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Grips - Shapes

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Every few years someone brings this subject up for discussion.  The experiments of a friend have me thinking again about what grip shapes and styles are most comfortable and most efficient.  My friend uses only graphite rods and recently acquired a nice Temple Fork 9 weight.  The rod came with a large Full Wells grip.  My buddy sanded the hump out of the middle, making the grip swelled on both ends but without the center swell.  I cast the rod, and have to admit the grip is really comfortable.

One of the last articles Dave Engerbretson (great guy and great rod maker, btw) wrote recently appeared in one of the national Fly Fishing magazines.   Dave's contention was that most of us use grips that are too large in diameter, even those of us with large hands.  I think I agree.  I have large palms with rather short fingers and find that Garrison style grips quickly cause my hands to cramp.  Large Full Wells grips also give me problems.

Several years ago one of this list's most respected gurus suggested that most bamboo rods should be fitted with 12 ring cigar shaped grips which rise from the reel seat for five rings and decrease for seven rings.  I don't remember the maximum and minimum suggested sizes, but they were smaller than I might have guessed.

For one of my customers I copied a grip from a Per Brandin rod.  It's similar to a small half-wells (not reversed) but has a very small bump (1/4" x 1/8") right at the reel seat.  I find it very comfortable.

Why am I so interested?  Let's face it -- bamboo rods are heavier than graphite rods.  We control that weight through the grip.  An uncomfortable grip maximizes our experience with that weight and reflects negatively on our rods.  The net result is we lose converts to bamboo because our rods might not be as comfortable to cast as others.

Here are the criteria I look for in a grip:

A.    Pleasing to the eye

B.    Easy to shape

C.    Offers complete control of the rod

D.    Places the weight in the ring and second finger of the casting hand.

E.    Allows hand to stay relaxed after extended casting time.

So, what do you look for in a grip?  And what shapes, sizes, and styles are best, in your opinion?  (Harry Boyd)

    I don't have overly large hands, but I do have longish fingers.  My hands sometimes will cramp up with the skinnier grips, so I tend to make my grips a little larger than normal  I even build up my grips on my (shudder) golf clubs a little larger than normal.  I think it all depends on the person's hand size, as well as their finger lengths.  (Mark Wendt)

    I've been using a "Western" Style super fine grip, because the diameter is a little smaller. I've been purchasing 6.5" grips and cutting the last .5" ring off of the thick end. Ends up more like a modified cigar grip with a thinner end and the last little ridge is a nice warning before your hand hits the reel seat.   (Pete Van Schaack)

    I think you hit the nail dead on again.

    I believe that lighter rods (and I know this is subjective) tend to perform for me better with a smaller grip. When getting to rod weight above 5 and maybe even a five, grips that will give you greater grip seem to make a rod perform better. But this is mostly my own personal experience. I do remember someone on the list quite some time back wrote that they had always made XXX rod with a cigar grip. They saw an original rod with a XX grip and made the next one as they remembered the original. The rod cast much better in their opinion. I have had the same experience. I think bigger, heavier rods improve with a larger grip affording greater control with less finger and thumb pressure on the grip. Perhaps a larger grip magnifies this subtle pressure?   (Mike Shay)

    I picked up a bunch of premade 7" full wells cork grips from Landmark last winter, and I have been using them on demo rods, cutting off the last few rings where they are inletted for an uplocking seat. So it is basically the 6" front end of a Wells to a straighter back. Boy I like the feel of them a lot. I think it was Lefty Kreh who said that "All rods should have a Wells grip but the cigars look better in the rod rack!" (Or something like that).  (Bob Maulucci)

      I love the grip that has the front end of the Well's grip and basically a slight convex shape at the seat.  I have put that style on every rod I make.  Of course I make my rods for ME.  I even use it on a rod like the Driggs.  If I were to build a 3 wt. I'd probably put that grip on the lightest of rods. It's just the feel I prefer.  I've gotten some looks, but believe me, the grip is not the crappiest looking part of my rods! <g>  And don't say the crappiest looking thing on my rods is hanging off the hand that is holding it!  Even if that were true.  (Rick Crenshaw)

    There are certainly different subjective preferences for different grips shapes. I have long fingers and like to have a thick grip. I also like to have the extended index finger supporting the grip during cast.  During the last weeks I have made experiments to better control of the rod and for better timing of the cast and resulted to FILE A GROOVE on the upper side of the grip.  When I put my index finger supporting to the groove I have clearly extra control of the rod and even extra length to my cast.

