Tenkara Rod Grip & Sensitivity

Tenkara rod grip

When you need extra sensitivity, hold your tenkara rod like this rather than fully on the cork handle

There’s a healthy online debate on fixed-line rods that have a cork grip vs. no grip (essentially, a flared extension of the blank).  I prefer cork grips because they’re just more comfortable to me. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with weight for me. Rods without grips are just too thin and my hand seems to cramp up after a while (probably a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome more than anything else). Yet many people find gripless rods very comfortable.

I like the fact that cork grips are never slippery when wet, always feel warm & cozy, and have ergonomic bulges and tapers as opposed to the more angular, cold, and robotic graphite handles. But that’s just me.

Having said that, there is one advantage that corkless rods have: they transmit strikes better by eliminating the middle man (i.e. the cork insulator).

While the type of fishing I normally do allows for visual strike detection more often than not (either by fly or by line) I know there are some situations where this is just not possible and the only way to know when to set the hook is by feel.  Sometimes, you just can’t see the fly or the line. So…if you like cork grips but want even the most subtle strikes telegraphed to you, adjust your grip!

It’s easy. Simply hold the rod in a typical tenkara style but choke up on the handle a little so that your index finger is resting on the blank rather than the cork (see the picture above). Now, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with your line, fly, and (hopefully) fish.

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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  1. Jason for the most part, I do agree with you on this one. These are my words pulled form another site regarding this subject;

    No argument here that the non grip rods have much more sensitivity to them. But I’m sure that if you’re waiting to feel a fish on the end of the line you’re missing most of the fish. There are visual indicators that are evident well before the tactile indication of a fish. Many fish take and then reject a fly without so much as a tiny tap felt by the angler. If I feel a fish at the end of my line, my first thought is “somebody (me) is asleep at the wheel.” My goal is to see the indication that a fish is there before I feel the indication that a fish is there. If you focus on seeing the indications, whether it be the movement of a fish or the movement of the line, rather than waiting to feel the indications in your hand, the catch rate should go way up.

    I do own both gripped rods e.g. cork, foam, wood and rattan gripped rods as well as a few non-gripped or graphite gripped rods. I find inherent qualities in all of them, 20 something of them now and counting. So I really don’t have a preference as to one style of rod over the other. I do have a preference as to where I will use such rods and how I will fish with them though. I now choose my rods for an intended purpose, but to be quite frank, in the beginning that wasn’t always the case. For instance; I will not use my Amago for tenkara techniques with unweighted flies, coupled with manipulation, anymore. The rod is a heavy beast and I have become spoiled. It’s no longer an enjoyable outing in that style with the Amago. But it’s a great big fish and/or nymphing rod. I would rather go shorter and lighter for a tenkara day. Coincidentally I wouldn’t use my Sagiri 39 for anything other than kebari or dry fly’s and for small fish up to about 12″. But, it would be a crime IMO to put a size 10 beadhead or a woolly bugger on the end of that rod. They would overload it and make for a horrific outing with the Sagiri 39. Again this is just IMO.

  2. I am not yet fully convinced that one type of handle is more sensitive than another. Having fished an extensive collection of cork and non-cork handled rods for a number of years, my jury is still out. I have even tried fishing one type of handled rod alternating with a different type. Other than how they fill up my hand, I can not tell any difference in sensitivity, at least subjectively. Again, I’m not sure, at least for me, that being in direct contact with the rod blank makes any difference in fish catch rate. Cavet: I fish mainly upstream and focus on the line sighter as it drifts towards me. I rarely fish down stream, where possibly, Jason’s argument might have more validity. This would have to be tested somehow.

  3. I too have used lots of rods without grip material on the blanks. I usually end up wrapping those blanks with tennis racquet grip tape. I like just a bit more grip on my rods. Also, that small bit of insulation makes fishing in winter conditions nicer. Blank carbon fiber tubes conduct a lot of cold into your hand and having some type of grip also helps when fishing with gloves especially if they become wet and start to ice. I do have a few grip less rods that I don’t wrap because I like them the way they are.

    I’m not sure that grips or lack thereof really matter as far as sensitivity goes for me and my fishing. Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t. Ultimately it is a purely subjective thing.

    I have found that on some tip heavy rods, putting my index finger on the blank above the grip helps with casting and reducing hand fatigue.

  4. I forgot to add this, the Oni rod I have with the bamboo grip is one of the most comfortable grips I have used. It seems a bit counter-intuative that a hard, knobby bamboo grip would be so comfortable but it just is. I also really like the cypress wood grip on my Nissin Airstage Fujiryu rod and the wood grips on the Sakura rods are also very nice to fish with. That bit of weight on the back end of the rods also gives them a nice balanced feel when casting.

    My Oni rod has a slight amount of added weight under the bamboo to get the balance just right. For the gang that has the foam gripped Oni rods, did he add some weight to those also? Mine has an additional carbon fiber sleeve between the grip and the blank. Not sure of how long the sleeve is or how much weight it adds but man, that rod just feels right in every way.

