The Yorkshire Fly Fisher - by Joseph Rossano

Alec at the bench with his Norlander vise. (photograpy by Gregory Minaker and Joseph Rossano)


To many, Alec Jackson was the man behind those gorgeous hooks. Hooks of blue, silver, gold and black.  Hooks that have come to define an era in steelhead fly tying.  Mentored by Syd Glasso, Wes Drain, Walt Johnson, Lee Richardson, Stan Bogdan and others from a bygone, golden era, of Steelhead Fly angling, Alec has left us to join his wife Rose in a much better place.  


Arranged upon Alec’s manuscript, “A Book of Low Water Flies”, is a selection of Alec Jackson Spey and River Dee hooks in silver, gold, blue, and black.


Alec chose to dispense with the obvious in favor of exploring that which lay beneath the surface, a behavioral trait that endeared him to many.  Alec’s life was a pursuit of excellence.   He sought it out in everyone with whom he came in contact, and when he identified promise, he encouraged its growth.  Mr. Jackson led a tribe of followers whom adhere to the same doctrine.  It may come as a big surprise to some but Alec Jackson was a great long-distance runner.   So great in fact, he and Roger Bannister—the man to break the 4-minute mile—were competitors and acquaintances.  Success in endurance running requires a willingness to subject oneself to a tremendous amount of discomfort.  Unlike football or hockey, or some other team sport where mental toughness is a collective effort, long distance running demands individuals battle with the voices in their heads and the pain they’re willing to inflict upon themselves to defeat their competitors.  The sport is one of those pursuits where mental toughness and self-sacrifice commingle.


Pictured are fly pattern cards and three writings created for friends and family, “Lies From The River And Such Tales”, 1994, “A Book of Low Water Flies”, 2007, and “October”, 2007. Scattered upon them are a smattering of Alec’s favored North Fork Stillaguamish river fly patterns.


In the Washington Steelhead Fly Anglers, Alec found a group of individuals sharing his mindset, loners who pursued steelhead with a fly even during those months of the season when it was likely to be unsuccessful.  To persevere as a steelhead fly angler through long periods of no fish, inclement weather, and the biting cold of winter required the same mental toughness exhibited by the long distance runner.   It is no surprise that this organization became so dear to Alec. Alec believed that obsession led to success well before Malcolm Gladwell wrote his book “Outliers.” In the four decades preceding Gladwell’s book, Alec dispensed the same wisdom, acknowledging that time spent in obsession, pursuing excellence, often yielded something in excess of it.  Like those in Arnold Gingrich’s “The Boys of Manny’s Back Room,” the WSF was populated with many a “10,000 hour rule” test case and many icons of the sport.  To share their realizations about steelhead with another was an opportunity in which Alec reveled.

A devout fly angler, a purist on the surface, Alec began his angling career as a coarse fisherman in Yorkshire, the home of his youth.  Cutting his teeth on gudgeon captured with a maggot affixed to a bare hook, he then focused on the number of fish caught per minute as a measure of success.   This is in stark contrast to his later dedication, chasing a fish, the steelhead, that often does not eat at all.   Furthermore, the refined lines of the hooks that now bear his name stand in stark contrast to their primitive beginnings.  These primitive beginnings provided Alec with humility and in turn allowed access to those who might otherwise have been intimidated by him.  A champion of the underdog, Alec was a defender of right; he chose a path of introspection allowing for change in perspective yet defending everyone and everything in that path.  Often a not so idle threat would be uttered from Alec’s lips, “If they harm my friend I will slit their throat.”  Loyalty to one’s friends, to a cause, and passion expressed in that loyalty are traits that intimidate the timid.  Alec was anything but timid and used this confidence to the benefit of many.  The Deer Creek Restoration Group, The Washington Steelhead Fly Fisher’s the Northwest Atlantic Salmon Fly Guild and many more benefited from Alec’s passion and determination to see these valued entities become strong and viable, to ensure that the fish and the places that harbor them, and the fly angler’s way of life, were protected into perpetuity.   In anglers like Russ Miller, Ringo Nishioka and others, Alec saw a bright future for the sport.

While he had fond memories of the Stillaguamish, especially Skiers, and the Sauk too sat near the top of his favorites list, Alec’s heart was property of the Wenatchee River.   One autumn, I accompanied Steve Gobin, Mark Waslik and Alec for a day’s fishing on the Wenatchee. Alec guided each of us to steelhead.


The author’s favorites are these variants of Alec’s Sauk River Shrimp and grubs. The examples pictured incorporate three different hooks, a black Sealy, a black Alec Jackson Spey Fly Hook manufactured by Partridge, and a gold Alec Jackson Spey Fly Hook manufactured by Daiichi.  The hooks and the flies tied on them, represent an evolution in the development of these beautiful patterns. Again, the three patterns pictured are arranged atop a section dedicated to their development from Alec’s “A Book of Low Water Flies”.


My faith in Alec’s word was cemented that day, not because we all were successful, but because he acknowledged that our success was the function of reconnaissance performed by his dear friend, Russ Miller.  The removal of ego, the wishing of good for the other, was ever present in everything that Alec did.  For Alec it was never about what you could get, it was about what you could give.

