Walking down a high street whilst on holiday I glanced over to a shop window and noticed a twinkle in my eye. I became slightly alarmed whilst being pleasantly surprised, it's a common condition frequently known as 'tackle shop eye'. Visiting tackle shops always does this to me for some reason. I always seem to develop a spring in my step whether I'm planning to spend anything or not. Ever since a friend of mine discovered a bulging wallet containing a shed load of cash on his way to a game fair I have developed the nasty habit of scanning the pavement in hope of doing likewise. Yes I know it would be wrong, but it's a nice thought all the same. I went with the usual fiver hoping for a price sticker mix up on the Loomis stand.
This was a small shop containing way too many shop assistants for its size and a rather large gunsmiths section. The panelling was dark oak and the windows were bevelled, very 'oldie worldy' I thought. "Established 1845 Sir, what can I do for you, " said a gentleman with a nametag reading 'Tarquin', "just browsing " I replied. He tried to smile whilst muttering "you're one of those Black Country chaps aren't you", "yes" I said, "feel free to (gulp), browse, sir". I got the feeling there was great unrest in the land of tweed and cane.
The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise as I realized I was being stalked. A whiff of cologne passed my nose and a faint shuffle came within earshot, before I could turn away I was cornered. The persistent 'are you ok' and 'need any help sir' started to unnerve me so I quickly made a b-line for the grey dusters, they didn't have any, damn! Whilst standing in the flies section looking confused a somewhat scruffier person asked if I'd ever thought of rolling my own, "don't smoke" I replied, "flies" he said. I explained to him my misgivings and why being faced with several hundred kinds of hooks, feathers, furs, tools, beads, booby eyes and various other bits and bobs had put me off. Although I was interested, the thought of having to select anything from this huge wall of 'things' made me wonder if it was all worthwhile. He rolled his eyes and reassuringly said, "it's easy". I was led round the back of the counter and instructed to sit on a hard leather chair, an odd looking lamp was then switched on and a tool wallet unravelled. I felt nervous, it was like the dentist.
A vice was clamped onto the counter, It was very shiny with touches of polished brass and was accompanied by all manner of swively things. It was then un-clamped, put away and replaced by a rather humble looking little black thing. He asked me what I thought a vice should do, "hold the hook," I said, "bingo" he replied. A good vice should hold the hook firmly whilst a fly is being tied. The vice in the picture is a weaver ultimate 2, it's a basic fixed head C-clamp vice that does nothing more than hold the hook and cost £30. I have tied flies from the simplest to the most advanced without a problem using this vice. At the time of purchase I still wanted the shiny one but now after five years of tying on my little black vice I have no complaints. Vices come in all shapes and sizes, most are over engineered, over priced and over rated.
Fly tying vices come in two styles, clamp or pedestal. A clamp vice can be attached to practically anything it can hold on to, they're portable, light and can be adjusted to suit various tying heights. Clamp vices are not suitable for all surfaces, especially very thick or expensive ones. On such occasions a vice with a pedestal base may prove beneficial. This style of vice can be placed on any flat surface without leaving any little reminders on the furniture. The base is weighted to ensure a stable tying platform but in some peoples opinion suffers from a portability standpoint as a result. I disagree, there're not that heavy. You're choice should be dictated by your tying circumstances. I have a clamp vice because 90% of the time it's clamped in the same place. If I travelled a lot and was unsure as to what surfaces I would meet then I would go for the pedestal. Both styles have their uses and fortunately most vices can easily switch between the two. Many web site and magazine articles will suggest rotary vices to you. To be able to rotate the hook in the vice jaws can be useful, however, a feature such as that is a 'nice to have', not a 'must have'. You don't need to spend a lot, between £25 and £50 is fine. A basic lever action vice from a reputable maker will do. The best of the bunch for me are the Weaver ultimate 2 (£30) and the Thompson pro (£30, depending on retailer). If down the road you become more interested and feel the features provided by a pricier vice would benefit you then move up, you will have lost nothing.
Off the top of my head I can think of around thirty-four fly tying tools. How many do I have? 10. How many do I use? 4. My use of different tools tends to rotate depending on what I'm tying but as a guide I would say there are five 'must haves'. If a fly tier were to lose even one of these tools he would be reduced to a gibbering wreck, a mere shadow of his former self. I lost my scissors once, it was a terrifying experience. I learnt the value of good scissors very quickly. I opened my first pair to discover the tips didn't cut and the finger holes were too small. I immediately went out and bought the flashest pair I could find. They were perfect, the finger holes were huge, they cut right to the tip and had a serrated edge to prevent material slippage. These are the criteria that all fly tying scissors should meet. The holes should be big enough to wear on you fingers and the tips should be fine and strong. 80% of my cutting is undertaken with the tips so it is essential that they last. Most tools can be acquired fairly cheaply but scissors should never be skimped on. The best are made by anvil (Ultimate straight £18) but the gold loop range from veniard (Arrow, £8) and Dr Slick are also very good. As a beginner one good pair will be sufficient but as you progress you will find that certain materials will blunt fine scissor tips very quickly (metal wires, tough hair etc). You can solve this problem by either avoiding the tip of the blade or by acquiring an additional (cheaper) pair for donkeywork.
Bits and bobbins
Our third most important fly tying toy is a bobbin holder. It is the tool that allows us to wind the thread around the hook. As you can see in the picture it's simply a pair of sprung arms with a tube in the middle. The bobbin sits in between the two arms and the thread is fed through the tube. Bobbin holders come in a number of different sizes so knowing which to buy can seem confusing. Most thread is sold on a 'standard' bobbin so for that reason a 'standard' sized bobbin holder should be sufficient. The bobbin should fit between the arms snugly, the thread should peel of easily and when left hanging under its own weight should remain firmly in its place. The tube of a holder is of great importance, some are totally metal and some are either totally ceramic or have ceramic tips. Cheap metal tubes cut through thread like a knife through butter. Good ones have smooth flared ends, will not cut thread and cost between £2 and £6. If you do go for metal then make sure you can see the tool before buying it. Bobbin holders with ceramic tipped tubes cost more but are in my opinion a little better. I choose ceramic because it's super smooth and will never chaff the thread but my altogether lazier reason for this choice is that I really couldn't be bothered to check every metal bobbin holder known to man just to find out if the tips were suitable. A ceramic holder will cost between £5 and £15.
Next week: "Nipple clamps and peversion - and what are these James Bond instruments?" part 2 :-)