I still consider myself a novice in the world of two-handed rods and Spey flies. What I do know for sure is when it comes to Spey flies you can’t get away from the name Alec Jackson. Most recognizable in the series of Daiichi brand hooks that he developed. As I sit at my vise and tie Spey fly after Spey fly, his name keeps flashing in front of me. I keep asking who is Alec Jackson and how did he get his name on every pack of these elegant and beyond durable hooks? A few years back, a video on tying spade flies made its way to my hands and I was intrigued to say the least by the robust fellow sitting behind a Nor-vise with a slight accent and a pair of magnifying glasses to aid in tying. What I noticed immediately was the smoothness which he spoke exuding confidence and experience. He tyed some spectacularly fishable flies with such an appeal that it makes you want to run down and tie your own before watching the entire video. There is something very believable and reassuring in his explanation and reasoning in design. Low and behold the man at the vise in the video was Alec Jackson. Before I knew it I was watching Flies For the Pacific Northwest and as life would have it, I never really got the time to continue to tie his signature flies. As I slid further into the Spey fly tying world, the packs of hooks turned to boxes and the urge to know more about the man behind the hooks and videos grew.
I did what any twenty first century angler would do, I “googled” Alec Jackson. 3,660,000 possibilities later, I realized this was going to be tougher than I thought, since every imaginable Spey fly dressing, Spey fly shop, or Spey forum in the world has commented on Alec Jackson hooks at some point and frequently. To find something written about the man himself was virtually impossible. I did gig up a reprint of an article Alec wrote for Wild Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon (premiere issue) and it stated that he was now retired and ran Yorkshire Flyfishers a purveyor of fine silks and tying materials. Certainly there must be website for this? Nope, but I did manage to find a phone number.
We’re off to the races, a tangible lead! What do I do now? I picked up the phone and called him and expressed my interest to know more about him and maybe generate a small article about him. He was willing and ready right then, I unfortunately was not, since I wanted to be sure I had the right Alec Jackson and the right questions to ask the man behind the hook. We played a bit of phone tag and after that I eventually got to pick his brain a bit. Phone interviews are not my favorites to do. We were three time zones away and I had a few sheets of pre-printed questions to jot down notes on, which by the end of our conversation wound up looking like some sort of quantum physics equation.
Alec Jackson is a worldly fellow and it doesn’t take long to figure that out. Alec Jackson was born in 1929 making him a spirited 82 years old. He was born in Selby, Yorkshire, England. The forestry commission of England sent him to New Zealand to work for the Forest Service in 1949. Within two years he was the assistant forester. He had studied forestry before going to New Zealand. He wound up doing graduate school research on woody plant cell walls toward a dual degree in forestry and physical chemistry in Seattle, Washington around 1956. He worked part time for a commercial mill while going to grad school and got into a “rhubarb” of a dispute with his boss in New Zealand. His boss demanded that he return to New Zealand, instead Alec resigned and finished his thesis at the University of Washington. A Hungarian graduate student and friend got him a job with a company called Fiber Research. Within a short time he owned 5% of the company. After a year Alec was part owner at 20% and then president of the newly formed Parkinson, Crosby, and Works. In 1969 Alec sold the business to a friend. At this time Alec and his wife had agreed to take $20,000 dollars and work with Partridge to design and market a better Spey hook.
Partridge proved to be difficult to work with and the mutual business plan fell apart after nine years and Alec had lost most of his investment. Alec took his desire to market suitable hooks to Daiichi and the Angler Sport Group. From there he worked with Paul Betters. Paul was at the very least a little gun shy in dealing with Spey hooks since the previous designs were not very successful. Daiichi came up with the first 750,000 size 3 Spey hooks and Alec negotiated an additional 15% discount. When Alec had shown signs of success he sweetened his deal with Daiichi and purchased two hook-stamping machines for $4,000 each to help broaden the Spey hook variety. From there the relationship between Angler Sport Group and Alec Jackson blossomed. Alec’s next move was to negotiate his name on each pack of hooks he designed and royalties as well. Within five years of dealing with Angler Sport Group he convinced them to have Daiichi process the heavy wire, 3/0 Spey and the blind-eye hooks. This was slow in coming and the price in doing business would mean the return loop eye and the blind eye hooks would cost the same to manufacture even though the engineering and materials in blind eye hooks is noticeably less. Alec also proved his worth by applying his physics background and assisting more in designing hooks. High bending resistance, design shape, and forge placement are all areas that Alec has dabbled in to help make Daiichi hooks the leader in the industry today. To date Alec has his named signed to Spey, blind eye, North Country wet, salt, and tube fly hooks through Daiichi. I already mentioned some informative fly tying videos. What about Yorkshire Flyfisher you ask? Well Alec runs this as a distribution center. He is one of the largest distributors for Pearsall’s silks in the world. He covers Japan, Canada, and the United States. He has the exclusive rights to distribute a handful of colors including java brown and jasper, which are wildly popular in the bamboo rod builder’s circles. He also works closely to distribute silks with Hareline Dubbin. Alec has even gone so far as to convince Pearsall’s to bring back colors that went to the wayside including green highlander and straw. The silk worm doesn’t stop there; he also distributes a brand of Japanese silk in the United States and Canada that classic salmon fly tiers can’t get enough of. Alec speaks with great enthusiasm about these. This silk is just superb and has an eye-catching iridescence and translucency.
