Should I Reel Right- or Left-handed

Woman fishing off boat,  looking at camera

By Tom Rosenbauer

One of the most frequent questions we get from people setting up a new fly-fishing outfit is: “Should I reel right-handed or left-handed?”

The answer is “yes”.

I’m not trying to be cute, but you can reel with either hand. There is no right or wrong answer. Most right-handers who have grown up spin fishing are more comfortable reeling with their left hand, and today about 80% of the reels we mount are for left-hand-wind, which equates to the rough percentage of right-handers in the population.

However, there are still some old-fashioned fly fishers (like me) who are right-handed yet reel with our right hand. Why? 40 years ago, when I began to fly fish, it was pretty much tradition that when you hooked a fish, you switched the rod to your other, less dominant hand and reeled with your right hand. I’ve heard that this dates back to salmon fishing, in the days when a salmon rod might weigh 10 ounces. After casting a big rod like this all day long, when you did hook a fish you wanted to both give your dominant hand a break and be able to use the hand which gives you the most dexterity to crank the reel.

I do know that after a long day casting a 12-weight rod, or after holding a 10-foot steelhead rod high to get a good drift, I’ve been very happy to switch hands when I play a fish to give my casting hand a break.

Pick up a rod and decide which hand feels more comfortable when reeling. And if you decide to change, it takes less than 15 minutes to re-spool your line and backing and switch your drag over. (The line direction needs to be switched so you don’t have to reel backward. The drag has to be switched because the “line out” tension on the line is different and is adjustable, whereas the “line in” or reeling tension is always set at a minimum to make reeling the line easier.)

But the choice is yours. Don’t let anybody tell you there is a right or wrong way to reel.