Having a great vise is the key to getting the most out of fly-tying. While there are plenty of fly-tying vises on the market, many are cheaply built or have significant problems. It might seem like a good idea to try to save money at first, but you’ll end up spending more in the long run.
Luckily, there are also some excellent options out there, many of which are great values. From budget-minded vises to the cream of the crop, read on to find out the best options for you. But first, let’s go over how to choose the best fly-tying vise for your needs and budget.
How To Choose A Fly-Tying Vise
Getting a Traditional vs Rotary Fly-Tying Vise
As you might guess from the name, a rotary vise spins your hook around on an axis. This means that you can hold your material still and rotate the hook to tie your fly. It allows for very precise, even wrapping in way that’s easier than getting the same results on a traditional vise. You’re also able to view your fly from all angles very easily with a rotary fly-tying vise without taking it off.
In addition, there are some vises that end up in the middle. You may be able to rotate your hook, but not in a way that keeps the shaft steady. This means that you can view your fly from all angles, but you can’t wrap during the rotation. It’s a great compromise between the two styles, and a very useful feature to have on a traditional fly-tying vise.
Overall, the choice is one of personal preference. Generally speaking, rotary vises open up a lot more options and allow for much more precise wrapping. If you’re tying very small flies, a rotary vise will be very helpful. It also makes using a wide variety of materials easier, opening up more possibilities for your fly-tying.
All of that flexibility comes at a cost, though. There are a lot more moving parts on a rotary vise. There’s more complexity, too, something that can get overwhelming for a beginner. If you’re looking to tie more basic patterns, a rotary vise might be overkill. Some people also like the tactile control of the traditional vise, and say that they get better results using one. Finally, traditional vises are usually less expensive than similar rotary vises, although there are options for both in every budget.
Get a traditional fly-tying vise if…
- You like to keep things simple
- You will mostly be tying basic patterns
- You will mostly be tying medium to larger flies
- You want to save some money on the vise
Get a rotary fly-tying vise if…
- You will be tying small flies
- You will be tying complex patterns that require a lot of precision
- You prefer flexibility and complexity over simplicity
Pedestal Base vs C-Clamp
The base of your fly-tying vise is extremely important. Any kind of movement can seriously mess up your tying, so getting a sturdy base is crucial. There are two basic types of base: the C-clamp, which (you guessed it) clamps onto the side of your table, and the pedestal base, which sits on top. Many fly-tying vises include both in the same package. Others require you to choose one or the other before buying.
There’s a bit of a paradox when it comes to which one to pick. The idea of “portability” has a few different meanings in this debate. A C-clamp is great for a dedicated workspace. You can tighten it down, and a good C-clamp won’t budge, period. C-clamps are also usually lighter and more compact than a heavy, sturdy pedestal base, making them perfect for fly-tying while traveling.
The pedestal base, on the other hand, is a great compromise of portability and utility. A good one is heavy and not necessarily portable. But unlike a C-clamp, you don’t need a suitable table edge in order to use it. Also, lot of people don’t like having their vise sitting on the edge of the table, for comfort and for ease of use. You can use a pedestal base on pretty much any kind of flat surface, from tables to counters to the floor.
Use a pedestal base if…
- You don’t have a dedicated fly-tying space
- You don’t have a suitable clamping site
- You don’t like being at the edge of the table
Use a C-clamp if…
- You have a dedicated fly-tying space
- You want a travel-ready setup
Many fly-tying vises come with accessories. These range from requirements to “nice-to-haves” to downright useless add-ons. It’s important to realize that most accessories are relatively inexpensive. If your vise doesn’t come with something you want/need, you can usually buy one for $10-20 extra. Therefore, don’t buy your vise based on the accessories. Some people get swayed by some little add-on that the company puts in, disregarding the fact that the vise itself might not be up to snuff. I won’t spend much time on accessories in these reviews, unless they’re particularly notable.
Two important and common accessories are the material clip and the bobbin. The material clip helps hold back feathers and other materials, keeping them out of the way as you’re tying. The bobbin holds your thread as you tie. Again, while both are important and possibly necessary, neither are very expensive. It’s nice to get a good one included, but you can always buy another if need be.
And now, the Top 5 Best Fly-Tying Vises…
Griffin Montana Mongoose Vise
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Griffin Montana Mongoose is that it’s heavy-duty. Unlike a lot of vises, it has all-metal construction that is sure to last a long time. A lot of people start on cheaper plastic vises that end up breaking or having parts come loose. The Griffin Montana Mongoose is definitely a great upgrade from those cheap beginner vises, and would suit anyone from a newcomer to an expert fly-tyer.
One of the best features of the Griffin Montana Mongoose is how customizable it can be. You have very fine control over almost every feature on the vise. It comes with both a pedestal base and a c-clamp, and everything from the jaw to the rotation can be tweaked fairly easily. This does mean that the Montana Mongoose can take a little longer to set up than other vises. However, the trade-off is worth it when you have a vise that works exactly the way you want it to work.
Here’s a great video walking you through the set-up and some of the features of the Griffin Montana Mongoose:
As you can see in the video, the Montana Mongoose comes with a bobbin and material clip, which are fairly standard in its price range. However, both are of very high quality, especially the material clip. It’s fully adjustable and handles a wide variety of materials with ease. Between that and the fine-tunable jaw, there are very few hook sizes or fly tying materials you won’t be able to use on this vise.
