From the Mother Country
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Grahame Maisey works with some of the world’s best fly tiers and a real-life English master hook maker to create custom irons we can all enjoy.

Someone once said the hook is the chassis of the fly. I’ve heard several people say that, so I really don’t know its origins. But, no matter: it’s true. You can’t tie a fly without a hook. The hook is the foundation on which we build one of our creations of feathers and fur. Use a poorly designed, dull, or weak hook, and the fly will fail you when it matters most—when you try to catch a fish.

There are a lot of hook manufacturers in the world, and many offer dozens of styles of hooks. Toss in all the different sizes, and the choices are mind-boggling. Large sections of fly shops are dedicated to displaying hooks, and many catalogs contain three or four full pages of them. Most hooks, however, are now made in Asia. There’s nothing wrong with that—most are very sharp, strong, and do an excellent job of hooking and holding fish—but they have come a long distance from their English origins.

Grahame Maisey, of Wyncote, Pennsylvania, has an affinity for all things English. And why not: Grahame was born in England. Even though he has lived in the United States for nearly 30 years, he still maintains close ties to his mother country. (Warning: Don’t ever get Grahame talking about English soccer. Don’t do that!)

Today, Grahame is a leading importer of English-made hooks, thread, and other fly-fishing products. It’s only a sideline, and like most sidelines, it eats up about as much time as his regular job as an energy conservation consultant. But he doesn’t mind: he loves fly fishing, and he loves talking about everything related to it.

I recently enjoyed a pleasant hour chatting with Grahame about how he got into the fly-tackle business. For the most part, we spent our time talking about hooks.

The Grahame Maisey Story

I knew Grahame hailed from the British Isles, but I wasn’t sure from exactly where. After knowing him for many years (Grahame is also a bamboo-rod enthusiast, which is another fly-fishing interest we have in common), I finally learned where he grew up and how he came to the United States.

“I’m from Central England, from Leicester, which is near the heart of what was the English hook-making industry,” Grahame said at the beginning of our interview.

How long have you been in the United States?

“Since 1978, but I hadn’t planned on staying. I moved to Pennsylvania for a job, and I thought, ‘Bloody Philadelphia, what can there be around here?’ But, one day I stopped in a fly shop run by Jack Michievicz, and I asked him about the local fishing. ‘You’re in the heart of the trout-fishing world,’ he said, ‘and the New Jersey shore and all of its saltwater fishing is only an hour away.’ I discovered there was a lot of great fishing in Pennsylvania, and so I stayed.”

How did you get into the flyfishing business?

“Well, one day I was in Jack’s shop, and he was telling me about trying to buy silk thread from England. He was having a lot of trouble getting it, so I called some folks I knew over there. At the time, no one wanted to use silk thread; everyone wanted nylon thread. I was able to get a bunch of the old Elephant brand silk thread for him. Then I discovered that some gypsy was buying all of the Elephant thread and selling it in his booth in the market, so I asked the people who had it if they would spool it all up and send it to me. I own the entire worldwide supply of genuine Elephant silk thread. I keep it in my air-conditioned basement.”

From this small business in silk thread, Grahame moved into other specialized parts of the fly-fishing industry, such as importing English-made hooks. Grahame loves talking about hooks—almost as much as he likes talking about soccer.

When did you get into the hook business?

“Oh, that was 1986, and it was because of Jack, too. He was looking for some very specific hooks but was having difficulty getting them. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘why don’t we design our own line of hooks and have them manufactured in England.’ He asked if I could do that, and I said, ‘Why not?’ Jack actually wrote an article for the Spring 1987 issue of your magazine. It was titled ‘The Best Hooks Aren’t Made Yet,’ and in it he describes what he thought were the ideal hooks. His ideas became the basis for the first trout hooks I sold.”

You actually work with the master hook maker from the old Partridge of Redditch hook company, don’t you?

“Yes, I do—Vince Green. Vince’s father, Ted, was also a master hook maker. Ted Green worked for Partridge when they were making the famous Allcocks hooks. A lot of people don’t know it, but during the Second War, the Allcocks factory was bombed, and the company started having hooks made under license by other people. That’s when Partridge took over the name and began making Allcocks hooks.

“Well, Vince was a needle maker when he was young— England was also famous for making needles—and he went to work for his father as a hook maker. Eventually, Vince took over from his father as the master hook maker. But, after a while, when the management of Partridge changed, he was told that marketing was more important than quality control to selling hooks. That’s when he left and started his own company that he calls Sprite. Vince is now the last hook maker in England.”

So, Vince has extensive experience at making fine hooks.

“Oh, yes. And Vince still has his father’s notes on tempering hooks. That’s what the master hook maker did, you see: he was responsible for tempering the hooks. He would guard these secrets and share them with no one. The tempering notes Vince has actually date back to 1922. They list the different lengths of wire, the thicknesses of the wire, and the heat requirements needed to temper the different sizes of hooks. No one else really has this sort of old information.”

Custom Hooks for the Commercial Market

Over the years, Grahame has added a large number of hooks to his catalog. He calls his line of hooks Gaelic Supreme, and it’s part of his fly-tackle business, Belvoirdale. In addition to selling standard dry-fly, wet-fly, and streamer hooks, Grahame also offers a variety of one-of-a-kind “custom” hooks. He works with the best fly tiers to develop these hooks, and they appeal to the most discriminating anglers. We next spent some time talking about what it’s like creating “custom” hooks.

