Most quality fly tiers require a vise to tie a fly. There are tons of vises available. The Thompson A vise was one of my first commercial vises. Today I use a Renzetti Rotary Vice. Times and prices sure have changed.
We have all been in a viceless pinch. In our excitement to travel to a new fishing hole, we forgot the vice. Here are some alternatives to work with in case you become vise less.
NO VICE AT ALL One avid fly guy in my TU club, in Bozeman, was named Darwin Atkins. Despite having old, arthritic fingers, he was able to tie amazing flies without a vise. Darwin simply held the hook in his left hand and tied it with his right. Other fingers helped to hold materials in place. Within minutes, he could tie an amazing fly. This is a great skill to have if you need a few more flies along the river.
CHANNEL LOCK PLIERS During a trip to Canada, I forgot my vice and materials. We were catching walleyes using a simple black headed jig with feathers wrapped around the hook. Why they worked, I will never know, but no feathers, no bites. I found feathers laying on the shore. Some were probably Loon, geese, ducks, or crows. In the toolbox I found some channel lock pliers and a sewing kit. There was a knot hole in a board that fit the pliers just right. I then used the thread to wrap the hook. A clothes pin clipped onto the thread to serve as a bobbin. Withing minutes, I was replacing worn out hair on our jigs. Since I had no head cement, I used some lacquer in a can for covering paddles. These pliers really hold a hook secure. You could also use the pliers clamped onto a workbench vise.
FORCEPS In a pinch, forceps can serve as a tying vice. You can hold them with your fingers/thumb, and tie away. Forceps are designed to snug down securely when attaching them to a bleeding artery, They also hold a scud hook perfectly. One friend used nails to secure his forceps to a picnic table and was able to tie hands free.
HACKLE PLIERS These small pliers work great for simple, small flies. You can clamp a hook into the jaws and hold the pliers with your little finger and palm of your hand. One day on the Madison River, I ran out of Zebra midges and $3 dips. These are simple flies to tie, A little wire, a bead, some peacock hurl, and some yar and “tadah”, you have a trout catching killer. When I searched through my gear box, I found a pair of spare hackle pliers. Who knows why they were there, but they are still in my bag. Anyway, I hooked up onto my hackle vise and in minutes, I was back in action. I also found some clear nail polish, from my wife’s side of the truck, that worked as head cement.
FULIN AROUND Another simple and compact fly-tying vise is a FULE New Rotary Travel Vise. This tiny vise fits easily into your pocket and budget. At less than $20, you can have a palm held, secure vise, that fits your vest pocket. The FULE also comes with a screw in base if needed. You could have a zip lock bag of basic materials, and this vice, ready for action, wherever you are.
THOMPSON VICE Shaft only I have also seen fly guys carry just the vice shaft from a Thompson vice. They just stick it into a log if they need to tie flies’ streamside. One friend duct taped his vice shaft to my drift boat oar to tie. I also remember the old fly guy in the Trout Unlimited movie called “The Way of a Trout”, having to tie a fly streamside after losing his last, perfect fly. Watch the movie to see if it worked.
There is great satisfaction in problem solving, when fly fishing. The satisfaction from matching the hatch, with a fly that you tied on site, is the ultimate challenge. Not everyone carries a zillion flies and fly boxes. As a kid, or a newbie, you may only have a few flies that you need. Being prepared could save the day.
Tie one on Free Hand!