Pros: Solid construction; Good design; Excellent company; Utilitarian
Cons: Becoming expensive price vs. competition based on features/utility
There was a time when fly tying vises were relatively mobile affairs; a key aspect being simplicity. The Thompson Model A, the Thompson Model B, etc. were all relatively lightweight, simple, straightforward designs that could be readily packed into a tackle box, a travel kit, or similar for lantern-lit tying sessions in camp when you either ran out of the pattern the fish just had to have or needed something "different" since they didn't seem to want anything you had.
As flyfishing saw a new generation take over in the 1970's, so too did fly tying become a more 'complicated' affair. New materials, new hooks, and new tools made new experiments possible. Then the new experiments were found to work, but the old vises just didn't seem up to the challenge insofar as convenience. So, new features were added; which meant more knobs, more screws, larger size - BIGGER and HEAVIER was obviously BETTER.
During this era, many an excellent fly tying vise was produced; some becoming icons of the industry. Companies such as Renzetti (1971), HMH (1975), Dyna-King (1981), and Regal Engineering (1984) all became prominent during this era. All "made their bones" with solid, professional, and durable vises; some of which are still on the market, essentially unchanged in terms of basic design, but upgraded in terms of materials and features. The problem was that these were big vises, designed around being able to easily handle anything from normal trout flies to large, saltwater patterns. The watch word, stated or implied, was "solid" - e.g., hook holding power, rigidity, stability, etc. Translated, solid became big and heavy; not exactly the attributes of a vise made for traveling.
By the late 1980's, the sport of flyfishing was enjoying a boom in the number of participants. (A watershed moment marking the sport's 'arrival' was a certain 1992 movie with Brad Pitt.) Commensurately, a surge in the number of fly tyers began putting pressure on the industry to increase the options available to better meet the wider ranging needs inherent in a sport expanding beyond just a few anachronistic sorts pursuing trout and salmon with long, whippy rods. All of a sudden, the wanderlust inherent to most fly anglers was exponentially expanding.
New Zealand. Alaska. Argentina. Kamchatka. Belize. Chile. Scotland. Ireland. Well, let's just say that a new program appeared on ESPN entitled Fly Fishing the World. Then, for those not into foreign destinations, whether by inclination or economic circumstance, there were always the fabled waters throughout the U.S. and Canada. In fact, it became almost a rite of passage. To be considered a "serious" flyfisher, one was expected to have spent some time, even if only a single, once-in-a-lifetime trip, on some of the more famous waters.
But, all this meant traveling.
Four-piece rods. Five-piece rods. Lightweight, packable waders and wading boots... The angling end quickly picked up on the trend and adapted accordingly. It would take a few more years for the fly tying manufacturers to catch on...
In 1985, HMH introduced their original Spartan vise. As the name implied, this was, essentially, a reasonably well made, more affordable, and stripped down version of their Standard model. Although it quickly became a legendary, cult favorite among traveling tyers, it never gained widespread popularity and was discontinued. (The current HMH Spartan is a reintroduction [2000/2001] and is a sweet, much improved version of this vise; now retailing for $169.)
In the latter 1990's, Renzetti introduced the Traveler. Since then, it has become a very popular travel vise (particularly in the updated cam model) due to the full rotary design. Retailing for between $154.95 - $194.95 depending on the version you want, as with all travel vises, the Traveler is a down-sized version (in terms of size, features, and quality of materials) of Renzetti's high-end, rotary vises.
To my memory, however, Dyna-King was the first to make a widespread impact on the travel vise market in the mid-1990's with the Voyager. In fact, it is my perception (I can't prove it empirically) that the Voyager's success led both HMH and Renzetti to bring forth both the newer Spartan and the Traveler (with its subsequent variations) respectively. Before we get to the specific features of the Voyager, we should probably briefly explore the advantages and disadvantages of these "travel vises."
- Advantages -
So-called travel vises are intended to be lighter, smaller, more transportable editions of the larger bench vises commonly used at home. They are usually less expensive. Most are available in either a C-Clamp or Pedestal Base version. These vises may or may not have the same features of the larger models, but they will all handle the majority or 'average' needs of most travelers with realistic expectations.
Given that they take up less space, are more 'storable,' and are substantially less expensive than the full-blown models, many of today's tyers find these vises to be "good enough" for all of their tying needs. To older tyers, this comes as no real surprise. In effect, these travel versions are really only "souped-up," higher quality versions of older standbys from a previous era. Yes, they are better made; for the most part. Yes, they have better materials; usually. Yes, they often have features that the older ones didn't. But, the basic design, essential size, and functionality in terms of general tying needs is still the same.
