Fly tying is, without a doubt, the starting point of the thrilling sport of fly fishing. As the critical link between the angler and the fish, the fly is a key element in fly fishing. The absence of this connection would relegate fly fishing to a mere physical activity, devoid of the exciting interplay between humans and nature.

At the heart of the fly-tying process is the vise, a device that holds the hook while the fly is meticulously dressed. The vise ensures a secure hold on the hook, which is crucial for efficient and effective placement and attachment of materials.

A firm base is paramount to achieving clean and durable flies.

Finding Your Ideal Fly-Tying Vise

Choosing a fly-tying vise can be as personal as selecting your vehicle. With a plethora of options ranging from basic to luxurious, choosing a vise can be a subjective decision. For the average tyer, a vise that strikes a balance between affordability and functionality would be ideal. Expect to invest anywhere from $100 for a reliable vise to over $600 for a top-tier model.

The most critical component of the vise is the jaws—the clamp that secures the hook during the tying process. The rest of the vise, while important, is secondary to the operation and stability of the jaws.

The jaws’ clamping action is usually activated by a thumb screw, spring, or cam lever, with the cam lever being the most favored among the three.

Jaws come in different sizes to accommodate varying hook sizes. Most standard vise jaws can handle a wide range of hook sizes. If you plan to tie exceptionally small or large flies, consider getting specialized jaws, which are available for many vise models.

Particularly for technical trout anglers or big game saltwater anglers, a vise with interchangeable jaws would be advantageous.

The Rotary Feature: A Modern Marvel

Most modern vises come equipped with a rotary feature, a boon to any tyer striving for well-balanced flies. This feature allows the tyer to rotate the fly 360 degrees, examining and tweaking the design from all angles.

Ensure that the rotary vise offers true center rotation before making a purchase. You can check this by rotating the head of an offset head vise—if the point where the jaws hold the hook moves in a circle, the vise does not offer true center rotation.

A true center rotary vise is more user-friendly and practical than an open rotation vise.

Pedestal or Clamp Base: Which to Choose?

The pedestal base vise, featuring a heavy metal stand into which the vise shaft is secured, offers excellent mobility. It allows you to move the vise around without disturbing the fly at any stage of tying. Moreover, it can stand on any flat surface, which may be advantageous if your table or desk has a rolled or excessively thick top.

On the other hand, a clamp base vise, which fastens to the edge of a table or desk, provides superior stability—an essential feature for beginners. The clamp base will hold steady even when bumped or under heavy thread pressure, unlike a pedestal base.

This stability becomes vital when tying very large flies with heavy threads and spinning deer hair, as the added pressure may make a pedestal base unwieldy.

Off-set or Straight Head: A Matter of Preference

Choosing between an off-set or straight head vise often comes down to personal preference. After using both styles extensively, I can attest that both have their merits, and I regularly switch between the two. However, other tyers may have a clear preference.

If you’re considering a substantial investment, it would be wise to consult with someone who uses the style you’re considering and weigh their opinions. Fly shops often allow you to handle and even test their floor models, which can help you make an informed decision.

Remember, selecting a fly-tying vise is better done hands-on than through a catalog. While features matter, comfort is king. If the vise doesn’t feel comfortable, it won’t be enjoyable to use. If you’re buying your first fly-tying vise, be prepared—you may find that fly-tying becomes your new favorite hobby.