By Mike Benson
Photos: Steve Seinberg
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue No. 3: Spring 2012
“Never trust a man without a vise.”
Winston Churchill said that, or something close to it. Truer words have never been spoken. Everyone needs something to lean on when the shit hits the fan. I just can’t find it in myself to believe that anyone is strong enough to stand up to the storm that is life on his or her own internal fortitude. And if they claim to do so I can’t stop myself from thinking about what horrible unspeakable things that person is hiding. I save my fellow men from having to think such thoughts about me by wearing my vises plain and clear right on my sleeve. For some it’s drinking, smoking, or drugs. For others it’s a hobby, say fishing for example, and I’ve been known to delve in a little of each of these in my short life for better or for worse. But there is one vise in my life I find myself turning to more often than others, it hasn’t been proven to kill or cause any bodily harm to anyone, and its clean, well if you don’t mind vacuuming or sweeping once in a while, and it has the power to completely take away any stress, problem, or mental anguish I have ever encountered in my life. Well temporarily anyway.
When most people write about fly-tying it very seldom goes beyond that persons favorite tools, or their “ways to tie better, (insert fly type here)”. Tying articles more often than not read like a cookbook, except that at least a cook book can make you hungry. It would appear that there is nothing deeper to tying than the satisfaction one gets from creating art, or catching fish on your own creations. Don’t get me wrong, these are great side effects of spending some time on a vise, but I cannot say they are even in the top ten reasons I ever thread a bobbin or sit down and lash parts of dead animals to a hook. Tying takes on many forms and I guess to be fair, takes on many meanings to many people. Some use it as a utilitarian way to fill their boxes, others as an art form, tying creations that will never see the water let alone a fish, and some others still use it as a form of therapy, mental or physical. I’m none of these people, and perhaps a little of all of them. I will admit this here in front of my computer screen, and any poor hapless soul who ever happens to read this. Though I have a few patterns circulated worldwide, and am known as a fly-designer (at least in the small circle of people who even know who I am) I am a lazy tier. Sometimes I just plain don’t like to do it. Sometimes the trouble just doesn’t seem worth it. I would rather just use that same fly I’ve been giving CPR to on the last 3 fishing trips and see how many fish I can make it through. Its messy, time consuming and just plain a pain in the ass sometimes. But in the end I do love tying, in my own way. Before my annual bonefish trip to the Bahamas I will sit down and tie for weeks. I’ll wrap up 3 or 4 dozen flies, knowing full well that I will be lucky to use 5 or 6 flies on the whole trip. The same could be said for my Albie trio in the fall, and you don’t even want to see my tying desk just before the tailers get going here in chucktown, but for long periods of time during the year my vise just sits there giving me longing glances and I shuffle past my tying room. The utilitarian in me sees the worth of being able to fill my boxes at will, whether it be for a trip or just my local redfish. The artist in me sees the beauty in taking unrelated materials and some thread and making something that makes a fish forget what a real shrimp, crab, or mullet looks like. And like I mentioned in the beginning, tying has a way of focusing all of your energy onto one single thing, putting the rest of your life in your peripheral vision.
People, non-tiers, have often asked me how I can just sit in front of my vise for hours at a time. And I guess Makers Mark has a lot to do with it, but I invariably respond, “Because I’m not sitting at my vise at all.” When I sit down to tie I’m poling through the marquesas, watching a school of permit tailing like they don’t have a care in the world. I’m wading across a mangrove pencil studded flat in the Bahamas watching a big ass bonefish push, or putting the throttle down and blasting out of Beaufort Inlet watching acres of birds and albies dance with one another while gorging themselves on bait balls the size of Volkswagens. Tying is my way to step out of my body and move among my favorite places on the planet, even if I’m not sure I have enough money in my account to pay for the power flowing to my tying lamp. It just has a way of getting me through, like any good vise should. So if you don’t tie, or have never really thought about it, I would suggest getting a vise, the kind that holds hooks, some basic tools and enough material to tie your favorite fly. Find a quiet place, or crank up some tunes, whatever your style may be, sit down, and just tie. I think you’ll be surprised what you take away from the vise.