Welcome to Beginning Fly Tying

Part Three

"An Introduction to Fly Tying, The Fly Vise"
By Al Campbell

Perhaps the most important tool you'll use in fly tying is the fly vise. If you look in fly fishing magazines, you'll have an opportunity to see plenty of advertisements for lots of different fly vises. It can get confusing just trying to sort out the features you need from the ones they say you need. So, what's the bottom line? What features are important in a fly vise?

First, a good fly vise must hold a variety of hook sizes and shapes securely. It isn't enough to hold just a few sizes or shapes well, it must hold them all. If the vise won't do that, don't buy it. That's the most basic and important requirement.

The jaws of the vise must be positioned or be able to be positioned at an angle that allows you to tie flies of various sizes with it. Some vises have jaws that are too big to use with a variety of hooks. Others don't have the jaws positioned at an angle that allows the tyer to work with small hooks.

Look for a vise that has jaws positioned at an angle that allows you to work around and with the smallest hooks you might someday use. That might be size 28, so check to see if the vise will hold this size hook securely while allowing complete access to the main length of the hook shank.

Many vises have heads that pivot or rotate. These are nice features you should consider when shopping for a fly vise. Although a rotary feature isn't a necessity, it is a convenient feature you should consider. Many expert tyers use vises with heads that are fixed and don't pivot or rotate. You'll have to decide if these are important features you're willing to invest in. Keep in mind, a lot of extra features won't make a vise hold a hook any better.

A good vise should be easy to adjust to fit a variety of hooks. Although many vises will adjust to hold a variety of hook sizes, some are easier to adjust than others. I use a Regal vise most of the time because it doesn't require any adjustment for hook sizes or shapes. This isn't just because I'm lazy, but as a past commercial tyer, I found it much faster to have a vise with jaws that opened and closed with a squeeze of a lever. Less adjustment resulted in saved time and time is money to a commercial tyer.

Regal Vise

Avoid any vise that takes a lot of time or manipulation to adjust to a specific hook. One or two twists of a knob should be the maximum adjustment required to set any vise to a specific hook. After adjustment, a good vise should clamp down on a hook with a simple twist of a knob, squeeze of a lever or push of a cam. If it's harder than this, let someone less informed monkey with the vise while you tie flies on your new, easy functioning vise.

The size of the head and jaws of a vise will have an impact on how easy it is to use with certain size hooks. One specific vise on the market has a fast rotary feature that looks nice, but the jaws of the vise are so big it isn't feasible to use with small hooks. Small jaws are easier to work with.

Crest Vise

Another thing you need to consider is how the vise is supported. A clamp is nice if you have a permanent tying bench or you want a vise that just won't move while you're putting pressure on a hook. A pedestal base is convenient if you are working on the kitchen table or traveling. It supports the vise with a heavy base that sets on the table like a lamp would, and it's easy to move. Most vises can be purchased with either a pedestal base or a clamp. Some vises come with both support systems. Try to get a look at both before you buy a vise.

Take a look at the warranty. Some nice vises don't have a warranty. That doesn't mean they won't work for you, just that you'll have the opportunity to buy another vise if anything goes wrong with your vise. For my money, I like a vise with a lifetime warranty. For the record, Griffin vises have a replacement warranty that can be serviced at the dealer. I don't know of any other vises with that nice a warranty, but most quality vises have at least a lifetime warranty against defects. Likewise, most lifetime warranted vises must be sent to the manufacturer for repair.

So, what vise is the right one? That will be a matter of personal preference. If budget is a prime consideration, I've found Griffin vises to be very nice for a modest price. Even the least costly Griffin vises hold a hook very well. If speed is the prime function, Regal is likely to be the fastest. If true rotary is a feature you must have, consider Renzetti, Griffin or Dyna-King. It won't take long to notice the price difference you'll have to pay for name and function.

Griffin Superior 2A

Here's a quick run-down on Griffin vises.  I include this because I believe they have the most vise for the buck available on today's market. And, they were kind enough to send a couple of vises for me to photograph for this series.  The Griffin Superior 2A vise is an economical vise (about $40), that held all the hook sizes I tried in it, and is easy to adjust. It has a swivel head that adjusts for angle.  The Griffin 3AR (not pictured) is a rotary vise with adjustable head angle and an arm that allows you to place the vise head away from the stand.

  The Griffin Patriot Cam vise has a rotary/swivel head that locks the hook with a cam.  Once the head is adjusted, all it takes is a twist of the cam lever to change hooks. It also has a small enough head to work on the smallest of flies. Griffin Patriot Cam At the top of the list is the Griffin Odyssey vise.  This is a true rotary vise.  Unlike similar vises on the market, it has a feature that allows adjustment of the head to accommodate different hook sizes and continue to maintain its true rotary function. It also has a bobbin cradle to hold the bobbin away from your work at critical steps in the process.  All of these vises can be obtained with a clamp or pedestal base.

Griffin Odyssey

When you go to a fly shop to look for a vise, take a couple of hooks in several sizes with you. If the hook bends or breaks without slipping in the vise jaws, it's a good vise for that hook. If it holds all your hooks that well, has all the features you want, and is easy for you (not just the salesman) to adjust, buy it. That's the vise you need.

I've never found a motorized vise that was really functional. Nor have I found a bargain vise that was a bargain. Before you purchase a vise, play with a couple of them at a fly shop. If you must order a vise through the mail, insist on a return policy that allows you to return any vise that won't hold a hook or doesn't perform the way you need it to perform.

Look at a few vises in a fly shop and the magazines. Somewhere out there is the vise you need. You just have to find it.

We'll look at more tools next week. ~ Al Campbell

Beginning Fly Tying Archives

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