Letting Go of Vices and Vises: Part 1

My orange and brahma hen “no-vise” kebari and a brookie that liked it.

Well another new year has somehow happened – they have a way of doing that don’t they? In spite of the inevitability of time’s (and life’s) runaway bulldozer, people annually attempt to grasp at the controls and so resolve to effect changes. Often these resolutions involve vices or more specifically the elimination of such. Overeating, smoking, sloth, procrastination, listening to modern country music are all among those vices which are worthy of our attention. I am going to propose, this January, another vice that we can eliminate from our lives – the fly tying vise. Well, maybe we can’t toss it away completely (I wouldn’t want to tie a deer hair bass bug, or size 26 midge without a vise), but perhaps it is not as necessary as we think. And within limits, it’s pretty easy to get by without it. Many who have followed tenkara in America, have seen the video posted by Tenkara USA of Katsutoshi Amano tying his signature fly sans vise, simply holding the fly in his hand. To be clear, I don’t think this is typical even of tenkara anglers in Japan. I have seen Japanese anglers in person tie with vises and also many videos of Japanese anglers tie with vises. If anything, it may be a throwback to earlier tenkara days – but I really can’t speak to that with authority. Also, I know some western anglers tie this way now and I suspect in the past it was even more common. So rather than casting “no-vise” fly tying as “tenkara” or “Japanese” let’s just call it simple and fun – and avoid any attendant mischaracterization and controversy.

After seeing that video, I, along with many others I bet, gave the technique a try. And having tied a fly or two “successfully”, I moved on and never really gave much more thought to the technique. Then this past summer at the 2013 Tenkara Summit in Harrisonburg Virginia, I met John Geer (of Tenkara USA) and Matthew Shipp of the blog Tenkara Wisconsin (http://tenkarawi.blogspot.com) and I found out that both of these guys were “no-vise” tyers. My curiosity was again piqued – but that’s where it ended again…

And then…I can’t say what finally caused me to think about it again…but for some reason I did and I just kept thinking about it. I have an emotional attachment to my fly tying vise. I think many fly tyers do – just ask for vise recommendations on a forum to see what I mean. So the idea that I might not need it was a little unsettling to be truthful. It was almost like turning my back on an old friend. But one day this late fall, I was looking at a box of old sewing thread that my mother in law had given to me – the spools were small and just the right size to fit easily into a bobbin holder. So I loaded up a spool, plucked some brahma hen hackle and tied a few for the day’s fishing – without a vise – and caught some fish. And it was simple, and it was fun, and it was pretty rewarding. I was being won over to the idea of “no-vise” tying as a real method and not just a gimmick. I have a long way to go and much more to learn and to experiment with regarding the technique – but it’s going to become a regular part of my tying.

Well that was a bit of a rambling prologue…What I’d like to do is present some pictures and thoughts on “no-vise” tying by Matthew Shipp, John Geer and myself. In this first part of the series I’ll present Matthew’s thoughts, then John’s in Part 2 and mine in Part 3.

So on to Matthew Shipp – rather than mess with or edit I’m just going to present Matthew’s words as he sent them to me:

I was first turned onto the concept of tying kebari in hand by the now well know video of Katsutoshi Amano demonstrating his technique posted on Tenkara USA’s website.  Having been turned onto the idea I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of meeting John Geer in 2012 who has become an accomplished in hand tyer. With the video of Amano San and the input from John I have worked to develop my own voice when it comes to tying kebari in hand. When I tie in hand I like to keep the process as natural as possible.  I like to look at the finished kebari and think of how it could have been tied centuries ago with the exact same tools and materials.  In hand I tie with silk sewing thread and one feather.  When tying on an eyeless hook I often twine my own thread into cordage to make the loop eye.   Instead of finishing with glue or head cement I apply beeswax to the thread to make it a bit tacky. Instead of tying off with a whip finishing tool or a half hitch I pull the tag end under several turns of thread by wrapping a thread loop under half a dozen turns and pulling the tag end back through. At times I tie neatly with touching turns and at times I just let things unfold without much attention to detail giving the fly a mangled buggy look. I view tying kebari in hand much like Japanese Sumi-E (ink painting) or Haiku. The art of Sumi-E is an attempt to render an image with minimal brush strokes.  Haiku captures the feeling of a setting or scene with minimal words but makes a lasting impact.  With my kebari I try to create the impression of an insect with minimal tools and materials.  When I am successful the impression is buggy enough to cause a trout to grab hold of it and the feeling on my end of the rod is euphoric.

Matthew Shipp "No-Vise" Kebari: Black Pheasant, Grey Pheasant, Purple Pheasant

Matthew Shipp “No-Vise” Kebari: Black Pheasant, Grey Pheasant, Purple Pheasant


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