February 01, 2024
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This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Fly Fisherman. Some dates have been change to reflect 2024.
It's been 40 years since my first Klinkhåmer Special landed in the surface film of Norway’s mighty Glomma River. Since then, I have read many articles on how to tie and fish the Klinkhåmer. Some were–excellent, but sometimes I was not able to recognize my own fly. I have seen it tied on straight hooks, and with tails, different wing materials, and completely different proportions than I originally intended. With so many variations of my original Klinkhåmer out there, it's no wonder I get phone calls, e-mails, and questions concerning how to tie a “real” Klinkhåmer Special.
Some people give me all the credit for the Klinkhåmer Special, but l was not the first or only one to come up with the idea of a parachute fly with a body that hangs well below the surface. Swedish fly tier Tomas Olsen created a similar pattern a year before I designed my first Klinkhåmer, and at about the same time in the United States, Roy Richardson independently developed his Equal Emerger. Mike Monroe created a similar fly–called the Paratilt–years before and published detailed tying and fishing instructions in the July/ August 1979 issue of Fly Fisherman. These other fly tiers deserve much credit for their creations.
I first called my fly the L.T. Caddis, but Hans de Groot and Ton Lindhout came up with the name Klinkhåmer Special and it has stuck ever since. Since then I have also seen it called (in Germany) the Nordischer Hammer or Klinki. I have seen publications in the United States call it the Clinck Hammer and I have seen and heard of Pinkhammers, Yellowhammers, Bluehammers, and many other types of Hammers.
A Better Parachute
A wonderful sedge imitation called the Rackelhanen was my inspiration for the Klinkhåmer Special. The Rackelhanen is still popular in Scandinavia, but this fly has never gotten the worldwide attention it deserves.
My first variations of the Rackelhanen did not always land wing-up as they should. Fish rose to them like crazy but I missed too many takes. To solve the problem, I wrapped a hackle around the wing post as I had seen in Eric Leiser's The Complete Book of Fly Tying (1977), and the result was my first parachute pattern. After this improvement, the flies floated the way I wanted, but this was not the only reason I stayed with parachute-style flies. Around the same time, I discovered that flies floating in the surface produced more fish than patterns drifting on top of the surface.
At that time, I still used shoulder hackle flies tied with a stiff tail made of hackle. I liked the way they floated high on the surface, making them easy to see. I loved to watch the grayling come up for them, but one day I noticed high-riding flies were often pushed aside–rather than swallowed–by the forward motion of aggressive grayling. The Klinkhåmer Special was my solution to this frustrating problem.
Because the heavy curved hook of my fly sits well below the surface film, the Klinkhåmer Special imitates all types of emerging mayflies and caddis. The appearance of an insect caught in or below the surface film makes a tempting target for trout and grayling, but the position of the hook also allows you to hook fish more frequently and securely. Even Atlantic salmon–notorious for merely bumping flies with their noses–are hooked more frequently with the Klinkhåmer than with traditional flies.
Fly fishing with parachutes offers other benefits. A well-tied parachute fly lands perfectly on the surface and also floats upright the entire drift. Because of the "iceberg effect" in which most of the mass of the Klinkhåmer Special is below the surface, the upper part of the fly is vertically stable. If tied correctly with the right materials, this fly floats through riffles and strong currents without tipping on its side or sinking.
There have been many changes in the fly-tying world over the past 40 years, but I still use the same materials today as I did when I first developed this fly. I have seen many variations, and have tried to make dozens of improvements myself, but none proved better or more effective than the original.
Hackle. Despite what some people say, you need the best hackle you can buy for parachute flies, and especially for the Klinkhåmer Special. I have read that leftover or low-grade hackle is ideal for parachutes but I totally disagree. A parachute fly floats in the surface because of stiff, balanced, and well-tied horizontal hackle. A tail can be helpful but isn't necessary. Poor-quality hackle has fewer contact points with the water, and the softer hackle fibers allow the fly to sink more easily. While you are casting, soft hackles also lose the horizontal shape that should keep the fly floating, and soon it becomes impossible to keep it on the surface.
Klinkhåmer hackle made with just two or three hackle wraps does not work either. Sparse hackle dressings cannot hold the heavy hook of the Klinkhåmer Special near the surface. Depending on the size of the fly, you may have to make seven or eight turns of hackle or more, so a long hackle is extremely helpful. Oversized hackle–twice the length of the hook gap or more–works well on all parachute flies, and especially on the Klinkhåmer with its extra-heavy hook. In short, it is hard to over-hackle a Klinkhåmer Special. When I tie flies with a group of other tiers, and we put our Klinkhåmers together, mine always seem larger because of the hackle.
