Choosing Your First Vise

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Fly tying can be both a rewarding and thought-provoking pastime. Sure, catching a fish (or two) is a gratifying result of a day spent on the water, but nothing adds to that experience more than hooking a fish on a fly you tied. While flies can be as simple or complex as the tyer wishes, starting out with the right tools and materials is essential for success and will help avoid it becoming a short-lived experience if one or more of these elements are out of check. Purchasing your first vise can cost as much or as little as you might imagine, however, ‘buy once, cry once’ is a saying that comes to mind. A vise and tools should be considered an investment as they can easily last a lifetime (depending on the brand and models you choose) and quality tools always make for an easier more enjoyable experience. Below is a break-down of what to look for in a vise to help get you off on the right foot in fly tying. Please stay tuned for our follow-up blog on selecting the right tools for tying.

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A good vise is probably the most essential piece of equipment you can purchase when getting into fly tying. If there was one area to prioritize spending a little extra, this is it. The type of vise you choose to go with will depend on both your budget and where you will be tying. Features such as rotary function, base style, hook size and jaw function, just to name a few, are all important factors to consider before making your investment.


Rotary function:

Rotary function enables a tyer to spin materials onto the hook rather than wind them manually and defines whether the vise rotates on a horizontal axis or not.  There are three types of rotary function currently available on the market; non-rotary, rotary and true rotary. Non-rotary is self-explanatory. A rotary vise rotates but is not usable to ‘spin’ materials onto the hook. True rotary, however, allows for materials like hackle and much more to be wound with precision and ease onto the shank of a hook. For the most part this action helps to not only decrease the time it takes to tie a fly but can also better the consistency of your flies.



The style of base you choose for your vise for the most part depends on where you will be tying. C-Clamp and a variety of weighted, flat pedestal bases are available. Most customers opt for the pedestal base as issues with table thickness and edge availability can quickly ruin your hopes of tying with your c-clamp while traveling. Tyers who end up in a variety of locations will often use a lightweight base that is easy to travel with. However, if your vise is destined to live solely at a desk at home a c-clamp or heavier base is often the way to go as this provides a sturdy platform for those times when extra thread tension is required.

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Hook Size:

Hook size and the type of patterns you intend to tie is also important when considering the style of jaws you want in a vise. As a rule, most jaws can accommodate hooks from about size 1/0 down to size 18, for most tyers starting out this should work just fine. However, should you at some point wish to tie flies outside this range, a specific set of jaws for your purpose may be applicable. The right jaws can often make tying larger or smaller flies much more comfortable.


Jaw function:

For the most part there are two distinct actions jaws use to hold the hook firmly in place. One of these is a spring-loaded action. Using this style, the tyer squeezes a handle towards the vise which opens the jaws, upon releasing the handle the jaws close, holding the hook firmly in place. This requires no adjustment for different gauges or size of hooks. The second option is a cam function in which the tyer pushes a lever up or to the side to close the jaws. This often has a knob to widen or close the gap between the jaws to properly hold different hook sizes. Overall, both hold hooks firmly and are widely used by many.

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So which vise should you get? Below we have included some of our favorite vises. Between these three vises just about all the bases are covered.

Traveler 2000

If I could only pick one vise this would be it. The Traveler 2000 is a full rotary vise with an adjustable cam jaw and an includes a bobbin cradle. This vise has nearly a full metal construction and could easily last a lifetime. Above all else, it’s a clear winner as the bestseller in our shop and is the favorite of Bow River Troutfitters employees as well, it really is hard to go wrong with this one. The first version of the Traveler 2000 was produced in 1988 and is a tried and true vise that has become a staple in every fly shop. This vise offers great bang for your buck as it has excellent features and comes at an affordable price.

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Norvise system

This is a great option particularly if you’re looking to add a bit of efficiency to your tying. The rotary function on this vise is the primary selling point as it is completely level. This allows for an equally weighted, inline spin. Further, the accompanying bobbin adds to the Norvise system to create an unparalleled tying experience. This vise is also made of a quality metal construction, features a manually adjustable jaw and a bobbin cradle. This vise can certainly push your budget a bit, especially after purchasing the entire Norvise system, but it’s well worth the money in the long run.

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Stonfo Transformer

The primary selling point on the Transformer is the three interchangeable jaws that come with this vise. Included is a beefy streamer head, a rotary head, and a tubefly head with 3 pins. These three vise heads and their accompanying jaws are really all one tyer could need for just about any application. This vise is a full rotary vise that features a hefty pedestal base. The base also features two convenient wells and spots to organize tools and those loose ends that often end up on your tying bench.

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With so many great vises on the market today it really is hard to go wrong. Keep in mind that a good vise is an investment that can last a lifetime. Feel free to stop in the shop to check out any of these vises or ask a few questions.


By Benjamin