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Painting Beads for Trout

Posted on January 23 2014

Painting Trout Beads
The toothpick method. Photo: Kyle Shea

Targeting trout with beads might be one of the most debated techniques in our sport. Whether or not you find it fly fishing in the purest form or not, the truth is they work, and work well! Our Western Alaska Rainbows depend on the abundant, and highly nutritious salmon eggs throughout the season and there is hardly a better imitation of this phenomenon than the bead.

However, it’s often not as simple as tying on a plastic bead above a hook and chucking it out there. As with all trout, selectiveness usually requires precise imitation whether fishing a baetis hatch or the egg drop. Therefore, painting beads with nail polish is necessary to create that ‘milky luster’ that natural salmon eggs take on once their eggs are released into the water.

Don’t be fooled by the color of eggs that come out of a filleted salmon carcass. Odds are a bright orange or tangerine bead straight out of the package will look identical. However, place those eggs in some water overnight and observe the change, you will see what we mean.

We have run posts in the past on rigging, fishing, and choice of colors of beads. However, we have found that there are several methods, even among our guide staff, on how to actually paint beads. So, swallow your pride the next time you are in the supermarket, take a stroll down the cosmetics aisle, pick up some nail polish, and try out a few of the methods below!

Ziploc Bag Method

This method is for those of you with time on the mind. Want to spend more time fishing and less time smelling like a nail salon? This method might be for you.

Simply put a handful of your beads of choice in a small Ziploc bag, dump a small amount of nail polish into the bag, and shake. If beads are not to the color of your liking, simply add slightly more polish. Make sure that all beads are coated. Remove beads from bag with a plastic spoon or toothpick (to avoid removing polish with your fingers) and let dry on a piece of newspaper or cardboard. Repeat the process if more coats are desired.

This method produces beads with an inconsistent, thick, milky look (which can be desired). Try experimenting with a colored polish first followed by a whitish milky color to achieve a mottled look. However, if you are looking for consistently identical beads, you may want to try another method…

Mono Method

This method, while also very quick, still allows you to focus on each individual bead depending on how much time and effort you are willing to put towards your bead box.

String as many beads as you are up to painting on a piece of heavy test monofilament. Create a loop in each end of the monofilament, large enough that the beads will not slide off the end. Anchor one end of the mono using the loop to a desk, tying vise, or anything sturdy. Hold the other end of the loop in your left hand making the “bead chain” tight. With your other hand, use the brush of the nail polish to coat each bead on the line. Use the loop in the end of the line to hang up and dry.

You can take as much time as you feel necessary to obtain your desired result. This method can coat many beads in a short amount of time. However, due to the fact that each bead is butted against the next, this can lead to excess polish on the end of each bead.

Toothpick Method

Want the perfect bead? If time is not an issue this is the method of choice.

Use a toothpick to hold each bead individually. Insert the toothpick tight enough into the opening of the bead so that it does not spin easily. Touch the bead to the nail polish brush, and spin the bead using the toothpick. Spinning the bead leads to a much finer uniform coat of polish than the other methods. Although painting your beads this way is far more tedious, it produces much more uniform beads. Follow up with as many coats as you wish.

Tip Experiment with the number of coats on each bead. More coats not only changes the appearance of each bead but increases durability as well. For a more durable finish, try finishing the bead with a few coats of clear nail lacquer (make sure the bottle says lacquer, not polish).

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