How does a man of eighty keep all this going? There has to be strong family support behind him. Alec has been married for 57 years to his wife Rose. They have three wonderful sons and six grandchildren; three girls ranging from eight to twenty seven years old and three boys ranging from fifteen to twenty four years old. Alec mentioned that he hopes to turn the business over to his youngest son Stephen Jackson, who is one the finest chironimid fishermen in the country. Alec wastes no time in speaking of his entire family with great pride and respect. Ages, residence, careers, and characteristics flow from him like the Skagit River. Everyone seems to have a certain degree of fishing ability in the Jackson family. You can feel Alec brighten up as he mentions that his youngest granddaughter at the age of seven caught a stunning five-pound pink salmon while trolling. She is also learning the art of fly casting on a bamboo rod. What better tool for the job than a Daryll Whitehead rod!!!
Alec was a “hook freak” at an early age. His fascination was so strong that he still has a few silkworm gut snelled North Country soft hackle hooks that have been in his possession for more than 65 years. A copy of the 1929 Hardy’s Angling Guide had as he describes “the most beautiful hooks ever seen”. You can feel Alec light up as if he’s seeing them again for the first time as he describes the oval wire used in their construction. He goes on to explain how it got the ball rolling for him in the pursuit of hook forging excellence. As our conversation progressed I had to ask what his favorite fly to tie was, and without hesitation he stated “a spade”. According to Alec two tiers created the spade simultaneously; Jerry Wentle’s Western Wizard and Bob Arnold’s spade, which in those days had the racial stigma attached. Alec has taken the spade to a whole new level and is still a proven fish catcher today. With that he affixes his spades to the “terribly slow action” rods like the Bruce & Walker 10’3” Hexagraphite with a 5/6 double taper line and a nine-foot shooting head. For salmon fishing a Folcust 7 weight with a 4/5 double taper line. Alec confesses that he is not a big fan of today’s fast action graphite rods.
Alec being a notable tier and fly fisherman. I asked him what he thought of the some of the bigger names in today’s steelhead and Spey scene. I threw out a couple of the bigger names and Alec paused and gathered his words carefully. He spoke of Ed Ward with the highest regard and felt his potential is extraordinary. Ed Ward “lives for steelhead” and “has a fabulous mind for writing”. I then asked if there were any names that haven’t gotten the recognition deserved or up and coming. Alec tossed out several names and described each in detail. I wrote hieroglyphic encrypted notes as feverishly as I could, not wanting to interrupt the momentum of our conversation. Seattle glass artist Joe Rossano came up as Alec described his drive to go back and learn the art of fly tying and two-handed fishing through the original literature. Harry Lemire surfaced as well for his unbridled talents in tying classic salmon flies with out a vise. Yes, you read that right; he ties full dress salmon flies while holding the hook in hand. As for the future of our sport Alec said that with the likes of Bio-chemist Joe Brown and glass artist Ben Cobb the species and the art will continue to grow. With that said we talked about the future of steelhead fishing. He remarked that today’s younger generation is paying attention to preserving and protecting our resources. Alec commented that he knew of a steelhead taping out at 47½ “ and of others presumed to still be lurking in the waters we so often descend upon. Alec had generously sent me literature and articles that had already been written and among them were responses he had written to the now famed steelheader, John Shewey. One response in their correspondence played in my head over and over and changed the way I viewed steelhead fishing forever. “Steelhead should be fished for with great respect. My choice is good gear and as good a fly as I can tie. Yet, I cannot bring myself to say that steelhead fishing should be limited to fly fishing”. Fly fishing means different things to many people, for Alec it’s a way of life. Our phone conversations from there went deeper into the need to continue to educate and positively reinforce the values of conservation and not just steelhead alone. What we hold so deeply in our heart should be released from our grasp and shared with others. The fight to keep the waters clean and flowing should never wander from our minds as we let each drift swing in pursuit of another tug.
– Image of Alec Jackson tying borrowed from:http://www.flyfishusa.com/fly-tying/hooks-alec-jackson.htm
– For ordering and catalog information contact Alec Jackson of the Yorkshire Flyfisher @ 425-488-9806
– Packaging and Fly photos by Kelly M. Miller
– Flies tyed by VERN-O with a huge thank you to Alec Jackson for his contributions to the fly tying world.