Clean and Patched Cork Grips

Life’s too short to fish with an ugly rod, so during the off-season get your grip back to like-new condition in a few easy steps.  A natural material like cork gets beat up with use.


  1. The best way to clean cork is with a soft, nylon brush or toothbrush, some water, and dish soap.  Apply gentle pressure so you don’t chip or gouge the cork.  If you’ve got a lot of dried fish slime that won’t come off, a Scotchbrite cleaning pad with some soap will lift the grime without stripping the cork.  For dried and caked slime, try the finest steel wool with some dish soap.
  2. Another way to go about cleaning your grips that takes about 3-minutes, is to make your own cleaning solvent.  Mix equal parts of dish soap, water, denatured alcohol, ammonia and sodium carbonate.  Sodium carbonate is probably the only unknown ingredient to anglers, and it is commonly known as washing soda.  You can find it in the detergent sections of grocery stores.  Wipe on with a cloth, and rinse.  Your grip will feel like new.


Most rod manufacturers use cork filler to give their grips more shelf appeal on the sales floor.  After repeated soakings and dryings, the filler gives way and leaves open holes.  If these holes go untreated, the wetting and drying process weakens the surrounding areas and the cork tears, thereby ruining your grip.  A bit of cork filler is an excellent stopgap.

  1. You can’t buy pre-made cork filler but you can make it yourself.  Take a cork grip ring, (a clean, dry wine cork works in a pinch, and sand with a very fine 220-240 grit sand paper.  The sanding leaves a fine cork dust that you’ll need to collect.
  2. Once you’ve got enough cork powder for your patch jobs, mix with a resin.  Wood glue, Minwax Wood Filler, or Elmer’s Glue will work.  Add enough of the adhesive to create a smooth and dry consistency.  Your patching material should not be fluid for it’ll run out of the holes and gaps.
  3. Use a sharp, pointed tool like a bodkin, a hook point, even a thin cooking skewer.  Clean out the holes and the pits and refill with the cork dust/glue mixture.  The filler will shrink when it dries, so you’ll need to repeat the process to get the holes flush with the good parts of your grip.
  4. When the filler has dried, buff with 220-grade sandpaper, wash and dry.  Your grip will look like new.  I’ll sometimes seal the cork with gun stock finish available from most sporting good stores.  If you want a real professional sealer, try a splash of U-40 (
  5. And if you’re tight on time or you’ve got a bunch of grips that need fixing, straight wood filler on a clean surface will work as well.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at