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In fly fishing, many anglers think that the fly rod blank does all the work…but cork grips for fly rods play a much bigger role than you might think. Cork grips for fly rods are an important control mechanism for enhancing (or detracting from) the ability to direct, manage, and control the fly fishing rod while casting, retrieving, and “playing” the fish. In addition, having the right cork grip for your fly rod can mean the difference between a comfortable day of fly fishing, or a day of fly fishing where your hands and arms ache with fatigue by the end of the day.

So let’s start with why cork grips for fly rods are used instead other materials. Cork grips are used on fly rods for two main reasons:

1) Cork Grips For Fly Rods Offer Light Weight and Minimize Fatigue
If you spend a day on a gorgeous river fly fishing, it’s possible you might cast up to 300 times or more in the course of your fishing day. With that many potential casts to be performed over many hours, even a few ounces can make a big difference in your level of comfort and fatigue, especially later in the day.

2) Cork Grips For Fly Rods Offer Excellent Durability
In addition to its light weight, cork grips for fly rods offer durability. They last a long time. They won’t be ruined if they get wet.

How Are Cork Grips For Fly Rods Made?

Cork has been part of human history for hundreds of years.  Cork is the bark of a tree found is Portugal that’s similar to an oak tree.  Only once every seven years can the bark be peeled from the tree without damaging the tree.  The most common use of cork is to seal wine bottles, and it has been performing this function for hundreds of years. Cork offers a strong, lightweight, durable, and naturally beautiful material as a grip for the fly fishing rod builder. Cork grips for fly rods are constructed by gluing cork rings on a spindle.  After the glue has cured (dried), then the spindle with the cork form is put into a motor and spun at a high speed. Once the proper speed is reached, a blade tool trims the cork into the handle style desired.

What Are The Grades For Cork Grips For Fly Rods?

The cork rings come in several grades.  The higher the blemishes in the cork, the lower the grade.  Only the highest two grades should be used for grips, which are premier and AA grades of cork (common terms for top-grade cork). These top two grades of cork offer both beauty and durability and excel as fly fishing cork grips. The price for cork is high because of the scarcity and demand. There are other materials fly fishing rod grips can be made from but they do not offer the durability and light weight that’s needed for fly fishing rods.

What Are The Kinds of Cork Grips For Fly Rods?

There are four styles of cork grips for fly rods, including:

·      Full Wells

·      Reverse Half Wells

·      Cigar

·      Modified Western

Each of these cork grip styles fit the hand differently and provide a different touch sensation.  It’s surprising but most anglers have never held each style of cork grip in their casting hand to feel which one is “more natural” to their hand.  It is amazing to see a person’s face when they get to try all four cork grip styles for their fly rod and see which one is the most comfortable and best fits their hand. The excitement is infectious.

The Full Wells Cork Grip for Fly Rods
The Full Wells (FW) style of cork grips for fly rods is probably the most well-known and the most popular of the four standard fly fishing rod cork grip styles, and the Full Wells Cork Grip is found on most retail fly fishing rods you’d buy at a fly fishing shop or a sports-outdoors store. The Full Wells grip is the largest and heaviest cork grip. It’s well suited for people who have large hands with long fingers (men who wear glove sizes of Large to Extra Large).  Due to the size of this particular cork grip, the size of the Full Wells cork grip also can cause fatigue for anglers with smaller hands and shorter fingers.

Close-up of Full Wells cork grip for fly rods

The Full Wells style of cork grip for fly rods is best for men with large hands and long fingers.

The Reverse Half Wells Cork Grip For Fly Rods
The next popular grip style is the Reverse Half Wells (RHW). Not offered as much on fly fishing rods built by the major manufacturers, the Reverse Half Wells style of cork grip is easier to grip by anglers with small to average hand size and finger length. Both men and some women favor this style or cork grip. The design of the Reverse Half Wells cork grip features multiple contours (curves) in the cork grip which lets the hand find the sweet spot for a good grip. The Reverse Half Wells cork grip requires less pressure on the fingers and wrist to get a good grip, and it’s the most versatile fly fishing rod cork grip style because it fits the most people with comfort.

Close-up of Reverse Half Wells cork grip for fly rods

The Reverse Half Wells cork grip for fly rods is used by men & women.

