(Spring 2017 Update - Most of the travel information below is still pretty accurate, but all the attitudes have been getting worse, and over the last couple of months - well, all bets are off.
I have been contacted on quite a few occasions by tyers looking to find the vise below. I got mine used, but we have found one at the Angler's Roost at the link below. These seem to come and go, so check and see if they are still listing one. The Umpqua vise is sort of like a spring loaded pin vise - probably good for a quick streamside tie, but not sure you could spend a whole flight with one.)
I am overwhelmed by my fly
tying supplies. And my fly tying tools. I need a separate set for the salmon fly
bench at home. I need a set for the TU meetings. I need a set for the late
winter classes in
This page is about, “What
if I have some spare time, and I just want to tie up a few flies, and it
doesn’t matter what kind of fly it is?" In other words, this type of tying is
about tying for the fun of it, not for matching the hatch by streamside.
And why would I want to do
this? The answer is straightforward – I travel. A lot. And if you travel
around the States in the winter, you’re going to get cancelled, bumped, or at
least delayed. Now many road warriors can turn to their laptop, or hardcover,
and get a few free hours in that way. So can I, up to an extent. But after a
while I just go brain dead. I can no longer do anything useful, and I can no
longer even amuse myself. I need to actually do something. What I do now is tie
flies. As a matter of fact, my mini-kit goes everywhere my briefcase goes. Most
of the time it doesn’t get used. Sometimes it gets used in the hotel room
only. But sometimes I can crank out a few dozen flies in an airport, and I
can’t figure out where all the time went. That definitely makes it worth all
the lugging around. That’s my idea of a good layover, and it’s pretty easy
if you plan ahead.
If you’re going to bring
tools for tying on a plane, what do you want to have so that the TSA leaves you
alone? Just to dispel any misconceptions, you can bring a full set of fly tying
gear on the plane with you, with one or two minor restrictions. Most people
think this is hopeless after 9/11, but if you read the signs you’ll see that
there’s quite a bit of leeway. First, and perhaps the most difficult, is the
vise. I believe the vise comes in on the list of prohibited items at
Tools (seven inches or less in
Tools (greater than seven inches in
Now, you might want to get
out your ruler, and measure up the old Renzetti Traveler, and pop him into your
kit. I wouldn’t recommend it. There are a couple of reasons.
First, you may have needed to
disconnect your vise from, say, the shaft before making this measurement, in
order to meet the 7 inch guideline. The TSA official at Gate 9 may not be
interested in doing that. Anything that goes into your airplane kit needs to be
absolutely clear of the “prohibited items” list. You don’t want to be
arguing about whether you can take your $167 vise with you on the plane, or
throwing it into that bin with the nun-chucks and screwdrivers – especially
when you’ve only got 38 seconds left to catch the plane.
Second, remember how you want
to use this. This needs to be tucked in a corner of your briefcase, all the
time. You don’t want a 2 pound behemoth in there, because it will only last
two trips because of the weight. So think small.
There are a few options for
thinking small with a vise, especially when your goal is killing time, not
cranking out flies for the trip tomorrow. You could hold the hook in your hand.
You could hold the hook in a small pair of hemostats. You could use a small pin
vise. You could clamp either of these to the table with an “A” clamp. I just
use a miniature vise. It’s no where near as nice as a real vise, but I kind of
like the looks of it. I have, on long trips, brought along a cheap
model-builder’s C-clamp to hold the vise to the tray, which makes a lot of
difference. But it’s not necessary. In any event, make sure you have a vise
that works for you, and then get a small zippered case that just fits it – the
vise will be the biggest item in the case. I have used a series of shaving kit
bags, LL Bean travel bags, pencil cases, you name it over the years. My current
choice is a small black bag that housed a “dial up modem” back in the early
days of computing. (You see, before the internet, when they didn’t have
graphics or… oh, never mind.) This is actually a tight fit, but if I precision
pack my stuff it makes for a fairly small package. So now, we have a vise and a
place to put it. Things are looking up.
The next tricky thing is a
pair of scissors. No big deal, it just needs to be
Scissors – metal with pointed tips
and blades shorter than four inches.
