The Klinkhåmer Special – 25 years later
By Hans van Klinken
Photos by Leon Links, Rudy van Duijnhoven, Steve Thornton, Ina van Klinken and Hans van Klinken
(Detailed illustrated tying instructions are included at the end of this article)
Hans van Klinken
When I look back in my diaries I enjoy the old stories and they keep my memories close by and alive. I read them quite often. Sometimes I just read the fishing parts and get a lot of pleasure from the notes about my trips, but there are also times that I only search for the comments I wrote during my fly tying experiences. For me it is very important why and how I came to a special pattern and why I use certain materials. When I read my notes I start to realise more and more how powerful this information from the past can be. I started fly tying in 1976, but first since 1981 I have designed and improved quite few patterns and it is really handy to have good sources to get the correct information from.
I also like to read similar stories and notes from fellow anglers and with a few of my closest friends we often swap our dairies or notes. I read a lot about flies and many are designed as fancies, others arose accidentally and lots are close copies from insect imitations, but I often miss the stories behind the flies. I like to know the feelings of the originator and why he or she came to certain thoughts, tricks or techniques. I saw how flies lose their names and change so much that the history and the original dressing just fades away in a few years.
With a lovely brown trout
It is not a secret that parachute flies belong to my most favourite patterns for almost 25 years. My own experiences started with old traditional English shoulder hackle flies and it was just a coincidence that I met a very nice Swedish angler who has been responsible for a lot of changes in my fly-fishing and tying experiments.
Rackelhanen tied by Hans van Klinken
It was Kenneth Boström’s Rackelhanen that set me free from old traditions, made me innovative and allowed me to think differently. In Scandinavia the Rackelhanen is still a very popular fly but worldwide this fly has never got the attention it surely deserves. I have no idea how my fly-fishing would look today without the discovery of the Rackelhanen, but that wonderful sedge imitation gave me enormous self-confidence and inspiration to start a complete new way of fly-tying.
I like it very much when fly tiers are innovative and creative but it doesn't mean that the real story has to be changed too. I like to tell people where I got my inspiration from. Text can be changed easily and I have experienced it quite often when somebody writes about one of my patterns and I am not able to recognize my own fly anymore. It happens with the Klinkhåmer Special too. I have seen it tied on straight hooks, with tails, different wings and bodies bigger then the thorax. This only creates more misunderstanding. Wrong interpretation, different tying techniques and changing materials surely leads to many questions. I am sure that's why I have had so many letters with questions for more than five years. I also got several requests to do some new stories and I think this is an excellent opportunity for me to put a lot of misunderstandings right in this update on my Klinkhåmer.
Two perfect Klinkhåmers
The past and the present
On the 27th of June 1984, my first Klinkhåmer Special landed in the surface film of Norway’s mighty Glomma River and a lot has been happened since.
The birth place of the Klinkhåmer Special
In the last 20 years I read lots of Klinkhåmer stories written by others and some were really good but most of them became a perfect example of how even authors misunderstood the thoughts behind the fly. It is sad and even when they gave me a lot of credit there always will be a lot of readers who still don't know how to tie, use and fish the Klinkhåmer Special in a proper way.
Testing waters for the Klinkhåmer Special
As a fly tier it even hurts me when you see how one of your best patterns has been described in a completely wrong way. Some stories were about clever improvements and different colour variations but unless it affects the durability and floatability then I don't see it as a real improvement. In this story I will try to explain where most people make their mistakes.
Our cabin on the mighty Glomma River
Before people give me all the credit for the Klinkhåmer Special they should know that I was not the only one struck with the idea of designing deep surface hanging parachute flies. Unknown to me at that time, Tomas Olsen, a famous Swedish fly tier, had created a similar pattern just one year before. With his melted technique (the best and most durable technique to build a parachute fly) he developed a similar but wingless fly, and in the USA Roy Richardson developed an equal emerger in 1986 without knowing about our flies. Mike Monroe (also from USA) tied a similar fly 4 years before any of our patterns existed, at a time that we hardly knew what was going on at the US tying scene. He called this fly the 'Paratilt'. Mike wrote an article about his new design that was published in the summer of 1979 so probably he was the first of all of us unless new information shows up. Therefore I find that all these others deserve as much credit for their creations as I got it for my Klinkhåmer Special or L.T. Caddis as it was called when I invented the fly.
