This is Higa’s SOS, developed by guide Spencer Higa as a baetis imitation. SOS stands for “save our skin” and this fly has apparently bailed out a multitude of guides on tough days. Many now consider it an all-around attractor pattern.
For a hook, I’m going to use a Dai-Riki #125 in a size 18. Although these hooks aren’t terribly small, plunger-style hackle pliers make handling them much easier. I’ve also replaced my regular vise jaws with finer tipped midge jaws to allow better access to the back end of the hook.
After mashing the barb, get hold of a 5/64” nickel bead. A magnetic strip on the end of a popsicle stick works quite well on beads with enough ferromagnetic material in them. Get the bead oriented so the small hole is pointing up and then insert the point of the hook into that hole. Once the bead’s captured, you can secure the hook in your tying vise and pull the bead forward to right behind the eye.
For thread, I’m going to use UTC 70 Denier in black. Get your thread started on the hook shank immediately behind the bead and take wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag.
Small, silver Ultra Wire will be used as ribbing. A 4-5 inch length should be enough for a couple of flies. Lay the wire against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure it. Continue taking wraps down the hook shank allowing the thread to push the wire to the far side of the hook. Then take thread wraps well down into the bend.
Spencer’s original recipe called for melanistic or naturally black pheasant tail, but here, I’m using dyed black. Snip or strip 3 or 4 fibers free from the stem and, while keeping their tips aligned, measure to form a tail about a hook gap in length. Lay the fibers against the near side of the hook at the location of your tying thread and take thread wraps forward, up the hook, securing the pheasant tail to the top of the hook shank as you go. Once secured, you can break or snip the excess fibers off close. I like to add just a little taper to the body of the fly by taking thread wraps both down and back up the shank. I’ll then make thread wraps all the way down to the tie-in point and give my bobbin a counterclockwise spin to flatten the thread. This allows you to create a thinner top coat of thread wraps to smooth out the body.
Next, get hold of the silver wire and begin making evenly spaced open spiral wraps up the hook shank. Secure the wire with a few turns of tying thread leaving a small space behind the bead. You can use your bobbin nozzle to steady the hook while you helicopter the excess wire to break it off close.
Spencer uses floss for the fly’s wing case but, for a variety of reasons, floss and I have never really gotten along. Instead, I’m going to use medium-sized, red Holo tinsel. A 2” segment is enough to make multiple flies. Lay the tinsel or floss on top of the hook shank and take thread wraps to secure it. Do your best to keep it right on top as you take wraps. Check every now and again to make sure the wing case will be of adequate length. It’s very easy to make it too short. A bead and a half long usually looks pretty good.
For the thorax, I’m going to use black Australian possum but rabbit and Ice Dub are also commonly used. Build a short little dubbing noodle on your tying thread that’s tapered at both ends. Start wrapping the noodle just behind the bead and work your way rearward to the wing case tie-down point and then back forward to create a bulbous little thorax.
For legs, snip 2 strands of black Krystal flash free from the hank. Lay one end of them over top of the hook shank, just behind the bead and take 2 diagonal wraps, each way, to secure the flash. You can then pull the flash rearward, and take a few more thread wraps to further coax it in that direction.
Pull the wing case material forward, out over the bead and take thread wraps to bind it down. Then pull the material back and take a few more thread wraps to secure the now rearward pointing material. Reach in with your tying scissors and snip the excess off close. With your scissors still in hand, snip the strands of Krystal flash just shy of the back edge of the hook. Although it’s difficult to see here, you should be left with 2 little legs on each side.
Do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish and snip or cut your tying thread free. You can add a bit more dubbing prior to whip finish if you’d like. A drop of head cement overlapping the wing case, the thread wraps and the back of the bead, will help lock everything in place.
I can think of few flies that get the praise Higa’s SOS does. Suddenly a dozen of these flashy little numbers doesn’t seem like enough to even start the season.