June 5, 2016

Reader Question: Modifying handles

This question comes from one of my readers, Rick V. : How do I wrap my rod handles to make a contoured shape.

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that I like handles with a gourd or camel shape. However, some of my favorite rods are keiryu rods, and they certainly don't have that shape of a handle. In keiryu rods, the handle is actually the lower section of the rod -- no cork, rubber or other amenities, unless you count the thin, non-slip coating that many have.

A typical gourd or camel shaped tenkara rod handle. I prefer this shape. 

A typical keiryu rod handle

So for many of my keiryu rods I have modified the handle to fit my hand better. The rod that I've been using most recently, due to higher water levels and therefore having to cast heavier flies, has been the Suntech Suikei 39

For this rod I chose a tennis handle wrap made by Head. I started wrapping at the butt allowing the first number of wraps to build up a "bulb", then wrap less aggressively as I work up the handle. This creates a "rounded butt" handle, that mimics the butt of a camel shaped handle. For smaller keiryu handles this material and process works well.  Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the shape the way you want it. I finish the edges with waterproof tape. The handle has been robust and durable and comfortable to use.

My Suntech Suikei 39 handle. Yes, I carved my own butt cap out of wood, just for fun!

On other rods I don't add so much material. If the rod has a larger handle to begin with (like a cork handle I'm trying to change the shape or a larger keiryu rod), I'll either not add anything or I'll add some material just at the butt end of the handle. If I do this I tend to use silicone tape. It is easy to work with, builds up a nice shape quickly, is quite durable and best of all, there is no adhesive to deal with -- it fuses to itself. The edges can sometimes roll, so I'll cover the edges with waterproof finishing tape, if needed. I only use this stuff to build up the butt, not on the whole handle, as it gets slippery when wet. 

A few rods that I've modified with silicone tape. 

I've used RodWrap, baseball bat padded wrap, various tapes, racket handle wraps, and so forth. Some work better than others so it's a hit or miss proposition. A few specifics I can tell you though. RodWrap works great (it's a thin, durable open cell foam wrap), but it tends to retain water, fish slim and other aquatic goo and really stinks after just a few outings. I mean, it stinks, pee-hew! That may not seem like that big of a deal, after all you're outside. But every time I cast, and my hand comes near my face, I could smell the odor. That bothers me. For this reason I don't use RodWrap any more. I like their finishing tape though.

Baseball bat padded wrap gets slippery when wet. Tapes aren't durable, some racket handle wraps work and other don't. Trial and error is the name of the game.

So, Rick, that's what I do. Thanks for the question! Hope this helps.


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  2. Thanks for the write up and advice on material used. Helped out a lot.


  3. I use tennis racquet tape on a few of my keiryu rods. I like that you can get racquet tape for different weather. I like the high humidity tape. It's really tacky after it gets wet. Doesn't hold on to odors and is reasonably tough. I get mine at a tennis specialty shop

    1. Thanks, John. I've had some success with certain racquet tapes and not others. Trial and error in product selection, for sure!