That place of ultimate goodness


A while back I did a three part series on tying tenkara flies without a vice, Letting Go of Vices and Vises, in which two of the posts featured some thoughts by guests Matt Shipp (Part 1) and John Geer (Part 2) – and the third was just  me (part 3).

I continue to tie without a vise at times – but have not given up tying with a vise. I do both. There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to be one or the other in anything in life. You can like Judas Priest and Echo and the Bunymen, the Grateful Dead and the Sex Pistols.

I most often forgo the vise when I’m on a trip. Either I’m tying some flies at the stream before I head out for the day. Or I’m staying down at the camp, or on a family camping trip, and I just don’t feel like taking the whole fly tying shebang along.  I don’t know about all the other no-vise tyers, but that’s really been the sweet spot for my no-vise tying. When I’m home, or when I’m tying a bunch of flies – or tying anything more complicated than sakasa kebari –  I’ll tie with a vice. Reportedly Lee Wulff could tie tiny Wulff-style, hair-wing dry flies without a vice. I’m not doing that. I just don’t have the desire to take it that far – yet.  Hair-wing flies are a pain in the butt even with a vise.


I recall a facebook discussion a while back – and there were a few tenkara folks that just didn’t seem to see any of the appeal of tying without a vise. This was a little puzzling to me. After all these folks have abandoned the reel – why not the vise? I assumed that in the tenkara world there would have been more of an embrace for this technique.  But you know what they say about assumptions.

It reminded me of my feelings on complicated tenkara rigging. I keep my tenkara rigging very simple for the most part. I’ve messed around with different things – but in the end settled on simple. It works good enough for me. I do have a few different rigging schemes that I like for different situations. But I don’t mess around that much. If I’m making a hand twisted line I get some nylon mono out and sit down put and crank out a line. I don’t really pay that much attention to the exact details. And it works well enough for me that I don’t sweat it.

So when I would read about people getting, what seemed to me, overly obsessed with trying every possible type of nylon, fluorocarbon, braid, etc., in the know universe, in all possible combinations – to get some “perfect” line. I kind of rolled my eyes and maybe got a little superior feeling.

But when I stopped to think about it the underlying thing was that I was a bit threatened. Folks were doing things that I hadn’t done, using things that I hadn’t used. I couldn’t even pretend to be an expert in all that I was seeing – and I didn’t really want to. I didn’t feel the need and didn’t want to put in the effort – it just wasn’t anything that I was excited about investigated more deeply.  So it’s easier to just write it all off as unnecessary or uninteresting or whatever. That’s a big cop out. And it’s one that I see over and over in tenkara and in fly fishing, and in life.

So you can keep it simple – and act like it’s “the best” or you can make it complicated and act like it’s “the best” – either way it feels a bit silly to me.  As soon as we start making value judgements about the way somebody else is fishing – we start to look pretty darn silly. And possibly quite ignorant. I know that there are some things that I could do improve “catch rates” (at least at times) by complicating things. But I also know that there are some complications that folks are adding on that are simply that – and really don’t help – or not by much. So it’s easy to fall into that trap. But just as I may choose to keep it simple – it’s okay for someone else to keep it complicated.

It’s all about what’s fun for you.  It is okay to fish in a way that is not “optimum”.

Life is not  hierarchy. Tenkara is not a hierarchy. It is ought not to be anyway. It ought to be horizontally oriented.

I’m rambling – I know. But…well I reckon that’s why I have a blog in the first place. And I don’t ramble here nearly often enough.

So…what I’m wondering is this. How much of what I do (of what you do) is for you? and how much is for catching fish?

I suspect we all find our happy place when it comes to answering that question. We don’t catch enough fish – we tweak things – we catch a few more – we call it good. That place of ultimate goodness is a moving target. It moves from person to person – and probably moves throughout our own fishing lives.  I may live in one happy valley for years and then decide to go over the hill to the next valley. Maybe you climb over hill and dell constantly.

Tying flies in hand without a vise is one of those things. If you do it and enjoy it cool. I know I do. If you are in love with your beautiful fly tying vise – also cool. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everybody else’s happy place look just like yours. And I promise to try that too.





4 Comments on That place of ultimate goodness

  1. I’m sort of in awe of you guys who tie without a vise. My idea of roughing it is using my non-rotating Regal. As for judging the results of your all-hands approach, it’s a bit like what Samuel Johnson said about a dog walking on its hind legs: It is may not be done well, but one is surprised that it is done at all. And if someone comments on a fly of your looking amateurish, you can always cross your fingers and plead the No Vise defense.

  2. Hey Anthony, I don’t think I realized you and the others were doing this on a relatively regular basis. I have been enjoying no-vise fly tying streamside lately. Now that fall is upon us, I have been doing a lot of exploring in KY, checking out very small to medium sized streams in Daniel Boone National Forest. KY has no native trout, but has seen stocking since the 1800s, and a handful of populations have managed to reproduce in the wild. I never know exactly what I’m going to get when I hike in, so instead of guessing, I’ve been packing a limited number of tying supplies, and tying by hand streamside based on the conditions at hand. I know it’s not necessary, and may not be practical for most. But for my purposes, it adds to the enjoyment. I really like your post.

  3. Anthony. Good post! I tied a few Sakasa Kebari by hand just to say that I did that. But I do enjoy tying with a vise more. Call me an old crank. What I can’t wrap my head around is taking fly tying supplies, even a minimum amount, with me streamside. Never done it and never gave much thought to doing it. I am there to fish, not tie flies. And if Tenkara is to be such a simple affair, why would one want to carry tying supplies with them. Especially if they are pursuing the “one fly” method of Tenkara. No offense however, to those who do. I am still trying to get to the point of carrying less when I do go fishing. And by the way, I am impressed that you make your own line by hand. I watched the video here on your blog and was fascinated by it.

  4. Good t houghts here, Anthony, and some thoughtful responses as well. I like the idea of tying without a vise, but I doubt I’ll try it because I know I’m handicapped in the finger dexterity department. Without a vise I’m not a tyer. Also, I wouldn’t wish to carry fly-tying supplies to the stream unless I was staying for more than a couple of nights. I love fly-fishing. And admire your ability to tie with just the basics.

what say you?