Try a Bead/Bag Combo for Winter Steelhead Success

By: James Swearingen

This season when targeting steelhead in high water I’ve found that drifting a bag and bead combo has been the most effective technique. The biggest reason I do it is to draw trout and steelhead into your bait when the water is dirty or muddy. I use the bead as an attraction for my egg sac. It also gives you two different presentations. Sometimes the fish wants the single egg (bead) and sometimes they want the egg sac.

I always present this rig under a float. The bead and egg sac doesn’t float on its own. You need to keep it up off the bottom while it’s drifting to be successful, and also make sure it doesn’t get hung up. I run a small size 18 to 20 black swivel below my float to connect my main line, which is monofilament to my fluorocarbon leader. During the wintertime I use a white Styrofoam float in order to mimic ice or slush on the surface.

What size bead to use depends on water clarity. When the water is clear I’ll use an 8mm bead. Meanwhile, when it’s dirty we bump it up to a larger profile and tie on a 10mm. In dirty water I’ll run a 6 to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. In open water I’ll use six, whereas in areas with structure or obstructions in the water (rocks, trees) I’ll use 8-pound. I only use Berkeley Vanish. For an 8mm bead I’ll run a size 12 hook, but with a 10mm bead I’ll run a size 10 or 8 hook. I won’t go larger than that.

One tip, especially in dirty water, is coating the bead in Fire Gel. The best flavor for me has been trout or shrimp this season. Scent is crucial when the water is off colored.

The egg sac is very important. It’s where your scent comes from in the dirtier water. In the winter I’ll be tying egg sacs with Premium Trout Eggs. A tip I’ve been doing to give them more scent is sprinkling BorX O Fire to give them extra milkiness in the water. Natural is all I use with this method because I don’t want to change the color of the eggs. To be clear I don’t sprinkle the BorX O Fire into the Trout Egg jar. Instead, I tie the spawn sac, place them in a separate jar and then add the cure. When you do this you can expect a syrupy like consistency. They come out of the jar the perfect color for steelhead.

In the winter the best color spawn netting is Atlas Mike’s size 3×3 Pink and Chartreuse Spawn Netting. Whenever I tie the pink I’ll use Chartreuse Magic Thread to give it a blood dot appearance. For the chartreuse sac I’ll use Pink Magic Thread to give it the blood dot look. Contrasting colors have been effective in steelhead fishing for decades. This time of year I use a plastic baby spoon. It’s the perfect measuring size for egg sacs when using Trout Eggs. During the winter I prefer smaller egg sacs than in the fall or spring. I only use about 10 to 12 Trout Eggs in each sac.

Editor’s Note: Check your local regulations to make sure using two hooks on one line is legal.