I never have seen any pattern that has been spelled wrongly as much as the Klinkhåmer Special. I have no idea why. In Germany they call it the Nordischer Hammer or Klinki. In the States they seem to prefer the Clinck and I often get questions about all kinds of Hammers I have never heard of. I guess I have seen Pinkhammers, Yellowhammers and even Bluehammers and those are just three of many. Of course I can't deny that I felt really good when the Klinkhåmer Special got so many good reviews but I was most proud about the fact that it was nobody else than Hans de Groot who invented the name.
There is a big mountain in Sweden called the Hammer close where I used to fish a lot and other people think the fly hits so hard it’s like a real sledgehammer. Nothing of this all has anything to do with it! The real name actually was the LT Caddis which was just one fly from my large LT series developed in Scandinavia between 1980-1990. So the Klinkhåmer Special is just a name Hans de Groot and Ton Lindhout came up with, probably after some drinks! Both were also members of our editorial staff at that time.
The real thoughts behind the Klinkhåmer Special
Perfect water to use a Klinkhåmer Special
I think before tying a Klinkhåmer Special people should know the real thoughts behind my pattern. Although my first variations of the Rackelhanen did extremely well I wasn’t really satisfied with them. The reason was simple! At that time I didn’t know Kenneth Boström who designed the fly and I made some essential tying mistakes because I never had seen the proper tying techniques. Those mistakes prevented the fly from floating the way Kenneth invented it. My copies did not always land as they should. I did my research and found the problem. I had tied them with a single and much longer wing and sometimes they floated in a wing-flat position through which they lost most of their effect. I also used too much floatant and in a wrong way as well. Fish rose for it like crazy but I simply missed too many takes. I probably landed only 3 out of 10 takes.
Kenneth Bostrom's Rackelhanen
To solve the problem I just added a hackle around the wing as I had seen it in a book by Eric Leiser and my first parachute pattern was born. After this improvement the flies floated as I wanted but this wasn’t the only reason why I stayed with parachutes.
Klinkhåmer Special in the water
Around the same time I discovered that flies that floated in the surface produced much more fish than patterns that were drifting on the surface. I also made another discovery and that probably was one of my biggest in my fly fishing so far. It was the Lady of the Stream, the grayling that brought it to my attention.
Grayling on the Klinkhåmer Special
At that time I still used shoulder hackle flies a lot and I tied many with a nice strong tail and solid hackle. I like the way they floated high on the surface and I could see the flies very well. I loved to see how the grayling came up for them but then on that certain day when I presented my fly not far out I saw how the fly was pushed aside quite often by an aggressively taking grayling. I gave it a closer look and I saw how they frequently push it up and sideward.
Today I know a lot more about the grayling. Most of the time she will feed on the bottom and she is built for it. For me this is the reason why I missed so many fish with shoulder hackle flies. Grayling can come up at very high speeds to take flies from the surface film, but because of her protruding upper lips, she is actually is a perfect bottom feeder.
Those lips are ideal to pick up snails and larva from the bottom. Still the grayling found a beautiful way to rise to floating and emerging insects. Sometimes they even jump out of the water and take their prey from above. I have seen it hundreds of times. Concerning dry fly fishing I believe that it is a combination of the shape of her mouth, the speed of rise and way of taking the fly, which is responsible for pushing away high floating surface flies at the moment of taking. This problem reduces enormously with parachute flies and even more with deep surface hanging emergers. I proved my theory right many times after the invention of the Klinkhåmer Special. The iceberg shape solved the problem and eight out of ten fish are always hooked well in their upper lip. I also hardly miss any takes as well and catching 10 out of 10 happens most of the time.
Why fishing IN the surface?
Fly fishing with parachutes has many benefits. It already starts with the presentation. A well-tied parachute fly doesn’t land only perfectly on the surface but also floats well the entire drift. In my opinion it is one of the most stable flies and with a good knowledge about fly tying materials you can use them in riffles and strong currents without any problems.
The idea of a parachute fly is to present it in the surface. This also gives it a better appearance to imitate insects and creates a wonderful silhouette as well. Maybe another reason why we usually have better results with parachute flies.
When we try to imitate insects only a few points seems to be important. We look at the size, the shape, the colour and the mobility but I guess there a still more points of interest. I search for them every day. Several years ago I started to think differently and when I hold my classes and workshops today I explain to people about the silhouette a fly produces.
