we get into how to make a salmon bead rig, we thought it made sense to quickly review the best tackle for bead fishing.

While the technique is similar to nymphing with a fly rod, we prefer to fish salmon beads with a medium spinning setup. You should use a medium-sized spinning rod paired with a medium-sized spinning real

What is medium-sized? Make sure your rod can handle fish up to 20 lbs and your reel is built for 10 to 20 lb test line. Most species of trout, steelhead, and salmon will fall into this range. If you’re worried about hooking into a large king salmon, size up to a larger setup.

What Color and Size Bead Is Best?

First, you’ll need to decide on the color and size of the bead you’re going to use. Fish eggs become lighter in color the longer they’ve been underwater water, so depending on the time of year different colors will work better. Your best bet is to try and find some actual eggs close to where you’re fishing and match their color. But that’s not always easy, so here are some general guidelines.

If you’re fishing close to spawning season, start with beads that are darker and closely resemble young fish eggs. These are called live or fresh egg colors and are orange clear, dark roe, tangerine, and natural roe. 

If you’re fishing later in the season when the eggs have been living outside the fishes body for some time, try using lighter colored eggs. These are called fresh dead colors and are sun orange, caramel roe, and fluorescent orange. 

Many anglers will choose to run two beads on a single rig, and will have one featuring a natural roe color, and the other featuring a bright chartreuse bead or something bright and gaudy that will stand out to the fish. This allows you to find out which color the fish prefer on any given day.

Author Note: Lastly, if you’re fishing many months since spawn, you should use very light colored beads. These are called cotton candy, dirty roe, apricot, and dark peach. Light colored beads also work great for northern species of fish, like Arctic Grayling and Arctic Char.

When deciding on the size of bead to use, pay attention to actual egg sizes but also how fast the current is of the water you’re fishing. The faster the current the larger the egg you should use. This is because in a faster current it’s more difficult for salmon (and steelhead/trout) to see your bead rig. A larger egg will help get their attention faster.

How to Rig a Salmon Bead

Now that you’ve chosen the color and size of the bead you’re going to use, it’s time to make the bead rig. Here are the supplies that you’ll need.

Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear Roe Bead Peg

Building the Bead Rig

Once you get the above pieces, follow the below steps to make your salmon bead rig. We recommend doing this ahead of time and making several rigs that you can change in and out when you go fishing. You can also watch the below video that outlines how to make the rig.

  1. Tie your hook onto the 2-foot piece of 12 lb test fluorocarbon leader, then slide your bead onto the line.
  2. Next, slide the bead within 2 inches of the hook and insert the peg to hold it into place. Twist the bead to help lock it into place on the peg.
  3. Then nip the peg as close to the hook as possible. Be careful not to fray the leader or chip the bead!
  4. Attach your split-shot weight a foot up the line past your bead.
  5. Then attach your float around 4 feet up the line.
  6. You’re ready to fish your salmon bead rig!

A few more notes on which beads and hooks to use.

  • Some waters/regions have hook size restrictions that make larger hooks illegal. Be sure to check your local fisheries rules and regulations.
  • Using smaller and barbless hook will do less damage to the fish. 
  • If you’re missing fish that are biting your bead rig, try setting the hook downstream before sizing up to a larger hook.

How to Fish Beads for Salmon

As we mentioned earlier, bead fishing for salmon is very similar to the nymphing fly fishing technique. Cast the bead 45 degrees upstream from the salmon you are targeting then let the rig dead drift past the fish.

The salmon will target eggs that have dislodged from upstream and are drifting downstream. This technique works well for king salmon, Coho salmon, pink salmon, and more!

Author Note: Depending on the time of year, there may be lots of eggs floating through the river allowing the salmon to be picky about which ones they’ll go after. As the salmon swim upstream during their migration, they’ll strike at eggs floating past them.

This means that if your current bead rig isn’t working, try switching out the size and color until you get something they like. If you’re sight fishing a group of salmon, take your time and figure out the mix they’re looking.

The depth of the bead when fishing is important, but there is some wiggle room when fishing for salmon. As a rule of thumb, you will want to have the bead as close to the bottom as possible, and even contacting the bottom is good, this means you will have to keep a close watch on how deep your bead is in relationship to the surface, and you may need to adjust depending on current and depth.

Fishing Beads for Trout and Steelhead

The same style of casting that works for salmon work well for both steelhead and trout.

Depending on when you’re fishing for them, trout will also bite glow colored beads. Glow colored beads are meant for more aggressive feeding fish – such as trout or steelhead once salmon have spawned en masse. The glow beads are great at attracting trout in the early or late season, with the larger sizes working wonders for steelhead.

This means that if your current bead rig isn’t working, try switching out the size and color until you get something they like. If you’re sight fishing a group of salmon, take your time and figure out the mix they’re looking for.

Depth is also a critical factor when running beads, and you have to be sure you have the correct amount of weight, otherwise your bead will be to high in the water, and swept along with with the current.

Getting your bead close to the bottom means that you may have to adjust your weight on different stretches of the river, or in areas with heavier or slower current, and is something you have to keep a close eye on throughout the day.

In most scenarios, you will want the bead to be close to the bottom, or making regular contact with the bottom to catch steelhead and trout.

Final Thoughts

Fishing for salmon with beads is a great choice if you want to save some money reusing your lures or not deal with the hassle of curing your own roe. It’s also our favorite technique when river fishing from a jet boat.

Does it work better than salmon roe? Not necessarily, but it can be much easier to set up. Hopefully, after reading this article you’ll be ready to try bead fishing for salmon the next time the opportunity presents itself. If you would rather learn how to spin cast for steelhead, check out our best steelhead spinning lures article.

As always, let us know if you have a different bead fishing setup that works well in the comments below. And if you do catch a fish, check out our guide on how to clean salmon.


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