- Disdvantages -
The very attributes that make a travel vise desirable are the same characteristics which create their disadvantages. While a C-Clamp model will be relatively stable, the pedestal models deliberately have a base which is significantly lighter. As an example, the Dyna-King Professional (see Dyna-King's Professional - An Ideal Worth Striving Toward ) comes in a pedestal version with a solid steel base that weighs just over 4 lbs. The Delrin base (approx. 3 3/4" x 5 1/2") that is available for the Voyager weighs less than a pound; with the entire unit, base and vise, coming in at just about 1 1/2 pounds. (As a basis of comparison, my old Thompson Model B weighs in right at 1 1/2 pounds whereas the Dyna-King Professional, Dyna-King's first production vise and still the "Cadillac" of their line, weighs in at nearly 5 1/2 pounds total with the pedestal base.)
Many tyers do not realize how much force is exerted on a hook (and, by default, the vise) when tying. Even the relatively light 8/0 thread used on smaller flies can create a lot of torque or lift when tightening down on materials. What this translates to in a pedestal vise is the idea that one can literally lift the vise off the table top by pulling on the thread when attaching materials to the hook. A simple adaptation of style corrects this where you learn to keep your "off hand" (left hand for right handed tyers) on top of the vise while attaching materials to the hook. In other words, if this is not your primary vise, it can be a little disorienting in terms of style (read that "awareness") until you get used to it. (I tend to rest my hand on top of the vise body whether using a light, travel vise or a C-Clamped heavy model, so it doesn't prove much of a problem for me.)
To this "disadvantage," many experienced tyers will point to the C-Clamp model as the obvious answer. To be sure, the C-Clamp version, no matter the model, will be more stable than the equivalent pedestal option. However, C-Clamps have their own disadvantage. Primary among them is the fact that there is not always a convenient place (table, shelf, limb, chair arm, desk, tailgate, or similar) to clamp the vise to. And, even if something is available, it is all-too-often too high, too low, too exposed, not exposed enough, etc., so forth, and so on. In that sense, C-Clamps are not the panacea that proponents tend to claim they are.
Being smaller, travel vises sometimes have problems with clearance. Clearance can be viewed in a couple of ways. First is the distance between the body or arm and the jaws. Too little space and larger flies can be difficult to work on; particularly those that require a plethora of materials. Clearance can also be an issue of how much space exists between the vise and the table top. (Again, C-Clamps can mitigate, but do not "solve," this problem.) Generally speaking, however, travel vises will have a shorter column; which translates into a smaller amount of working space underneath, between the vise and whatever 'table top' it is sitting on. This can create problems when wrapping long material or dubbing loops around the hook. (Rotary vises can actually resolve or eliminate this issue, but require an alteration of tying style and a vise designed to function in this manner - which the original Voyager does not.)
The Dyna-King Voyager currently has an MSRP of $198.95. This is significantly less expensive than the Professional's $299 price tag and marginally less expensive than the Dyna-King Barracuda Junior Trekker at $229 (the 'travel' version of their full rotary Barracuda [$349]). If you like comparisons, juxtapose this to the $8.50 my Thompson Model B cost me "in the day." (We won't go into the number of decades ago "in the day" means.)
It does not take a cynic to recognize that "less expensive" comes at a price. As an example, in the case of the Renzetti Traveler, you get aluminum rather than stainless steel as the larger metal composition. In fact, the primary difference between the Voyager and Voyager II from Dyna-King serves as a good illustration. The Voyager II rings in at an MSRP of $249; with the only realistic difference being an adjustable angle setting. Then there's the example of...
Suffice to say that the individual will have to decide whether the trade-offs in quality, features, clearance, etc. are worth the price difference. In other words, a "less expensive" advantage can be considered a disadvantage depending on what you are looking for in a vise. And, the permutations inherent in individual needs/desires and what is available are too numerous to list here. Again, realistic expectation regarding your actual needs in a vise used primarily for travel exigencies is going to be the key.
So, what does all this means in terms of the..
Let's start with the company's write-up:
The Voyager is also known as Dyna-King's "Traveling Companion". It is compact and lightweight with a 30? head angle and furnished with a Cordura Nylon carry pouch. It has no screws or knobs, stainless steel vise body, notch-lock cam and tool steel jaws. The base for the pedestal model is machined from lightweight black derlin. Both models in their pouches will fit in a large coat pocket for easy transport. The vise is offered in either clamp or pedestal base.
Alright. So what?
As stated, the Voyager weighs in at just about 1 1/2 pounds. The 30 degree head is set and non-adjustable; but, this is a pretty much 'standard' angle and will work for the majority of tying needs. The "forcing cone" is the darker, knurled portion you see in the accompanying picture toward the front of the vise, directly behind the jaws and adjusts the jaws for different hook sizes and the tension at which the hook is held.
