Sunday, February 23, 2014

HIST 101.  Vintage HMH Vise Models, Chapter 1

"The Original HMH Model Standard Vise"

I once saw a copy of an ad in Fly Fisherman Magazine in which Bill Hunter, of New Boston, NH, was advertising his new 'HMH Model Standard Vise'.  That issue was from the fall of  1975.  And this was the vise:

This vise was in production from 1975 until, likely, the early 1980's.  What you see here is, to the best of my knowledge, what one would have to call an 'original' HMH vise.  This was the only vise model that Bill marketed until about 1977 when the first Limited Edition Premium Vise models were marketed and sold.  But that is a different chapter that we will get to soon enough.  Suffice it to say, the Limited Edition Premium vise was quite different from this, and any other subsequent variations of the HMH Standard vise.

So what are the features that we use to identify an 'original' HMH vise?  They are:  1) a fixed head angle chassis, cast of stainless steel and affixed permanently to the top of the stand rod -- the chassis was polished to a sheen, not plated;  

 2) Stainless steel adjusting knob with no set screw, and similarly, the brass locking ring also had no set screw (which, in later models, was used to lock the preferred rotational tension in place so it wouldn't move while tying many of the same hook); 

 3) black delrin washers (2 in front and 2 behind the chassis (white delving is used in later models) -- these can be seen in the image below;  

4) a collet set screw located just forward of the chassis (you can just barely make out the screw in the image below, on the underside of the collet tube) -- this set screw in these earliest HMH vises had a slotted head; subsequent models beginning in early 80's moved to hex head socket set screws;  

5)  a milled flat on the back side and at the bottom of the standrod; 

and, notably, 6)  a deep-colored, case hardened cam lever cast with the following inscription:

Three jaw styles were available with this vise model.  And here we get to the answer to what "HMH" stands for.  If you look at the diagram on the instruction sheet that Bill shipped with each vise, you'll see that he referred to what we now call 'jaws' as 'heads'.  It was the ability to quickly change head types, among other features, such as the precision machining and quality materials, that set the HMH Standard apart from all other vises of the day.  So, HMH originally meant 'Hunter's Multiple Head'.

And before you all draw and quarter me, let me quickly note that HMH ALSO stands for 'Hunter's Mad House'.  But this meaning came some time after the introduction of the vise when a friend visited Bill's shop to assist in a bit of vise production.  What with the chaos of polishing wheels, drill presses and other machines spinning and cranking and chugging away, people coming into and out of the shop, telephones ringing, and the cramped quarters, the visitor stopped for a moment and observed to another there that this seemed more like Hunter's Mad House than anything else.  And the name stuck.

I don't know, in fact, whether or not all three jaws were offered with this vise at the time of sale, although we might infer from the text of the instructions that indeed that was the case.

So, the Original HMH Standard vise described above morphed to this:

in the early 1980's either shortly before or immediately after the rights to build the HMH vise were acquired by the company called Angling Products, Inc, or API.  What API did to the Standard and how it affects you owners of original HMH Standards will be explored in a later chapter.

In the meantime, if you have an original HMH Standard vise, cherish it and know that you own an important piece of fly tying history - the first precision-machined fly tying vise built of high-quality materials, and the vise that set a new Standard of excellence for fly tying vises.  

Get a Grip.


P.S.  It is important to note that the information presented here is/was gleaned from many conversations with Bill Hunter, with other tyers and HMH owners, and archival materials seen or maintained in-house.  You'll note that I equivocate on some things regarding dates, timing, how and when models changed, etc., etc.  If you happen to have verifiable information that would either correct or add to the history of HMH vises, i would certainly be glad to communicate with you.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

(Wet) Fly Taxonomy ??

Hoo-boy.  I should be more careful about what I promise.  Taxonomy of fishing flies?  What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking that there are more than a few patterns out there all of which are called 'soft hackle', and that doesn't seem right (although not the end of the world).  And, I was thinking about my statement that Dave Hughes, in his good book, "Wet Flies" names four types of wet flies, 'winged wets', 'wingless wets' or  'flymphs', 'fuzzy nymphs', and 'soft hackles'.  That's all well and good, but it seems fairly obvious that there are lot more kinds of flies that are fished 'wet', and so maybe these four groupings really only tell part of the story. 

