Essay: Why You Should Always Reel with Your “Right” Hand


This redfish didn’t seem to care which hand I was reeling with.
Photo by Irene Kato

One would think that, after 30 years of fly fishing, I would be immune to ridicule for reeling with the “wrong” hand. But there I was, on a boat off the coast off Lido Key, with a seasoned fly-fishing guide goofing on me. One of my fellow anglers even tried to explain to me why I was “doing it wrong.”

As a lifelong right-handed caster and retriever, I have been subjected to this kind of ludicrous lecturing on a fairly regular basis. And I’m sure that many of my fellow right-reelers have endured the same fate. So I’m gonna lay it down nice and slow right here: You should reel with whichever hand feels the most comfortable to you. You are not compromising any part of the fishing experience by using one hand or the other.

I have heard a million times that I shouldn’t reel right because (gasp!) I have to change hands on the rod every time I need to reel in. This is ridiculous for at least three reasons. First, how often during the course of a day of trout fishing do you actually get a trout on the reel? (Okay, in saltwater this one doesn’t apply.) Second, if you’ve ever watched a Saturday-morning bass-fishing show, you may have noticed that most baitcasting anglers switch hands after every single cast, and it doesn’t seem to bother them. And third, the millisecond it takes to shift the rod from the right to the left hand isn’t going to cause you to lose any fish. Oh yeah, and here’s a fourth reason: Shut up and mind your own business, Mr. Fly-Fishing Rules Man.

Another reason I’m not supposed to reel with my right hand is that I should use my stronger arm to fight the fish. However, no less a luminary than Lefty Kreh has argued that you should reel with whichever hand you can reel fastest with. Not to mention that tiring out your casting arm by fighting multiple big fish would surely lead to feeble casting by the end of the day.

All that aside, most fly reels come set up for left-hand retrieve, but changing them to right-hand retrieve is usually a snap. If you have the manual for the reel, the directions are in there. If you don’t have the manual, go to the manufacturer’s website to see if you can download a new manual. If you still can’t figure it out, take the reel in to your nearest fly shop, where they’ll surely do it for free. (Don’t forget to buy something you need as part of the bargain.) Then go fishing, and don’t listen to the “leftists” who comment on your new, more comfortable setup.

41 thoughts on “Essay: Why You Should Always Reel with Your “Right” Hand”

    1. Most serious right handed saltwater fly fisherman, especially tarpon fisherman, reel with their right hand. This is because most right handers can reel much faster with their right hand and these fish take out a lot of line when they run. The switching hands deal when fighting fish is a non issue. When pulling hard on a big fish, you use the right hand also to get leverage. The best thing I ever did was switch to RH retrieve early on. I would encourage all new right handed saltwater fly fisherman to make the change to RH retrieve.

  1. Up until the mid eighties it was hard to find a reel that cranked with the left hand……..You can always tell a newbie fly rodder by which hand they wind with…….

    1. And you can always tell someone who doesn’t want others to think their new at something so they pretend there are rules the others don’t know about! LOL
      Been bait and fly fishing for over 60 years – as long as your having fun and catching enough to keep meat on your bones, you’re doing it right.

    2. Nonsense – many of the old click&paw reels didn’t have an orientation, you can just flip them around. That’s like saying I only eat bananas that curve to the right.

  2. I cast right and reel left, been fly fishing over 60 years. In 1962 bought a Hardy LRH for $35 from Orvis. Easy changeover as was the Pfleuger Medalist.

  3. I lost my first large rainbow in New Zealand switching hands to reel a right hand rig; the loose line wrapped around my fingers. The line stopped; the ‘bow didn’t. I cast right, reel left. Now if I use a guide over here I use my own rig.

  4. I have been a right handed caster and right handed reeler, for 42 years. People always ask me why? The answer is easy, after fishing with me for a day. I catch so many fish, if I had to cast with my right hand and fight the fish with my right hand…my right arm would fall off after just a day of fishing…tight lines.

    1. I have been a right handed caster and right handed reeler, for 42 years. People always ask me why? The answer is easy, after fishing with me for a day. I catch so many fish, if I had to cast with my right hand and fight the fish with my right hand…my right arm would fall off after just a day of fishing…tight lines.

      Every now and then somebody on the internet posts a comment that is so unbelievably awesome. You are the winner. The internet should give you the HIghliner Of The Year Award because you catch so many fish. If I see a one armed guy holding a fly rod Ill just assume its you.

      Tight Lines!!

  5. My thought is, if a person gets too tired from casting & reeling with whichever hand, it might be time to go back, fire up the grill and hit it again after supper. The fish will still be there, hopefully, and a little R and R never hurt anyone. Other than that, what works for you, Git-R-Done!

  6. I made the switch when open-face spinning reels first came on the market. It was an easy change for me to make after that, and I’ve casting right and reeling left ever since. When I used to each beginner fly fishing, I taught people to reel with whatever had they felt comfortable with. In other words, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do it.

