How to bring a very small fly tying kit on board an airplane, and actually tie some useful flies with it.

(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.)

Angler's Roost Vise

Umpqua Hand Vise

The Minimalist Fly Tying Kit

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 Keene . I usually take a kit when I travel, and often take a kit when I fly. It sounds odd, but the purpose of this page is to discuss how to best pare down your tools and supplies to the absolute minimum. I know that there are several websites that will tell you how to bring the absolute minimum amount of materials to tie the maximum number, and variety, of flies, but that’s not what this is about.

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.

The Tools

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 length)    Yes

Tools (greater than seven inches in length)    No

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

1. vise

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

  • Razor blades
  • X-acto knives
  • Ice Picks (bodkins)
  • Drill bits
  • Saws (even teeny ones)
  • Lighters

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 this.

You may not have the best light.

You may be wedged between two other people.

You may not have a level surface.

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 I’ll have

  • Two colors of brassie wire
  • A big gob of Awesome Hair.
  • A few dozen peacock herls
  • A dozen Hungarian partridge feathers


In the CDC & Elk envelope I have

  • CDC
  • Elk

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 more friends.

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.


And the downside…

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!