I don’t mention the shape anymore. I just try to see it in a different way. Wind can improve mobility and we already include it in our tying, but how many people realise the effect of sunlight on the fly in the water.
I know it is important and even has a great influence on patterns like spiders. I also have no other explanation why some selective fish take a fly when the sun sets or rises or is just disappearing behind a dark cloud.
Tying problems and misunderstandings
I guess we now are coming to the main reason for this story. I have to write about it because I have seen too many mistakes in other stories. Not everyone will agree with my explanations, but I will try to explain why I use certain materials, a curved, wide gap hook and use different tying techniques to secure the parachute. I also will try to explain why I still use the same materials I did 25 years ago and why I prefer them above all the others. Of course I know what I am talking about because I have tried to make dozens of improvements myself but not a single one proved to be better or more effective over all these years.
Klinkhåmer Special tying materials
Unlike what most people think you need the best quality hackles from your cape when you tie parachute flies. Several fly tiers and authors assert that the leftovers are ideal for parachutes but I disagree. A parachute fly floats in the surface mainly because of a perfect balanced and well-tied horizontal hackle. A tail can be helpful but isn’t really necessary. The worse the quality and the softer the hackle fibres the easier the fly will sink.
The perfect Klinkhåmer special
There is also another important reason why you should use hackles with stiff fibres. Just think about the casting and the power that goes together with it. A parachute hackle tied with soft hackle fibres will easily lose the nice horizontal shape that keeps it floating.
I have seen stories with great pictures and many beautiful variations of the Klinkhåmer but not one of the flies I even would dare to suggest or advise people to use or try. I have some very strong arguments for these comments as well because a parachute hackle made from just two or three hackle windings simply will not work.
If you read carefully then you will notice also that you need a long hackle as well. You have to be able to make a lot of turns. Depending about the size of the fly it can go up to seven or eight and even more. If you tie flies you have to do it feelingly and a simple dish of water will tell you quickly if you are doing right or wrong. Even after tying thousands of flies I still use my dish of water today because I want to see the result and see how much the fly can handle before it will sink.
I will finish these comments about hackles with another important fact. For parachute flies you can use large hackles very well. I have tied a whole bunch of Klinkhåmers especially with what seems an oversized hackle at first. I don’t know what it exactly imitates, it could be a spider but I can assure you that it works well. I don’t know why but when I am in a group and when we put our flies together mine seems always bigger.
Let’s have a closer look about the wing material. I wish my eyesight was much better for long distance. Then I would certainly use Tomas Olson’s melted wing technique for many of my parachutes. Unfortunately it is not. So when I started to produce parachute flies the wing became the most valuable part for me, and it even created a nice matter of minor importance later. My first priority was to see and locate the fly easier in broken water.
A highly visible wing is invaluable
When I started to use the Klinkhåmer Special more frequently the wing created an unbelievable benefit for catching grayling that suck the flies from the surface without leaving any trace. The same happened with the Atlantic salmon quite often and so here came some luck in return for my poor eyesight. It was so simple because as soon the big white wing was missing I knew a sucker took the fly. I landed hundreds of fish this way.
An important aspect of my choice of wing material was that it had to be lighter than water, that it was not slippery and that you could pull the hackle windings far into the material. When you tie a lot of parachute flies then you will quickly notice that wing material, hackle and tying thread have to cooperate in perfect harmony. If the thread or hackle slips off the wing easily then the parachute won’t last long. The biggest mistake that people make trying to copy the Klinkhåmer Special is not realising how important the floatability from their yarn of choice should be. I have seen people tying huge Klinkhåmers using wing material that sunk almost directly to the bottom. If you use big hooks like me you can’t float the fly when the wing and dubbing isn’t lighter then water. I usually advise people to check it out before they buy it! Just cut off a tiny little piece of yarn, wrap it into a little pellet and drop it into a dish of water. If it floats you can use it without any problems and if it sinks just don’t buy it. The best available materials I use are Silicone yarn from Niche for very small parachute flies and the original poly-yarn from Wapsi for normal and big sizes.
