– the developer of one of the world’s greatest dry flies, the Klinkhåmer Special, paints a most interesting and personal picture of what fly fishing and fly tying have meant to him. Says Hans:
Not so long ago, someone unfamiliar with the sport of Fly Fishing, ask me to try to explain Fly Fishing in just one sentence. Thirty years ago I’d have needed three hours or more to explain it, but after four decades of asking myself the same question, I did not find the answer that challenging. In fact, I found the answer to be quite simple.
So simple that I only needed five words: Fly-fishing is merging with nature!
In reality anyone who participates in the sport knows firsthand that fly fishing is so much more then wetting a fly, or casting a line, or landing a fish. The real experience is fishing whilst being in perfect harmony with the wild. Fly fishing actually brought me NOT only back to nature, but also taught me how to respect and handle nature and wildlife more then ever.
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Fly fishing, and also fly tying, de-stressed me enormously from my busy army job and responsibilities in the past. It was the best medication for me to bring my mind back to peace again and it indeed worked far better than any pills, powders or drugs. The thrill of seeing a fish come up for your own-made dry fly is a feeling that pushes and forces you to f even more.
Maybe fly fishing is an addiction or obsession for many but I don’t think it is for me, because I grab my camera or pencil as easy as my fly rod.
I also like to chat a lot with other fishermen and guides and I can watch beavers, otters, moose and caribou for hours with my fly rod just standing next to me. For me, it’s all belonging to fly fishing. Among good friends we can talk hours about flies and forget all about time, missing a good hatch is not unknown to me and that too is a part of fly fishing!
Having an enjoyable chat about trips from the past, experiences, or special fishing techniques, are common among older fly fishermen. I remember a nice situation with me and my friend and founder of the Continental Trout Conservation Fund, Rene Beaumont, when we were in Bosnia and met some other fly fishermen from Holland. We had some very pleasant talks and a nice cold beer while our ‘young’ guide was just trying to push us to get fishing again….. He simply didn’t understand our behavior.
It’s not easy to explain to a young enthusiastic fly fisherman that we ‘oldies’ can enjoy a chat, nature, wildlife as much, or sometimes even more, than actual fishing. I met a lot of interesting people on banks of the rivers and it is not strange to me that a pleasant talk and making a new friend can be the highlight of the day for me.
When I look at my closest circle of fishing friends, I can say for sure that it doesn’t matter if we catch fish or not. Of course everybody loves to catch a fish, but you cannot predict the conditions and sometimes you hit blank days too, or have to fight the Gods of weather.
Our pleasure comes from just being out there on the riverbank and enjoying the river with all its beauty and surroundings.
After I spoke at the last Dutch fly fair (May 2012), I overheard a few fly fishermen complaining about one of their recent fishing trips. Not only did this surprise me, but it set me thinking too. One of the complainers had fished a place that I had fished for many years with great pleasure, enjoyment, and success. Of course I had my good and not so good ‘catching’ days over the years, but I always felt that the fishing was great. The complaining was not only saddening, but it was clear the complainer directly linked poor catches to a bad trip.
For me, and for thousands of other fly fishermen worldwide, poor catches do not necessarily equate to a bad fishing trip. I have fished for fifty years, and I have had dozens of trips where hardly any fish were landed. That lack of success never kept me from fishing every chance I could get. If one cannot handle poor catches and blank days, I think it is perhaps time to search for a pastime other than fly fishing.
Let me illustrate for you: Since the early nineties, when I was closely involved with Fyn’s sea trout project, I made about 30 week-long trips to hunt for sea trout in the coastal waters of Denmark. Thanks to my diaries, in which have described all my early catch reports, I can tell factually that I had successful weeks with some extremely high numbers of catches too. However, my records reveal that a third of these trips went without catching any fish at all! Altogether there were many days of toiling and sweating in all sorts of weather without any results. Not even a take! In total perhaps about 70 days of carrying on with fishing with only one expectation: a chance to hook an enormous sea-trout (or steelhead). I ask myself: ‘Did I have ten bad trips, or did I learn a lot more about fishing and still had a good time?’
The talks at the Fly Fair have led me to write an article about a trip I just returned from to India where the catches were very poor, mainly to heavy thunderstorms deep in the Himalayas, but all I can say is that we still enjoyed an awesome trip.
