Wednesday, March 7, 2018

To Bead or Not to Bead

There is little doubt that the bead head nymph is a staple in everyone's fly box. And for good reason. As we all know, it is extremely important to get the nymph down to the bottom of the stream quickly in order to achieve as realistic a presentation as possible. But....have you ever really thought about what this may look like to a trout laying in 7 feet of water?
The point I'm trying to make here is this: In my opinion there are 2 main flaws with this presentation. The flash created by the big, shiny bead and the inability to truly know the depth that your fly is at throughout the drift. Let me explain.
I think most people would agree that there is very little light penetration in the deeper runs of a river. Even during the times of full sun, very little penetrates to the depths where most trout feel comfortable spending their day casually feeding. The shine and glitter from a big gold colored bead would certainly look out of place as opposed to a natural insect which would be much darker in comparison. I don't use bead heads much anyway, but when I do, I use the dark colored beads to better blend in with the trouts' environment. Not saying that my way is better, just food for thought and something to consider when nymphing at deeper depths or during dark, overcast days.
The few times that I do prefer to use bright, or even glass beads, is when I find myself letting the flies swing in order to imitate an emerging insect. This can be a truly deadly technique in the larger tailwaters where the insect activity can be phenomenal during the bright, bluebird skies. The added shine is more realistic due to the light penetration that does occur at these shallow depths, and also the added bonus of imitating the gaseous bubble exhibited by some nymphs to assist them in ascending to the surface. This is one of the few times when some flash on the head of a nymph actually does make sense.
The second problem, in my opinion, is that you don't have good control of your flies depth throughout the drift. A heavy bead head fly will be more likely to ride along the very bottom of the stream. The problem is that trout feed from their head up, in about 6 inch increments. Rarely will they feed below their holding depth, and they certainly don't lie with their bellies rubbing the bottom. So how do we weight the fly in order to get it down in the water column without it sinking to the very bottom of the stream you ask? There are really only 2 ways left. You either add split shot above your fly or you add it below your fly (drop shot technique).
Adding the split shot above your fly gives you the benefit of your fly suspending off the bottom, but you really have no control over what level it drifts through at. That may become a problem when fishing for extremely finicky fish. That is one reason that I prefer using a drop shot technique over the previously mentioned methods of dredging a nymph.
In the drop shot system, the split shot is at the very end of your leader. You can use as much weight as needed to ensure that you get your presentation down as quickly as possible without it appearing unnatural to the fish. The first nymph is positioned about 6 inches above your weight and then a dropper loop is tied in a few inches above that for a double nymph presentation. In this technique it doesn't interfere with the natural looking drift of the flies and it keeps them fishing at whatever depth you decide you want them at. The bottom fly should be the darker of the two since it will be closer to the bottom. The dropper fly can be a shiny bead head or even a soft hackle, which can be swung to imitate its' emergence.
The drop shot system is my favorite technique to use when fishing nymphs or soft hackle flies. I believe it to be the most realistic presentation possible when fishing these types of flies. It is also very versatile and can be used with any nymph, soft hackle or emerger pattern with or without the use of a strike indicator. Give it a try and see what you think.   

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