Wing post. If my long-distance eyesight were much better, I would use Tomas Olsen's melted-wing technique for most of my parachutes. Unfortunately, my eyesight is not perfect, so when I started to produce parachute flies, my first priority was to see and locate the fly easily in broken water. I searched for a wing material that was lighter than water, not slippery to tie with, and soft enough to allow me to pull the hackle stem deep into the material with each wrap. When you tie a lot of parachutes, you quickly notice that wing material, hackle, and tying thread have to cooperate in perfect harmony. The best materials I have found are Wapsi polypropylene yarn for #14 flies and larger, and Niche silicone yarn for #16 and smaller flies.
The Klinkhåmer Special is not a match-the-hatch fly, and I use whatever wing colors allow me to see the fly best on the water. Usually this means a white wing post, but sometimes a brown or other dark-colored wing post stands out against the glare on the surface. Some people successfully match the wing, hackle, and body colors to imitate their local insects. Wapsi poly yarn is available in many colors, but the Niche yarn comes in only four colors: white, brown, black, and gray. Some people use foam instead of yarn for the wing. Foam will help the fly float better but it can decrease the durability if not tied well. If you don't mind trout damaging the wing, and have no problem frequently changing flies, you should be happy with it. If you cut the foam right above the hackle, the foam expands and pushes the hackle fibers downward, which helps the fly float better.
I see many Klinkhåmers with a poly yarn wing post that is cut much too short. The wing should be the length of the hook shank or longer. A wing that is too long can easily be shortened later, but it can never be lengthened.
Abdomen dubbing. I use two kinds of dubbing for my Klinkhåmers. For #14 and larger flies I use Extra Fine Poly Fly Rite dubbing. The beautiful solid and blended colors imitate any insect body. For #16 and smaller flies I use Wapsi Super Fine dubbing. It is much finer than Fly Rite and ideal for tiny creations.
I have seen many Klinkhåmers with enough dubbing for four or five flies. Slimmer bodies produce more fish. If after wrapping the abdomen you discover you were too generous attaching the dubbing to your thread, don't try to remove it or overbuild the body–just use the extra dubbing as the underbody for the thorax.
Peacock herl thorax. One of the most important elements of the Klinkhåmer Special is the noticeably enlarged thorax made from peacock herl. Peacock herl is notoriously fragile but you can twist it around your tying thread to improve its durability. You can also strengthen the thorax by pressing a drop of varnish into the base of the wing to secure the wing, thread, and thorax before you wrap the herl. You need a good varnish applicator and thin varnish to make this work perfectly every time. Peacock-colored dubbing works for the thorax as well, and while it may not look as nice, it is more durable.
Klinkhåmer hooks. I tied my first Klinkhåmer Special on a Partridge K2B, a wide-gap hook better known as the Yorkshire caddis hook. I wanted a straight eye, but wanted to keep the wide hook gap, so finally I created my own hooks for this pattern, the Partridge Klinkhåmer GRS15ST, 15BN, and 15BNX.
The most common mistake I see is that people don't use the right hooks for their Klinkhåmers. Many people write to me and tell me they have problems hooking fish with a Klinkhåmer Special. They get many strikes but miss a lot of fish. When I ask what kind of hook they use, it usually turns out they are using smaller nymph, scud, or caddis hooks, curved but with a small gap compared to the Partridge hooks I recommend. When you use a small hook, or a hook with a small gap, you greatly reduce your hooking potential.
Danville Spiderweb. I have no idea why so many people still tie off parachute hackle at the hook eye. It is more complicated and leads to fragile flies. Using this old-fashioned method, you finish with the thread at the hook eye, wrap the hackle, and then pull the hackle fibers away from the hook eye while tying off the hackle stem behind the hook eye. The hackle quill goes directly from the wing post to the hook eye, which leaves it exposed to the sharp teeth of a trout. When the quill breaks, the parachute hackle comes off. It is much easier to wrap the hackle stem around the base of the parachute post and secure the hackle stem there, at the base of the parachute post, where it is protected by several layers of thread and the bulk of the wing. I use Danville 30-denier Spiderweb for these final wraps.
Klinkhåmer Special Recipe
- HOOK: #8-18 Partridge Klinkhåmer GRS15ST.
- THREAD: 8/0 gray or tan Uni-Thread for abdomen and thorax, Spiderweb to tie off the hackle.
- ABDOMEN: Extra Fine Poly Fly Rite dubbing for flies up to#14, Wapsi Super Fine for smaller flies.
- WING: White poly yarn for#14 and larger flies, Niche silicone yarn for #16 and smaller.
- THORAX: Three strands of peacock herl.
- HACKLE: Blue dun, dark dun, light dun, chestnut, or other colors to match natural.
Hans Van Klinken is a senior instructor in the Royal Netherlands Army. He is the creator of many fly patterns and has fished extensively across Europe and North America.