Alec endeared himself to those for whom he had tremendous respect.  Early in his development as a steelhead fly angler, Alec pinpointed Bob Strobel, one of the all-time Northwest greats, as a prospective mentor.   Alec shadowed Bob until such time that he was taken under the great blue heron’s wing.  Returning the favor, Alec too, dispensed wisdom gleaned at the shoulders of some of steelhead fly-fishing’s legends, luminaries of their time.   The fact that Alec was an individual—he did not have an organization with an outreach department to spread his message—he simply infected thousands of people with his passion for steelhead fly angling, literature and more.  In a myriad of ways, Alec affected and inspired many to pursue with the same passion, the sport and the fish he loved so much. When one is a character, a personality, an icon of their sport, an icon of anything, like Alec was, you personally encounter thousands of people.   The result is a thousand more stories, about you, and the moment you impacted the minds and hearts of those with whom you brushed against.  Alec was no different, he had thousands of stories, and all who met him could tell a thousand more.   Many can share a special memory of Alec and a gem he shared with them.  His longtime angling partners-in-crime Bob Aid, Bob Strobel, Dick Teski, Steve Fransen, and Jack “The Hat” Coleman carry with them special memories of their time streamside with Alec, each story part of an oral history that is now steelhead fly fishing legend.   As Alec frequently pronounced, “I figure that every Steelhead I have caught owns eight hours of my life.” in turn, everyone who came in contact with Alec owns a piece of him.



Books, steelhead fishing, fly tying are all but just a part of who Alec Jackson was. Alec was a proud father with three sons Robert, Alan and Stephen.  Each of his children, and the grandchildren they brought to him and Rose, provided a greater joy than any fish, on any river, and with any partner, Alec may have had. Granddaughters Lea, Amber, and Amanda were each an apple in their grandfather’s eye, while grandsons Eric, Jordan, and Jaden brought him endless pride.  Together Alec’s grandchildren were the proverbial light of his life.   Alec’s legacy will continue in the hands of Alan and his family.  They will continue to run his hook company as a family business.  Stephen, a revered Northwest angler, who has logged countless hours streamside, and can be found today dispensing angling advice at Seattle’s Outdoor Emporium, will remain in the angling world. In Stephen we will long have opportunity to receive piscatorial wisdom from a Jackson.  Alec, thank you for leaving all of them with us.   Likely, Alec would not have wished us to mourn his loss but to remember his legacy, his progeny insure that wish.  


Skunk Spade - Tied by Dave McNeese on a Partridge #8 low water hook

  • Hook: Alec Jackson Spey hook 
  • Tail: Red hackle fibers
  • Body: Rear 1/3rd 5 or 6 strands of peacock herl twisted together with fine oval silver tinsel, front 2/3rd’s 5 or 6 strands of black ostrich hurls twisted together with fine oval silver tinsel
  • Collar: Stiff black hen hackle
  • Wing: Sparse white polar bear or substitute
  • Head: Fluorescent red Jungle Cock optional


Inland Spade - Tied by Dave McNeese on a Partridge #8 low water hook

  • Hook: Alec Jackson Spey hook
  • Tail: Deer body hair
  • Body: Black ostrich twisted with fine oval silver tinsel
  • Collar: Grizzly hackle
  • Head: Fluorescent red


Coastal Spade Tied by Dave McNeese on a Partridge #8 low water hook

  • Hook: Alec Jackson Spey hook
  • Tail: Deer body hair
  • Body: Peacock hurl twisted with fine oval silver tinsel
  • Collar: Grizzly hackle
  • Head: Fluorescent red


In the last few days of November, this writer rushed to New York for his own father’s passing.  Funeral arrangements and estate management required a stay in the tri-state area through the third week of December.  Shortly after returning home Alec and I had a conversation, Alec said, “So you lost your dad Joe.  Are you okay?” “I’m fine,” I said.  Alec then confided that his time was not long.   He had a year at most.  He went on to talk about how people die, the good ways and the bad.  Alec was with Lee Richardson in his final moments, “He just drifted off peacefully, that’s how I’d like to go.” Alec said.


One of the most iconic images of Northwest Steelhead fly angling comes from Trey Combs “Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies”.  Washington Steelhead Fly Anglers (left to right) Dick Teske, Bob Strobel, Harry Lemire, Alec Jackson, and Nate Smith are captured exchanging notes somewhere near “Skiers” on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish.  The photo is accompanied by Alec’s Hardy cane rod and a favorite Bogdan Reel.


What happens to great fly anglers when they die? Are they as much a part of their favorite rivers in the afterworld as they are in this one? The Sauk, Skagit and Stillaguamish Rivers are my home too. Moments in time flash before my eyes when visiting these rivers.  Shrouded in the pearl mist of a winter’s rain or the dappled light of spring, one’s angling mentors can be seen, still fishing, focused, and anticipating the pull.   The tug is our hearts as we imagine them.   And, swirling around above us in the great river that is the afterlife, we can also imagine Alec holding in a comfortable lie, Rose by his side.



1 comment

  • I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, Flyfishing & Tying Journal has the finest literature, by far, of any fly fishing magazine on the market today. I savor each issue.

    Fred Sayer

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published