Getting a Proper Grip
The past two weeks have been frustrating. Constant marine forecasts for morning rain and thunderstorms have been followed by calm, balmy mornings with lovely overcasts that have not only been rain-free but ideal for working the edges of the Bay for marauding rockfish.
Those same low clouds are excellent concealment for any nasty squalls that do make their way down the Chesapeake. A squall could be on you with no warning whatsoever. Over my many years on the water, I’ve had more than my share of close calls, so getting caught in a vicious Bay whiteout is not on my list of things to do.
Consequently, I’ve been condemned to sitting at home, looking out the window at the listless tree line and sometimes feeling like a wimp for staying ashore. There I have taken the opportunity to clean up my gear, including scrubbing a couple of my favorite rods’ very dirty cork grips.1
With Irene and Lee’s aftermath still plaguing Bay waters, few anglers are venturing out to search our debris-strewn muddy waters for action. Consequently, it is difficult to assess the whereabouts of our stripers, perch, blues, spot and croaker. But it is reasonable to assume they are still around somewhere. The Eastern Bay and its relatively clearer water seems to be the one reliable location where stripers have been caught in any number; otherwise the mid-Chesapeake has been a dismal scene.
Cork: From Tree to Rod
One of the more expensive and labor-intensive components of a fishing rod is its cork handle. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak, a medium-sized evergreen that grows from southwestern Europe to northwestern Africa, though Portugal accounts for easily half of world production.
Cork trees aren’t harvested of their bark until they are approximately 25 years old, often about 100 feet high. The unique hand-peeling collection process does not harm the tree, and subsequent harvests of the bark can be made every 10 years or so. The trees have a lifespan of approximately 200 years.
Cork repels water, is soft, extremely lightweight and buoyant, easily sculpted, compressible and resistant to wear: the perfect material for fishing rod handles. It is also environmentally friendly; the production of synthetic alternatives emits 25 times the carbon dioxide as cork growing and gathering.
Unfortunately, cork is also the perfect material for wine stoppers, automotive clutches, gaskets, flooring, soundproofing, shock absorption, insulation, footwear and many similar applications. The demand for the material has caused the price of the better grades of cork used on fishing rods to escalate considerably.
Cork rod handles are generally constructed of natural (as opposed to composite) cork cylinders approximately 1-1/4 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. They have a small round hole in the center to receive the rod blank and are glued on one at a time until the desired length of the handle is reached. They are then held tightly together by a jig while the glue is allowed to set.
The handles are subsequently turned in a lathe with sandpaper applied along the length of the cork until the desired profile is attained. The final step is to fill in any gaps on the surface caused by small imperfections in the cork followed by an overall polish with extra-fine-grit paper.
Better grades of cork have fewer imperfections and are commensurately more expensive. High-end manufactured and custom rod handles made of the very best cork can approach $100 in materials alone. Considering that the finished grip will weigh in at two to three ounces, that is expensive indeed.
Lightweight, handsome and exquisite to the touch, well maintained cork fishing rod handles will easily last a lifetime.
... To Cleaning
If you keep them clean.
A gentle periodic scrubbing with soap and a light abrasive will quickly remove fish grime and dirt. Rubbing in a light coat of neatsfoot oil will condition the grip and preserve its appearance for as long as you own it.
That’s what I’ve been doing these days when I should be fishing