June 3, 2014

Beadheads: not just for deep water

I know that I've been talking about the high water we are experiencing in most of our streams, but here I want to discuss the use of beadhead nymphs in small streams and shallow water.

I fished a stream yesterday that has had its run off come and go. Now its flows have settled down and stabilized into a more usual summer pattern. The sun was full in a cloudless sky and there was a breeze out of the south. With shallow, clear water and a full sun sky it would seem that dull or darker flies or even dries would be in order. But yet I am going to propose something counter intuitive.

Not your usual beadhead water!

Fish on! Taken in shallow water under a sunny sky.

When I first arrived at the stream I tied on a #12 unweighted kebari.  Now days I usually opt to a subsurface approach rather than fishing dry flies. The summer weed had started to grow on the stream bottom and I wanted to try to avoid snagging up in it too often, that's why I chose an unweighted fly.  I presented the fly a number of times to some likely lies but I only got one hook up. That was not going to do. After a moments consideration I changed to a beadhead attractor nymph.

You may ask, "why a beadhead, if the water was shallow and the sun was bright"? I know what you are thinking. The flash of this bright fly should put down the fish rather than entice them. Right?! But entice them it did. After changing over, I took fish after fish; some from very shallow water where you'd think a beadhead has no business being there.

When fishing beadhead flies in shallow water you must have perfect control over the fly. Tenkara allows this level of control. Unlike methods using an indicator, tenkara allows real time adjustment of the depth of the fly. This allows you to match the topography of the stream bottom in a way that indicator fishing just can't match. The run gets shallow, raise the rod tip. The run gets a little deeper, lower the rod tip slightly. Perfect control, that's the beauty of tenkara.

I took fish from bend pools and eddies, from runs merely a foot deep and from riffles shallower than that. I think the beadhead caught these fish's attention better in this situation than my kebari could.

So if the water is not too shallow so that you have to go with a dry fly but the fish are not taking your kebari, consider a beadhead. I know it's not the typical beadhead water but that's OK.  Break the rules. You will not be punished, rather you may be rewarded as I was with more fish than usual.

Here is a video of a few of the trout.


  1. Break the rules sometimes works well .....Very good post, thanks for sharing

  2. Tom,
    I've been having fun with Chris Stewart's Killer Bugger Challenge. I think a size 12 beadhead Killer Bugger will catch just about anything. I've been able to compare same fly bead head,to no beadhead and the beadhead usually wins. Extra flash, the way in moves? I have no idea. I do like a weighted fly with a fixed line. Fish the water top to bottom with total control, I'm spoiled.