Tying Flies with Beads and Cones

More and more people are tying with and fishing with a bead or cone or eyeballs at the head of their fly. All three of these add-ons give added weight and a special "look" to various flies, and many tiers use them to avoid the use of lead on the leader to sink the fly. (See one of my other Tips for a discussion of tying with eyeballs.)

In this Tip we'll focus on tying with beads and cones. Beads come in a wide range of sizes. These days you'll see bead-head nymphs from size 24 to size 8 or 10. You'll also see bead-head streamers tied on size three and four/ought hooks. The same cannot be said for cones. Most cones heads are designed to be used on hooks of about size 8 or 10 or larger.

Tying with either beads or cones requires that the tier flattens down the barb on the hook or uses a barbless hook to start with. We attach eyeballs on top of the hook with thread, but beads and cones are inserted onto the hook. They must be able to go over the barb as well as around the bend of the hook. If the hook is an up-eye or "bend-back" style hook, the bead or cone must also slide over that extra wire in order to end up right at the hook-eye. Manufacturers drill the beads specifically for fly tying. Craft beads for the most part are not, and are not typically used for fly tying.

The tier inserts both beads and cones onto the hook by placing the point of the hook into the smaller of the two holes and then sliding the bead or cone around the bend of the hook and up next to the eye (before the fly is tied, of course.) Here is a chart of bead sizes and corresponding hook sizes to guide the tier. It is not 100% accurate because of different hook-bends. 

  • The 1/16" beads fits hook Sizes-22 thru 26
  • The 5/64" beads fits hook Sizes-18 thru 22
  • The 3/32" beads fits hook Sizes-16 & 18
  • The 7/64" beads fits hook Sizes-14 & 16
  • The 1/8" beads fits hook Sizes-12 & 14
  • The 5/32" beads fits hook Sizes-10 & 12
  • The 3/16" beads fits hook Sizes-6 & 8, and
  • The 7/32" beads fits hook Sizes-2 & 4.
(See my complete article about tying flies with Beads, Cones, & Eyeballs in the September, 2007 issue of Fish Alaska Magazine www.fishalaskamagazine.com