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So Many Vises, So Little Time! 

And The Winners Are...


This concludes the first large scale review from Fly Fish Ohio. After exhaustive hours spent tying on all these vises, weíve come to some pretty clear choices. In each category, weíre going to pick a value leader, where the vise named isnít the absolute best vise in the category but it has enough features and is reasonably priced to garner the title ďBest ValueĒ. The winners of each category will receive a ďBest OverallĒ award for each price category. On to the winners.


In the under $50 category the competition was clear for both best value and overall winner. While itís hard to be a 20 dollar vise that does everything you ask, we here at Fly Fish Ohio want a little more in the area of life expectancy and "quality feel" out of a vise. Thatís why we didnít go with the inexpensive vises as best values. We consider these vises to be strictly threshold tools that would give the user a taste of what itís like to tie flies. The serious vises cost a tad more, but the value there is evident. Thatís why the Zephyr EZ Rotary vise from Hook & Hackle is our winner for best value. For such an inexpensive vise itís got quite a good feature set. You get a decent c-clamp along with the full rotary functionality and a darn nice box for storage.


The best overall in the 0-50 dollar category was the Crown vise from Bass Pro Shops. No other vise comes in a fitted wooden case. The fact that it includes two posts, a c-clamp AND a pedestal base could have made it the best value but the Regal-style jaws can be an acquired taste.  Joe argues that, once acquired, that is a taste that is hard to give up. Joe's regular vise is a Regal.  Old school tiers without rotary chops take note!


In the $50 - $100 category things get trickier. We have some serious contenders and the quality of the vises goes up substantially. You have better materials being used and superior engineering and quality control begins to make itself evident. We liked the Renzetti Apprentise, but the MSRP and a hook range that limited it to smaller flies kept it from the leader board. The Griffin vises have great jaws that make them awesome entry level tools. We absolutely love the extension posts that screw, inline, to the main post. This makes for a very versatile tool, but the lack of rotation was their downfall.


For best value and the best performer in the $50 - $100 category there was one clear choice.  The Dan-vise from Danica stood out from the pack in appearance, originality and practicality.  As the only Ďplasticí vise in the shootout, it has the distinction of being one of the lightest tools going. Itís c-clamp is an awesome piece of engineering. The hook range is very good and itís a true rotary vise complete with 2 ball bearings. Add to that a DVD on how to use the tool and you have a great value. As you can see from the photographs, the Dan-vise miight not be the prettiest pick of the litter (unless you're a Star Wars fan, in which case you can make a Darth Vader voice while you're tying) but once you get to know it this $80 investment will seem like a beautiful steal!


Tied for best value, a strong Honorable Mention has to go to the Apex vise from Anvil. Known mostly for their superlative scissors, Anvil has come out with a couple of real knock-out vises in the Apex and Atlas. These overbuilt tools simply shout quality. Thereís no denying the fact that the Apex could be a contender at two-plus times its retail. Itís got a great hook range and comes in a nice box with both a c-clamp and a pedestal base. This could easily be the first and last vise you ever buy and is, in all ways, as good a value as the Danvise. This was Jim's favorite vise in the category, to the point where he purchased the review sample!


In the $100 - $150 category you really start to see the heavy hitters of the industry offering their best products. There was less than one point difference between the top four contenders in this category. That says to me that these manufacturers want to get a decent product out for the money. The fact that there are so many companies vying in this price point says itís a hot category. Of the vises that came close but didnít take the prize were the Regal Inex, which has essentially has the same head as the rotatable Regal vise. You canít miss Joeís favorite vise in the Adventures in Fly Tying videos we produce here at FFO. The jaws are a one-of-a-kind design that seriously hold a wide range of hooks. If this vise rotated it would have garnered much more support. As it is, itís still an awesome tool for tying big flies and anything that requires a serious grip on the hook.


The HMH vise has the absolute best implementation of a draw-collet design. Itís easy to change the jaws and the hook holding properties are fantastic.  Joe had a particular soft-spot for this one, calling it "the best midge vise ever!"  Certainly the HMH featured the finest finish and that Quality with that capital "Q" we read about in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.


It was generally agreed that the Anvil Atlas is the vise youíd go to war with. Anvil has taken overbuilt to a new level of heaviness. It came close to the best value leader by only a few tenths of a point. Professional tiers take note. If you want a vise you can beat to a pulp and have it come back for more, the Atlas is your tool. Our only real ding is that its jaws arenít easily replaceable.


That takes us to the value leader in the category. We really liked the Griffin Blackfoot Mongoose. Itís build quality is awesome. The jaws cover the gamut of hook holding. It comes with a great c-clamp, a bobbin cradle, material clip and Griffins fantastic post extension system. Add to that, full rotation and a great set of jaws and it all fits into the only foam filled, hard plastic case in the entire competition. Quite the feat, for the fair sum of $145.


The overall winner in the $100 - $150 category is the Peak vise. It was difficult to put into words the visceral emotions you feel when you see a tool that brings both form and function into such a tight focus. We absolutely loved the Peak vise. It has it all. Full rotation, a full line of optional accessories, height extendibility, and a great set of replaceable jaws.  It's very hard to find anything to criticize.  Smooth, slick, suave.... how many superlatives can we throw at this great piece of gear.  Manufacturers building vises in the $200 plus category have a lot to worry about with this product in the market.  Buy one before they figure out the price is too low!.


The Fly Fish Ohio team would like to thank all the manufacturers for their assistance in this project.  Everyone we contacted was very supportive of this project and of Fly Fish Ohio in general. This review turned out to be an enormous undertaking, but one we'll happily reprise.  Knowing what is available on the market and having a source of consistent critical review is paramount to getting the very most from a hobby that is at once a vital and central part of each of our lives and yet is constrained by all the obligations civilized life demands.  When you have a few hours to fish or tie flies you should make the most of it.  We sincerely hope our efforts make that a little easier to accomplish.


-Jim Stuard

Senior Editor

Fly Fish Ohio


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