To obtain the ability to rotate the vise body, you must push the body forward, sliding the brass pin out of the recess in the top of the stem, and a knurled ring (that second dark portion in the photo behind the stem and in front of the cam lever) only allows the body to move just so far; in other words, this ring keeps the vise body from becoming a 'loosey-goosey,' uncontrollable trombone-style slide.
Speaking of the rotational body... The Voyager DOES NOT function as a rotary vise. The rotational body simply lets you rotate the vise so that you can more easily perform certain tying steps such as adding cement, legs, et al. Because of the pre-set, 30 degree angle on the vise, rotary tying is not achievable. For that, you need to be able to set the vise body on this type of design to a 90 degree, horizontal angle from the stem. The Voyager II, with the adjustable angle stem can do this, but the Voyager cannot.
A set collar allows you to adjust the height of the 5 3/4" stem. To be blunt, this has little practical relevance. In the C-Clamp model, the clamp itself ties up a substantial portion of the stem; again, as can be clearly seen in the accompanying photo. In the pedestal base version... Well, the pedestal base is 3/4" thick; including the 4 rubber feet. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, you are stuck with the 5" stem height; giving you just about 7" of clearance between the jaws and the top of the Delrin base.
The zippered, lightly padded blue pouch (approx. 6" x 10" x 2") has two "pockets," one for the base and one for the vise w/ integral stem. While it may not fully fit into any of my "large" coat pockets, it does easily fit into the back pocket on a vest, a moderate sized 'tackle box' (about the size of a box for tennis shoes), or some other 'tying kit' carrier. It has just enough room for the vise. You might be able to squeeze some basic tools such as a bobbin, whip finisher, and scissors in the pouch with the vise; but, I probably wouldn't do it. The tips of the scissors could easily puncture or tear the pouch and I'd rather store the tools separately for the sake of organization and convenience.
I bought the Voyager the first year it came out. It made a nice supplement to the Regal vise I was using as my bench vise (see Called the "Bulldog" of Bench Vises, It's Sure A Friendly Pup ). I was also going through a period where I wanted to be able to carry a small tying kit with me in a day pack or in a tackle box for experimenting on small streams and backcountry lakes. Subsequently, it now resides as the primary vise in my travel tying kit (sometimes alongside a second, newer Regal Inex) in a 19" tool box full of tying materials that I take on major trips.
For a brief period, before obtaining a pedestal base for my Regal and before purchasing my Dyna-King Professional, the Voyager actually served as my primary tying vise. (I didn't have a convenient table, shelf, limb, chair arm, desk, tailgate, or similar in the place where I was living temporarily.) It served me well for tying several hundred trout and bass flies.
Theoretically, the standard jaws that come with the Voyager will hold hook sizes 22 to 8/0. (Optional midge jaws are available for $49 that are rated for hook sizes 32 up to 8.) I've actually tied down to a size 32 with the standard jaws; but, I would recommend the midge jaws if you're regularly tying flies smaller than size 20. I've tied up to size 4 (stinger hook, Mustad 80300BR) deer hair poppers for bass on the Voyager (including the Most Whit Hair Bug; you can see a photo and a recipe for this fly, scroll down and find "Whit Hair Bug" at this website... http://www.fedflyfishers.org/members/ftcomp/categories.php).
Hook holding power is one of Dyna-King's highest design priorities. However, the tension can be set so hard that when lowering the cam lever, you can ruin the hook's temper, causing breakage. In fact, this is a problem with many modern vises. As similarly stated in my review of the Dyna-King Professional...
A good vise must hold a hook securely, otherwise you'd never be able to tie most patterns. However, there is a tendency among novice tyers (and even among those who should know better) to over tighten the jaws on a hook. Such over tightening can result in the temper of the hook's metal being ruined. Having the hook break in the vise is bad enough, but having the hook snap in two with the hook set or while fighting a fish because you destroyed the temper in the vise is even worse.
Being a cam-lever design, the Voyager has the ability to communicate to the tyer when they are about to crank down a bit too hard. There should be a certain amount of resistance as you lower the cam-lever to seat the hook. If it's going just a tad too hard, that's a clue to back off the jaw adjustment a bit by simply turning the forcing cone (that black, knurled ring in the picture just behind the jaws) a skosh. Many tyers like to set the hook so that it is set just securely enough that a certain amount of force will allow you to move the hook slightly up or down. Just be aware that, while such a setting is possible on the Voyager, too much of this type of movement, no matter how reasonably tight the setting, may result in the hook coming out of the jaws at the most inopportune moment.
