Most people in the market for a fly rod focus on the weight designation, length, number of pieces, and action (slow, fast, etc.). And as well they should. Picking out a fly rod requires some serious thought: what type of fish and fishing conditions will I be pursuing, what action am I comfortable with, and how much am I willing to spend, are just some of the questions an angler needs to ask. But far often overlooked is the handle style or grip.
Why is the rod handle important? Think about it – the rod handle and grip are the connection between the angler and the rod. Get a nice fly rod with the wrong type of grip and the rod of your dreams may end up parked in its rod tube. It turns out, hand grip size and hand grip shape are both critical to a properly fitted fly rod.
One guide to finding the proper handle grip is whether a squeeze of the handle is needed to hold the rod: if it is, odds are the handle is too small. The wrong size and shape handle will effect casting motion, and all the muscles in the hand and arm, from finger-tips to shoulder. If the fly rod handle is the proper size and shape, the hand is not tense, the hand grip is firm, and the muscles are relaxed. With a relaxed arm, a caster has more power, better control, and the ability to cast the line with more accuracy and control.
The number of fly rod grips that are available can make proper fly rod choice difficult. Following are the most common types of fly rod grips:
- Cigar: This handle is symmetrically shaped along the handle axis, tapered at both ends with the largest diameter somewhere in the middle of the handle. It gets its name from observation that it looks like a cigar. This grip is more typical on small fly rods (1 to 4 weight). It’s best used with down locking or sliding bands Although an uplocking reel seat can be used with this grip, it can’t be hidden under the butt of the grip. The modified cigar is sometimes found on Orvis rods. It allows the hand to move forward when casting. The rear 1/2 has little or no taper and can accept an uplocking reel seat.
- Ultra Fine: This grip has similarities to the western, and reversed half wells grips. All of these grips have the butt of a full wells grip and the tip of a cigar grip. The ultra fine comes close to blending into the rod. It’s a good choice for anglers that like the revered half wells on smaller rods, where a person wants an uplocking reel seat hidden in the grip.
- Half-Wells: This handle has only one hollow groove that can be placed towards the front or to the rear (near the reel seat) of the handle. The rest of the handle is usually cylindrical and does not taper. Half-wells grips are used primarily in midweight rods (4 to 7 weight). They have a less distinct front taper than cigar and ultrafine grips.
- Modified Half Wells (sometimes called a Fenwick style) is just the reverse of the ultra fine or the western style. Casters who like support of their thumb are often happy with this grip.
- Western (Reversed Half Wells): The western grip has a larger front end than the ultrafine, but still retains the flared end towards the reel seat. This grip is better for larger hands. It has a definite break between the front of the grip and the rod butt.
- Full Wells: This handle has two hollow groves one at the forward end, and one at the rear. The shape is asymmetrical, along the axis of the handle. Full-wells are often used on upper midweight to heavyweight rods (8 to 12 weight+). They make it easier to add power to your casting stroke with your thumb because of their reverse taper.
- Fighting Butt; Many rods incorporate a fighting butt just underneath the reel seat. The fighting butt lets an angler comfortably anchor the rod against the body to ease arm fatigue during long battles. A fighting butt will make a fly rod heavier, but if an angler thinks a lot of time will be used fighting large fish, a fighting butt is a useful asset.
Most anglers focus on the action, length, and weight when selecting a fly rod but fail to consider the grip. It is very important to choose a grip that suits hand size and casting style. Keep in mind that fuller grips should be used for long powerful casts with heavy rods while smaller, finer grips are best suited to lighter rods where shorter delicate casts are the norm. Choose the correct grip and casting a new fly rod will be a pleasure instead of a chore.