    You may try it simply by taping two matches on the grip to simulate the groove. Try it - it may be a (free) surprise! I have put the details and figures here.  (Tapani Salmi)

      Thank you for sharing that brilliant idea.  I also cast with my index finger supporting the rod.  I had an injury to my hand as a child and can't grip the rod the "proper" way.  I don't think it will go over very well on for sale rods, but I'm going to dig out my file and modify some of my personal rods.  (Bill Taylor)

        I also cast with my finger on top of the rod. This means that the grip must be cigar shaped. I usually put the tip of my finger on the windings just in front of the rod. I think this is more or less the same as the groove. Better control. But a winding is not meant to be used as grip... The groove sounds like an excellent idea!! (Geert Poorteman)

      I use a standard 7" long uplocking western half wells grip on all of my rods over 7' 6" length.  I decrease the diameter and shorten the grip to 6" on 6' 0" to 7' 6" rods.  I think the smaller grip looks better on short rods. This thread got me thinking about hand tools, specifically a hammer.  The swing and impact of using a hammer all day is quite severe compared to what we do when casting and I suspect a lot of thought has gone into hammer handle design.  I checked my hammer and found the handle was nearly identical in length and shape to the standard half wells that I use on rods.

      The  main  difference  is  that  the  hammer  is oval  in cross-section and the cork is round.  I think the oval shape helps keep the hammer ( fly rod? ) in alignment.  I think the main thing for me is the "look" of the cork grip. When I'm fishing I forget what shape the grip is and just cast.  (Ted Knott)

        An oval full wells is the very nicest feeling grip ever devised, and it looks good too. (Ralph Moon)

          Thanks Ralph, for initiating some thinking about rod grips.  I'm about due to make a rod for myself, so I may experiment with the "hammer" shape.  When I'm casting steadily, IE: Atlantic salmon or stripers, I find the reel turns out and my hand moves down to the reel.  I suspect that an oval full wells will stop that.

          Anglers Roost Fly Shop in Quebec has an interesting variation on grips with their patented beavertail.  (Ted Knott)

        It's also interesting to me that the grip of a hammer, when held and used correctly, is concave in the hand -- probably more so than most Western or Reverse Half Wells grips.  In looking at it more closely the concave portion of a hammer handle is longer than that of most cork grips, meaning that a full wells minus the swelled center might be a closer copy of the hammer handle.  (Harry Boyd)

          There is a lot of variation in the sizes of people's hands, but even more variation in the way people grip the rod.  We've got the hammer grip,  the  thumb-on-top,  the index-finger-on-top, the thumb on top and index finger under the grip but extending up (kind of pinching the rod), probably more yet.  I use thumb on top, but as the day goes on I keep moving down the grip until my little finger is on the reel seat.

          I think you could design an ideal grip for one style but it wouldn't work for the next guy at all.  (Frank Stetzer, Hexrod, Taper Archive, Rodmakers Archive)

          I am being contentious again.  Hope you don't mind.    I think that we are flinging the term hammer handle about quite loosely;  IE:  oval shaped.  I am not certain that the design of a hammer handle is quite appropriate for a fly rod.  I believe that the middle swell is to enable the rod to be held more securely by the fingers .  But then maybe I am wrong.  Also those who cast with the index finger on the top.  The only advantage that I can see is that it is perhaps a bit more accurate.  The pointing finger be it like a gou or rod or just "look at that" is remarkably accurate.  However, the accuracy is gained by a huge decrease in power.  But then who needs power???  (Ralph Moon)

            I believe the main reason for the forefinger on top of the grip is to stop one from excessively bending their wrist.  This helps get rid of those annoying tailing loops.  Sometimes when I have been casting dry flies all day and my stroke gets sloppy, I go to this type of a cast to stop the tailing loops.  (Robert Cristant)

              The thumb works better than the forefinger. It keeps from bending the wrist. Give it a try.  (Tony Spezio)

            The swell at the front of the grip on a full wells has to purposes.  one to stop the wrist bend as you indicate the other is to get the driving force of the thumb.  (Ralph Moon)

              The main reason for me casting with my forefinger up is that I broke my wrist and elbow when I was young.  The wrist never  came back to full mobility.  The doctor set the cast too tight and scar tissue formed which decreased my range of motion in my thumb.  Thus the only way I can hold a rod with my right hand is forefinger up.  I have cast a 10 wt 110 ft so I don't think there is a substantial decrease in power( power has very little to do with casting in my opinion).  I will say that casting lines over 10 wt I am handicapped as the forefinger doesn't support 12 wts very well. That being said when I instruct casting I do it left handed so that I can show folks the "proper" form.  (Bill Taylor)

            You've earned the right to be cantankerous <g>.  And of course you're correct, the term "hammer handle" is being used rather loosely.  I'm referring to the wooden handle in a carpenter's framing handle, not one of those dastardly metal or fiberglass handled gizmos.  Though I'm certain John Channer has forgotten more about hammers than I'll ever know, I do know that a good hammer is a joy to use, and a sorry hammer -- well, I've hit my thumb often enough to know a little about sorry hammers.