All of this sounds more complicated than it actually is. Last summer, on a fishing trip to Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, I broke out the tying kit in the tent one night. I found that a size 8 Stimulator in a certain color combination was something the trout seemed to think looked like real food in the jumbo size on the dollar menu. The problem was that I only had ONE in that color. I set up the Voyager and proceeded to produce about a half dozen with only an LED headlamp for lighting. They weren't the prettiest and they weren't the ugliest flies I've ever tied; but, most importantly, they worked and I had no trouble getting the vise set correctly.
A word about the company might be in order here. Once again, as stated in my review of Dyna-King's Professional...
Dyna-King is universally noted among tyers for their reputation in dealing with your vise.
Warranty... All Dyna-King products are guaranteed to be in perfect condition when assembled and sent out from the Cloverdale [CA] plant. All products have a lifetime warranty against defects in material and workmanship. The jaws have a warranty of two years. Should you find a defect, simply package and return the damaged product to the address given below. Warranty is void if the product has been abused, modified, damaged or used for any other purpose other than that for which it was intended.
Care & Maintenance... To clean and maintain the vise so that it performs at its optimum capability, wipe it down with a soft cloth and light machine oil, or lubricant spray such as WD40. It is important to periodically unscrew the forcing cone and pull out the jaws in order to grease the inside of the forcing cone and the outside of the jaw shank, using a marine boat grease, household grease, or Vaseline.
If necessary, the vise may be returned to the Cloverdale factory for refurbishing. For a small fee, the vise is repolished, greased, jaws are serrated, and the entire vise tested to standard specifications. We perform the refurbishment and ship the vise back on the same day it is received.
I've known two individuals who have sent their vises in for service. I don't remember why the one guy did, but the other felt he needed a new forcing cone. He tried to order only the cone from the company and was told to send in the vise. He did so. It was quickly returned and he thought they'd made a mistake, sending him a brand new vise; until he checked the serial number and realized it was, indeed, his original vise. Dyna-King had refurbished the entire vise, polishing the metal, cleaning up the base, etc. - as well as replacing the forcing cone. Both individuals shared the same experience and shock. At the time (about 5 or 6 years ago), such a service cost them around $25. I don't have any idea what the charge is today.
A Little Head Cement and We're Done
If I were in the market for a travel vise today, price vs. utility, I'd have to give very serious consideration to the HMH Spartan. The extra $30 for the Voyager doesn't necessarily net you any additional utility. In fact, with the adjustable head, the Spartan would be more comparable to the Voyager II, which would be $80 more expensive and definitely not that much more utilitarian.
However, price vs. quality, the Voyager is definitely, to my way of thinking, worth the $30 extra. Dyna-King vises are second to none in terms of the quality of production. However, this quality comes at a price. Unfortunately, that price seems to be slowly moving the Voyager to a price point inconsistent with its competition in that category; putting it at the top end and bordering on the low end of the next category of 'bench vises.' On that basis, if I were buying today, I just might be tempted to let the utility aspect outweigh the quality/reputation considerations.
I guess another way to put it would be that, despite my loyalty and love for Dyna-King vises, they seem to be pricing the Voyager "out of the market." Or, at least, out of my price range given what I'd want this vise for. This makes me slightly suspicious that the Voyager may not be long for the production line. This is pure speculation on my part for I have no actual evidence of this. But, the logic or the writing seems to be on the wall.
You see, the basic Voyager design has spawned a plethora of other Dyna-King models such as the Squire, the Prince, the Kingfisher, and the Monarch. Such a diversity of similar products usually means an eventual tightening of the production line. There's no sense in competing with yourself.
In that vein, looking at the 2006 flyfishing paper catalogs for Cabela's, Kaufmann's, J. Fisher and the Fly Shop (see Good staff; good product variety; easy to navigate website ), along with the 2005 paper catalog for Dan Bailey's, none of these five "biggies" list the Voyager. Kaufmann's lists the Voyager II. Kaufmann's, J. Fisher, and the Fly Shop list the Kingfisher. The Fly Shop lists the Squire. All four of the 2006 catalogs list the Dyna-King Barracuda Jr. or Barracuda Jr. Trekker (both rotary 'travel' versions of the Barracuda). In other words, the Kingfisher ($130) seems to be the retailers' choice as an price competitive replacement for the Voyager vis a vis the HMH Spartan ($169) - with the Spartan being a 'sexier' option.
It's unfortunate that this is happening in that the Voyager is a perfectly functional, utilitarian, basic vise. It perfectly suited the niche it was intended to fill when it was first released over a decade ago. However, competition being what it is, there are now viable alternatives that cost a bit less (or a bit more depending on what you want). But, none of these alternatives is any better in terms of quality or the support of the company. Those aspects alone, may still make the Dyna-King Voyager worth the price.