Classic Trout Bum of the Week: Spencer Higa

Yes, that’s a mouse pattern in that gorgeous trout’s mouth.
Photo courtesy Spencer Higa

Welcome to our series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlight some of the folks living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) Most of the subjects are guides who have turned their passion into a vocation, spending their time in an outdoor “office” that may include a drift boat, gorgeous mountain scenery, and crystal clear water. Others do have day jobs but manage to spend every other available minute on the water with a fly rod in hand. Whether you aspire to one lifestyle or the other, it’s illuminating to explore the different paths these men and women have taken on their way to achieving “trout bum” status. 

Spencer Higa is the Fishing Manager for Falcon’s Ledge, in Altamont, Utah, Where he’s been guiding since 1996. He’s perhaps better known as the inventor of the Higa’s S.O.S. nymph pattern, which has become a huge hit across the country. 

1. When did you start fly fishing?
I started fly fishing in 1987 with a Martin rod/reel combo.

Living in Utah, Spencer has the opportunity to chase big browns like this one.
Photo courtesy Spencer Higa

2. What’s your favorite water?
My favorite water would have to be the Salt River in Wyoming. Growing up, I would spend summers at my grandmother’s ranch in Star Valley. After my chores were done, my father and I would drive down to the river and toss hoppers against the grassy banks for browns and cutts.

3. What’s your favorite fly rod and why?
My favorite rod would have to be my most recent purchase, a Helios 2 864-4 mid-flex rod. It’s perfect for the waters that I fish here in Utah. It’s the perfect dry fly rod. It will also toss heavy nymphs on the Provo river or hefty foam patterns on the Green river during the cicada hatch. It’s got the backbone to handle larger fish, too.

Check this one off the bucket list: a sweet Canadian bull trout.
Photo by Nate Leavitt of

4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
My favorite fly-fishing trip would have to be my last trip to Canada. I had always read about the rivers up north but never had the opportunity to get out there. Last summer, I had the chance to spend a few days fishing the crystal clear rivers of Canada with good friends. I was also able to catch two fish that were on my bucket list: bull trout and Westslope cutthroat. The fishing is always memorable, but for me, spending time on the water with good friends is where the real memories are made. I put together a short film that was an official selection for the International Fly Fishing Film Festival this year. The title is “Change of Pace”.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
My most forgettable fly fishing moment would have to be my trip to Rocky Point, Mexico. I went down for a week with a few friends. We were really excited to finally do some saltwater fishing from the beach for whatever was going to eat our flies. We had planned it for months and figured what patterns we needed and what kind of fish we could expect. The first day, a couple of us had a few follows early on in the day. Then nothing the rest of the day. For the next five days, we didn’t see a fish. So, after a week of walking the beaches, not one fish was landed the entire time

6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
I love fly fishing for a couple of reasons: First, fly fishing has taken me to some pretty cool places all over the country. I’ve been all over the West and every place is beautiful. Since I live in Utah, I spend most of my time on the freestone streams in the High Uinta Mountains. The second reason would have to be the people I’ve met through fly fishing. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make my living in this industry, and it has put in contact with some great people. I have met several life long friends because of this great sport.

A westslope cutthroat from Spencer’s favorite trip.
Photo by Nate Leavitt of

7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My favorite pieces of gear would have to be reels. When I look at pictures of anglers posing with their fish, my eye immediately looks at what kind of reel they are using. I think on my last inventory I counted 22 reels. I just love good quality reels. Instead of buying extra spools for reels, I just buy the reel. I’ve got reels for a 1-weight all the way up to a 10-weight.  Most of them I haven’t used, but I like the collection I’ve got going.

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
Go to fly? Well, obviously, it would have to be Higa’s SOS. It really is my go-to fly when nothing else is working. I’ve been on several trips where the fishing is tough, and the SOS just seems to work every time. It’s saved my butt on a lot of guide trips, too. It’s a cross between a Zebra Midge and Pheasant Tail. It’s a versatile pattern that works during most mayfly hatches or just as a searching pattern when nothing is hatching.

A life in fly fishing sure has its benefits.
Photo courtesy Spencer Higa

9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
My most memorable fly-fishing moment would have to be the time I caught my first fish on the Provo River. My father would take me to the Provo almost every day for a month. I couldn’t catch a thing, and I was getting very discouraged. I didn’t have anyone to really teach me and point me in the right direction. My uncle gave me a pattern that I used every time I went out, a size 14 Royal Humpy. Not knowing what flies worked on the river, I never changed it once. Finally, one day I was casting to the bank with little success. I decided to head upstream, so as my Humpy made it downstream, I started making my way up.  All of a sudden, I felt my rod bouncing, and sure enough I had hooked a nice rainbow as my Humpy was submerged and swinging. I remember how relieved and excited I was to have finally caught my first fish.

10. What’s your next dream destination?
My next dream destination would have to be Mexico for roosterfish. I have been obsessed with these fish and being able to catch them from the beach. I think they are one of the most beautiful fish in the salt. One of these days, I will make it happen.

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