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Volume 16, Issue 44 - October 30 - November 5, 2008
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When the Wind Blows

Time to repair those well-used rods

I knew it was too good to last. The incredible top-water bite we had been enjoying for weeks was suddenly interrupted by wind — lots of it. Worse, it apparently intended to blow forever. I became sullen.

During the fifth day of a relentless squall, I happened to notice how dirty the cork handles on many of my rods had become. They were dark with accumulated fish grime. Correcting that problem, I decided, was just the thing to get my mind off the wind.

Since I had decided to clean up and renew the cork grips, I thought I might as well repair some of the chinks and voids that had appeared in them. Heading to the hardware store, I purchased a small tube of plastic wood, a few sheets of 180- and 220-grit sandpaper, a roll of masking tape and some Neatsfoot Oil.

Even the best cork has flaws. It is the nature of the material. The better grades of cork have smaller flaws, but all cork fishing rod handles have at least some voids filled during manufacturing. Some of these mends fall out after rigorous use. But they can be easily and more permanently replaced.

Fish Are Biting

The fall bite is on schedule, and so is the fall weather. Getting calm seas seems to be the biggest challenge these days. Rock and blues continue to populate most of the traditional hot spots of the mid-Bay and eat just about anything put in front of them, if it’s at the correct speed and depth: That’s slow and deep for rock and fast and less deep for blues. Spot and perch fishermen are pleased with their harvests, and crabbers are managing to get in one last hurrah before cold water sends the beautiful swimmers to their winter beds. Don’t miss a day; winter is on its way.

Doing the Job

Common plastic wood filler is ideal for filling cork. Available at most hardware stores, it usually comes in a color referred to as natural. That is close to the color of cork but not perfect. At one time, I added a bit of dark wood stain to get a better match, but I found that after using a repaired rod for a day or two, no matter what shade of filler I had used, it soon weathered to look like the rest of the handle. So I no longer bother with that nicety.

The first step in the renewal process is cleaning the cork. Using a wet kitchen sponge with a stiff, wool-like scrubbing surface on one side, add a generous amount of abrasive kitchen cleansing powder to the scrub side and enough water to form a light paste. Rub the grip vigorously until the cork comes clean.

This may take a few applications and an occasional rinse, but the cork will clean up remarkably well. Then put the rod aside until the cork has completely dried.

Next examine it for voids. Fill any gaps using the plastic wood, applying it with the tip of a small knife. Use a little more filler than the void requires. Set the rod aside until the filler is completely dry. Err on the side of caution in this stage; otherwise you will find yourself doing the job twice.

Cut the sheets of sandpaper into manageable sizes; I like an eighth of a sheet. If the fill is near the reel seat or any part of the rod blank, cover those parts with two layers of masking tape. It just takes a touch of the sandpaper to put a nasty scratch where you don’t want it.

Sand the filled spots down almost flush with the rest of the cork with the 180-grit; finish with the 220. Once your repairs have been made, go over the entire rod handle with the 220-grit paper. Do this as well with grips that have been washed but do not need repair; it will improve their surface and prepare them for the last step.

When all cleaning and repairs have been completed and all cork lightly sanded, apply a generous amount of the Neatsfoot Oil. This will renew the cork, improve its resiliency, protect it against weathering and prolong its life substantially. It also makes the rod handle remarkably comfortable to grip.

Having completed this important and satisfying task, you may now reward yourself an adult beverage as you sit back and admire your handiwork. If we’re both lucky, by this time the winds may have blown themselves out and we can get on to the truly important things in life — like getting back on the water and locating some rockfish to have over for dinner.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.