Use Heat Shrink Tubing to Customize Your Fly Rod!
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
There was recently an issue with a fly rod of mine.
A favorite 5-weight (which I think was a pre-production model) had a reel seat that wasn't saltwater-friendly. Well, that eventually became a problem because I used that rod in saltwater quite a bit. It's an absolutely phenomenal rod, but corrosion had started to set in on the seat's aluminum barrel and ring. While still usable and not that bad yet, it bothered me and I had wanted something more appropriate for salty pursuits anyway. Off to the custom rod shop I went!
Replacing the seat meant removing the entire grip assembly, so I thought this would be a great time to do something custom. I've always wanted a fly rod with a high-quality foam grip, so that's precisely what I ordered — along with a black aluminum Batson seat and new fighting butt.
After a few weeks of waiting, I got the call and picked up the finished rod. They did an amazing job! The only issue was the fighting grip. The builder wasn't able to source an appropriate foam fighting butt, so he used a cork one instead. I had okay'ed this beforehand so it wasn't a surprise, but it did look a little funny next to a black foam grip and shiny black reel seat. That never worried me, though, because I had a plan in mind to take care of this cosmetic eyesore. Heat shrink tubing to the rescue!
Tubing can be found at many places, but for the ease of ordering right from my chair I used Amazon.com. Heat shrink tubing is sold in different lengths, colors, and widths, usually with some type of an X-pattern on the top for grip and looks. Basically, it's designed to slip over an existing rod handle and then with the help of a heat gun or hairdryer, it shrinks down and tightly conforms to the shape of the handle. For my 5-weight, I ordered 35-millimeter diameter black tubing which slid on easily over the fighting butt's flared end. Perfect!
I used a simple hairdryer at the highest settings which worked fine. As the tubing shrank down slowly, I'd occasionally stop to make sure it was lined up and readjust if necessary. It actually took me three tries to nail the fit perfectly (I was being ultra picky). The issue wasn't shrinking the tubing, it was sizing it beforehand. I was under the impression that you could put it on the grip then easily and precisely cut it with a razor blade for an absolutely perfect fit, but I wasn't able to accomplish that with my crappy blade.
I found it more effective (and safer) to carefully measure beforehand and cut the piece of shrink tubing to exactly the size I thought it had to be. I did a pretty good job on the fighting butt with maybe a millimeter of material overhanging the top end where the butt meets the reel seat. I found the tubing can't conform well to harder edges like that, but it takes to more gradual contours very well.
With the fighting butt all blacked out, I was immediately thrilled with the results. The rod looks downright intimidating and I'm likely not going to see another setup like this when I'm on the water. Having the material on the fighting butt doesn't really subject it to any great durability testing, but this stuff feels like it'll last and I have a ton leftover to play around with or use for replacements.
The material is definitely grippy wet or dry and feels great. Perhaps I'll do a full grip overlay on another rod one day? We'll see. For now, it was worth the measly $10.89 investment. There's a lot of possibilities with this stuff and it's always fun to tinker with customization!
Here's a link to the tubing I bought on Amazon....