In my opinion, the Klinkhåmer has made the biggest impact on river fly fishing in my lifetime. It is a universal fly, it copies everything, and nothing in particular! This pattern has an unbelievable ability is to bring fish up out of the blue, a fish fooling fly with few equals.
It is a low maintenance fly, floats superbly, even after been taken by a trout or grayling. It's also a straightforward tying exercise, even for beginners.
There are two more fast water dry fly patterns that I would not be without. Roman Moser's Balloon Caddis and my own Tape Wing Caddis, both can bring fish up in riffles, but really come into their own when fish are keyed on to caddis flies.
1984 was a good year for fly fishermen, for one particular Dutch fisherman it was an extremely good year. That was Hans van Klinken, then little known outside his native Holland.
Hans was on one of his many visits to fish the river Glomma in Central Norway, a river noted for its grayling, not just the number of fish, but more importantly, their enormous size.
One of Hans' friends was leaving the fishing camp just as he arrived. He suggested to Hans that he tried large dry flies, but to fish them semi-wet, sunk well into the surface film. He'd apparently done well with a Red Tag, size eight long shank, but fished damp???
Sometime later, Hans was cleaning a grayling for the pot and decided to open it up to see what it had been eating. He discovered very large, curved, caddis pupae inside. It was obvious he had to copy these. So something quite large, with a well curved abdomen hanging from the surface film ought to attract some attention - Well, that was his original thinking.
But how to float this large body, and make it easy for the angler to see in the fast water? Simple, he used an oversized para hackle with a big, buoyant calf tail wing post.
This prototype was given a few tweaks, crimped polyarn replaced the calf tail wing post and a peacock herl thorax was added to give contrast with the lighter abdomen. Originally it was christened the LT Caddis, LT being the initials of Light Tan, the colour of the Fly Rite poly dubbing used.
The pattern was then given its now universally known name - the Klinkhåmer, not by Hans van Klinken himself, but by another angler also called Hans, the late Hans de Groot. He came up with the idea of combining Klink from Hans' surname with something Norwegian sounding - since the fly was conceived in Norway. So he tagged on the word 'håmer', everyone was happy and the name stuck. The rest as they say is history - Hans had created a masterpiece, the Klinkhåmer Special, a fish fooling fly with few equals.
The Klinkhåmer Special although intended to be a caddis pattern, doesn't need any caddis activity whatsoever to work. It is in fact a universal fly, it copies everything, and nothing in particular. It is quite simply irresistible to fish!
This pattern's outstanding ability is to 'bring fish up', literally out of the blue, when not a fin stirs, even when it's baking hot and the river is bone low. In these seemingly impossible conditions, up comes a fish and takes the Klinkhåmer - What a fly!
It is best fished in riffles or rough broken water. And as a general rule, it is not a fly to use on flat glides. However, I've found that in pouring rain, fish will rise to it on flats, provided there's a bit of pace to the flow.
Engineering wise it gets full marks. It obeys simple laws of physics and sits correctly on virtually every cast - when tied correctly of course! It is a robust construction, so can be used over and over again, even after many trouty maulings. It is a low maintenance fly, large and easy to see, even in fast broken water, that's flecked with foam. Usually a few good cheeks full of air and you're out fishing again.
In my opinion, the Klinkhåmer has made the biggest impact on river fly fishing in my lifetime. I can't think of any other single pattern that has had the same impact or following. This fly already sits alongside the Greenwell's Glory, Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Partridge & Orange, Sawyers Pheasant Tail Nymph, and the other 'Hall of Fame' patterns.
There are two more fast water dry fly patterns that I would not be without. They are Roman Moser's Balloon Caddis and my own Tape Wing Caddis.
Both can be tied quite large and both can bring fish up from nowhere. However, their real strength lays in their ability to copy caddisflies and to suit any caddis activity. This may either be during emergence, or egg laying, which as you know is often around dusk, but can be during full darkness as well.
Roman Moser's Balloon Caddis was designed to copy a caddis right on the point of emergence. The yellow Polycelon foam balloon represents the bulging thoracic cuticle of the emerger. Clearly a pattern best fished in the evening, during a caddis emergence. However, some fly fishers have taken to using it as another daytime search pattern, when there's not a caddis in sight - and it works! So, the Balloon Caddis has found its way into some fly boxes for not exactly the right reason, but who cares, it works.
The Tape Wing Caddis has too distinct an outline for it to be taken by 'mistake'. It is a surface riding adult caddis - period. At dusk, with good caddis activity, (usually the Hydropsychidae), this pattern can be lethal. True most of the splashing and swirling rises will be to the ascending phyrate adults (pupae). But remember, in the general mêlée of emergence, there will be casualties - imperfect flies, exhausted flies, plus returning egg layers. So try the Tape Wing or the Balloon Caddis if you find yourself in, or even suspect, caddis activity.