- Highly adjustable and customizable
- All-metal construction is very sturdy
- Takes a little longer than usual to set up initially
Wolff Industries Atlas Rotary Vise
Wolff Industries makes all of their vises in Indiana, USA, and has a reputation for great build quality and good customer service. The Atlas is their rotary vise (as opposed to their Apex vise, reviewed a little farther down), and has the classic Wolff stainless steel construction that will last decades.
The Atlas comes with both a C-clamp and a pedestal base. The pedestal base in particular is incredibly sturdy. The C-clamp also holds the vise very well, so it’s a matter of personal preference as to which to use.
The jaw on the Atlas is easy to adjust, and can hold even the smallest hooks. If you’re like me, you’ll have problems with your own grip on #28 and smaller hooks before the vise will. In fact, if anything, the jaw makes it a little harder to hold large hooks, although this is only really a problem for 0-range hooks that many fly-tyers don’t end up using much.
One thing about those adjustment knobs: they look like plastic. That’s because they’re coated in a black plastic to make them feel easier on the hands. However, the knobs themselves are mode out of stainless steel, just like the rest of the vise. This attention to detail shows Wolff’s commitment to making a quality product that will both last and be easy to use. If you want a rotary fly-tying vise that could survive the apocalypse, the Atlas will do the job!
One user posted a great unboxing and review, then revisited it a year later. Here’s the original video with his initial impressions:
And here’s his more in-depth review after using the Atlas vise for a year:
- Solid stainless steel build
- Easily handles small hooks
- Doesn’t hold very large hooks as easily as other vises
Griffin Odyssey Spider Vise
The Griffin Odyssey Spider vise is a remarkable value for a true rotary vise. It has a similar tough construction as its big brother, the Montana Mongoose, and will last a long time. It’s also very customizable, again like the Montana mongoose. While it doesn’t have some of the same bells-and-whistles, its low price point more than makes up for that. If you’re looking for a first rotary vise on a budget, the Griffin Odyssey Spider is the one for you.
The Griffin Odyssey Spider comes with a C-clamp. It works very well, giving you a sturdy base for your fly-tying. While a pedestal base is not included with the vise, you can purchase one separately if you prefer.
The jaws of the vise work great for a wide variety of hook sizes. While it may have some trouble holding onto smaller hooks below about #28, it does very well with medium and larger hooks. For most people, especially beginners, this will cover the vast majority of fly-tying applications
Like the Montana Mongoose, the Odyssey Spider vise can take a while to set up. There are a lot of moving parts and options to fiddle with. But once you get your preferences dialed in, you have a truly personalized fly-tying vise. For less than half of what a lot of other rotary fly-tying vises cost, that’s a great bargain!
- Great value
- Very customizable
- Won’t hold very small (<#28) hooks easily
Wolff Industries Apex Vise
Like its brother the Atlas, the Apex is made in Indiana, USA out of stainless steel, and is quite a hefty vise. This is not going to fall apart or break easily! The Apex is Wolff’s traditional fly-tying vise, as opposed to the rotary style of the Atlas.
One big difference between it and its brother is the Apex’s size. As a traditional vise, it’s a good bit more compact than the rotary Atlas. That makes it a great vise for fly-tying on the go, whether it’s traveling to your favorite area to fish or wanting something to bide the time on a business trip. Like the Atlas, the Apex comes with both a C-clamp and a pedestal base. Both are solid and very stable.
Where the Apex really shines (and even outshines its brother) is its jaw. It’s particularly well-suited to small hooks, and can easily accommodate even a #32. Plus, the lever that controls the jaw is long and simple to use. It sounds like a small point, but you’ll be clamping and un-clamping a lot during the course of your fly-tying. Making it easy is key to avoiding fatigue and keeping everything as simple as possible.
While it’s not a rotary vise, the Apex does have some rotary-like functions. The barrel can rotate in a way that will let you examine your fly from all angles, which is useful. However, the hook will not be kept in the exact same position like in a true rotary vise. This makes it limited if you’re used to a rotary vise, but does offer utility beyond a normal traditional-style vise.
- Sturdy stainless teel construction
- Some rotary function
- Doesn’t hold very large hooks as easily as other vises
Regal Medallion Vise
Before we begin, here’s a great comparison between the Medallion and one of our other top vises, the Griffin Montana Mongoose:
The Medallion is one of Regal’s traditional fly-tying vises. Like a lot of traditional-style vises nowadays, it does have the ability to rotate. You won’t be able to use it like a true rotary vise, because it won’t keep the shaft of the hook on the same axis. Still, it’s very useful to be able to view your hook from all possible angles.
One of Regal’s most popular features is the way its jaws work. Most vises have a system that screws down to match the size of the hook, then a lever to clamp it into place. It’s effective, but takes some fiddling to get it right.
Regal, on the other hand, has a one-tension-fits-all solution. Setting a hook up is as simple as grabbing onto a little spring-loaded lever, putting the hook into the jaws, and letting go. From big to small, the hook is always firmly held for easy tying.
This has obvious appeal, and is one reason why Regal vises have become popular. Some people prefer the greater control over how tight the jaws clamp down. However, it should be said that very few people actually complain about how well the Regal holds hooks. In fact, it’s got one of the strongest grips around. So maybe this is a case where one-size-fits-all really is the best solution!
Overall, the Medallion is a great example of simplicity in action. It’s quite compact when taken apart, and is very easy to operate. It combines some of the best features of both rotary and traditional styles into one vise. And even though it lacks the customizability of vises like the Griffin Montana Mongoose, you can see how much easier it is to set up:
- Easy-to-use jaw with a strong grip
- Simple and compact
- Some rotary function
- Not a lot of room to customize your own preferences