At times, it seems like I carry more eggs than the Easter Bunny! This may sound pathetic to some, but with anadromous fish, you have to keep trying different patterns with different looks and floating orientations to trigger fish to bite—not necessarily feed. Many people have simply said goodbye to most of these patterns and have gone strictly to beads. Beads have their time and place but, like with other good patterns, are only one option. Why carry a large variety of egg patterns? Well, each pattern offers something unique in itself and has particular advantages, so, I carry a large variety of egg patterns for the attributes they have. Because of these characteristics, I have fished nearly every style of egg available and am constantly experimenting. Here are the attributes that are found with the different styles of egg patterns, or in other words, why beads do not replace every type of egg fly pattern outlined in part one of this two article series.
The factors when selecting egg patterns are color,translucency, floating orientation, texture, durability, imitation, size, cost, Velcro factor, and hooking versatility and nature. First, I will discuss what pegged beads give you in your fishing and examine exactly how they are superior in their niche. Beads are superior to all egg patterns except Otter’s Soft Eggs when realism is important, i.e., when you are trying to imitate the natural exactly, i.e., to match the hatch with egg patterns. You can get nearly any color, translucency, size you want, with hundreds of size/color combinations to choose from. No other pattern is more durable, and the cost of beads is miniscule compared to other patterns. In other words, pegged beads are superior in color, translucency, durability, imitation, size, and cost. The texture of beads is one of the worst among all egg patterns on account of their hardness, but the beads are quite similar to old eggs, which become quite dense and harder as they age. So, although beads aren’t particularly lifelike in texture, particularly with respect to fresh eggs, they are okay.
These are all the ways in which pegged beads are superior or at least on par, but what about the other factors floating orientation, Velcro factor, and hooking versatility and nature. The Velcro factor, i.e., the ability to get caught in the teeth of fish and thus stay in the mouth of a fish longer, is about as poor as it gets. The beads are slick and hard, and really don’t stay in the mouth long at all, although there is no hook directly by the bead. Those who have used beads understand that this isn’t really how beads need to function, i.e., be soft and lifelike in texture and high in Velcro factor. However, it is more important than others might claim to be more versatile as will be explained. The general floating orientation of beads is close to neutral buoyancy, and you might be surprised that many beads will float when you drop them in water by themselves. This is more or less perfect, but at times a heavier hook may cause the bead to sink too fast, and the streamlined nature of the bead will encourage a more direct drop to the bottom. However, beads are overall very good, just not perfect for every situation, like in some presentations with slower moving water, where the bead might sink straight to the bottom with a heavier hook.
The final factor, hooking versatility and nature, is both a positive and the biggest negative for beads. 1) Beads give you the supreme benefit of using large sized hooks with smaller beads. 2) In addition, you can get a great hookup with the hook swinging right into the mouth of the fish or hooking the fish just on the outside, and 3) some guides will claim that this hooking procedure protects the fish from taking the fly too deeply. This is the theory anyway. With this theory, the texture really doesn’t matter since the fish is hooked even if it tries to spit the fly out of its mouth.
The problem is that the theory is removed from reality. The versatility of the hook that beads gives you is in actuality the most superior to any egg presentation available, and perhaps only Otter’s Embryo Eggs can give you this benefit (in addition to tube fly patterns), so this leaves points number two and three. In order to get a good hookup with beads, you must normally have a sideways drift. Indeed, many don’t even use an indicator; they just bounce the bead along with a sweeping motion. This is very effective when you can present the fly to the fish in this way. This is a limiting feature of beads, since fish location, currents, and fishing pressure dictate how we can present our flies. Straight upstream or straight downstream are both bad for hookups with beads, since the fish will take the bead, but the hook may miss the fish altogether, and you lose some of the benefits of the rig. Casting straight upstream is sometimes very necessary with spooky fish, since the fish is facing upstream, and suspended rigs are common as well, in which the egg imitation is not even on the bottom of the river. Bringing the hook right up to the bead can help remedy some of these limitations, but then you are pretty much fishing like any other fly pattern with the negatives of a hard bead.
