There comes a time in a fly tier’s “career” when they look to upgrade the simple tools they began with. For me, after a long time of using the cheap bobbins and vises I had amassed from various tying kits over the years, I decided to take my game up a notch this fall. To be clear, I have nothing against these beginner tools; they are cheap enough to get someone started, yet effective enough to make some really nice flies after a lot of practice. Nonetheless, my increase in tying frequency warranted the addition of some nicer appliances to my bench.
First in the quest to overhaul my tools came a new vise. Ever since the start, I had been using a poorly-made vise straight from my first kit. It was an unbranded, silver, clamp mounted, push lever vise that, despite looking sleek, was terrible at its job. It took an unfathomable amount of force to secure the hook in the jaws, and even then, it would often slip at least two or three times during the tying process. After watching many of the nice flies that I was now producing slide through the grip of the vise, destroying my work, I decided it was time for an upgrade.
At first glance, a search for the best fly tying vises online can be quite daunting. With so many options to choose from, it is easy to get lost in the countless articles and videos. If you pay attention, though, you’ll begin to see a couple names appear frequently: Renzetti and Regal. Both companies are the top dogs when it comes to fly tying vises. They are well known, and almost anyone who has ever purchased one of their vises raved about them. The decision was going to be tough.
Then I remembered a chance I had a few years back to use a Regal vise. It was at Barry Conservation Camp, a fishing camp in northern New Hampshire that I loved going to. One of the activities everyone participated in was fly tying. At the time, I had no idea I was using a Regal, but looking back I remembered the lever that was squeezed to open the jaws of the vise, a feature unique to Regal. I recalled being enamored by the ease-of-use, as the vise I had at home could be a nightmare to work with.
More recently, the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show gave me another chance to try out the esteemed vises. Here, I was most impressed by the grip strength that the little jaws had. I was able to crank down hard on my thread without holding the hook for support while tying a small tan scud. Only once before had I experienced that kind of stability.
With these thoughts in mind, I began to look closer at the Regal products. My first thought was to go right to the top and purchase a rotary vise. I figured since the top tiers in the world use rotary vises, so should I. Plus, I would probably never have to buy another vise every again. As I looked at the price; however, my eyes popped. Knowing that I would most likely receive this as a gift, and wouldn’t be purchasing it myself, I couldn’t bring myself to put such an expensive item on my wishlist. I still have many years of tying ahead of me, and if I like this Regal, then maybe I can invest in something a little nicer down the road.
Now the obvious step was to go for the most basic vise Regal offers. Luckily, none of their products are particularly low-quality. After taking a look through their products, I decided on the Regular Medallion Series vise with the bronze pedestal base. The reviews were great, and this combination had gotten a thumbs-up from a number of well-known tiers.
When it came time to see the product in person for the first time as an owner, I was incredibly excited. I knew immediately what it was, even before I started unwrapping the gift. The weight of the base gave it away; it was at least a few pounds, much greater than the weight of any other item with a similar size. I was gleaming, and my mom simply smiled and said, “Happy birthday.” I was like Ralphie opening his BB gun in A Christmas Story. Each torn piece of wrapping paper got me closer and closer to the treasure inside until, poof, a box! As with any box, there was no telling what was inside, but I had an idea. One slice of a pocket knife, and there it was, wrapped in bubble wrap, the best gift a fly tier could ask for.
I couldn’t believe it. I actually owned a Regal vise! Per any special gift, I had to try it out right away. First thing was first, though. I had to put the two pieces of the vise together without somehow breaking it, like I had with a previous vise. The shaft of the vise fit seamlessly into the opening of the base. Next, I had to get the vise to my preferred tying angle. Like any Ikea product, a hex key came in the packaging to aid in this regard. A bolt between the shaft and the actual vise part of the vise simply needs to be loosened enough until you can move the jaws up and down to the angle you like tying with best. For me, it is about 35 degrees, but for others it may be closer to 45 or even down to the twenties. It is capable of fluctuating a full 220 degrees, but I don’t see the need for most of that rotation other than storage.
