Full-Tilt Tying

Full-Tilt Tying

  • By: Ted Leeson

Compared to other, roughly contemporaneous innovations, such as graphite fly rods or breathable waders, rotary fly-tying vises were slow to catch on when they first appeared. I suspect cost played a part in it; the few vises available were expensive. But the primary reason, I think, was that only a few people really knew how to use them. What rotary vises did was clear—they went around and around. Why this should be a good thing and worth paying extra for was by no means as obvious.

It’s no mystery any more. Fly-tying expos, demonstrations and video instruction brought rotary techniques into the mainstream, and if my experience is at all representative, rotary vises now appear to be the style of choice, particularly among younger tiers. There is now a larger selection of products at a wider range of prices, and whether this has stimulated demand or responded to it, the result is the same: rotary vises are now within the means of more tiers, and more tiers take advantage of them.

Other considerations figure into it—whether you tie a lot or a little, employ rotary techniques often or infrequently, use a wide or narrow range of hook sizes, and so on—but the criteria outlined here seem, to me, the minimum requirements regardless of price. I took a look at the vises that appeared on the market since the last time I covered them in FR&R in 2003 to see how they measure up and, in the process, got a whole bunch of flies tied.

Anvil Atlas Vise
?JAWS: A large, easily grasped knurled nut at the jaw base makes hook-gap adjusting easy. Jaws hold securely throughout the ordinary range of trout-fly sizes, and the slender tips give good working room around smaller hooks. Large saltwater hooks need to be placed low down and far back in the jaws, which restricts working room at the rear of the shank. Jaws slide up and down inside a housing and lock with a thumb screw—a simple mechanism for putting different size hooks on rotary centerline.
?ROTARY MECHANISM: A long, ball-end lever gives precise, convenient rotary control, and the jaws turn smoothly. Rotary tension is applied with a knurled nut at the rear of the jaws, though the adjustment is somewhat stiff for making fine adjustments. The fairly hefty jaw weight requires more rotary resistance than other vises to hold jaws at 90 degrees, but it poses no appreciable obstacle to rotary operation.
?FEATURES: Fairly minimal. A T-handle screw locks jaws solidly in any rotational orientation. The rotary level can be installed at any of four positions on the drive hub to suit the tier. The vise comes with both a pedestal base and C-clamp, though the stem length is sized for the pedestal and doesn’t offer the range of height adjustments you get with a conventional C-clamp vise.
?THE LOWDOWN: There is some roughness in manufacturing here. The hook-gap adjustment nut has some stickiness in the operation. And some burrs and high spots on the face of the cam give a scratchy feel when clamping hooks; at the same time, these irregularities gradually smooth out with use as the cam face polishes itself against the base of the gapping nut. On the other hand, this is a sturdy, workmanlike vise and perfectly functional in all respects but one—it is not supplied with a bobbin rest, nor does one appear to be available even as an option. So, while it offers some advantages in positioning the jaws to apply legs and throat hackle, for instance, actual rotary tying is impractical. If you can improvise a bobbin rest or obtain one from a different manufacturer, you’ll have a simple, practical vise at a reasonable cost. $149. www.anvilusa.com