Thursday, November 7, 2013

What do different tying beads weigh?

            My vise broke the other night and I had planned on some sort of tying post this week. Instead I decided to take on another little project for the blog until I get my vise back from repair.
            Before I started competition fishing I was the biggest tailwater indicator nymphing junkee you could have met. I was meticulous about adding or subtracting small shot from my leader and micro adjusting my indicator to attain just a little deeper or shallower drift. I remember sitting in many runs and pools on the Lower Provo and making one of these microadjustments and catching 2-5 more fish with each change. Sometimes I could pull a dozen or two more fish from a prime pool by making multiple adjustments.
            Most of the nymphing I do now is in a European competitive style. However this certainly doesn’t mean these microadjustments aren’t just as important as when I was indicator fishing. The difference is that my changes now are made by switching fly weights and manipulating the height, angle, and/or length of my leader to achieve the perfect drift. These changes can’t be made though if you don’t know the difference in weight between flies at least in a relative fashion. Some anglers like my teammate Pat Weiss color code the thread heads on their flies based on their weights. This system works fine but I doubt I’d ever be able to keep my colors straight so I organize my flies by weight. I do this by weighing them on a digital scale and then dividing the sections of my fly boxes into weight intervals.
            Thanks to the brilliance of the Belgian team at a World Championship back in the 90's, we now accomplish most of our weighting with bead heads. But how can you know how much different beads weigh, and as a result your flies, without dropping hundreds of dollars on tungsten and spending hours at a grain scale? Easy, I did this for you. 

The average value of weighing at least 15 beads in each size and style of bead are in the table below. Numbers in parentheses are the standard deviation of the average. Underscores represent bead sizes in each style that aren't readily available in the US (at least to my knowledge) though some of them may be purchased overseas. The exception is the 2mm brass which I weighed but they didn't have enough weight to register a value on the scale. NA represents beads that are available in the U.S. but I didn't have any to weigh.

My initial conclusions are
  • Within batches there isn't a lot of variance in weight. However, between batches and especially between companies there is a fair amount of variance. For instance, notice the fairly high standard deviation of 3mm disco slotted beads. In this category there was a group of beads that  weighed 3.3-3.4 grains and and another group that weighed 2.7-2.8 grains. I know these beads were a mix of Umpqua and Riplips beads but unfortunately I don't know what weights corresponded to each company.
  • In general disco slotted beads are heavier than regular slotted beads in the same size. 
  • The English sized (eg. 7/64") countersunk tungsten beads weighed drastically less than the next size up metric bead (3 mm). These English sized beads were either Metz beads from Umpqua or Montana Fly beads. This is why I feel that tying flies is essential to success in Euro nymphing. Most of the nymphs commercially available use these beads and weigh much less than the same size fly with a metric bead only .2mm bigger in diameter. It's amazing how much difference in sink rate 1/2 a grain can make, especially in small fly sizes where this disparity reflects a large proportion of the flies total weight. Furthermore, a lot of commercial flies don't add any lead wire for extra weight in addition to the bead.
  • If you've ever questioned whether tungsten is worth the extra money just look at the brass data. Most of the time you'll be wasting your time with brass flies unless your fishing skinny flat water where slow sink rate is preferable.
  • Next time I purchase beads I will be weighing them on arrival so I don't mix them in with my current supply if their weights are disparate.


  1. Great information thanx for your efforts

  2. I was wondering how you differentiate true metric sized beads from English sized beads now that many beads I've seen advertised were often doubly labeled ( 3.0mm=7/64 in.). Do you know of any companies that have true metric-sized beads, especially slotted ones? Thanks in advance