Big parenthetical anecdote:  After many frustrating days being flummoxed on the Henry's Fork, I spent a lot of time with my nose on the water looking carefully at the bugs coming downstream.  Most of them (mayfly duns) looked like hell.  Wings, legs, and tails all askew and flopping all over the place, some in, and some out of the water.  Lots of struggling going on.  Very few of those bugs came sailing down the river like little sloops with jaunty sails set trim against the breeze.  So, i started tying my parachute dry flies (PMDs and Baetis, mostly) on curved hooks and with antron tails instead of nice straight hackle fiber tails, and with soft hen hackle instead of bristly cock hackle.  Thusly:

I will merely and humbly say, voila!  (But this ignores the other big part of successful fly fishing - presentation - which in my book is the more important part. Gauntlet thrown.)

But where would we put this dry fly that sits in the film and is tied using soft hackle in a classification scheme?  What would the taxonomists say?

Taxonomy, you'll recall, is the science of classifying organisms into groups that share similar characteristics.  Good old Carl Linneaus, a Swede, came up with the essentials of the system back in the 1700's.  That system groups living organisms into six hierarchies, from the most inclusive to the least inclusive -- Kingdom, Phyla, Order, Family, Genus, Species.  (Let's never mind the three 'super kingdoms' recently added).  The combination of Genus and Species gives all those fish that we love and the bugs that they eat, their 'scientific name'.  Hence the March Brown mayfly

is Maccaffertium vicarium.

Or is it?

For you folks west of the continental divide, the March Brown is Rithrogena morrisoni.  Evidently, Maccerfftium is the Eastern March Brown, whereas Rithrogena is the Western March Brown.

And, oh by the way, Rithrogena germanica, as you might guess from its name, is the European March Brown (probably the type specimen was collected in Germany).

Hmmm.  Three different animals (according to the scientists who study tarsi number, length, and hairiness) with the same common name.  Which is precisely why Carl Linnaeus came up with the binomial nomenclature thing in the first place.

All this esotery has little, if any, relevance to our shared objective, which is to tie flies that catch fish.  But I can't help trying to resolve something in my own head about wet flies.

I love the four wet fly types Dave describes.  For an exhaustive and gorgeous look at winged wet flies, you can check out the aforementioned 'Forgotten Flies'.  For flymphs, you should see the more readily available 

by Allen McGee (Frank Amato Press), which nicely brings to life the flies and techniques first introduced by Leisenring and Hidy, and illustrates in some detail dozens of contemporary flymph patterns.  Sylvester Nemes covers soft hackles, and frankly, i'm at a loss as to any other reference for 'fuzzy nymphs'.  Any suggestions out there?

Back to topic.  IF we were to adopt the taxonomic convention of most inclusive to least inclusive, then we could start with two 'Kingdoms' in fly tying - Dry Flies and Wet Flies.  Dry flies are fished 'dry', i.e. perched on top of the water where we can see them.  Wet flies are fished under the surface of the water where we can't see them (which is why dry flies and nymphs with bobbers are so popular - they are seeable, and we anglers like to be able to see what's going on). 

Right away, though, things get tricky.  Where do we put 'emergers'?  Hang onto that thought for a moment, if I haven't already lost you long ago.  

So if Wet Flies is the higher grouping that includes ALL patterns -- winged wets, flymphs, soft hackles, fuzzy nymphs, 'conventional nymphs, streamers, emergers, etc. -- that are fished wet, then the four pattern types that Dave Hughes summarizes would be lower groupings, somewhere down in the phyla-order-family area.  And then when we get below the general heading of, say, flymph, and get into all the possible individual patterns (i.e. genus and species level), then its just going to be bedlam.

Back to Emergers.  This is an emerger pattern tied by House of Harrop (and fished hard over several seasons)

and these are emerger patterns specifically named as such by Mike Lawson:

This is also an emerger pattern, conjured up by me (though closely modeled after other published patterns) and that fooled four large (18"+) brookies at a highly secret Maine locale:

And THIS is an emerger pattern than I came up with on my favorite landlocked salmon stream last spring during the time of Hendricksons.  The comparadun pattern that had been so effective the year before, for some inexplicable reason, was useless this last spring, so i cooked up this pattern one evening at the vise

and I could NOT keep the fish off this fly.

Now, all these emerger patterns are tied with the intent that they fish 'in the film', where so many of the adult insects shed their nymphal skin and are so vulnerable to the hungry fish below.  But we all fish these emerger patterns as wets, also, just under the surface, in that magic 2" of the water column.

