The Center of It All
Selecting a vise for fly tying may seem at first a simple task. After all, it only holds the hook while the fly is being dressed. To a fly tyer their vise is actually the center of the craft. After all, it is what holds the hook while the fly is being dressed.
Fly tying is without a doubt where the entire sport of fly fishing begins. The fly being the connecting point between the fish and angler makes it perhaps the most important aspect of fly fishing. Without at least the eventual connection between fish and angler, fly fishing would just be another form of exercise.
The vise is likewise the center of fly tying. A secure hold on the hook is paramount to the efficient and effective placement and attachment of materials. Without a solid foundation on which to tie the materials, clean, durable flies are extremely difficult to achieve.
Which Vise is Best?
This is one of those questions that can get a host of answers, each one depending on who you ask. Selecting a vise can be as personal as selecting the type of vehicle one drives. Like most other things the quality of fly tying vises produced ranges from inadequate to opulent versions. For the average tyer something between serviceable and solidly efficient is the best choice for a fly tying vise. Expect to pay from around $100 for a solid vise to upwards of $600 for a top of the line model.
The most important part of the vise is called the jaws. The jaws are the clamp where the hook is secured during the tying process. The remainder of the vise, while not inconsequential, is secondary to the operation and stability of the jaws. The clamping action of the jaws is activated by either thumb screw, spring or cam lever. Of the three styles the cam lever is by far the most popular.
Jaw size is variable to accommodate the size of hooks being used to tie on. The standard jaws on most tying vises will handle a fairly wide range of hook sizes. For the tyer who wants to tackle extreme sized flies, jaws capable of holding exceptionally small or large hooks can be purchased separately for many models of vises. For the technical trout angler or big game saltwater angler a vise with interchangeable jaws is advisable.
The rotary feature on most modern vises is definitely a plus to anyone who wants to tie well-balanced flies. The rotary feature allows the tyer to rotate the fly to any position on a 360-degree axis. Being able to rotate the fly throughout tying lets the tyer examine the progress from all angles.
Before purchasing a rotary vise make sure it has a true center rotation. To check this on an offset head vise, rotate the head of the vise. If the point where the jaws hold the hook moves in an open circle it is not a true center rotation. Though not totally impractical, the open rotation is not as easily used as a true center rotary vise.
For the rotary feature to be practical on a straight head vise, ensure the head can be placed in a horizontal position.
Pedestal or Clamp Base
The pedestal base consists of a heavy metal stand that the shaft of the vise is placed and secured into. The main advantage of the pedestal is mobility. A fly can be left at any stage of tying and moved around with little fuss. The other advantage to the pedestal is it will stand on any flat surface. A clamp base may not be suitable for a table or desk with a rolled or extremely thick top.
The clamp base consists of a C-clamp that fastens to the edge of a table or desk. This may be the best style for many beginning fly tyers because of the added stability. Where a pedestal base will easily succumb to being bumped or the application of too much thread pressure, a clamp base will remain stable. The biggest advantage to a clamp base is when tying very large flies with heavy threads and when spinning deer hair. The added pressure exerted while tying these flies can make the use of a pedestal base cumbersome.
Off-set or Straight Head
The selection of off-set or straight head is debatable. Having used both styles over the years I can’t determine an overall preference and regularly switch between them. Other tyers however have a definite preference one way or the other. If you plan on spending what you consider to be a large amount of money, talk to someone who uses the style you’re considering and consider their thoughts. I have heard compelling claims to support a preference for each. I suspect a preference comes down to what feels comfortable under your material or gripping hand.
Many fly shops will let you handle and even tie with the floor models of the vises they carry. If this is the case take one for a test drive or test them all. Selecting a fly tying vise is better done hands-on than through a catalogue. Though features are important the feel of a vise is what makes it comfortable. If the vise isn’t comfortable it will not be pleasant to use.
Just remember if you are buying your first fly tying vise, fly tying might just become your new vice.