Brown trout on a Klinkhåmer
How much yarn you would like to use is personal preference. It also depends on the waters you fish. For rugged streams and big flies I usually double the amount. I have often tried to use alternate materials like foam and with some success, but I always go back to the yarn. Today there are many people using foam instead of yarn. It works great for the floatability but it can decrease the durability a lot if not tied well. So if you don't mind that little trout will damage the wing and have no problems with changing the fly more frequently you will be happy with it. There is also another good reason why so many people start to use foam for parachute flies! If you cut the foam shortly above the hackle it will expand and will push the hackle fibres downwards and it will surely give many parachute flies a much better appearance and floatability as well.
About the length of wing size I have seen many variations too. Most examples in the stories had a rather short wing. I work the other way around. A wing that turned out to be too long easily can be shortened so that's why I keep my wings long at first. During fishing always use floatant on your poly wing because poly yarn will sink when it is tied on a hook and NOT well prepared with a good floatant.
The body material
I mainly use two kinds of dubbing material for my parachutes. For normal and big flies I use extra fine Fly Rite Poly Dubbing because I have never found anything better. The beautiful solid and perfect mixtures of blended colours will help you to imitate any insect’s body. You can make your own mixtures as well and the material is lighter then water so easy to use in combination with heavier hooks.
The second body material I use on small flies is Wapsi Super Fine waterproof dry fly dubbing. It is much finer then Fly Rite and ideal for very small patterns.
Before I forget there are a few other essential points to remember. In many Klinkhåmer stories I saw people using an amount of dubbing that I probably use for 4 or 5 flies. The slimmer the body the more successful the fly! Believe me I tried all tricks and a bulky body always had produced less fish. Realise that if you tie the Klinkhåmer in a proper way it has to have a nice tapered underbody and I will explain later how to achieve this.
Just a few months after I tied the first Klinkhåmer Special, I discovered that a peacock herl thorax makes the fly a lot more effective. At first the herls seemed to be very fragile but I found a very good solution to improve their durability. Oliver Edwards explained in his workshops that to tie in the peacock at the tips makes the tying easier and he is right. Some other people twist the peacock before winding and they also increase the durability. I just stay with the old technique because it is much quicker and I secure the peacock well by pressing a drop of thin varnish into the base of the wing to secure the wing, thread and thorax at the same time when I have almost finished the fly.
I know everybody has his own preference for hooks. Mine will be a hook with a wide gap. My first Klinkhåmer Special was tied on the Partridge K2b known better as the Yorkshire Caddis hook and at that time it was available in a much finer wire then today. There were two reasons I changed the hook: the thicker wire and the up eye. I wanted a straight eye, especially when tying parachutes. I also wanted fine wire, but also wanted a wide gap to give me the best and easiest hooking. So this is how I kept on searching and because I wasn’t able to find the hook I needed I finally created my own hooks the Partridge Klinkhåmer GRS15ST, 15BN and 15BNX.
After 30 years working very close together with Partridge of Reddish I sadly broke up all cooperation when it turned out that I couldn’t work together with the new owner. This however, led to a new partnership with Anglers Sport Group (ASG) in U.S. who have manufactured Daiichi hooks for 25 years.
The Daiichi Klinkhåmer hook
Because I still had all the original files, drawings, notes, measuring and details from the first official Klinkhåmer hook as I made and design it for Alan Bramley, and because the 15BN and 15BNX had been changed a bit from the original shape as I made it in the eighties, I give permission to Daiichi to use all my information and produce the original Klinkhåmer hook again but only as it was officially designed by me in the eighties. After some amazing tests of the prototypes, the new Klinkhåmer hooks made exactly after the original design from the eighties, are meanwhile on market in sizes 8-20 and in two versions or styles as well. A bronze (Daiichi 1160) and nickel (Daiichi 1167). The new design is intended to revert to the original shape as designed by me in the blue print of the 1980s. The pattern as designed by other manufacturers has strayed from its original intended shape over the years. The new hook will be most suitable for tying Klinkhåmer, emergers and special nymph patterns.
Many people write to me and tell me they have serious hooking problems with a Klinkhåmer Special, which they don't understand. They got many takes but missed a lot of fish as soon they set the hook. When I asked them what kind of hook they are using it turned out mostly that it is one of those smaller nymph hooks, curved but with a very small gap. So the answer is easy for me; they miss a lot of their hooking potential.