You’ve developed quite a reputation for making custom hooks for individual fly tiers. How does this work?

“One of the first tiers I started working with was Mike Martinek. [Mike is well known for tying classic feather-wing streamers.] He asked if I could make replicas of the types of hooks Carrie Stevens used. I said that I could, and he gave me two original hooks in sizes one and two. I photocopied the hooks, and sent the photocopy to Vince. We’ve always been told that Carrie Stevens used Allcocks hooks, but Vince insisted that those two hooks were not manufactured by Allcocks.”

What did you do?

“I sent the hooks to Vince. Then, one day he called me—and Vince never calls me—to say that Allcocks definitely didn’t make those hooks, and that he could tell his father had made them. What was particularly interesting was that Vince said those specific hooks didn’t appear in any catalog; as far as he knew, they were manufactured as a custom order.

“Well, in the meantime, I started talking with Mike about the exact specifications for his new hooks; he wanted to change one or two little things to suit his style of tying. This is what makes creating custom hooks such a challenge: you can’t ask a custom hook maker to create a few hooks just to see if you like them; you have to place an order for least twenty-thousand hooks of one style and size. He’ll tell you that you can make changes to them if you like—after you sell that first twenty thousand. So, you have to get it right the first time, and I also have to know that I’ll be able to sell the hooks to other tiers. But that is how we came up with the Mike Martinek Rangeley Streamer hook”

Is it difficult to figure out what a tier wants in his new hooks?

“I’m an energy conservation consultant, and I’m used to asking people what they want. Many times people simply don’t know what they really want, and you have to ask a lot of questions. Basically, when I ask the same question three times and I get the same answer each time, I know this is what the person really wants. I go back and forth with the tier until he gets exactly what he wants, then I contact Vince and have him make the hooks. I’ve worked with Chris Helm and Keith Fulsher, and several other tiers this way.”

You make a lot of hooks with turned-up eyes, even wet and dry-fly hooks. Why is that?

“We discovered that with flies tied on hooks with down-turned eyes, especially regular wet-fly and nymph hooks, that the flies drift through the water correctly as long as there’s no drag on the line. But, when you begin putting a little drag on the line, these flies will flip over. When a fly is tied on a hook with an eye that is turned up, however, it always rides in the correct position.”

You make a line of Sylvester Nemes wet-fly hooks. These are quite nice, and very classic looking.

“Yes, Syl loves hooks with Sproat bends—it’s his original hook. We offer those hooks with both down- and upturned eyes, and also in regular and odd sizes.”

What do you mean “odd” sizes?

“Sizes eleven, thirteen, fifteen, and seventeen. It gives you the most complete range of hook sizes.”

Did the English hook-making companies offer hooks in odd sizes?

“Yes, they did. They were making so many hooks back then that they could do that. However, when the orders began to dwindle, they dropped the odd sizes and just made hooks in even sizes.”

Talking about unusual sizes, you offer size 20 salmon hooks. I’ve never seen hooks like these.

“Let me tell you the story behind those. We had some folks trying to catch twenty-pound salmon using flies tied on size sixteen and size twenty wetfly hooks. One person caught a thirtysix- pound salmon on a size sixteen fly, and it is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Well, I thought, we should have people in the Lee Wulff Twenty/Twenty Club, where you have to catch a twenty-pound salmon on a fly tied on a size twenty hook. I took those size sixteen wet-fly hooks, made them a little stronger, and had them made in size twenty.”

Has anyone caught a twenty-pound salmon on one of these hooks yet?

“I haven’t heard of anyone—at least not yet—but I’m selling those hooks by the thousands to anglers in Quebec. It’s just amazing.”

A Little-Known Bit of Fly-Tying History

At the end of the hour, Grahame and I began discussing some of the things he has learned about the history of hooks. He’s discovered some things quite by accident. Case is point: How did Allcocks and the other old English hook companies determine hook sizes?

“Well, that’s another thing that’s so interesting,” Grahame said. “Very few people really understand hook sizing. The old Redditch hook chart sized hooks by the length of the shank, not the width of the gap. In other words, the size of the hook was determined by the length of the shank starting from behind the eye to the beginning of the bend; the width of the gap had nothing to do with it. The way the older hook manufacturers determined the size of the gap, and the way Vince does it, is to make a gap that best matches the length of the hook shank. In other words, they tried to create a hook gap that just seemed to have the right proportions for the length of the shank.

“Being an engineer, things like this interest me. So, some years ago I spent a lot of time measuring the gaps of different hooks. I was trying to find if there was some commonality in gap sizes between different styles of hooks. I measured the gaps of hundreds of hooks, but couldn’t find a unit of measurement that worked. I tried thirtyseconds of an inch, sixty-fourths of an inch; I even measured gaps to the hundredths of an inch. But absolutely none of these measurements worked. Then, one day, I tried millimeters. Sure enough, the gaps of all of those old English hooks were based on millimeters. Remember, many of those folks also worked in the needle industry, and the length of all of their needles were measured in millimeters. It was only natural that they would use this unit of measurement in manufacturing hooks. That’s another one of those little historic facts you’ll uncover when you start studying these things.”


Want to learn more about Gaelic Supreme hooks and the entire line of Belvoirdale products? Then be sure to check out Grahame Maisey’s Web site, www.gaelicsupreme.com.
Author David Klausmeyer is the editor of this magazine.

 
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