The Cigar Style Cork Grip For Fly Rods
The Cigar Grip (CG) is a cork grip style that’s rarely available on a production fly rod that’s manufactured in a factory, or that’s manufactured like factory-made fly rods but made in smaller batches by a fly rod builder. The Cigar Cork Grip is the smallest cork grip offered, with the shortest circumference and shortest length of all the cork grip options. The Cigar cork grip style is best suited for anglers with smaller hands and short finger length. These traits have the advantage in lessening the weight of the grip. This design has been under rated for many years and is more difficult to find as a rod component, unless you’re procuring a hand-made fly fishing rod. Both women and men with smaller hands find that the Cigar style of fly fishing rod cork grip makes for nice, long days of fly fishing with minimal hand fatigue.

Close-up of a cigar style of cork grips for fly rods

The Cigar style of fly fishing rod cork grip is for women & men with smaller hands.

The Modified Western Cork Grip For Fly Rods
The Modified Western (MW) grip is the least known and least used of all cork grips.  It resembles a thicker Cigar grip, and from our experience, is the least likely to be chosen as a fit. Its functionality is limited, and it’s extremely rare to find a Modified Western cork grip offered on a production fly rod. Because it doesn’t fit the hands of most anglers, the scarcity of the Modified Western cork grip is deserved.

How Do I Know If I’ve Got The Right Fly Rod Cork Grip?

You’ll know you’re using the right fly rod cork grip when you hold the grip in your casting hand, and your forearm muscles are relaxed, and the casting motion is easy, effortless, and relaxed.  Casting will be fun vs difficult. And you’ll find that your attention is focused on the water and finding fish vs. your hands and arms.  If you are using an ill-fitting fly rod that’s wrong for your hand and finger size, here’s what often happens:

1) Your wrist with tighten up
2) Your fingers will slip in holding the grip
3) Your forearm muscles will be heavily flexed and working hard
4) You’ll have trouble rotating your shoulder

Until you get the right cork grip on your fly rod, that fits YOUR hand and fingers, these problems will continue, and you simply won’t enjoy your fly fishing experience as much. This is why it’s so important to know about the different options for fly fishing rod cork grips, and to choose the one that’s right for you.

How Is A Cork Grip Installed On A Fly Rod?

The installation of the cork grip on the fly rod is paramount.  The cork should fit tightly on the blank and the minimum amount of glue should be used. Why? The fly rod blank transmits the action of the line. If the fly rod builder uses too much glue, it literally deadens the feel of the fly rod. In contrast, a cork grip that’s properly installed and hand-fitted to the fly rod enhances the sensitivity of the fly rod. This sensitivity helps in the casting which, in turn, helps keep your line in the water rather than in the air. The cork grip’s sensitivity also helps you “feel” the fly as it drifts and to actually feel the strike or gentle pick-up by the mouth of the fish. Fitting a cork grip to a fly rod take focused effort and is best done by hand because of the rod’s taper. Special tools are necessary to get this fit to the taper of the fly rod even and tight. To ensure the integrity of the cork after it’s installed on the rod, a sealant should be applied. This step is often skipped by both production rods and custom rod builders alike. Cork is durable, but the fibers of the cork do need long-term protection in the form of a thin layer of sealant.

How Do I Maintain and Keep My Fly Rod Cork Grip Clean?

There are some easy steps to keep the cork grip looking good and lasting a long time. Warm water with just a drop or two of dish detergent added will do the trick. Use an old tooth brush to gently scrub the cork grip. Rinse well with warm water and dry with a towel or clean cloth. Let the cork grip dry for 24 hours, and it will be clean with the natural look of the cork shining again.

When buying a fly rod, most people pay little attention to the cork grip and immediately focus on the flex of the fly rod. But the most intimate part of the interaction of a fly rod and its user is provided by the cork grip. With production fly rods bought in a store or built by hand in the style of a factory-made rod, you’ll probably only have the choice of the Full Wells grip (for men with large and extra-large hands). For a wider range of choices for the fly rod cork grip, a hand-made fly rod is a good option. With a handmade fly rod, it’s best to actually test drive the cork grip styles by getting them in your hand to see what fits and feels best. Once you have the right cork grip for your fly rod, your fly fishing experience will be more enjoyable and more comfortable, allowing you to focus on the water, the fish, and your day on the river, creek, or pond.

Rocky Bob KnowlesAbout The Author:
Rocky Bob Knowles is a master fly rod designer & builder, and a master angler with a lifetime of fly fishing, fly rod building, and outdoorsman experience. He is the founder and president of Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods, and hand makes fly rods, one on a time, at his studio in Denver, Colorado.  Bob Knowles can be reached at: 720.810.9763;; or


July 13, 2016
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