Text: Alan Bulmer Lead image: Mark Hoffman
Rod handles – Which is better Cork or EVA foam and why?
The two main materials used in the fishing rod handles are cork and EVA foam (also called Duplon). Each material has its advantages and disadvantages but which is better?
Cork handles tend to be lighter than foam ones and also maintain residual heat in cooler temperatures. This means that they are warmer to the touch on a cold day.
Cork handles have a significantly lower damping capacity than EVA foam handles which means that they transmit vibrations better. In fact, if you check out the diagram below you will see that EVA is roughly three times more effective in damping vibration than cork. This means that cork handles are effectively three times more sensitive. I’ll repeat, three times more sensitive.
Cork is also less slippery when wet and does not compress as readily as EVA foam under load.
The drawbacks to cork handles are that lower quality cork cracks easily, or contains cracks already. Furthermore, cork is less durable and has less longevity than foam, and is harder to keep clean. It is also much more expensive.
EVA foam handles are generally cheaper than cork but they’re also much more durable. Where a cork handle might dent or even chip when mistreated, a foam handle remains intact. This is particularly important when the rod is held in a rod holder or beach spike for long periods. EVA handles are very easy to keep clean and can be scrubbed with detergent to remove accumulated slime, protein and fish oil.
So what does this mean?
Where sensitivity and feel is really important, such as fly, soft bait and spinning rods, cork is the best choice. This improved feel and sensitivity is why almost all of the high quality fly rods have cork handles.
If the rods are to be used with bait or placed in a rod holders then EVA foam is an excellent choice.
I actually carefully wipe down the cork handles on all of my rods after each fishing session with a rag dipped in warm soapy water and they are all still in excellent condition. I’ve got a heavily used fibreglass spinning rod that is 35 years old which still has pristine cork handles. The reality is that cork does not like bait, especially protein and oily residues so if you fish with bait then EVA foam is best.