A quick word of advice as far as the angles go: if you get it perfectly straight, you essentially have a cheapo version of a rotary vise. When you place the hook on the exact same axis as the jaws, they will rotate the same way without any vertical deviation. While it is nowhere near the quality, and doesn’t have half the features of a true rotary vise, it will get the job done if a rotary vise is absolutely required.
My favorite part about the vise is just how easy it is to firmly secure a hook in the jaws. Previously I’ve had to struggle against the lever with all my might to get even a slight grasp on the hook. Now, it’s as simple as squeezing the lever with one hand and inserting the bend of the hook with the other. No fuss, no hassle, just pure simplicity. I suppose if you had truly terrible grip strength, it could be quite difficult to open the jaws, but for the average tier, it should be close to effortless.
While Regal certainly has some haters, there is no denying the brute strength of the jaws. The Regular jaws are advertised for hook sizes 22 up to 1/0, but I have had no problem tying on hooks that are both larger and smaller. For the hooks that do fit in that range, I couldn’t ask for a better grip while tying. I have pulled as hard as I can with 220 denier thread without a lick of hook slippage. If the jaws could open wide enough, putting your finger in would be like shoving your hand into the mouth of a snapping turtle, without the sharp teeth. Regal truly does have “The Bulldog Bite”.
A word of caution when using small hooks with these super-strong vises: if you put the hook too close to the edge of the jaws, they have a tendency to pop out and go flying across the room. It really is just a result of the pressure exerted on the hook. This happens very rarely, and as long as you position your hook far enough back in the jaws of the vise, you shouldn’t have any issues.
Arguably the best feature of the vise is just how few features it has. No tensioning screw to mess with, no bobbin cradle to get in your way, and no excess pieces of metal or plastic to catch your thread on. It is a lean, mean, fly tying machine. Even the extra components seem a little over-the-top, and frankly, unnecessary. For example, I’m not a huge fan of the coiled wire that sits behind the jaws to hold excess material while tying. It does occasionally come in handy while tying flies that use a wide range of materials that you’d prefer not to be spread in every direction, but often I find it does more harm than good. I mostly use it to hold wire and the like when tying nymphs, but the wire usually comes out of the spring gnarled and kinked. Plus, it doesn’t look great when taking pictures of finished flies. Regal would be better off leaving this tool out and letting tiers purchase their own magnetic material holders.
Enough talk about the bad, let’s get back to the good. Obviously, there is a lot to be said about the stylish design of the entire product, but I’m not one to go on and on about those things. The bronze base and logo accents the black of the vise very nicely, if that’s your kind of thing. Honestly, I would have got this if it was bright pink and had sparkles. Which it probably could, seeing as if you pay a premium you have the ability to get custom colors.
Not only was I a fan of the design of the base, but I also really enjoy its functionality. It is heavy enough to keep the vise in place, but would also be small enough to pack on a road trip to a fishing destination. The cork on the bottom keeps it from scratching tables or benches, which is nice considering my parents probably would have prevented me from tying flies ever again if it left gouges on our precious tables. The rims on the base are just tall enough to keep things like beads and hooks inside. If you’re into production tying, this is a great place to store future materials. I often use it to hold finished flies before putting them in their respective boxes. Whatever you choose to do with it, I much prefer the pedestal base to the clamp-styles I have used before.
And, of course, no vise would be complete without helpful trinkets added to the shaft. I currently only have a Griffin hook and hackle gauge, although Regal makes a variety of tool bars that slide right onto the vise. Luckily, adding these accessories is a snap because you can simply loosen the screw on the stem of the base and slide the shaft out. New features can then easily be slipped onto the vise, and you can have it back in working order in no time.
There it is. That’s the complete rundown of my most beloved vise. I foresee a long future and many flies tied with this beautiful piece of craftmanship. Frankly, I don’t see the need to look at purchasing another vise for years. I would undoubtedly recommend this product to anyone looking to up their fly tying game. Plus, its always great to support a local Massachusetts business. And while you may have a different opinion, I honestly think that the Regal Medallion Series Vise is the best vise in its price range by a long shot.