With Bamboo Index | Home Page


Get A Grip!
by Wayne Cattanach

April 6th, 1998

I just came up from the basement where I was shaping a cork grip on a fly rod. It reminded me of how interesting the material is and how important it is to have a grip tha t fits correctly. So I thought that I would share it with you this time.

The first handles or grips to be found on early fly rods, those before the 1890's, were wound with 3/16 - 1/4 inch strips of rattan. This is one of the clues in dating older fly rods. In the early 1890's two important elements showed up Tonkin bamboo for the shaft material, and cork for the grips. Both came from the same influence Portugal. No, Tonkin bamboo isn't grown in Portugal, but they were importing it long before it was discovered by the British or Americans. Cork, however, is grown there. It was only when the British started trading with Portugal that these materials found their place in fly fishing history.

Cork comes from the cork-oak tree, which is an evergreen. Its range is throughout the southern coastal regions of Europe and northern Africa, but is mostly concentrated in Spain and Portugal. Cork has been in general use since the 15th century and is seen in a variety of products. Today, many of its earlier uses have been replaced with synthetic materials.

Quality cork seems harder and harder to get each year, and here is why. The cork oak tree is first harvested when the tree is 20 years old, and then every 9 or 10 years after th at. The best quality cork isn't produced until the 5th or 6th harvesting; for some trees the best quality isn't until the 8th or 9th harvest. So, you can see the supply is slow to respond for things like the increased interest in fly fishing (because of ' the Movie') or the flourishing wine industry the two current combatants for the good stuff.

The rings used to make a grip on a rod are called 'species cork' because they resemble old coinage. Cork is classified into 20 or so grades. From low grade, only suitable to be ground up, to the floor grade used for wine cork and rod grips. Besides the official grade designations, many marketers here in the US have added their own classifications.

Now, if one were to squeeze a ball of softened clay in their hand the resulting shape would be that of a cigar. A small diameter increasing in dimension just past the center poi nt and decreasing in dimension again at the end. The natural shape of the inside of the closed hand. This shape is reflected in the design of most fly rod grips in one fashion or another. The length of a fly rod grip (on trout model rods) will vary from a s little as 5 inches to a heftier 7 inches.

Over the years there has always been a fascination with the grip. A thumb relief for a more forceful forward cast. Ventilated to lighten the rod and to cool the hand of the prof essional who fished all day long. In the past couple of years, the ergonomic design to lessen the physical damages of repeated casting. All common sense ideas and reflective of how a grip can be a personal thing.

This leads us to the question of how a grip should fit the hand. The suggestion I offer to my clients is this. A true cigar shaped grip that is large enough so that when it is held the re is a 1/8 inch gap between the third finger and the pad below the thumb. You might test your rod grips to see if this holds true for the rods you fish. The gap is to keep the force needed to hold the rod at a minimum. If the fingers are pressuring again st the pad below the thumb, more pressure will be needed to grasp the rod resulting in a more fatigued wrist at the end of the day.

Another tidbit I have learned over the years is this. Men seemingly have fatter fingers than the ladies do. Because this padding is on the inside of the fingers it acts to reduce the di ameter of the grip needed for a 'proper' fit. Often times women will need a slightly larger grip than men. Which is reverse of what current marketing is telling us in the ads. WC

The family name Cattanach desends from the Scottish clan of Chattan, which may or may not explain how Wayne came to be the fifth generation living on the family farm outside of Casnovia, Michigan. Professionally a mechanical contractor, Wayne currently works for Forest Hills Schools.

Flyfishing and rod building (after losing the rod he was given) since 13, Wayne has stayed with the passion for 16 years, or for at least 100 rods. Whether writing, doing, demonstrating or teaching, Wayne is extremely involved in keeping the art and craftsmanship of hand made bamboo rods alive ... though he handles his skill and reputation with great humility. When Wyoming rodmaker, Jon Parker noted there is a good chance of Wayne being the next Everett Garrison, Wayne replied, "I laugh - knowing that I won't be around to know if that prediction comes true or not. Instead I think of myself as a modest and casual person somehow being allowed to hang around with a group of highly skilled craftspeople - having fun and watching the adventure unfold."

While with The Planing Form Wayne helped organize the first eastern rod makers get together which over the years migrated its way to Grayling, Mi and is now known as Rodmakers at Grayrock. The TTBBQ is the social ending. Last year Wayne came up with the idea for The Makers Rod.

The Makers Rod will be a 7 foot 6 inch, 4 weight, 3 piece, 2 tipped rod. What makes the rod special is that it will be made by 28 rodmakers from across the United States.
The special cause will be stream restoration on the AuSable and Manistee rivers of Michigan.
For the rodmakers it is a chance to show their love for the craft and their concern for our resources.
For some lucky individual it is a chance to own perhaps the most unique bamboo fly rod ever made.

To find out more on the Maker's Rod, including how to enter the raffle to win, click here.

With Bamboo Index | Home Page

If you have been unable to access any feature in this magazine, please contact the Help Desk or Webmaster.
Copyright ©1998, Fly Angler's OnLine (flyanglersonline.com). All rights reserved.
Contact publisher@flyanglersonline.com for use information.