Why Do Fishing Rods Have Cork Handles?

Branching out to other fishing rods, or changing some components can be exciting, albeit confusing. Cork handles have been around for a while, and many fishermen are starting to be swayed over by them.

Why do fishing rods have cork handles? The natural attributes of cork make it quite suited to use as a material for handles of tools used in cold and/or wet environments like fishing. As a material, cork:

  • transmits vibrations well providing improved sensitivity to fish bites
  • is lightweight, retains warmth, and molds to your hand over time improving comfort and reducing fatigue
  • is hydrophobic – i.e. doesn’t readily absorb moisture like sweat and water
  • maintains its grip in wet and cold conditions

All of this makes cork ideally suited for fishing rod handles!

This brief article is going to cover everything about cork handles. From the maintenance to even spinners that work best with them. 

Why Use Cork?

As we mentioned in the point above, the cork handle is warmer to the touch than standard EVA foam. Aside from the minor heat benefits, it’s reported that cork handle fishing rods are three times more sensitive than EVA as well. This is due to the cork’s low damping capacity, which helps it to receive vibrations better.

Taking into account that you’ll inevitably get your rod wet, the cork handle also helps retain some grip. When you take things such as soft bait or spinners into account, the sensitivity of the cork makes it a go-to for many. 

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Cork can be easy to crack, and you may find your rod has come with some of its own already. This should tell you enough about its durability, which lacks the longevity its EVA counterpart has. Where a cork would break or chip, an EVA foam handle would typically remain intact.

Cork handles can also be hard to clean properly, and the high-costs of owning something fragile deter some fishermen.

How Do You Maintain A Cork Handle On A Fishing Rod?

Keeping your fishing rod clean should be your top priority when the appropriate weather hits. If you have a cork handle, then you may have to do a little extra remediation. To keep your cork handle in great condition, follow these steps:

Step 1: Clean Your Handle

We know this may be obvious, but this step can help your cork retain some longevity. You’ll need the essentials: soap and water. If you have one, a sponge works wonders here. Lather the rod handle and make sure its problem areas are clean.

Step 2: Seal The Surface

Make sure your cork is completely dry, and it’s clean. Those problem areas are about to be sealed in with sealants. This means that when you get your hands dirty, it doesn’t slip into the cracks of your cork handle. Problems such as chipping are lessened after routine sealing, making the cork stronger overtime.

Step 3: Polish The Surface

If you have any eraser pads, they are the perfect fabric for safely polishing the cork. Try to stay away from paper towels, as the fabric may scratch off some of the sealants. Get your pad slightly wet, and dow a slow run through over the cork. This helps ensure that your cork is sealed and looking brand new.

For the best results, you should repeat this step one or two more times.

How To Repair A Cork Handle

The above guide for maintenance will help for handle repair, but you need to keep these in mind when doing maintenance of your cork handle. Take the time to clean your handle once a month. If you freshwater fish, you’ll be glad your handle grips better when you get a big catch.

  • Filling: You can spread some filling with simple everyday objects like a spatula or butter knife. If the repair is long overdue, then you may need to apply multiple coats in your cracks. 
  • Finishing: Filing needs to come before this step, as it’s a good tester for stains. It’s best to add another finish or sealant 24 hours after the original. 
  • Preparation: Your cork needs to be completely clean and dry. For the best results, try and keep your cork in an area that’s above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do They Work On Fly Rods?

Cork handles are very popular for fly rods among many fishermen, and the cork certainly serves its purpose. The grips are important for “playing” the bait and general casting. Not every cork handle is going to be right for your fly rod, so do some experimenting before settling on a specific one. There are two primary reasons why cork handles are used with fly rods:

  • They’re Lighter: This material is great for minimizing fatigue when fishing throughout the day. It is said that you can cast a few hundred times more throughout the day than you would with your standard EVA foam. Weight may not seem like a huge factor at first, but a few extra ounces can take the stress off your wrist.
  • They Offer Decent Durability: By this we mean that when it gets wet losing your rod mid-cast isn’t something you have to worry about. Especially if you’re doing routine maintenance on your cork handles, and make sure to seal off any cracks. Like we stated earlier in the article- EVA foam is substantially stronger than cork when it comes to daily accidents, and has higher longevity than its counterpart. 

Types Of Cork Handles For Fly Rods

You only have four different types of handles to choose from when it comes to cork. Not every handle is the same and will give different feedback for your rod. The four handles consist of:

  • Full Wells: This is the more popular option out of the list as it’s found on most retail fly-rods. It’s not only the heaviest but the largest rod that’s fit for fishermen with longer fingers. Because of its size and weight, it may cause fatigue for those with smaller hands.
  • Reverse Half Wells:  Fit for people with average to smaller hands, this handle type isn’t widespread right off the bat for most fly-rods. The handle allows for a good grip without requiring too much pressure. 
  • Modified Western: This handle isn’t very well known which makes it a bit harder to find. It’s a thicker version of the cigar handle, and its functionality is limited. This is the one-rod handle that doesn’t fit well with very many fishermen. 
  • Cigar: Rarely seen commercially available, this handle is something you may have to assemble on your rod yourself. It’s the smallest handle that’s available and is best suited for those with smaller hands. The lightweight of the handle ensures the fishermen that he is able to cast throughout the day with minimal pain. 

Even though you have limited options, chances are there’s a fisherman who’s never ventured to another handle type. Trying a different handle can make all the difference in your fishing game, and your hands may thank you as well.

Are Some Cork Handles Better Than Others

There are only two grades of cork that are best for rod handles. These are known as AA and premier. It should be noted that the more cracks or blemishes shown on the cork, the lower the grade. The reason these two types are supported so heavily is due to the durability of the cork, and the aesthetic that comes with the polish.

The reason why cork handles are more expensive than EVA foam is due to the demand and scarcity of the material. While there are materials out there that can help make a rod lighter on your wrist throughout the day, they aren’t as durable as cork handles. The different grades of materials will also come with differences in sensitivity – and the more sensitive your rig, less likely you will be to miss those light bites.

Seasoned anglers tend to agree cork is more comfortable as it will mold to your hand over time. It’s more sensitive, lightweight and buoyant, doesn’t absorb liquids, keeps a secure grip in wet and cold conditions, and overall just looks and feels right – all in all a perfect, natural material for fishing rod handles!

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