Published Sep 3. 2013 - 10 years ago
Updated or edited Feb 16. 2022

Right hand or left hand?

The debate about whether to use the right hand or the left hand on the fly reel is almost as old as fly-fishing itself. Let's look a bit rationally on the issue at hand...

Mirrored - The two possible setups: a rod for a right handed on the left and for a left handed on the right. Some right hand casters actually have the handle on the right side, and switch hands when retrieving and fighting
Left, right, left, right...
Martin Joergensen

Let's start by establishing a fact: there is no "right" hand as in the correct hand - for casting, for holding the rod, for stripping, for winding line on the reel or for any other operation involved in fly-fishing.
People do what they are comfortable with or what they have learned, but to judge someone to be doing it wrong is like judging someone for being wrong in eating, writing or scratching an itch with one hand rather than the other.
There is on the other hand (excuse the pun!) issues to consider when choosing what to do with what hand.

there is no "right" hand as in the correct hand

Right/wrong, left/right, primary/secondary

Most people have their right hand as the dominant or primary and the one that they use for most purposes that require control and coordination like eating or writing.

You can have several varieties of hand dominance.

According to Wikipedia

Right-handed: 70-90%
Left-handed: 10-30%
Truly ambidextrous: 1%
Mixed-handed: unknown

Right and left handedness is simply being better at almost all things with one or the other hand.
Ambidexterity is being equally good with both hands.
Mixed-handedness is being good at some (often most) things with one hand, but being able to do other things equally good or even better with the other. Like writing with the left hand but preferring to eat with the right.
Some mixed-handedness is forced upon people who are left-handed because most of the world is set up for right-handed people. That could be tying as a right-hander in spite of being left handed because that's how you learned it, or using certain tools in the right hand because they are shaped to be used in the right hand.

Right hand - Ken is a right hand caster and keeps the rod in the right hand while retrieving and fighting
Left hand caster - Henning casts with the left hand and double hauls with the right. And keeps the rod in the left hand while retrieving and figthing
Mixed hand - Rick casts with the right hand, but notice the handle(s) on the right hand side of the reel. This means shifting rod hand when fighting and spooling line
Left, both, right
Jens Gronlund - Henning Eskol - Martin Joergensen


Most of us cast with the good hand, which is the right (as opposed to the left) hand in a majority of cases. Under most circumstances it doesn't make a big difference, but in some instances it influences the fishing.

Fishing in wind is harder when you have the wind onto your casting side. You want the wind to blow the line away from your casting hand. In a boat you will also usually want to keep the line away from the boat and yourself and not least fellow anglers or guides on board.

If you are fishing in a current, some situations are also facilitated by using a certain hand. Using the water surface in an underhand or roll cast is a lot easier with the current coming onto your casting hand, because it transports the line and leader "away from itself" in front of you where you mostly want to perform the cast, rather than away from your casting hand, forcing you to cast off your casting side or with the danger of the line touching or crossing and tangling if you insist on performing the cast in front of you.
You can't always choose the direction of the current (as in never actually), but you can sometimes move to the opposite bank or turn. But if that's not the case, switching hands can solve the problem, and bring the rod and line from the off-current side to the on-current side, making roll and underhand casting easier.

Fishing two handed - You still have a leading hand on the two hand rod, and for right hand casters it\'s usually the right hand that holds the rod and the left that retrieves line and spools
Two hand, but still right handed - When casting a switch or underhand cast with the current running to your left, it\'s the easiest to use the right hand as the guiding (top) hand on a two hand rod
Two handed
Nils Folmer Jørgensen
Boat fishing - Notice how Jens, being a right hand caster, has to cast his line over the guide. Had he used his left hand in stead, the line would have been outside the stern of the boat
Boat turned - Jens is casting with the right hand, which in this position means that the line is away from the guide
In a boat
Martin Joergensen
Shifting - Here I\'m shifting over the rod to the left hand for the purpose of taking a picture. I usually always cast and fight with the right hand and retrieve and spool with the left
Right hand caster - The rod handle and the line is held with the right hand during retrieve and fight, and the left hand hold the line while casting and also spools line using the handle on the left side of the reel.
Retrieving, fighting
Kasper Muhlbach - Martin Joergensen

When overhand casting the choice of hand has fewer implications on the cast, since the line is often lifted off the water immediately when a drift is over.


For most people the natural way of retrieving is with the opposite hand of the casting hand. Since the non-casting hand is on the line while casting, it's natural to keep it so and retrieve line with that hand. So a right hand caster will mostly retrieve line with the left hand.
Following the same logic, you grab the reel handle with your free hand and wind.
But it's surprisingly common to switch hands once the cast is finished or a fish is hooked or you need to retrieve or spool in line. In other words using the same hand to cast and to retrieve. You will often see reels used by right hand casters with the spooling handle on the right hand side, pointing away from the angler's body and free hand.

Stronger, better coordinated

Right hand caster, left hand spooling - This is the way that most people do it
Right hand caster, left hand spooler
Henning Eskol

Being quite ordinarily right-handed I'm a right hand caster myself and I retrieve line and spool with the left hand. I have never felt the urge to change that, and actually wonder why people do.

I have tried to find out why, and the most common answer is that it's how people learned it and the way they have always done things.
When asked, some argue that it makes sense to use the better hand to do the critical operations - both casting, retrieving and spooling. The argument is that there's more strength and better coordination in the good hand, which is a fine argument, but honestly seems like an afterthought more than a motivation as such.
Personally I think tradition and teaching converts more people to switch than an actual need to get things transferred to the good hand.
Whichever way you have the handles on your reels, just keep it like that if you are used to it and comfortable with it.

