Picking the Right Rod Handle
Handle assemblies generally consist of grips, a reel seat and a butt cap, but they are one of the most customizable aspects of a rod. There is a great diversity of materials and styles for making a rod handle. They can be built for lightness, durability or ease of grip, and usually reflect the user’s preference in materials.
Reel seats can be made from metal or graphite and come in varying sizes and weights for all types of rods. Heavy offshore rods usually use metal seats while lighter saltwater rods often use graphite seats. If you are building a rod for cold weather use, graphite seats are much easier on the hands. Be sure to buy a quality reel seat. You can replace the seat if you need to, but a reel seat replacement is a big task that requires removing grips as well.
Other popular options for securing the reel to the rod leaving off a reel seat altogether and either taping the reel to the rod with electrical tape, using a reel clamp or wrapping a plate-style seat to the rod.
There are too many grip materials to list here, but the most popular grips are cork rings, EVA, Hypalon, cork tape, cord, wood, and shrink tube. Don’t start by picking a material, though; think about what you want from your grip and what materials would best serve the purpose, and don’t be shy about mixing materials.
Cork Rings: Cork rings give rod handles a classic and stylish look. They add little weight to the rod, are easy to work with, and can be sanded and shaped to create a custom or ergonomic grip. Cork rings are the most popular choice for freshwater and inshore rods.
Cork Tape: Inexpensive and easily applied, cork tape is popular among anglers building surf rods with long butt sections and foregrips. It has a soft feel that remains easy to grip, even when wet. Cork tape is not as durable as other grips and will need to be replaced over time.
Shrink Wrap: Easily installed over cork tape or another grip, shrink wrap is extremely durable while giving the rods a sleek look. This material is available in an array of colors that anglers can use to match the thread color of the rod, but most builders go with black. Shrink wrap grips are popular with surf and inshore anglers.
EVA Foam: Dense, lightweight and comfortable, EVA foam grips are a good choice for foregrips where an angler will hold the rod. They can be easily shaped with sandpaper to make for an even more ergonomic grip. Many anglers prefer EVA for freshwater and light saltwater fishing. EVA foam grips have very little stretch; therefore, their inner diameter and the rod blank’s diameter must be carefully considered before installation.
Hypalon: Thanks to its ability to stretch, this extremely durable extruded rubber is easier to install than EVA grips and is more forgiving, standing up to abuse much better. These are a better choice for rods that will be fished out of a rod holder.
Cord: When fishing with eels or other live baits, cord provides the best grip for slimy hands. It is also extremely durable, but is difficult to create and is heavier than other grip options. Cord grips are better suited for boat anglers than shore-bound fishermen. Custom rods can also feature unique grip styles. Split grips, recently popular in factory rods, have been long used by custom rod builders to reduce weight. Anglers who palm baitcasting reels may prefer a rod with no foregrip and a very small rear grip. This design reduces weight and leaves plenty of blank exposed to transmit subtle hits.