  5. Tom, I have fished cork handled rods my whole life and have never felt I was losing fish because of a lack of sensitivity. I’ve only tried a few corkless rods and got the impression that maybe they are more sensitive. And plenty of other people seem to think this as well. But I honestly haven’t fished enough of them to say definitively.

    Then you have the question of how much sensitivity is enough? The iPad’s retina display is a higher resolution than the human eye can detect. What’s the point? Once you’ve reached the limit of the human eye, why bother going further because it won’t be noticeable.

    So, it might be that cork handled rods are in fact “sensitive enough” and removing the handle doesn’t really translate to more fish. I just don’t know.

    In my experience, the stiffness of the rod makes a significant difference in sensitivity though.

  6. John, I have the Oni rod with the foam grip. How would I tell if weight has been added?

  7. I do very much like the graphite (no-cork) grips, but I don’t have large hands. I have two Suntech Kurenai rods and enjoy using them, not so much for the bite detection (although that is definitely a benefit), but for feeling the tick-tick on the stream bed when I’m using weighted kebari, especially bead body flies. In that case there is never a doubt that I am fishing on bottom. Another benefit when using weighted flies; those Suntech rods are so amazingly sensitive that I can feel exactly where the lure is on my back cast and take steps to avoid the tangles I might ordinarily experience when fishing weighted flies. Love-em!

  8. If it weighs 101g.

  9. One thing about sensing vibrations or the “tick” of the fly on stream bottom rocks, is that we all probably feel these stimuli differently. Vibration sense is very variable between humans. Mechanoreceptors in our hands pick up vibration and transmit the signal to our brains via the dorsal column medial lemniscal sysyem in our spinal cords. If you have any nerve diseases your receptors and tract may be damaged. These diseases include diabetes, alcohol consumption, primary neuropathy, surgical damage, spinal cord injury from neck surgery, MS, etc. Jason mentioned carpal tunnel which is common (even using a hammer often reduces your vibration sense by causing nerve damage. Think of it as a hand concusion). Like tasters, there are people who are super sensors. I don’t think I am one of these lucky few!!!

  10. Jason, on my Oni rod, I can see the extra sleeve inside the grip segment when I take the butt cap off. It may just be there to take up some space between the bamboo and the rod but it feels like it may be there to improve balance also. Don’t know for sure but I’ll stick with my original assessment “That rod just feels right in every way.” At least for me it does, I know that the Oni rod is not for everyone but I am a fan.

  11. Sensitivity of rod depends mainly on the blank material than the grip material. Also the weight: you can find corked rods with a weight comparable to no-corked. I suppose not all corkless rods fans were lucky to fish with a really good corked tenkara rods, as Jason, John and Tom did.

  12. Cork for me too… The only rods I have that are not cork (bare rod) are my Crappie poles, and I even added a wrap to one of them.

  13. To Tom Davis, say WHAT?! speeka da english dude! What you sayin Willis ???????? !!!!!!!

  14. Timmy, Sorry ’bout that. I got carried away 😉

  15. Jason,
    Take your Oni rod and find the center of gravity. Do the same with another rod of about the same length. The center of gravity on the Oni rod will be much farther back. Then take the rod apart and weigh the grip section and compare it to the weight of any other rod’s grip section. A lot of weight has been added – more than can be explained by just another carbon tube. There’s metal in there – at least on the foam grip ones. The bamboo may weigh enough more than foam that only a carbon tube is added, but I haven’t handled one of the bamboo gripped ones.

  16. Chris is right about the Oni rods. After I posted about mine, I took a good look inside the grip segment and there are 2 weighted sleeves inside between the bamboo grip and the carbon segment. I have no idea how much they weigh or how long they are but I do know this, these rods have perfect balance. They are not the lightest rods on the market but where that weight is placed in the rod makes it feel much lighter in the hand than it is. I find it effortless to cast all day long.

  17. “I do know this, these rods have perfect balance.”

    John, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. That is the one thing about the rod that I intensely disliked. Without the added weight it would be a superb 1.5 ounce rod that would not be at all tip heavy.

  18. The Oni rod is a wonderful rod but I ended up selling mine.I caught several fish that the rod could not handle. Not the rods fault, I just put it in a situation it was not designed for, not on purpose.
    You should try the Suntech GMR Special II. A sensitive tip that will cast a #2 line swelling into a butt that controls 18″ trout.You don’t have to wait 9 months to get one either.

  19. One of the most unusual grip material choices I have seen used, well not seen, but read about is suede.

    This guy obtains rods and rebuilds them for tenkara. On this page he rebuilds and unknown rod model. He covers the grip with a layer of cork, then over that a layer of suede.Seems an odd choice.


    On this page this rebuilt rod he covers the grip with the often seen racket tape.


    Can’t say that I have a preference. As I’ve not tried a lot of different kinds. However, I do not like holding a non-covered grip when it gets wet.

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