Cork care?

Hey everyone. I haven’t been the best about caretaking for my cork handles. I have two new rods that still have the shrink wrap on the handles and I want to do things a bit differently with them.

Two areas of concern:

  • Previous cork-handled rods have darkened and don’t look so good.
  • Cork Seal - good? I see lots of talk re: using this on normal fishing rods, but I don’t see much in the fly fishing realm (and not tenkara). I don’t want to automatically assume that it’s the same for what we want (feel, weight, etc).


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Tony, i would not worry about the darkening of the handle, the patina are the memories of all the fish and places you explored. If you are trying to make it look like new gently use Windex and then soap w/water.
Some people love cork seal and other people say absolutely no. I really don’t care one way or the other but do be aware that cork seal can sometimes darken the cork. I knew an old bamboo rod fly fisherman that used bee’s wax (snow seal) on his bamboo rod handles. He could have lost both his arms and he would still out fish me on my best day. Take some cork and apply the cork seal on it and see if that suits you.

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Hi Tony. Most of my Fixed-Line rods Are cork-less, and I only did it on my Western rods at the end of the season for storage, but it makes the grips look like New. Wet the grip with water and sprinkle some Comet cleanser with Bleach on the cork and scrub the cork clean and rinse, which should come out pretty clean. Repeat a second time and let the cork sit in the sun until dry, giving the bleach a chance to do its deep cleaning and make the cork look White again. Rinse and rub away all the abrasive powder, let sun dry a last time and you are done. The Comet is mildly abrasive, so don’t scrub any harder than you have too. It’s the bleach that removes the deep stains you cannot scrub away and Comet is advertised as being Scratch Free. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by how well your grips will look again…Karl.

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The cork on one of my rods was starting to look pretty bad after two years of use with stains and voids so I took some 600 grit sand paper and lightly sanded the handle. Then I lightly coated the handle with Elmers Golden Oak Wood Filler. I let dry and did a second application for the deeper voids. After drying again, another light sanding. Afterwards it looked as good as new. 20 or so trips later the voids are still plugged but it has a nice patina from use.

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Equipment wear is normal and unavoidable.

I dont get caught up by those sorts of cosmetic conserns. A little proof of use tells a story. Battle scars are not blemishes.

It is like a baseball mitt. If it looks pristine, it has no soul.

Voids probably improve grip. I actually prefer cork over foam or bare blank handles.


I use Cork Sealer on all my fishing rods (Tenkara, spin, fly fishing). If the cork is too soiled, especially on used rods before I add sealer, I will clean up with a Magic Eraser.


I use cork seal, a very and thin layer. I started doing it years ago, it’s the first thing that I do to a rod.

I don’t mind some patina on a grip, but I mind the stench of fish slime very much. An unsealed grip will not just come clean with a simple rinse of water. That slime (and stench) rinses right off a sealed grip.

For old rods with dirty grips clean it off with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a rag, that will get it just about good as new. Cork sealer, then wipe just about all of it off with a clean paper towel and let it dry. If you decide that you don’t like it after all, it comes off easily with sandpaper.

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Old timer western style fisherman here with 50+ years of river downstream of me. Also have bought and sold a few hundred rods over that time as a bit of a collector. I’ll offer a few points all experienced based. With all due respect to an earlier respondent, I have found that abrasive cleanser removes the fillers in the pores of the cork that make it so smooth. You will be left with a much rougher feeling grip and frankly a less attractive grip. Gentle dishwasher or liquid hand soap is far better for removing soiling. However I do agree with some respondents that the gradual “dirtying” of the grip is part of pride of ownership and remembrances of rivers past (borrowing a title from Ernest Schwiebert). Last, one of the best fly fisherman I was ever close friends with and someone who had one heck of a fly shop/rod collection (Bo Cash in western NC) put cork seal on all his personal rods in his younger days. He greatly regretted that later on especially on rods that established collector’s value; 1) they do lose their resale value and 2) they just don’t look like traditional grips after it’s applied. Personal choice there…but I frankly agree with Bo and I am picky as hell.


True points. For me, I am uncertain that I will keep all rods I purchase, therefore I am proactive to ensure that any “new to me rods” are treated carefully to maximize resale if I decide to unload it. I find that people who have purchased rods from me (I have sold lots) don’t care about my fishing adventures, they want a rod that looks minimally handled.
If you are planning on keeping your rod forever, then soil it as much as your heart is content and leave your cork with a history.

Welcome @JoeGio. Thanks for joining us and sharing your experience.

Thank you! Although you didn’t ask :grin: the rest of my story is that through all these years I’ve been blessed to be able to travel to some great rivers and spend time with great friends. For about 15 years up until a few ago,I had access to water on the South Holston River in eastern Tennessee, one of the country’s best tailwater fisheries IMHO, that few were able to access. This part of the river was one of its wild brown trout spawning areas and the fishing was phenomenal. Technical in nature (20+ foot leaders, long 4-weight rods, #18-24 size flies) but phenomenal once you mastered the technique. The sulphur hatch that occurred each spring was mind-blowing, prior to that BWO hatches were abundant and throughout the year midges were in and on the water all the time. A technical fisherman’s playground. 50 fish days got me spoiled. The mountain streams were a thing of the past for me what with 16" trout on #20 dry flies on expansive water with little chance of catching a tree on the backcast my routine. In fact it started to become mundane. As Joni Mitchell said however. “you don’t know what you’ve got 'til it’s gone,” and it is now, completely sealed off due to a change in property ownership. I always knew that when it went my time on the water would wane - it was just too perfect, too unique. Fortunately, it was about that time that I discovered Tenkara. With it brought a new experience curve to travel down. With it brought a reinvigorated passion for trout fishing. And now the mountain streams are exciting again, beautiful again, and small fish are a challenge again. John Gierach was so dead on when he said "“Maybe your stature as a fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed.” That’s where I am and for me it’s mostly Tenkara now. I’m glad to have this site and other sites as I have a great deal to learn, and hopefully soon contribute!


Nicely said @JoeGio. I think this aptly describes what many of us who fished western style for many years have felt in regards to learning about tenkara.

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The gradual change in the appearance of the cork on my rods I see not as a negative, but as a positive. Something earned by so many happy days of use.
To me, that enhances the personal connection and gives my rods more meaning.


Sealed cork still develops a patina, it doesn’t stay looking fresh and new for long. It isn’t the patina that I look to prevent with sealing.

My main reason for sealing is to make cleaning all of the warm water fish slime off of my grips easily. Panfish stink doesn’t just come out in the wash, it soaks into the cork and you can’t get rid of it.

If I were strictly concerned with the “new” appearance of my grips I would never seal. You can return an unsealed cork grip to an almost like new appearance (but not smell) with some Murphy’s Oil Soap and an old rag. Murphy’s still cleans up a sealed grip, but it will never again look newly sealed without sanding the grip.

The fish slime comes right off.

That’s something I did not know about warm water fish!
In that situation cork sealing makes sense… does that smell issue apply to foam grips also?

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Bluegill are the absolute worst for the stink, followed by crappie. The problem for me is that I absolutely love fishing for bluegill.

Foam grips soak up the stink like they were made to do it, it’s the reason why I won’t buy a Tenkara Bum rod. I got a like new, if not new Dragontail Talon with a foam grip for next to nothing that I won’t use.

I am smell averse, and have been all of my life.

Could you cover the grip with heat shrink tubing? (The type with no adhesive inside of course.) Not sure if that would be worth the effort though…

Then I take that Talon out, slime it up and the stink washed right off.

I may have to rethink my stance on EVA foam grips.