Then concerning hook sizes I discover that still most people believe that only small flies would work for grayling but I tell you this is not so. Grayling especially the Arctic ones will come up and take flies up to size 6 and for wets they go even after bigger. I caught grayling with the 8cm big Blair mouse (http://www.flyfishinggazette.com/html/flytying_dries_bm.htm) and also with a size 2/0 lake trout fly both in the Yukon Territory in Canada.
Spiderweb and the tie off technique
After so many years tying parachute flies I think the best idea with my parachutes is the use of Spiderweb for securing and tying off the parachute. It is made by Danville and very easy to obtain. I have demonstrated it so many times and shown how easy it is to secure a parachute wing well. Parachute flies look difficult to tie but when I hold classes I just need an hour and everybody is amazed that they can produce a parachute fly so quickly and easily. I have no clue why so many people still tie off the parachute in the old fashion way.
I specially use Spiderweb to prevent trout teeth damage to the hackle quill or thread windings. My greatest problem with my first parachute flies was that I was not satisfied with the securing and durability of the hackle. Although I fished intensively for grayling it sometimes happened that I hooked a trout. Those trout often destroyed the parachute and from that moment my interest in making more durable parachute hackles became my highest priority. It took me a whole winter season to find a technique that protected the hackle against sharp teeth.
I also looked for an easier way to tie off the parachute hackle. Most people tie off the hackle at the eye of the hook. Using this method you have to pull away the hackle fibres first which makes the tie off more difficult. During other improvements I tried adding extra windings through the thorax before securing the hackle. This makes the hackle more durable indeed, but also the tying more complicated. My idea to use Danville's Spiderweb to secure the hackle is probably new. This method has been designed to make winding a parachute a simple operation, while forming an effective, durable fly at the same time without damaging any of the hackle fibres. With normal thread you never would be able to get the same results.
The dressing (Klinkhåmer special)
Hook : Daiichi 1160, Daiichi 1167 Klinkhåmer hooks size 8-20
Thread : Uni-thread, 8/0, grey or tan for body, Spiderweb for parachute
Body : Fly Rite Poly Dubbing any colour of preference or Wapsi Super Fine waterproof dry fly dubbing for smaller patterns
Wing : One to three strand of white poly-yarn depending of the size and water to fish
Thorax : Three strands of peacock herl
Hackle : Blue dun, dark dun, light dun, chestnut all in good combination with the body
Cut off a strand of poly-yarn and taper the tip with your scissors before tying in to ensure the underbody is as slim as possible.
Secure the yarn onto the top of the hook shank with the thread at the position shown.
Try to make a nice slim well tapered under body. Be very critical in this stage! The better the under body the more beautiful the completed fly.
Tie in the hackle so it lies in the same direction as the yarn.
Form an upright wing by winding up the poly yarn and hackle. This ensures you will have no problems with wrapping the hackle later on.
Apply a small amount of dubbing to the thread. Use enough dubbing just to cover the under body. Dub a very slim and well tapered body, starting as close to the barb as possible. The thinner the body the more successful the pattern.
Wind it along the shank and stop just behind the wing and cut off surplus or use the last piece of dubbing as underground for the thorax. In that situation it is not really necessary to cut off surplus. I recommend trying both techniques because for some people it is much easier to produce a better-looking thorax when you have made an under body.
Tie in three peacock herl fibres. Tie the herl in by their tips. This will help to create a much nicer thorax.
I secure the strands well also behind the wing. This ensures that the thorax will not come off. Tie off the thread at the eye.
Note the hook is turned in the vice, so that the wing is horizontal. Grasping the tuft of poly-yarn, wind several turns of Spiderweb around the base of the poly-yarn to create a rigid wing base on which to wind the hackle.
Starting at the top of your wing base wind on successive turns of hackle, taking each turn below the next and thus closer to the hook shank. Small flies will require about 5 turns of hackle and bigger flies at least 7 or 8. Remember the fly has to float mainly on the parachute. A lot of people wind their hackle working up the wing. This makes the hackle less durable and it may come off. When you work from top downwards you ensure a compact, well-compressed and durable hackle.
Pull the hackle tip in the opposite direction to the wing and secure it with a few turns of Spiderweb. Secure well around the base of the wing between the wound hackle and body.
Finish off using a whip finish tool. Trim away the waste hackle tip and any hackle fibres that are pointed down. Take your varnish applicator and apply some lacquer on the windings just under the parachute.
Trim the wing as required.
Hans van Klinken