Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tungsten or Brass Beads?

Tungsten or brass beads?

I often get asked that question during my tying classes and demos and my answer is that it depends.  
With the cost of everything going up around us except our pay checks, it's hard to encourage people to splurge and spend the extra money on tungsten.  But there are times that it is important to do so.  I tell people that if I know I will be nymphing with split shot on my leader, I can adjust that weight to get those flies down deeper where I want them to be.  If I lose them to fish or rocks, it's not as painful on the wallet.  
When do I use tungsten then?  When I know I will be using a certain pattern as a dropper off the back end of a hopper or a big dry.  I want that pattern to drop like a rock and stay in the zone for as long as it can.  I have to make sure I use a big, buoyant dry fly to do this.  On a lot of rivers, there is plenty of pocket water, especially if the water is on the high side.  I want the nymph to get deep as soon as it hits the water and stay in the zone.  If the nymph is too high in the water column, the fish may never see it.  If the fly is right in front of their mouth, they only have two choices and at that point, you have a chance.  If I know I will be using a BHFBPT(try to figure that one out) as a dropper, I will make sure to tie some with tungsten beads.  Since I am blessed to be a part of the MFC team, I can get tungsten beads at a really good price so I usually tie almost all my nymphs with tungsten.  
I still have and tie plenty with brass beads, but I have decided to make the change.   So think of the patterns you fish the most as a dropper and make sure you tie those with a tungsten bead.  Other patterns you fish with that won't be used as a dropper can be tied with a brass bead.  

A 2 Bit Hooker is a great dropper pattern that should be tied with tungsten beads.  A regular Hare's Ear is a pattern that I normally don't use as a dropper, so I would tie that with a regular brass bead and fish it deep with split shot and another fly.  If you are trying to figure out what patterns to use tungsten on, just remember, if you want to catch fish on droppers, use tungsten.  
If you nymph a lot, regular beads will work well and losing them on rocks and snags doesn't hurt as much.   Now remember that there are exceptions to everything and I do use a lot of tungsten beads on my nymph rigs.  I mostly use them on bigger stoneflies and anything I need to get deep in higher water in addition to split shot. 
The costs are high, but the fish are deep and to me, it is worth having tungsten beads on most of my patterns.  I recommend that you ask your local fly shop (not a big box store!) if they carry either Flymen tungsten beads or Montana Fly Company tungsten beads.  


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter, Juan. Where I fish more pond type water, TB's come in handy in helping getting the fly down as quickly as possible. Still, though, use a lot of Brass beads because I am on a Senior Citizen's budget.

  2. I find myself taking the cheaper route most times and wrapping some lead free wire onto my bigger stones. Great write up and comparison. I enjoyed it.


  3. BHFBPT - That's easy, it's my liscense plate!


  4. I agree with "it depends". I use Tungsten on many lake patterns (streamers) to get them down even though I use an intermediate sinking line. Other times I use brass to just get them below the surface. It just "depends".

  5. BeadHeadFlashBackPheasantTail? What do I win?

  6. Those wired stones look awesome. I've started to switch to tungsten only for flies size 14 and smaller. I've found that on larger flies I can get away with brass and make up the difference with a lead/tin underbody and/or a second bead. And it's a bit easier on the wallet.

  7. Thanks for the write up. I have just been tying up some sleek deep nymphs on a jig hook with two tungsten beads: slotted one upfront, and a normal one a bit smaller, buried in the thorax behind that. I Figure that the "ride upside down" jig hook, and the fact that it is barbless, are insurance policies enough against losing two beads at once. One thing is for sure: the thing gets down quick!

  8. I've always wondered this. Thanks for the write up. Some very useful information and tips.

    Like most of the others, I take the brass route, and wrap some lead on the shank under the body for added weight.

  9. I like your use of materials. Do you buy or make your wing casing materials?