  7. 51 seasons haven’t had a problem ye,t I cast left handed when the need arises last summer at a new hole on the upper Truckee river first cast was lefty and it was a poor cast I thought about pulling it in and doing it over but I let it ride, and a 20 inch Brown sucked that fly in like a piece of candy you know what happened after that.

    1. Phil
      My apologies in advance, the line “Mr. Fly-Fishing Rules Man” will be plagiarized at some point.
      Anyone that believes there are such “rules”to fishing should be banished to the world of competition bassholes.

  8. Good written, Phil Monahan. Feel truly recognize myself in what you write. What seems more important is to learn to throw over both the right and left shoulder, whith two-handed fishing “Speyrods”.
    If you overcome this, it does not matter which side of the river you are fishing.

  9. I’ve only been fishing for 68 years so I still have a lot to learn. The first close faced reel I had was bought in 1959 and it was right hand wind. The first eggbeater I bought was left hand only as all of the reels we had in the sixties were made that way. All of the reels I have bought since the early 70s (about 70 of them) are set up to wind right handed.

    You mentioned baitcasters changing hands. It’s quicker to cast with the right, transfer to the left and start cranking than it is to cast with the left hand and move the position of the hand and then start cranking.

    Yes, I can cast with either hand and it helps to get into all of the tight spots. So I’m a nightmare for some folks.

    In my game fishing days from 1974 to 1992 I never saw a left hand wind reel.

    Do what ever is comfortable and for me that is wind with the right hand. Cheers BM

  10. I’m a righty also, heard them all! I like and agree with all your reasons, especially like the fourth one, and it has left my lips several times!
    Fish On!

  11. Fly fishing for 3 years now. Right handed casting and reel w/ right hand retrieve. The only reel I’ve ever used I got from My wife’s grandfather before he passed. That SA System One was setup right hand retrieve, and that’s how I left it. I taught myself (with Pete Kutzer’s videos) to cast with it and never thought to use it with left hand retrieve. When I got a new setup last year, the cheap real came with left hand retrieve. Felt horrible. I think it boils down to what you’re used to.

  12. Oh ya. And there’s only one way to cast as well. Bahahaha. Never had a trophy fish complain about which hand I reeled it in with. Run, don’t walk, from anyone who says there’s only one way to do something.

    1. Which is why I call myself a fisherman rather than a fly fisherman, even though I mostly fly fish. I’ve never been partial to the culture. They’re basically no different than golfers when it comes to being pretty about the mundane.

  13. I’m a natural lefty. I have always retrieved with my right hand. I have had to deal with right handed reels my entire life! In the “Old Days “ (50+) years ago it was hard to modify inexpensive reel to my side of the rod. The drag wee on the inside, and the line protectors were on the back side. I’ll take today’s reels any day!

  14. Thanks for sharing this experience. It actually clears this misconception among people regarding the correct hand to reel. I also feel that it should depend on the comfort level of the person fishing around. I am a left-hander and use my left hand for reeling. 🙂
    I would also recommend people to try out Fisk bags from https://timesnine.com/ to enhance their fishing experience.
    Let;s forget all misconception and enjoy fishing in the way you are comfortable in. 🙂 🙂

  15. Next time somebody says you’reeling on the wrong side you’re going to lose a fish if you change hands. Tell them that you’re ambidextrous and and cast equally well with either hand and don’t want to change the reel every time you change castng hands. Actually it’s on the right side when I’m casting left handed. They wont ask anymore stupid questions. EVEN IF you’re stretching the truth a little

  16. I know a few people who are certified casting instructor that tell there clients they should crank with the left hand and not with the right. That’s not the correct way. BS

  17. The beauty in my life is that I cast left-handed and reel right. Same on spinning and bait casting. No Problem. Guess I’m in the minority.
    That’s okay; They’re my catches, not your’s.
    Enjoy!

  18. I don’t know how many times fishing “buddies” told me that I was doing it wrong, most of them, if not all, had been fly fishing for a lot less time than I have. I even had a person whom I respected (up until then), tell me that I should only reel with my right hand if I had a BIG fish on. Ignoring the fact that I couldn’t figure out to make my reel both left and right hand reel, I just told him that I only ever caught BIG fish. At least that shut him up.

  19. The above debate over which hand you reel fish in with is an n0n issue and is only relevant to the person doing the reeling! The person doing the reeling has a fish on! and apparently, you don’t. For those who would rather discuss the physics of reeling than catch fish, I applaud you for staying out of the water to discuss these important issues of
    style and the appearance of correctness.
    Personally, I reel with my left hand so that I can deliver messages with the digits on my right hand. Or my right arm is stronger than my left and serves me well with larger fish. This apparently, is not an issue with those who generally catch small fish.
    as always
    your fishing buddy
    Greg

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