Bead or not to bead

Slinging beads is very untenkara, but sometimes it is what is necessary to get the job done.
There are two notes that I want to discuss in this thread.

  1. Sometimes tenkara methods just do not work or we may not have the skill to make them work.
  2. Sometimes certain fly patterns work and sometimes they do not. Stimulant patterns vs naturalistic.

Like say. Its winter. You want to catch fish and you just drove an hour and a half to a wild trout stream…and the fish are not responding to unweighed flies. so the tenkara goes out the window…and weighed nymphing takes preference…and sometimes digging deeper unaturalistic patterns are worth a try.

Before folks protest to my untenkara comment. Please consider the attributes of the bead. There are a number of things beadhead flies are just not good at. There is nothing finesse about it or its presentation compared with a lightly weighed or unweighed fly. It is not as bouyant, nor does it act like an insect as naturally in current. It will not suspend. In all forms of fishing. I feel that suspending artificials are often key to converting fish that are not actively feeding.

I will say out of all the forms of flies I fish, the bead is the one I like the least. This is not a tenkara purist thing. They are just a pain in the ass. It finds bottom so easily and when pulled free wants to wrap around tree branches like a grappling hook. The also cast like crap on a rod light enough to cast unweighed flies. Not to mention half my tenkara tricks just do not work as gracefully with a bead. Half the time I cannot cast them with accuracy.

Fishing high water and deep winter pools, the fish are just laying low in this cold weather. Sometimes I get lucky and there may be a hatch or for some reason the fish really respond to unweighted or lightly weighed kebari. Yesterday I fished a spot they didnt seem interested at all in them…or so it seemed.

Part of it, is the distance/energy the fish will expend in winter. Often our drifts are too short to get the fly down. Water is too deep, or top current is to heavy and even an eddy cannot draw our offering deep enough fast enough. The more line you have in the water the more drag…probably pulling the fly unnaturally away from the strike zone. Sometimes you just need weight to get it in there…thus the bead.

My first pool was beautiful. Crystal clear.

I must have sent a dozen or two drifts through. Nada. I had worked the pool so hard that I am sure fish must have been aware of my presence. This is a wild brook trout stream. Eventually I gave in an put on a bead. A bead of a pattern I have been working my way out of my flybox.

this is it…

followed by this one.

The pool came to life. A half dozen fish not only took the flies, but they also move a fair amount of distance to strike them. This gave me alot to reflect on. A seemingly void pool, suddenly a live. I was not able to land a single fish. The takes were light. I had a couple of short rides, but all the fish came off. I also tried to put an unweighed kebari on and they just did not want it. Presentation depth and speed were factors. I suspect speed may have been largely the difference, as the material patterns were identical.

I have been trying to move away from beads. Also that killer worm pattern, mostly because it seems like cheating. What is interesting. I was not able to land or hook a single fish on the worm but nearly all the fish I landed over the day were on the gold threaded bead. I tried other beads and they just did not want them including a soft hackled prince nymph.

Sometimes the fish want flash to get them motivated. There must be something in those artificial colors that get them going. Sort of like a hot spot, but more extreme.

I guess the beadheaded and wormbodied flies are here to stay in my flybox, without them. I probably would have struck out in this outing. My motivations are not fish counts or size. For me its all about seeing these river dwellers up close. I will post up some pics soon. The colors are just mind blowing.

I can understand the argument on both sides for using and not using beadheads. For me, I will reserve them for those days when nothing else seem to work.

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Adam, mostly for the reasons i noted in the post.

In summary the weight reduces the effectiveness of most tenkara techniques. Mostly when i use them dead drift is the most effective. Consider how attributes factor into technique. Flies are tools just as a rod is a tool. Some folk have strict defnition of what makes a good tenkara rod…just as some have strict definition of what is a tenkara fly. Like…one could say you could fish a streamer fly or rubber worm using a tenkara rod…but most folk may not consider it tenkara…or them tenkara flies.

Perhaps less tenkara is a better description.

This season i tried to fish fewer beads and noticed an up tick in both my skill and my productivity. Tenkara in my interpretation is all about using specific tools in specific water for a specific target. This is not a global rule…more of a personal one…like how gressak fishes…tenkara.

I also believe there is something to be gained in this discipline. I also realize the limitations of my skill level.

Could you use heavier hooks (thicker wire gauge) to solve the bead head issue? I use to tie off my fly heads with black thread for Dry or Subsurface flies (thin light hooks) and red thread for flies that needed to sink such as Nymphs or Wet Flies (thick heavy hooks). I used this method for a number of years for fly fishing. Maybe this would help you??

I do weigh with wire…which allows me to ballance the flie better than a bead but at a certain point the fly just becomes too heavy and begins to behave in ways i dont like…in casting and manipulation.

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The Japanese tenkara anglers and the literature from that community describe a much broader scope of practice than what is discussed in the English language about Japanese tenkara. In addition, tenkara in Japan is evolving. There has been mixing of the West in Japan but by and large, the description of tenkara is not a moving target.

In my view, the use of beads are not part of the description of modern tenkara nor do they rule out a person using them as a tenkara angler.

In modern tenkara, I’m confident I can find sources in Japan that use beads. That doesn’t really prove anything,

Beads are often the difference of fishing and catching. So when I need them, I use them.

Beads aren’t important to the description, they are only important to the catching.


In windy conditions those beads will help anchor the line in the water also.

Beadheads have their utility. I do not dispute it. I guess that is part of my motivation for this thread.

There are times when if you want to catch fish they are the only thing that seem to work.