Reels of all orientations - Here\'s a bunch of rods and reels ready to fish. Notice how the middle reel has the handle opposite the two others. It\'s fished by a left hand caster.
One of each - Notice how these two almost identcail setups and rigged for a right hand caster with the handle on the left side (the bottom rod) and a left hand caster with the handle on the right side - towards us (the top or leftmost rod).
Henning Eskol - Martin Joergensen
Backwards - One alternative way of overcoming the wind is to cast backwards in stead of switching hands. For most people this is actually easier than train the secondary hand
Henning Eskol

Learn both

If you want adaptability and flexibility in your fishing, it's a very good idea to learn to cast with both hands.
If you always used your good hand, you will feel very inadequate in the beginning, but people being forced to change due to physical damage or injury, actually learn to use the other hand quite quickly. They might not be able to cast as far as they did with the good hand, but they can cast.
And even without being forced to do so, learning to master the other hand will enable you switch hand according to wind or current or physical limitations like trees or steep banks, so it's a very good investment.

It\'s what yiu learned - Once the old hand have learned one routine, they rarely change that
Old habits die hard
Kasper Muhlbach


Right vs. left hand ...

Right vs. left hand reel was a bit of a dilemma for me when I first learned to fly fish. My spinning reels were all left-hand wind, and my casting reels were all right hand wind. As I am right-handed, I can reel faster and longer in small circles using my right hand. Lefty Kreh, famous salt water fly-fisher, said to use your dominant hand because of this. You'll tire faster otherwise. When fighting large fish using a fly-reel or a casting reel, your dominant hand will be more coordinated and have more stamina. Note that left-hand spinning reels are fine (and preferable to me) because they have a very large turning radius handle and so do not present a problem. But anyway, as stated, it all comes down to personal preference...

Martin, I think that...

Martin, I think that Lars is thinking about shooting line. And true, if you just let go of the line then it has a slightly higher tendency to catch the handle if this is pointing inwards. My preferred method is therefore to form an O with my 1. and 2. finger, thus acting as an extra guide for the shooting line.
PS: 95 pct. right hand caster with the single handed rod, 50/50 with the double hander, 100 pct. left hand spooler ;-)

Martin Joergensen's picture

Lars, While I can...


While I can see why you would want to avoid tangles, I have a bit more trouble understanding why the loose line would have a tendency to tangle significantly more on the casting hand side than on the retrieving hand side.

There's only loose line and risk of tangles until you have spooled it or the fish has drawn it through the tip top. Once the fish is on the reel, the problem isn't potential any more since the line goes in a direct line from the reel to the stripping guide or to your rod hand, controlling the line.

So this problem would occur while you are 1) picking up the slack or 2) the fish is running.

1) Why would picking up slack be less hazardous when done with the casting hand than when done with the other hand? When I spool line I usually grab it with the casting hand (since I retrieve and spool with the other) and squeeze it lightly against the handle and use that tension to control the line, which keeps the loose line away from the reel and makes even less likely to tangle.

2) When a fish runs with force (like a bonefish or a tarpon) I hold the line clear of the stripping guide (and the reel) with the hand not holding the rod, and whether that is the casting hand or not, and whichever way the handle points can hardly influence the risk of catching the handle that much.
I know tangles happen and I have experienced it myself, but I wouldn't consider it a risk that requires a change of habits.
Sure the handle will be pointing away from your body when the loose line is cleared in a run if you use the same hand for both casting and spooling, but as soon as you want to spool line on the reel (loose line or not), the handle will be where it is for everybody: between the hands, in front of your body.
And if you switch hands, you would at least have to wait until the fish is on the reel, and not do it as soon as the fish is hooked in which case you'd be in the exact same situation as I am: handle and loose line both in front of you, between the hands.

As I wrote in the article: I won't argue whether one method is better than the other, but I just don't think this is a really strong argument.


In order to avoid th...

In order to avoid the reel handle to catch the loose line it is preferable to have right hand retrieve when casting with the right hand.

I used to cast right...

I used to cast right and reel with the left. After some bad tendonitis in my right elbow I found a lot of relief by switching to reeling with the right and fighting fish with the rod in my left hand. I still cast and strip with the rod in the right hand but switch over at a good point in the fight. I think Lefty Kreh claims that everyone can reel faster with the "best hand" and I can believe that.

Another point on casting backwards versus changing hands: with a fighting butt on the rod the wrist can push on the fighting butt and the back cast is often stronger than the front cast..

I cast with my domin...

I cast with my dominant (right) hand, and retrieve and reel with my left hand. One reason I reel with my left hand is that I have more control of the rod, and the fish, when the rod is in my dominant (right) hand, whereas my weaker (less dominant) left hand has the easier task of winding the reel.

Martin Joergensen's picture

Fred, I can see t...


I can see the logic, but I have used my "bad hand" (in my case the left since I'm right handed) for retrieving and spooling for the last 35 years or more, and that is actually way my "best hand" for this. Whenever I get a rig, which is set up for right hand winding, I feel awkward and unable to control anything at all even though I should be much better with my right hand than my left.

So it's not that simple, and as I say in the article: it's a question of what you have learned and what the people who taught you did. To me as a right hand caster it feels absolutely odd to have to change the rod to the other hand to reel in line.

To each his own.


It's n...

It's need a "best touch" to hold or let go of the reel grip, and you need a "best touch" to palm the spool. Use your "best hand" to carry out these functions. Which side you cast from doesn't matter.


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