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The Bead Head Rainbow Warrior: A Comprehensive Guide to a Legendary Fly

28 May 2024

Fly fishing is an art that intertwines nature, technique, and history. Among the myriad of flies used by anglers, the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior stands out for its unique design and remarkable effectiveness. This blog post delves deep into the history of this fly, the fish species it targets, the techniques for fishing it, and the essential equipment needed for a successful outing. Whether you're a seasoned angler or a novice, understanding the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior can significantly enhance your fly fishing experience.

The History of the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior

The Bead Head Rainbow Warrior is a relatively modern addition to the fly fishing world, created by Lance Egan, a prominent figure in competitive fly fishing. Egan, an accomplished angler and member of Fly Fishing Team USA, designed the Rainbow Warrior in the early 2000s. His goal was to develop a fly that was both simple to tie and exceptionally effective in various fishing conditions.

Egan's inspiration came from his extensive experience in competitive fly fishing, where adaptability and efficiency are crucial. The Rainbow Warrior's design reflects these principles, featuring a flashy, iridescent body and a bead head that adds weight and realism. This combination makes it an ideal choice for nymphing, a technique that involves fishing with sub-surface flies.

What Fish Will Bite the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior?

The Bead Head Rainbow Warrior is renowned for its versatility and ability to attract a wide range of fish species. Here are some of the primary targets:

  1. Trout: The Rainbow Warrior is particularly effective for trout, including rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Its flashy appearance mimics the natural prey of these fish, such as mayfly nymphs and other aquatic insects.

  2. Steelhead: This fly can also be used to catch steelhead, especially in situations where these fish are feeding on small nymphs and emergers.

  3. Panfish: Bluegill, crappie, and other panfish are often enticed by the bright, iridescent body of the Rainbow Warrior.

  4. Grayling: In regions where grayling are present, this fly can be highly effective due to its ability to attract attention in clear, cold waters.

  5. Smallmouth Bass: While not a primary target, smallmouth bass can sometimes be caught using the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior, particularly in streams and rivers where they coexist with trout.

How to Fish the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior

Fishing the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior requires an understanding of nymphing techniques, as this fly is primarily used as a sub-surface pattern. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Indicator Nymphing: This technique involves using a strike indicator to detect subtle takes. Attach the Rainbow Warrior to the tippet, below the indicator, and add a small split shot if additional weight is needed. Cast upstream and allow the fly to drift naturally with the current. The indicator will help you detect any strikes, enabling quick and effective hook sets.

  2. Euro Nymphing: Popularized by European anglers, this method eschews traditional indicators in favor of a more tactile approach. Use a long, light rod and a thin leader to achieve a precise, drag-free drift. The weight of the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior helps it sink quickly, making it ideal for this technique. Keep in contact with the fly at all times, feeling for any subtle takes.

  3. Dry-Dropper Rig: In situations where fish are feeding both on the surface and below, a dry-dropper rig can be effective. Tie a buoyant dry fly, such as a hopper or caddis, to the end of your leader. Then, attach a short piece of tippet to the bend of the dry fly hook and tie on the Rainbow Warrior. This setup allows you to fish both the surface and subsurface simultaneously.

  4. Swinging: While less common, swinging the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior can be effective in certain conditions. Cast across the stream and allow the fly to swing downstream in the current. This technique can be particularly useful in faster water where a natural drift is difficult to achieve.

Equipment for Fishing the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior

To fish the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior effectively, you'll need the right equipment. Here’s a detailed guide on what you should have:

  1. Fly Rod: A 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight fly rod is ideal for most nymphing situations involving the Rainbow Warrior. For Euro nymphing, consider a longer rod (10 to 11 feet) to improve reach and control.

  2. Fly Reel: Choose a reel with a smooth drag system that balances well with your rod. While the reel's role is less critical in nymphing compared to other forms of fly fishing, it should still be reliable and durable.

  3. Fly Line: A weight-forward floating line is suitable for most nymphing techniques. For Euro nymphing, consider a specialized nymphing line or a thin diameter line to reduce drag and improve sensitivity.

  4. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader that transitions smoothly from thick to thin. For indicator nymphing, a 9- to 12-foot leader works well. For Euro nymphing, use a long, level leader (20 feet or more) made of monofilament or fluorocarbon. Attach 4X to 6X tippet to the end, depending on water clarity and fish size.

  5. Strike Indicators: For indicator nymphing, various options are available, including yarn, foam, and balloon indicators. Choose one that matches the water conditions and your preference for visibility and sensitivity.

  6. Split Shot: Use small split shot to add weight and ensure the Rainbow Warrior sinks quickly to the desired depth. Tungsten putty is another option for adding weight incrementally.

  7. Waders and Boots: Quality waders and boots are essential for accessing prime fishing spots. Look for breathable waders and sturdy, well-fitting boots with good traction.

  8. Accessories: Include a fly box with a variety of Bead Head Rainbow Warriors in different sizes (14 to 20), hemostats, nippers, a landing net, and polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and spot fish more easily.

Tying the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior

For those interested in fly tying, creating your own Bead Head Rainbow Warriors can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a basic recipe:


  • Hook: Scud or nymph hook, sizes 14-20
  • Bead: Silver or gold tungsten bead, sized to match the hook
  • Thread: Red or hot pink 6/0 or 8/0
  • Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
  • Body: Pearl tinsel or Mylar
  • Thorax: Peacock herl
  • Ribbing: Fine copper or gold wire (optional)


  1. Slide the tungsten bead onto the hook and secure the hook in the vise.
  2. Start the thread behind the bead and wrap a smooth thread base down to the bend of the hook.
  3. Tie in a small bunch of pheasant tail fibers for the tail, about half the length of the hook shank.
  4. Optional: Tie in a piece of fine wire for ribbing.
  5. Tie in a piece of pearl tinsel and wrap it forward to the bead, creating a smooth, flashy body. Secure and trim the excess.
  6. If using ribbing, wrap the wire forward in evenly spaced turns and secure it behind the bead.
  7. Tie in a strand of peacock herl and wrap it to form a small, bushy thorax. Secure and trim the excess.
  8. Whip finish behind the bead and apply a drop of head cement for durability.

The Bead Head Rainbow Warrior is a testament to the innovation and adaptability within the fly fishing community. Its creation by Lance Egan has provided anglers with a reliable and versatile pattern that excels in a variety of fishing conditions. Whether you're targeting trout, steelhead, or panfish, this fly's unique design and proven effectiveness make it a must-have in any fly box.

By understanding the history, target species, fishing techniques, and necessary equipment, you can maximize your success with the Bead Head Rainbow Warrior. Additionally, tying your own Rainbow Warriors can add a personal touch to your fly fishing experience, allowing you to tailor the fly to specific conditions and preferences.

So, next time you head out to the water, make sure you have a selection of Bead Head Rainbow Warriors in your arsenal. This unassuming yet powerful fly has the potential to turn an ordinary day of fishing into an extraordinary adventure. Happy fishing!

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