For wind i use stiff hackles too. I have used them a lot this season and find them as a preference.

Part of my tenkara journey this year was to not use beadheads or worm patterns. I feel like it has improved my skill and understanding of many techniques. I am sure my fish counts suffered but the good thing is that in most outings i found how to present to convert some fish.

That is until the other day…when the winter seemingly had the fish pinned. I was really astonished by how the beadsheads i presented brought a pool to life. Still trying to fully understand all the reasons. I guess I should feel sort of bad getting those critters all active in that cold mountain water…active for calories that just didnt exist…hahaha. They were pretty hunkered down.

I fish a lot of beadheads — they’re really common here. As far as I can tell, Czech nymphing isn’t done with dries, LOL.

However, I’ve found that I do miss a lot of takes with weighted nymphs, especially when I’m using nymphs with the heavier tungsten beads. Several times this year I only realized I had a fish on when I started to make another cast. (Less so with my better, more sensitive rod, understandably. What a difference a good rod makes.) I’m planning to use them less in 2019, and to tie more of them with lighter beads.

But they’ll still be in my box, and in the right situation, I’ll still reach for them. It’s all part of the 10 colors for me.

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Jig head hook, smallest slotted tungsten bead I can get on it, fished not on a dead drift, but slightly pulled downstream with a tiny bit of manipulation…
Sometimes, just sometimes, this is the very best way to fish those fast deep small pockets that hold good fish everyone else just walk by. :shushing_face:

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Dude. Keep that to yourself.


That’s the technique. Works everywhere.

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I don’t think about it more or less. It’s just one technique that fits in my small fly box.

I keep my beads in tiny glass vials. The small ones I just tie over where I want them, the largest I tie off and start again on the other side.

We talk about this every year.

That’s a good thing.

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That is interesting. I use Jun kebari for the fish in the water.

Why stiff hackes for the wind?

I do not choose a fly for that, I read that you do.

Maybe just a sentence or two?

The rigid hackle anchors in the water. Even without weight it holds better than a bead.

It will not cast better in wind but it will resist the pull of wind on your line, and the water grabs it and will drive it deep really fast. Its magic.

Lately i almost always fish stiff hackle. It is so much better than soft hackle…especially for a novice like me. Someone wrote how stiff hackle sends out a stronger vibration when manipulated. It might have been the discover tenkara material.

Anyway. I am always overly verbose.

Today i picked off 10 browns in a wild stream. None on a bead…order is restored. It was warm enough here in CT…that a few buggies were in the air.

Dr. Ishigaki fishes bead head flies in the winter and on low gradient streams. You can tell him that’s not tenkara, but I certainly won’t.


Yeah I think its even on a DT video…but i think I recall him noting it was not a traditional tenkara fly.

I think its safe to say my tenkara resume is shallow but at the same time i am learning.

For those who are bead devotees. I would recommend forgetting about what is and what is not tenkara and to just try fishing lighter flies. The experience and versatility is remarkable. It wasnt until i put a bead back on that i realized the incredible difference in my fishing experience.

Also…if you dig the beads. I get that too. As you can see I have them in my flybox…and i am not ashamed to fish them or even worm patterns. All i am noting is that they are not the first choice for me.

No kidding.

I’m sad you have to even say this.

I like what you do Chris, you have helped shorten the curve but you also helped open the market for other Japanese forms.

There is so much more but not my priority.

Ok. My apologies. Let us strike the word tenkara from this thread and just speak of technique.

There is something about a lighter fly that i enjoy. How it casts.
How it drifts, suspends, and slowly sinks.
How the water can carry it through a guantlet of snags.
How it can access the whole water column with relative ease.

I am not skilled enough to do the same with a bead.

The bead fly does have a couple things that they are great at. They present quickly to fish holding bottom. They also slow presentation speed. Both can be critical in catching fish.

As much as i like catching fish…I dislike the negatives of beads. The snags…the sloppy casting…the reduced versatility.

The point of this thread was more about my surprise on how extreme their effectiveness was compared to a regular kebari…in my winter setting
After honing my skill over the past year. I would never have guessed the contrast i experienced.

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The fish answers the pleasure of making ”kEBARI"
・・・It is a very old pattern, but still valid

Various kinds of glass beads
dscf6034 dscf6035 dscf6036 dscf6066


@todoroki34 thanks for sharing those. I forgot about glass and also variation of placement.

After speaking with a friend on the topic. He also noted that beads may be more relavant that i thought with tenkara anglers in japan. We also discussed how rod selection comes into play. He noted the combo of bead and stiff hackle, which is also not something i have experimented with. I suspect the combo may both cast and drift better.

Things to try and experiment with in 2019.

When i fished yesterday i reflected on this thread.
It was a different river but the depth amd flow rate was the same. Part of what i really enjoy about this style of fishing is the meditative aspects of playing the water before us. The fish use the water to feed…for us is the challenge of finding the window to drop the fly so that the water brings it to them.

With a beadhead i feel that i have to manage or babysit the presentation. Preventing hang ups…checking tension. Where…with a regular kebari i allow the river present it for me. My only effort is to decide where to land the fly. You could say its more zen.

It could be that my beadheads are just too heavy.
@Evan3000 notes how often he finds a fish on the bead. I agree with this and the tendency to drop fish on beads like my most recent experience. With a lighter bead …it may reduce the behavior i find undesireable. I may also try heavier hooks and heavier wire wraps to see if i can ballance the weight in different ways. I have been using alot of copper lately and prefer it over head weighing.