Tungsten Beads

Ever since I started fishing, it was engrained into my head the value of tungsten beads, especially when euronymphing.  Tungsten has a density of 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter, while brass has a density of 8.73 grams per cubic centimeter and lead being 11.34 grams per cubic centimeter. 

The added density means a smaller bead to get your fly down into the feeding zone.  With the popularity of euronymphing, this is now more or less common knowledge amongst fly anglers.  As a Competition Angler, I get asked for my opinion on all facets of fly angling, and I’m always happy to share my thoughts.  Tungsten beads comes up quite frequently, and in the past I’ve shared my opinion based on empirical data, but never have I backed this empirical data up with hard cold facts. 


A tungsten loving trout

Being an engineer, I tend to over analyze things a bit, and this blog entry is going to be an insight into the over analyzing of Tungsten Beads.  I wanted to put to the test which bead out there is the heaviest, most consistent to their listed size, do they have a large slot or thin slot and what are the color options for each and the cost per bead to determine the best bead out there.    

The Process:

I wanted to compare the most commonly utilized beads that my competitors, friends and others were utilizing.  Due to the shear numbers of beads I found online, I tried to limit this to beads sold in USA at fly shops or internet stores. More than likely, I missed a brand someone has utilized, so please keep reading and I will detail my process so you can try at home with whatever beads you want to compare. 

 I limited it to just slotted beads in metallic colors in the 3.8mm or 4mm sizes.  The reason behind this size, that this is the maximum legal size for competitions, and I wanted to find the heaviest bead that’s competition legal.  Slotted beads have more material than counter sunk beads, so once again the heaviest possible competition legal bead is what I was after.    I tried to have all the beads a metallic gold, but many companies were sold out of gold.  So in order to continue the process I choose another metallic color. 


Weighing Beads

To be fair and un biased, I purchased a new package of each of the beads or used an unopened pack that was bought in the last 6 months.  I had my beautiful and talented wife Lesley, choose 10 beads at random from each of these packs.  These 10 beads were measured and weighed.  Each bead was measured with a outside micrometer for bead diameter, with care taken to avoid the molding seam that would add to the diameter.  Then each slot was measured with a inside dial caliper to measure the width of the slot.  The 10 beads were then weighed to find an average weight per bead.  Each of these measurements were recorded. 


Wide variety of bead colors

The Results:

I’ll be 100% honest, I had a preconceived notion on how the results would play out.  The results on the bead sizing accuracy and the weight of the beads was a complete shock to me, and I’m presuming they will be for you as well.  Now let’s get to it!


Measuring Bead Size

Bead Size:

One of the biggest shocks was the size of beads.  Multiple companies list their beads at 3.8mm instead of 4mm, which I have heard is to keep them competition legal, as the FIPS/Mouche rules state a single bead of not more than 4mm may be used.  Out of the 12 brands that were tested, only three had an average size that would be considered competition legal.  Even of these three companies, there were still beads in the 10 bead sample that exceeded the 4mm threshold.  I initially thought this was an error with my measuring device, so to confirm this, I measured beads of different sizes 2.8, 3.3, 3.5 to see if they had the same variation.  To my surprise, the beads that I randomly picked out, measured closely to their listed size.    It wasn’t clear why the 3.8/4mm beads varied so much with up to an 8% variation to the listed size.  Additionally a larger bead didn’t necessarily translate to a heavier bead. 


Measuring Slot size

Slot Size:

My original idea was to measure the volume of the beads to gather how much material is in each bead, with the idea that more material means more weight.  I wasn’t able to find a way to accurately measure the volume of beads that was cost affordable.  So my next step was to measure the slot sizes.  There was a visual difference between multiple brands, so I wanted to document it.  Just like with a larger bead didn’t equate to a heavier bead, a smaller slot width didn’t equate to a heavier bead. 

A larger slot or a slimmer slot is really a personal preference.  A slimmer slot typically fits better on hooks but may not be able to fit all makes of hooks.  I’ve noticed on thicker hooks like an extra heavy hook, or a streamer hook, the bead may not fit.  Where a larger bead slot allows the bead to be utilized on a large range of hooks, even some saltwater hooks. 


3.8mm Tungsten bead on a saltwater hook


This was the crux of the study, to really identify the heaviest bead, because with all things being equal, the heavier the bead the faster the fly will get into the deep feeding zones.  Beads were weighed as the group of 10 and divided by 10 to get an average weight.  I was worried my scale didn’t have the accuracy to show a variation between beads if each bead was weighed separately.  Only one company published their weight per bead (Tactical Fly Fisher), and their published data was very close to the measured.  There is about a 17% variation between the lowest weight and the highest weight beads. 


To gather the costs of the beads, I either purchased the beads locally (where available) or through the world wide web.  The prices do not include any shipping charges or state/federal taxes.  These will vary across the nation and the world, so I wanted to have a good baseline MRSP cost.  The prices are either from the company’s website or the store I purchased them from.  I bought the largest portion I could to show the best price available.  I did not however do any price shopping.  I may have been able to get beads cheaper if I had actively shopped around or utilized coupons or store discounts. 


The amount of colors may or may not be an issue.  My current nymphing box, has 12 different bead colors, as I like the diversity.  One of my competitor buddies only likes to use light pink and copper, with the occasional silver or gold bead mixed in.  So the availability of colors is strictly personal preference. 


Results Table

Personally, I know which beads I will be purchasing in the future.  My ultimate goal in this process was to determine the best bead.  But that’s too subjective, as there’s many variables to determining the best bead.  The availability of beads, the shipping costs, are they available locally, the amount of colors available, slot size, etc all contribute to your personal preference.  So, I’m leaving the final results and judgement to each of you to make your own informed decision. 

The best scientific research is repeatable and verifiable.  With that said, I’m more than happy to share the excel spreadsheet so you can perform and verify these findings.  I understand that manufacturers change suppliers, so these results may not be as accurate years down the road as it is today.  Conversely, I have all the beads from each brand isolated and stored in case someone wants to verify the measurements I made.  This verification will have to happen in San Diego. 

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email sdflyangler@gmail.com or on Instagram @sdflyangler. 

By Dave Smith

Dave Smith Fly Fishing

Ca Licensed Fly Fishing Guide

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