That said, I might argue that THIS fly is also an emerger:

Its a Haystack, one of my favorite patterns.  Tied comparadun style, which means it sits low and in the film.  Which means (in my book) that from below, it offers a profile that looks as 'emerger-like' as anything else and which is why, I think, it works so well.  I've also hooked fish on this pattern while fishing it back after the drift while it is under water.  So, ALL the comparadun patterns become problematic in terms of a classification because they meet criteria for both the Dry and Wet fly Kingdoms.

Emerger patterns could be either wet or dry, depending on how you fish them.  So, maybe there needs to be a third kingdom in fly classification - Emerger.  The Hermaphrodites of the fly box.

I must point out one other coincidental thing. Look again at the Mike Lawson emerger pattern:

and then look at the "Transitional Flymph" from Allen McGee's book:

Pretty darn similar, save for lighting and background.  But one is a Flymph, and one is an emerger.

So the subtleties of classifying trout flies are likely no less maddening than classifying the bugs they are patterned after.


You figure it out.  I'm just going to keep tying flies that I think will catch fish.  And i'm not going to complain anymore if someone calls a pattern that clearly ISN'T a Soft Hackle (capital S, capital H) a 'soft hackle'.

Get a grip.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

On a Wet Fly Jag, orOn Wet Fly TaxonomyorWhat the hell is a soft hackle, anyway?

It started a couple of years ago when I tied up what I thought a diving caddis might look like.  It was patterned loosely after some caddis ties i had seen in a fly shop on the famed West Branch of the Penobscot River.  I tried it on my favorite landlock salmon stream one spring, and I hooked several fish in short order from one sweet little run.  Hmmm.  I might be onto something here.

So, I decide this winter that i'm going to tie up some traditional wet flies, including a refined diving caddis (this, after taking some time finally to look carefully at my seldom-opened copy of Forgotten Flies and marveling at the variety and perfection of all the patterns displayed therein.   All the plates from Bergman's 'Trout' -- the first fly fishing book i ever read -- come-to-life in modern, eye-popping digital photography.  And as usually happens when confronted by seriously good art (in any form) I say to myself, I'm going to do me some of that.

Meanwhile, i keep hearing people talk about soft hackles, and they show me the flies, or describe for me the fly, or I see them posted somewhere and I say to myself, that ain't no soft hackle.  

THIS is a soft hackle,

a good old Partridge and Orange, a'la Skues, and Nemes (pronounced, by the way, as he explained it to me, NEM-esh), who I had the privilege of meeting years ago at an FFF event.  Sylvester tied on an old HMH (aka API) Spartan Nomad - the little vise built on a 5/16" dia. stand rod.  The flies you see here were also tied on a little Spartan Nomad.  Call me. 

And Hughes.  As in Dave Hughes, author of 'Wet Flies'.  Dave did all the work for me (and you) in researching and explaining the topic.  Or perhaps, fairly, part of the topic.  The lineage of wet flies, beginning with the Grand Dame herself, and evolving up through other great tyers and anglers such as Leisenring and Rosborough,  culminates, according to Dave in four styles of wet flies - the Soft Hackle (capital S, capital H; see above);

the Wingless Wet Fly, or 'Flymph';

the Fuzzy Nymph;

and, the Winged Wet Fly,

in this case, my newest iteration of the diving caddis.  I'm going for low, swept back wings (would prefer them to ride even lower along the back, like real caddis fly wings, but my skill level isn't yet where it needs to be, evidently, to make this happen.  In time…)  This is unlike nearly all of the classic wets depicted in Forgotten Flies, on which the wings are nice and perky, angling up and back.  And, my hackling is much longer than one would use on a classic pattern, but that's what I'm going for here - an overly-suggestive leggy look.   And like Dave Hughes suggests, especially for the wingless wet, the hackle here isn't all bunched up at the head, but rather, tied in where a real thorax would begin and wound forward to the eye.  I choose this long hackling partly because i can only imagine what a diving caddis might really look like as it swims (?), but more because I just like the spey-ishness of the look.  Maybe, after all, the big fish are going to cue in on those nice long legs and wings flopping around in the current.

Just for hoots, here is a fly I tied up as a test, purposely not putting a full body on the fly since i was only interested in practicing my winging technique. It ended up looking like a low-water salmon/steelhead fly, so it is now my low water wet.

Why not, right?

We'll get into the taxonomy thing next time.

Get a grip.