The Soft Hackle Sowbug comes from the Bighorn River in south eastern Montana. This has been a killing pattern for years on the ‘Horn and is something you want to make sure to have in your box if you plan on venturing out that way. This is a very simple pattern with a few very important details that don’t seem like much but make a world of difference in the fishing. The Florescent Fire Orange or Red thread seems like an out of place color on a fly like this but let me relate a little story about my last trip to the Bighorn: I had tied about a dozen or so SH Sowbugs with tan colored thread thinking that matching the thread color to the dubbing would be better than that obnoxious orange thread. I then called a friend of mine who guided up there and was chatting about the fishing and so forth and he mentioned to be SURE to tie them with orange thread. I went back to the bench and tied up a couple more dozen with the orange thread and away we went. Once we were on the river, I rigged up a two fly rig with a tan threaded Sowbug on top and an orange threaded sow on the bottom…95% of the fish ate the orange version…I switched the position of the flies on the leader with the same results. Crazy, I know. There has to be something in that orange thread that shows through the dubbing creating a more realistic halo effect or something. Other than this little idiosyncrasy the fly is pretty straight forward. Get on the vise and start wrapping!
Hook: TMC 3769 #14-18.
Thread: UNI 8/0 Flourescent Fire Orange or Red
Body: Cinnamon Caddis Hareline Dubbin
Hackle: Blue Dun (Grey) Hen Neck
Start the thread about an eye length back from the hook eye and wrap a smooth thread base to the bend of the hook. return the thread to the starting point making sure to cover the shank with an even layer of orange thread.
Dub a thin strand of Cinnamon Caddis dubbing onto the thread and start wrapping it at the bend of the hook. Wrap a single layer all the way up to the index point.
Wrap the remaining dubbing back over the first layer forming a second layer over the front 2/3’s of the body.
Wrap the dubbing forward to the index point forming a slightly tapered body as shown here. Making the multiple layers is a much easier method of tapering the body than trying to taper the dubbing on the thread.. End the body with bare thread right at the back edge of the index point.
Select a hen neck feather that has barbs that are about as long as the shank. Prep the end of the feather by stripping the fluff from the base and expose a bit of stem at the base.
Tie the hen feather in by its butt end at the front edge of the body with several tight wraps of thread. make sure to tie the feather in with the outside of the feather facing up, that is, with the concave side of the feather toward the hook shank.
Pull the feather up above the hook in your hackle pliers. Stroke the barbs on the feather back to the rear side of the quill. Do this by wetting your fingers a bit and pulling them back and down slightly. You don’t need to fold the whole feather, just enough for a couple turns of hackle.
Wrap the feather forward, one turn right in front of the other for about two whole turns. Tie the feather off behind the eye.
Clip the remaining tip off the feather as close to the hook as you can.
Push the hackle back along the body of the fly with your thread hand.
Grab the fibers in your material hand from the rear of the hook and hold them in place as you wrap a small thread head in front of them. This will help to sweep the hackle fibers back into a nice collar.
Should look like this about now…
Build a smooth but apparent orange thread head and whip finish and clip the thread.
Add a drop of head cement to the head. Try not to goop it on like I did here.
I have been using orange thread on my my scuds for a while, it seems to work great. I often use orange thread on my jiggy flies for crappie and bluegill. I make a simple crappie jig with a chartreuse bead, UV white ice dubbing with white marabou tail, it works on stream trout and beaver pond Brook trout amazingly well.