For me it was fishing in the land of monks and butterflies. Fly fishing in India is indeed an enormous challenge especially when your guides are fanatic spoon fishermen and have no idea about fly fishing and which part of their rivers would be suitable for fly fishing. Exploring everything at your own is not easy so we made the best out of it.
We fished the state of Sikkim (between Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet) exploring if it was possible to catch a big golden Masheer with a fly before they would be extinct.
Nobody had ever seen a fly fisherman in the areas that we fished and that led to unbelievable experiences. In some remote places it looked as if people crawled out the ground to see what we were doing. After some heavy thunderstorms we arranged a day trip to see at least a glimpse of the Himalayas, and it was the highlight of the trip.
It was my second article in which hardly any fish were caught and was well received at the international fly fishing scene. My first story I had done in 1986 and actually it was my breakthrough, mainly because I wrote about nature and wildlife while the catches were so poor. I cannot stretch the truth to say that I actually fished with the monks, but one asked to try a few casts in order that he might get a better sense of what it's like. That small amount of casting instruction with a real monk surely made my holiday a very special one.
My Indian trip and another experience in Canada became my big theme about good and bad fishing days. Especially because there are so many slogans and banners saying clearly that there are ‘no bad fishing days’, but is this really true?
I honestly must confess that I privately never experienced a bad fishing day, neither when alone or in company of friends. But after more then 40 years fly fishing, all I can say is that there are indeed bad or sad fishing days… not many but I had to face a few.
What started as an awesome day turn into my worst fishing experience ever while I was teaching a wonderful lady how to catch a salmon on a dry fly. She caught a nice grilse after 15 minutes. Her husband had already become cranky so they swapped places after she rose a big salmon and he wanted me to help him after she had landed her first fish. Of course, there were more big salmon in the river and 20 minutes after she had released her first fish, she hooked into a real whopper while she was standing at his old place. It was a tough fight and there was no attention from her husband. He didn’t even look up or support his wife. Instead it made him even more bad-tempered. When I asked him if he wasn’t happy for her, all he said to me was, ‘Damn, that was MY fish…’ followed by many swear words. When it turned out the fish measured 106 cm with an approximately weight of 12kg, her husband went completely nuts and showed me clearly who is the no 1 jerk in the world. One guy created a real bad day for four other people. So bad fishing days really do exist.
Gazing over the river I enjoy the movements of the current and the sounds of birds in the background. I can sit for hours like this, but admit it has taken me years to reach this level of understanding and satisfaction. From the earliest days of my career until now, I have progressed through many stages, and each individual stage was extremely important to the shaping of the fishing attitude I have today. I also had my long days of fishing and my ‘eager to catch as many fish as possible’ days in my early years and that is why I can understand the young and fanatic anglers so well. It’s normal that you want to prove yourself and want to be sure that your flies will work and there is no better proof then numerous catches. It was not different in fly tying. I started as a fanatic dry fly purist, but in time and with experience, I developed my techniques and flies to be able to catch fish at depths of 4 to 5 meters.
A Klinkhåmer Special tied by the author
It’s the same with guiding – and I mean true guiding – guiding by heart. True guiding is a natural gift. For me guiding has nothing to do with money, but all to do about happiness and my eagerness to share knowledge and skill with other people.
And it doesn’t matter what age the people are. What I share with people doesn’t have to be about fly fishing either. Because what is wrong in explaining to people the mystical call of the loon or sharing your secrets on how to get real close to a moose.
Or telling people why moose and caribou swim across lakes and ponds, or why you never hear an owl flying. Or sharing your knowledge about what fruit and plants are edible and which you should avoid. For me guiding is a huge privilege and a great opportunity to be able to bring people close to the wild again.
For me, serious guiding first started after I had discovered to feel the same happiness, or even more pleasure, than the client who played and caught the fish. It’s a learning process that takes many years and a lot of time and that’s why my fly fishing attitude sometimes is hard to understand for those who are just starting, or who still need their catches to prove themselves and to build up skill.
Helping a young kid to catch his first salmon or trout has made me happier then catching one myself and it really makes my day. For me fly fishing is also enjoying a nice shore lunch on the banks of the river and meeting friends to share your tales. Fly fishing can be anything as long you can feel in perfect harmony with the river, nature and wildlife.
Hans van Klinken