Finally, number three, that the bead setup is best for protecting the fish from hook damage, is in my estimation the exact opposite. Out of thousands of fish I have caught or seen caught on regular egg patterns, I have never seen a fish hooked so deeply in the mouth that it would threaten the fish’s life, although I have read of guides having clients not set the hook fast enough, so this may be a legitimate concern if you are new to nymph fishing. On the other hand, if you fish beads in a river that has fish of different sizes and which are different species, such as with grayling and large rainbows in Alaska, you will snag small grayling in the eyes, near the gills, and everywhere else imaginable near the head, since they have very small mouths. I, also, think the bead rig lends itself to snagging of fish, since the bead with split shot provides a weight with the hook on the end, similar to the notorious snagging rigs in Alaska and the Great Lakes. Take this into consideration when you make your choice on egg patterns, and incidentally even though the bead pattern isn’t perfect, I love to rig a nymph or “regular” egg pattern with a 6mm or 8mm pegged bead in areas that only allow one hook and use pegged beads in the right situations!
OTHER EGG PATTERNS
It should be clear that pegged beads are extremely versatile and effective, but not perfect, and in particular, the other nine egg pattern styles are superior (or at least provide variance) within the factors of floating orientation, Velcro factor, and hooking versatility and nature. Another point is critical; pegged beads excel in match the hatch situations, and this is why beads are so popular in Alaska. However, anadromous fish are often not feeding at all per se, so exact replication plays little or no part in fly selection on certain water systems or times of year. Since if exact imitation were the goal, beads, Otter’s Eggs, and hot glue eggs would be the only imitations we would ever use. Of these lifelike imitations, pegged beads are superior on a cross stream drift. All of these patterns are about the same on floating orientation, but the Otter’s Egg provides superior Velcro factor (with the addition of chenille or egg veil) but isn’t as durable as the others. The main takeaway is that when exact replication is desired and you are fishing across stream, pegged beads are the best choice, unless you have a huge variety of fish sizes where you might harm smaller fish. In this case and when you will be fishing in a variety of drift orientations, angles, and water depths, Otter’s Eggs with a little chenille or egg veil are my choice.
ATTRACTING QUALITIES OF EGG FLY PATTERNS
When exact imitation is not what you are going after, then other patterns are very productive as well. That’s not to say that other patterns won’t work effectively when fish are chomping on eggs, nor does this mean that beads, Otter’s Eggs, and glue gun egg patterns won’t work when fish are just attracted to the colors and shapes of these patterns. It just makes sense to use the most effective egg patterns for the right conditions. Glo Bug (this includes pierced krystal glo balls etc.), chenille, veiled/bubbled, dubbed, and sucker spawn style are all great when fishing with a variety of drift orientations or when you want to give the fly a different look and sink rate. From these, chenille, veiled/bubbled, and sucker spawn are probably the most unique and thus provide enough difference in profile, drift orientation, sink rate, and overall qualities to warrant their use. The most important thing to remember is that the pattern will change depending on the qualities of the materials that you use in your tying, if you tie your own, and the same goes for commercially tied patterns and their tyers.
Chenille provides a wonderful look in the water, and I use chenille particularly for simple chenille eggs as well as sucker spawn style. They are often more effective even over patterns that are more lifelike than these. Egg veiled patterns are also probably the best when you want great Velcro effect or if you want to lessen the colors of the underfly. Finally, egg yarn sinks slowly and has brilliant colors, so I use this more in stained water and in the mornings and evenings. It can be effective anytime, though, and I always experiment. I use sucker spawn patterns most of the time with this material. Egg yarn can also be mixed with many colors to produce interesting patterns tied Glo Bug style, like the Clown Egg, as do many tyers in Michigan. Glo Bugs are also more durable than Otter’s Eggs patterns, so here is another advantage.
Use this information to experiment on your own streams and rivers, but try to approach your egg fishing situation in a more strategic way. Let the conditions drive your presentation. Are the fish seeing lots of eggs drift by, are there dropbacks in the system, how’s the water clarity, what’s the fishing pressure like, what’s the water temp and how far will a fish move to get a pattern, where are the fish positioned relative to your presentation, is it cloudy, have you experimented with fly size etc.? Think about what centerpin fisherman throw and how effective they’ve been. They will throw patterns that are the size of a quarter and even larger, so experiment with the size of your eggs. You may have to go micro at times. When this happens and you are after bigger fish Steelhead etc., think about using beads since you have the added bonus of using a larger hook. If you can only use one fly, think about adding a bead to your line about two inches away from your other fly. Make your decisions based off of the conditions and your fly qualities. Beads are fantastic for catching fish, but they don’t replace other egg patterns; they augment them. So, the Easter bunny still has a job after all!