No problem. In this case,
that means no more than 4 inches from the pivot screw to the tip of the blade.
Which is actually a pretty big pair of scissors. Bigger than just about anything
I’ve ever seen on a fly tying bench, that’s for sure. Pick something fairly
small for the kit, and you’re all set.
All the other tools come in
under the “seven inches or less” designation, so it’s just a matter of
getting what you want. I normally pack
2. scissors (1 sharp and 1 not-so-sharp)
3. bobbin holder
4. Whip finishing tool.
5. Bobbin threader.
6. Small brass hair stacker
7. Nail clippers (for wire and tinsel)
I no longer pack any head
cement, since the flies I’m tying don’t really need it. (and, they have such
a short lifespan with me casting that it’s just a waste of materials). When I
did, however, I always used Sally Hansen products, never head cement. For the
same reason I use big nail clippers, not side cutters, up above – I want to
steer the conversation toward something that the TSA is familiar with.
That does it for tools. Just
to reiterate, if you are collecting a few things from the bench for this
project, specifically restricted are
There are some OK lighters,
but I’ve seen that it varied from gate to gate. If you do add one, make sure
it’s a 79 cent special and not a family heirloom.
Well, that was easy. We’ve
got all our tools in order, and now we just need a few materials to slap
something together. What should be pack? Well, before you start pulling all the
materials for a Jock Scott, give some thought to how you’re going to be using
You may not have the best
You may be wedged between two
You may not have a level
You’ll either be tying at
the gate, at a restaurant, or on the plane. The first two are not bad, and the
third one is OK, especially if you have an open seat. (You see, back in the old
days, they used to only book planes half full, and they gave you meals, and they
were polite, and …oh, never mind.) My view on all of this is to find a couple
of bread-and-butter flies that I need all the time, ones that only take a few
materials. I have these stocked in the kit all the time. (If I want to do
something special I’ll just drop a few more materials in the briefcase, but
it’s not necessary.) That way it’s a fly that I know, and I know that I’ll
actually use it. My two choices for these are the Kopper Kaddis and the CDC
& Elk, designed by Miller and Weilenmann, respectively. The Kaddis has 5
materials, and the CDC & Elk has two. I have a small, six compartment box
that holds a variety of hooks. (barbless only, in case they’re dropped, lost,
whatever). Beads are held with the appropriate hook size. If I know I’m going
to tie “in-flight” I’ll usually pre-thread the beads onto the hook shank
at the gate. This prevents having to chase beads around on the cabin deck. One
or two compartments are open, and hold the finished flies. I have small
envelopes (7 coin?) that contains the other materials, usually grouped. For the
Kaddis I’ll have the hooks and beads in the plastic box, and in the envelope
In the CDC & Elk envelope
OK, not really, I use a bit
of finer deer hair for the wing. But it is that simple. Sometimes I’ll put
some Awesome Hair on below the wing. This is why I actually carry a hair
stacker, I like the wings nice and neat on these flies. I’ll normally carry
materials for a couple of different colors of each of these flies. This will
easily take me a couple of hours at the airport with no problem at all.
While I’ve never had any
real issues while doing this over the last very many years, the world is getting
crazier all the time. Some things to keep in mind.
You might take up more of an
airplane footprint than you think you do, especially with both elbows extended
while you tie those wings down.
Your neighbor might not like
you tying dead animal parts to hooks while she’s eating.
I know that was a Tungsten
bead you dropped under that lady’s dress, but really, just let it go.
Always use barbless hooks,
just in case.
Disturbed individuals might
see what you’re doing as being a partner in confusion. You don’t need any
The flipside of this is that
I’ve had some truly remarkable conversations with people sitting near me who
used to tie, had a dad or uncle who tied, always wanted to tie, etc. It’s
worth it for this alone.
There isn’t a downside, but
a small warning. Bear in mind that this is about traveling. Don’t bring any
tools or materials along that you can’t easily replace. Plan on losing the
whole kit. No family heirlooms, no gifts from Dad, etc. Just stuff you can buy
at the store. Air travel is fraught with mini-disasters – bags that are lost,
stolen, misplaced – and you don’t need to add to any of that suffering!