I think it’s fair to say that most anglers don’t pay much attention to fly rod grips. They purchase a rod, and accept the grip it comes with. But fly rod grips are much more than mere handles. They affect how the rod is held, how it is cast, and how it fishes.
Let’s first look at the nomenclature. Grips come in many shapes and sizes. The full wells, reversed half wells, western, and cigar, are but a few commonly found on trout rods. But when drilled down to their functional differences, I think there are but two types.
- There are those, like the full wells, that have a hump in the middle, a dip, then swell in the front.
- There are those that have a hump in the middle, then taper all the way to the front.
Both types of grips are designed to be held with the palm on the middle hump. The full wells grip is also designed so that the thumb for thumb-on-top casters rests against the forward swell. This facilitates the application of force from the thumb and hand. But for those who cast with the index finger on top or thumb and index finger both pointing forward, the forward swell of the full wells grip interferes with the grip. The swell bends the index finger awkwardly backwards, inhibiting the full application of power from the hand. In contrast, tapered grips allow a better application of force from the hand when gripped with the index finger on top or pointed forward.
Most international fly fishing competitors use the index finger on top or pointed forward, feeling that it allows them to cast more accurately. If the best of anglers use this grip, why don’t more of us?
When tightline nymphing, which requires sensing the take of a fish, placing the index finger on the rod shaft increases feel. A full wells grip makes it very difficult to comfortably place the finger on the rod shaft, but the other grips facilitate this.
Most manufacturers realize the attributes of grip styles and use different grips for different weight rods. Most lighter rods, 4 weight or less, are made with tapered grips, while heavier rods, 6 weight or more, are made with full wells grips. Thus the grip is matched to the fishing and need for power that the rod is designed for.
For a variety of reasons, I cast almost exclusively with my index finger on top. I find that this grip leads to more accurate casts for me, prevents dipping the rod too far back on the back cast, and I do a great deal of tightline nymphing. Thus I much prefer the forward tapered grips such as the reversed full wells. But sometimes a rod I want only comes with a full wells grip. What to do? A few minutes with a wood file and sandpaper easily converts a full wells grip into a reversed full wells grip!
So next time you select a rod, be sure and pay attention to the grip. If possible, match it to your grip preference, casting and fishing styles. Otherwise, get a wood file as well!
Written by Al Simpson, July 2020.