THIS OLD VICE
Strolling down the first isle of tyers and booths at the international fly tying show near my home, I found myself unconsciously in "carnival mode". Carnival mode is that place you go to mentally when walking past a line-up of folks hocking their wares and trying to sell you something, should you foolishly make eye contact with them. And while despite the fact that I know it won't be that way at this particular event, I think it still kicks in for me in self-defense due to the crowds. I tend to breeze through the first several isles like that before finally locking on to an item that catches my eye, then once inspecting it or greeting the vendor that is nearby thus realizing I am among friends the feeling tends to pass. On this event it ended quickly due to the fact that shortly after beginning my first lap through I came face-to-face with a rack of newly minted bamboo rods that required my attention. Once I had picked the first rod out of the rack for inspection and bounced the tip in my hand a few times, I was all better. Walls were down, and I was among friends. Friends like myself, were sadly and hopelessly addicted to all things fly tying.
While never really needing a "reason" for attending an event that involves fly tying or tying supplies, on this particular event I did have a few things I wanted to accomplish. I intended to meet a few friends that I have met and spent years swapping flies and materials with over the course of my internet life. Putting a handshake to a face and name was something I was truly looking forward to. And also, I was looking to get my hands on and check out as many of the new vise offerings currently available on the market that I could. Having made the early jump up from a budget vice more than 20 years ago, I had been tying with a fixed-head Regal INEX ever since. That same vice over the years had been modified to a pedestal base with a few accoutrements acquired to hang on it along the way. So in my mind, in the current world of rotary tying and machined stainless steel models available, I felt it was probably time for a change.
After deciding that I "needed" the Payne 98 bamboo rod I had just put down, I was off to find some long-distance friends. In short order they were located and after a good number of smiles, handshakes and catching up behind us, some lifelong friendships were cemented. Odd, how a simple thing like fly tying can bring folks together across oceans and continents. My next step was to head back to the vise booths that I had passed by on my search for fellow tyers. When browsing vises, one will quickly acknowledge one fact; that a person can find a vise in most any price range, be-it $50 or the equivalent of a month's wages. Either way, they are there to be found. Following my longtime friend the Regal INEX I found prettier, shinier, and rotary and stainless steel jaws. The latter of which caught my eye the most and became a mental must-have. And after that, countless more brands of which many more went into the mental catalog of must-haves. I picked them up, worked the jaws, inspected and in some cases even tied a quick fly. Yet when all was said and done, I again left the show without a new vise in hand. I thought, What in the hell was wrong with me,? I had passed up on some great deals and fine pieces of machined perfection yet nothing that demanded that I lay down the venerable plastic in order to take it home. The drive home was haunted by indecision.
That evening at home on the bench I was tidying up my work station and trying to decide on a pattern that I could spend some time on. Though in reality, I was doing more dwelling on my vise and the current setup that I had in front of me than anything else. Cleaning up the old Regal and getting ready to tie was almost like smiling while greeting an old friend or scratching my dog between the ears. It just felt right. I decided on tying up some March Brown dries for my spring box, and began pulling out the materials. The beaver dubbing, wood duck flank, a Cree neck, Cod-De-Leon tailing and brown thread lay in front of me along with a dozen #14 hooks. All the makings of my favorite March Brown pattern, arranged in preparation of tying a dozen freshly minted flies. The first two flies went slower than normal as my mental calibrations re-identified proportions as I went, but I was back into a normal rhythm soon enough once my brain caught up to my hands. I was mid-way through my 7th fly and tying in the hackle when I realized that so much of my tying over the years had been developed around this vise. From my free-hand placement when grasping and tying in materials to how I positioned my fly in the jaws in order to enable my view to be "just so", all was second nature due to this particular vise. At that point, I knew why it was that I always left the shops without a "new" vise. It was because that old vise was part of me at the bench. We had learned together, screwed up together, tied countless swaps together and developed some excellent patterns together. And over the past 22 years, it never once upgraded "ME", although I'm certain most all of the tying mistakes and blunders could be tracked right back to me every time.
They say – "A vise does nothing more than hold the hook", and, although I have agreed wholeheartedly with that statement over the years, I am now questioning my own logic. Over the years I've twice bought upgraded vise models. Both times I either sold or returned them. Whether it's just stubbornness to a fault, or a case of terminal nostalgia, I can't seem to part with this old vise. So, as it is we will begin another year tying together by the looks of it. And in the spring, patterns tied in its jaws will undoubtedly bring fish to hand. What more could I ask of a vise that has shared nearly every single day of my time on the water and become much more than just a simple tying tool.