Text: Alan Bulmer & Tony Bishop
The first time that I ever saw glass beads being used in fly construction was in the mid 1990’s. A group of us had fished with the groom on the morning of his wedding and it would be fair to say that our efforts on a heavily pressured fishery were nothing to highlight in neon. The groom did manage to land a fish but it was a close run thing. However, one of the group had done significantly better than the rest and, as you would expect, those of us less fortunate nagged him to show us the flies he was using and explain how he’d fished them. He was only to pleased to oblige and produced a couple of damp glass bead bodied nymphs from his fly box. Each fly had three or four beads and the beads themselves were a pale amber. Light brown Antron fibres had been dubbed into the spaces between the beads. Some of the Antron had been picked out with a dubbing brush to soften the profile and add some movement. They looked stunning. The general impression was similar to the flies shown in the photographs directly below.
The rest of us had been fishing either dry flies or heavily weighted nymphs in the longer, deeper glides whereas the successful angler had been targeting the shallower riffles at the head of the runs with his glass bead based creations. The flies themselves looked stunning, especially when the sunlight bounced off the glass and trailing fibres. The translucency that the beads added to the body of the flies somehow made them look more natural. Needless to say I bartered hard to get a couple for my fly box but the trade was heavily balanced in favour of the owner of the glass bead nymphs. My fly boxes were decimated after the exchange but at least I avoided donating blood and gifting away naming rights on my first born.
It was several months before I got to try the flies in NZ. Back in the day we used to fish a lot in the Waiotaka River where it flows through the Hautu prison farm near Turangi. The Waiotaka is comparatively narrow water course, a seemingly endless sequence of beautiful riffles and pools which can be stunningly productive when the fish are running. It is ideally suited for lightly weighted nymphs, either used on their own in the shallow water or tied to a weighted “bomb” to scour the bottom in the deeper pools.
If you want to read more about fishing in the Waiotaka click on:- https://activeanglingnz.com/2014/06/03/doing-time-hautu-prison-farm-angling-memories-part-1/ and https://activeanglingnz.com/2014/08/20/doing-time-part-2/
The particular day that the glass bead nymphs got their first airing had been uncharacteristically difficult. The bright sunny conditions had skewed the playing field firmly in favour of the trout. I’d almost reached the point where I was stalking the waterway on my stomach. On my way downstream on the true left back I spotted a lovely pool well before the fish saw me. It was perfect. A pool formed where the river dog legged to the right, preceded by a long gurgling riffle which dropped over a deep lip into a gently swirling eddy. You just knew the trout would be lined up like sardines, eagerly nudging the edge of the lip, slurping everything swept towards them. I attached the glass bead nymph as a dropper behind a weighted pheasant tail and manoeuvred into position to cast. The nymphs pitched into the riffle well upstream of the lip and trotted steadily downstream. I could easily follow their progress and the anticipation was electric. Almost as electric as the strike when the nymphs passed over the lip. The fish rolled and headed off downstream with glittering glass shining from its maw. Epic. I landed that fish but lost the next and the glass bead nymph when it found a sunken root. I don’t know what happened to the second glass bead nymph that I’d been gifted but it wasn’t there when I went to tie it on. I can still feel the pain.
Somehow I never got around to tying more and I largely ignored glass bead nymphs for years. I tied flies using glass beads, wee wets and worms (see below) but not nymphs using multiple beads.
It wasn’t until I read an article by Tony Bishop recently that I decided to revisit the realm of silica and tie some glass bead nymphs. http://www.bishfish.co.nz/articles/fresh/beadflyupdate.htm
Some of the things Tony Bishop said really resonated with me. In particular:-
“A bead fly is almost trivially easy to tie – well, ‘tie’ is the wrong word, assemble is better. Thread some glass beads onto the hook, put a drop or two of Super-Glue on the bead nearest the barb, and whip-finish in some insurance – that is it!
In the original article I went on about placing a tube of Second Skin (a web like material used to cover wounds) over the fly to mimic the original Bead fly I saw slaying fish, but it was damn fiddly to tie in, a damn sight harder to get a hold of the Second Skin in New Zealand, and one fish would tear it to pieces. I tried all sorts of things to replace the Second Skin – nylons, all sorts of webbing, but I quickly retired it to the too-hard basket. The reason I stopped trying with webbing was I noticed there seemed to be no difference in hook-ups with a bead fly without the covering of webbing.
So pictured above are a few of my recent models, in all their naked glory. You may notice that I use red hooks on some of the flies, these are actually Gamakatsu saltwater hooks, but with some bead colours they give an attractive inner glow – well to me at least – first catch your fisherman! When I can get them way down here in New Zealand, gold hooks give the beads a real inner-glow kick as well, and gold would be my first hook-colour choice. Bronze and black hooks work well to, so don’t get too fussy”.
Tony Bishop goes on to mention how to tie a veil over the beads with Glo-bug yarn and then he mention the use of Antron which is when the memories started to flow back for me. Interestingly, he states that “I find absolutely no difference in hook-up whether the fly is naked or dressed’ which is interesting.
Technology has moved ahead since my first encounter with glass bead nymphs and some of the latest innovations could overcome the issues that Tony Bishop experienced trying to tie a veil over beads. In particular, I’m picking that using UV epoxy to coat and stick glass beads together could potentially replace the troublesome Second Skin mentioned above.
Beads are cheap and more readily available from craft shops, especially those focussing on providing items for scrapbooking and jewellery manufacture. Bishop suggests that there are only two ‘specialist’ items you may need when using beads: –
“First get some tweezers and put a light wipe of fly-tying wax on the prongs – helps hold on to the slippery little blighters. Or you can pick up from a bead or craft shop a little stick with sticky thingy on the end – it makes picking up little beads a breeze, and you can put the point of the hook into the bead while it is on the stick; saves heaps of time.
And if you are an aging old fart like me, use a magnifying glass on a stand, or get a pair of magnifying clip-on’s for your glasses. Or you can go the whole hog as I did recently and purchased a circular magnifier on a mobile arm, just like they use on CSI – simply brilliant, and surprisingly inexpensive. Has made fly tying so much easier and accurate”.
One of the reasons that glass beads can be so effective in riffly water or in relatively shallow slow moving glides is that they sink much more slowly than brass, lead or tungsten bead head nymphs. You can see from the table below just how much slower a single glass bead will sink versus beads made from other materials. For example, a single tungsten bead will sink 7.5 times faster than a single glass bead. Adding more glass beads will make the fly sink faster but remember that the effect is not merely a multiple of the number of beads added.
Glass beads give flies a unique translucency that other materials struggle to match, as you can see from the featured image. Wrapping the hook shank with the thread used for “hot spotting” before threading on the beads also seems to provide a inner glow which adds to the allure, both to the angler and trout.
It is well worth tying some flies with glass beads and adding them to your arsenal. They could be the difference between success and failure when things are not going to plan.