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The Fly Fish Ohio team is proud to bring you our very first "Shoot-Out" style review.  For this project we've selected fly tying vises under $150.  Have you ever wondered what you can REALLY get for your money?  We tied a big bunch of flies of all sizes on each of these vises just to answer that question.  Don't spend a nickel on a new fly tying vise until you've had a chance to read this review first!  We guarantee you'll be surprised by the results!!!




Welcome to the first Fly Fish Ohio Fly Tying Vise Review! This is an auspicious beginning; it’s the first major equipment shootout on Fly Fish Ohio!  How many of you have thought to yourself, “I’d like to get into fly tying but I really don't know anything about it?" or "I have a really nice vise but I'd like to get something that's lighter, smaller, or easier to manage while traveling?”  The Fly Fish Ohio crew has the answers!


Joe Cornwall, Mark Blauvelt and I all tie our own flies.  Between us we have over fifty years of tying experience and have collectively tied thousands of flies using a variety of different techniques and a wide selection of gear.  You might say we have “opinions.”  With this being our first major review, we'd like to share the ground rules for this and other reviews to follow.   Our first major criterion was price.  This review covers products with a maximum MSRP of $150 and we’ve further segmented that market to examine vises under $50, from $50 to $100, and from $100 to $150.  As the Senior Editor my job consisted of some serious web surfing sessions.  I came up with a list that includes product from virtually every major manufacturer, which indicates that these companies have a vested interest in reaching the beginner and budget-conscious tier.  Hundreds of emails and dozens of phone calls later and we have a group of products ranging in price from under 20 dollars right up to the 150 dollar limit. In the future all shootout reviews will have a price segment associated with the equipment.


The next criterion is a unified definition of quality performance.  This may seem somewhat self-evident at first, but the fact of the matter is that most reviews don’t provide concise, categorical performance definitions.  As a reference vise we've included the long discontinued Thompson Model B.  This $6.50 vise (about $36 in current value) defines the minimal performance a contemporary product should exhibit. If a new manufacturer can't beat this old warhorse then there really isn't much to talk about.


This review uses ten specific areas that we found best described the actual in-use performance of the product.  Each of the ten areas is rated on a scale of 1-to-5 with 5 being the best level of performance.  Here are the ten questions used to evaluate the performance of this selection of fly tying vises:


1.       First Impressions.  Did the vise come in an attractive package?  Was it well packed and would the packaging serve as storage for the vise?


2.       Directions, literature, parts lists and documentation?  Does this vise come with a set of directions that explain care and maintenance of the product?  Are there illustrations of the parts in case you need to order an accessory or replace a missing part?  Are there well written directions explaining calibration and set-up of the vise?


3.       Vise fit and finish.  Is this a well finished product?  Did it communicate quality right out of the box?


4.       C-Clamp quality:  Is the clamp well designed?  Did the clamp provide a solid, immobile mounting system for the vise?  Did it remain tight through a long session of tying?  Did it mark, or have the potential to damage the surface of the table to which it’s clamped?            


5.       Vise stem finish, adjustability and length. Is the vise flexible in placement for a number of tiers and table heights?


6.       Smoothness of operation of vise jaws.  Were they easy to open and close?  Are the jaws easy to calibrate for various hooks?  Do the jaws remain in the calibrated position or is it necessary to readjust the jaws after a few flies?


7.       Rotation and adjustability.  Is the vise capable of rotating?   If so, was the rotating mechanism smooth and robust?   We used N/A if the vise didn’t feature rotability, but we tried not to hold that fact against the product.  Of course lack of this feature is a 10% penalty in itself, even though the N/A rating still provides 1 point. We've all tied on fixed vises, but the ability to see the far side of the fly is so critical that we thought it imperative to incorporate this as a standard.  That said, we all agree we'd rather see no rotability than a poorly implemented system that detracts from the product's utility.  No differentiation was given to simple rotability versus "true" rotary tying functionality.


8.       Jaw grip, hold and clearance.  Does the vise hold the hook stable under both vertical and horizontal pressures?  Is there access to tie on any type of hook in the normal size range?  Can it reliably hold different sizes of hooks?  All vises must hold a minimum of size 20 to 2/0 to rate a 4 or better unless they are purposed designed and labeled as being designed for a specific hook size (tube, midge or saltwater, for instance).


9.       Accessories. Is the vise capable of being customized with a bobbin cradle, material clip, background card, parachute tool, waste receptacle, etc.?  A good vise should have a material clip included as part of its design.


10.   Reviewer’s Choice.  There is no category for this.  This is a gauge of “goose-bump” factor.  Did you like this vise?  Could you forget about the tool and do the job?


Each of these performance parameters was graded using the rating system detailed in the sidebar. A scale of 1 to 5 was used, with 5 being the very best performance.  Each tier rated each vise and the the answer values were averaged for each question.  The averaged values were then summed and a total point score was assigned to the product. Joe and Mark were only aware of retail price points after they had completed tying to keep price "prejudice" from affecting the outcome.  Further,. we didn't discuss any of the products until we had completed the reviews so there was very little chance of any of us affecting the answers of another.


Now that you know the ground rules we used, and without further adieu, please click the links below to get to the vises.


- Jim Stuard, Senior Editor                    


Vises to $50


Vises From $50 to $100


Vises From $100 to $150


Take Me Straight To The Summary!


The Fly Fish Ohio

5 Fly Rating System

With this review, the Fly Fish Ohio team is pleased to introduce a new graphical and numeric rating scheme.  This system will make comparing various products easy. The more flies awarded to a product, the better it is! 


I'd Rather Play Golf

If looked at generously, this vise can barely be considered better than no vise at all.  In the hands of a beginner it will likely have them signing up for golf lessons and giving up fly tying for ever.


Marginally Acceptable

This vise can hold a hook, but you’ve got to take the time to fight with the settings.  It’s a tool that will work, but has a limited range of compatible hook sizes and really big/small are out of the question. This vise might lose its settings after a few ties, slowing the ultimate efficiency of the tying session.  You can use this, but you'll be looking for an upgrade if you get serious about tying


A Solid Performer

This product delivers the goods without frills.  A Three-Fly designation means you'll definitely get your money's worth.  It’s a fine tool that you can use, but you might harbor a curiosity about “what could have been”.


Exceptional Quality and Value

 Aesthetics and parts quality may be more utilitarian than luxury, but performance doesn’t suffer in the least.  You could live with this without complaint.


Absolutely Outstanding!

As good as it gets!  There's just nothing to complain about and almost nothing more to want.  A lifetime product.

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