            If the middle swell of a Wells grip allows the two middle fingers (ring and "bird" fingers) to hold more securely, there must be an optimum size.  After all in a tug of war we can probably hold a 1" pvc pipe more securely than a 4' PVC pipe.

            Dig out that paper, my friend.   Let us hear your results.  Even better, tell us what shape grips you prefer on your own rods.  (Harry Boyd)

              Hammer handles are just like any other handles , they are very individual, though most can get along just fine with something very generic as long as they don't have to use it all day every day. Nowadays, even carpenters don't have to be very fussy about their hammers, as most of the real work is done with a nail gun(the carpenters version of the graphite fly rod). The main difference between a hammer handle and a fly rod handle is that the wooden( or rubber covered metal) handle of a hammer will eventually shape the hand that holds it, while the hand will shape the cork grip of a fly rod. I tend to make my grips a bit on the fat side, as I have large hands, carpal tunnel syndrome and the beginnings of arthritis in many of my finger joints. I try to find out what sort of grip diameters my customers would like, spec rods tend to get either cigar or fishtail shaped grips up to 8' 5 wts, which get reverse, or Heddon, half wells, all 6" long unless ordered otherwise.  (John Channer)

    Bill Phillipson made rods with a hammer handle (oval cross section) for a while. It's a great grip, amazingly comfortable.  He had to give it up though, since he couldn't get customers to buy them.  (Chris Obuchowski)

    My casting grip with fly rods takes on two forms (as you point out): near I use the index finger on top for accuracy and flicking the flies under the brush on those little streams, while for distance I put my thumb on top and push for length. I feel this is the most comfortable for me. I like a half wells grip on my rods with a somewhat smaller diameter in the middle as I have a smaller hand with short fingers.  (Frank Paul)

    One of the strangest things about rodmaking is the lack of good documentation of grip designs. I don't know about you guys, but I have found that the best way to find the ideal grip shape is to exceed it as you are sanding. I have gone through way too much cork that way. There are, of course, some good grip dimensions in Sinclair, but I would love to see some grip photos on the tips site, along with their dimensions.

    As an aside, I admire John Long's grips. They have their maximum diameter at the thumb, and taper down steadily to the reel seat. When you pick them up, they feel strange for an instant, then you realize that this is something that you could cast comfortably all day. The taper is much steeper than Garrison's which were only about 1/32" smaller at the reel seat end. They have to be held in hand to be appreciated.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


Does anyone happen to have the dimensions for the "Granger coke bottle grip"?  This would be for a 1920's to 29 rod.  (John Dotson)

    I believe you could find that in Michael Sinclair's book on restoration.  (Reed Guice)

      Yes, there's a drawing of it on page 86 of Sinclair's book but the only dimension given is the length at 5 1/2". It's basically a shortened up western handle. If you want I can scan it for you.  (Ken Paterson)

        I've got it in Mike's book.  I just wasn't sure if it would be to scale and thought I'd ask in case anyone had the measurements off a rod.  (John Dotson)

          I have an old Granger with this grip. I can measure mine and see if there is any difference.  (Scott Bearden)

            The total length I have is 5.768 inches. This is odd, and probably has no significance, but the DEPTH of each cork ring isn't equal. Starting from the butt: #1 is .466, #2 is .5, #3 is .437, #4 is .5, #5 is .5, #6 is .462, #7 is .488, #8 is .5, #9 is .431, #10 is .484, #11 is .5, and #12 is .5. Its probably unnecessary information, but what the heck.

            Now for the shape: The butt and the middle are 1.17, the tip is .79. Ring #3 is half way between the butt and middle. Its width is .1015 with an even and gradual taper. From the middle to the tip is a straight slope that I checked for flatness with the ruler on my calipers. Both the butt and tip cork rings have an abrupt drop to the reel seat or winding check that is 0.1 inches long.

            If that just confused everybody, I apologize. If it doesn't make sense,  just let me know and I will do my best to clarify.  (Scott Bearden)


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