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GET A GRIP (aka. Chose your grip)!

How could something so simple get so complicated?! Well, next to the blank, this is the most important component of your rod? Why? Because it's the part of the rod that you are holding, day in, day out. For may people, the grip can make or break the rod! You have several choices:

Grip Shape -

The first two are the most common, and what you'd normally expect to pick from:

Full Wells - typically used on larger rods.
Reverse Half Wells - the grip most often seen on smaller rods

These next options are definitely doable, although they may not be commercially available:

Reverse Fine Half Wells - same as above, just that the tip is even more narrow
Cigar - an older style, typically still used on Bamboo Rods - theoretically the best shape for a grip
Fenwick - an old style, top is like a full wells, bottom is like a cigar.
Fluted Cigar - my own personal "shape" I've come to love while turning my own grips for smaller rods.

Grip Sizing - most grips on a fly rod are around 6.5" to 7.5" in length. Grips should NEVER be "custom shaped" to an individuals hand. Throughout a day of casting, you subconciously move your hand up and down on the grip to prevent fatigue and change your cast. With a grip that has truly been custom fit, you won't do that, and your day will end with a cramped up, tired hand! When selecting a grips shape, you primarily want to be comfortable with it. On most grips you want the diameter at it's largest to allow you to bring your fingertips back around to the ball of your thumb when gripping loosely in your regular casting.

Grip Materials - Grips can be made out of much more than you'd think. The most common materials are CORK and FOAM. In custom rods, you can also find grips made partially or entirely out of wood.

Custom Blue Burl Grip with A-Grade cork accents, teal-dyed maple burl reel seat with mini fighting butt.
Custom Red Burl Grip with Brown Burl and A-Grade Cork accents.
The choices in custom grip work are limitless; here are 3 grips in my "Fluted Cigar" shape utilizing A Grade Cork, Red Burl Cork and Rubberized Cork. I turned these for Dave Winslow of Winslow Rods.
The custom aft grip on my centerpin consists of A Grade Cork, Brown Burl Cork, and Rubberized Cork (the darkest of the three)

Traditional Cork - Most all production rods have grips of cork. Regular cork is graded; the most common grade is A, but it goes up to "FLOR" grade cork. The difference in the grades? It all comes down to the amount of "pits" in the cork. Look at a cork grip; it has horizontal groves and pits that may or may not be filled in...those are the pits. A grip in a higher grade will have less of those. A grip made out of higher grade cork will be considerably more expensive. Grips that are "filled in" are generally low grade cork in which the manufacturer is trying to improve the appearance of the grip.

Burl Cork - not "burnt" cork as some folks call it, burl cork is a compressed composite cork - think of it like plywood. It is stronger, tougher, and harder than regular cork, but also weighs at least twice as much. Burl cork is available in natural brown, as well as dyed green, red and blue. Green and Red definitely look it - BLUE pretty much looks like brown.

Rubberized Cork - I've encountered 2 different types of this stuff. Both types consist of cork chips mixed with black rubber to form a ring. It's the particle board of cork, but is actually the most durable of the types. The difference I've encountered is the density and size of the cork chips within the rubber. However I have not been able to determine if this cork is otherwise any different. Rubberized Cork is most often utilized to make any custom butts.

Crosscut Cork - from what I've been able to gather, this new cork is simply a cork ring that is crosscut. It is marketed by Pacific Bay as Bamboo Cork, and Mudhole Tackle as "Knotty Cork™" I have not been able to locate rings of this material.

FOAM - Foam grips are light! Some folks feel they are not very durable; personally I have not experienced this. Foam grips are available in a multitude of colors, by far the most common is black. Foam feels good in the hand as well. However, because it is so inexpensive and because it is percieved to be not as durable, cork is almost always favored over foam.

Graphite Rings - Dave @ Creekside Outfitters has come up with the ingeniuos "Sensor Grip™" - this grip is comprised of both cork and graphite rings. The graphite is light but dense, allowing for excellent transmission of vibrations from the rod blank into your hand.

Wood - Wood of all kinds can be used in making grips. The upside is entirely aesthetic. Wood has a number of downsides, the primary one being it's weight. The other main problem is the rigidity of the material - an inflexible grip can cause the rod blank to snap at the top of the grip when under a heavy load. Additionally, it's not exactly pleasant to hold all day. Even more so, some folks truly dislike wood as it becomes very slippery when wet. Finally, it is expensive. The BEST wood grips are not actually solid wood at all, but wood which has been bored out and then filled in with cork. The cork provides the necessary cushioning for the blank and reduces weight considerably. Wooden grips, while simply stunning, are probably not going to suite the needs of most people.

Commercial or Custom?

This is where it gets interesting. The MAIN differences here are as follows:

Commercial A Grade Reverse Half Wells Grip.
Custom B-Grade Brown Burl and A-Grade Cork grip.

Commerical Grips - Commercial grips are commonly made of only one material, usually cork. There is no pattern, color etc. They are available in grades from A to FINE, some may even offer a FLOR grade grip. Additionally, the crosscut cork grips are currently only available through commercial sources. If the grips on commercial rods usually feel like a pencil to you, in other words they're far too thin, then a commercial grip is definitely not for you.

Custom Grips - First and foremost, the custom grip is all about bringing character to your custom rod. In every case, if I show someone a custom rod with a custom grip, it is invariably the first thing they see and comment on. You can chose your materials and work in concert with me to create a one-of-a-kind grip. The best part about a custom grip is that you can relay your preferences and, if you like, even try it out before it's on the rod. If there's a problem with it, it can be adjusted until it's right! The only downside is that a custom grip can cost as much as 3 times the price of a standard A-grade commerical grip.

Fighting Butts for all rods!

Many larger rods have fighting butts and there are several ways to go. First, you have to consider what the fighting butt does. The main purpose of the fighting butt is to allow you to place the butt of the rod against your body when fighting a fish. The butt keeps the reel up and away from your body. Also, the fighting butt makes your rod "just a bit" longer when fighting a fish....it can provide you with additional leverage, although it should be remembered that this also places more stress on the rod blank.

The fighting butt also serves as the contact point between the rod and the ground should you stand it up or lean it against something. Again, this prevents damage to the end of the rod as well as the reel. So, should every rod have a fighting butt? No, they don't need it...but it's a nice plus!

3 different custom turned removeable fighting butts, brown burl with green burl and A-Grade Cork accents.
Custom A Grade cork grip with brown burl accents, fixed wooden mini butt on a 4wt.

Removeable Fighting Butts - Pac Bay makes great hardware for removeable fighting butts...I prefer it over all others I've tried. Commerically available butts come in 2" and 5" lengths. Additionally, custom butts can be made to match your custom grip!

Fixed Fighting Butts - The only type of fixed butt you will see with any regularity are the wooden butts available through Winslow Rods. These wooden butts match the reel seat insert and can be made for both larger and smaller rods. On small rods they are definitely more for aesthetics than function, but again it's definitely not something you will see on ANY commercial rod. Fixed butts can also be made custom made from cork and other materials, although generally it's preferable to have these butts set up in a removeable system.

Where should I look?

My Custom Grips - check my rod building pages which contain many examples of custom cork grips
Pacific Bay - suppliers of crosscut and super grade grips.
Hook & Hackle - their A-Grade grips are the default standard commerical grip. The best place to see pretty much all of the commerically available grips, including Pacific Bay and Struble.
American Tackle - of note for their really nice grips with wooden hossels, featured in the Winesap Series of production rods by Route 37.

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