Monday, August 30, 2010

Brass and Tungsten Bead Head Nymphs

I recently read this article on one of my alerts, and thought it was interesting. I am using the Tungsten bead head now a lot because of its sink rate. This article really drives home the importance of using Tungsten.
Talk to any fly angler and they will tell you the most consistent technique for catching trout is by nymphing. This technique is successful because trout take the majority of their food from deep in the water column where nymphs are most abundant. To be a successful nymph angler you need to get your nymph down to the stream bottom and that is where bead headed flies come into The most common type of bead used on nymphs is a brass bead. Tungsten beads are becoming more and more popular these days and have a few advantages over brass in some situations. Glass beads are also used but more as a component rather than as a weight source. I'm pretty much of a traditionalist when it comes to nymph patterns and usually stick with the Prince, Pheasant Tail and Hare's Ear.
 Tungsten is about 40% heavier than brass so equivalent sized patterns will have the scales tipping on the side of tungsten. This becomes very important when you are fishing in fast water, deep water or you want the nymph to really stay tight to the stream bottom. The key here is being able to control the fly better. Let's say you have identified a nice fish holding in a trough in about four feet of water and the current is fairly brisk. You have a #12 brass bead head Prince tied on and you figure that you will need to cast about twenty feet upstream of the lie to get the right drift. After you make your cast you still need to make several mends to get the fly down and you still need to keep control of the line. By using a heavier tungsten bead fly you will probably only need to make the cast ten to fifteen feet above your target because the fly will descend quicker getting to the proper depth and drift. Because you have less line on or in the water you automatically have more control of the fly.
 A similar situation would be that you need a #14 Pheasant Tail to tumble around the gravel and rocks right on the bottom because that is where the fish are eating and they aren't taking anything any larger than a #14. Unfortunately your #14 brass bead fly doesn't get you to the bottom because the current is too fast. A #10 brass bead fly gets you to the bottom but the trout don't even give it a sniff because it is too big. The extra weight of the #14 tungsten fly gets you right to the bottom and with the size of fly the fish are feeding on. Bingo.
 What makes fly fishing so exciting is that it is constant experimentation and when you get all the factors right you are rewarded with a fish on the line. Dialing into the right fly weight is one of those factors that can turn your success rate around in a hurry. So, if you don't have an assortment of tungsten beaded flies, add a few patterns to your fly box and see what success they can bring to you.


Colorado Angler said...

Good post, Bill. Since this is about beads and their use to get the fly low, I'd like to throw my two-cents into the hat.

Something that a lot of anglers fail to capitalize on, is the natural environment. ie the river itself.

I'm old school, and only use beads when necessary - so a lot of times, I'm throwing flies that weigh about as much as Kate Moss.

Which means, they're not going to sink very well on their own.

This is where reading the water can really be of benefit - understanding where the currents pull and drop, I can cast my fly (with minimal splitshot) and let the river pull it down and to it's mark.

Now, not every seam or run will allow you to do this, but in most instances, you can find the natural path of the current and use it to do the heavy lifting (sinking?) in place of lead or beads.

This means you might have to cast further upstream than you normally would - but the benefit far outweighs the alternatives.

And since proper presentation is the key, the less weight on a fly or line, the better your odds of having that fish take your junk, since it's flowing lightly in the current, as opposed to sinking like a rock in the column.

Does that make any sense?

Shoreman said...

Hey Bill. Interesting since I fish a tungsten beadhead Thinmint and it seems to catch more fish thaa a brass beadhead Bugger. Never looked at it that way. Thanks for the info.


Bill Trussell said...

I think the sink rate on this fly is really good. I don't have to use any weight when I am fishing it. I have found that it really works well in the warm water column. Thanks for the comments.

Bill Trussell said...

I agree the less weight the better the fly is going to look more natural. The tail race that I fish has some extremely fast runs and I need a weight to get the fly to the trout. Most of the time I am tight lining when I am using the tungsten and it gets down to the bottom without added weight. I still use the brass in slow pockets because I am getting a more natural look. Thanks for the comment.

Mark Demsey said...

Bill, I like your post and a great deal of it makes a lot of sense to me! What to you say to the guys who want no weight in their flies at all? I have some very good friends who are exceptional fly fisherman and the majority shy away from weight on or in the fly as they say it creates an unnatural drift. I'm new to this and trying to get a handle on nymphing in general. Also how do you set up such a heavy fly to fish shallow drifts? We encounter a lot of fish holding in one or two feet of water where an indicator seems to scare the trout. Love the blog by the way!

riverwalker34 said...

Very interesting - makes me pay more attention about sink rate and even possibly the speed at which I strip in or drift weighted flies through water columns or swift pools.


Bill Trussell said...

I agree with you that the weight can affect the look and way the fly is presented, but in some places where I fish the current is so fast I need the weighted head to get the fly to the trout. I don't use any weight in shallow water. For me the brass head is good for water 2 ft. and above. Thanks for the comment and compliment on the blog.

TROUTGUY said...

Hi Bill. I've been using tungsten for about 4 yrs now, and it's definitely got its place. I really like 'em on the zebra midges and the trout do too! I agree with the idea that a selection of different weighted bugs is the way to go. That way you can cover a variety of variables like depth and current! I also tie a bunch of patterns with lead wire on the shank because I don't always want to present the bead head look! Like everything else about fly fishing, there are lots of ways to do the job; and don't forget personal preference!! I think a man might catch more just because he has confidence in what he's throwing at 'em! Good subject to blog!

Bill Trussell said...

Confidence is the one factor that sometimes can make or break a trip. The Zebra Midge is the number one dropper fly on the Caney where I trout fish. It is one amazing little bug. Thanks for the comment.

Bill Trussell said...

I have found in the warm water column I can fish the Tungsten head a little faster because of the weight, which means more casts and hopefully more hook ups. Thanks for the comment.