What’s Correct, Left or Right Hand Retreive?

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I cast right handed so I should reel with my left hand right?

Ask a saltwater guide and 95% of them will tell you the correct way is to always reel with your dominant hand. Ask a trout fisherman and most will say you should reel with the hand opposite your casting hand, because that way you don’t have to switch hands in the middle of fighting a fish to reel. I could go on and on arguing for both sides actually, but I think in the end it’s really a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, there’s no right or wrong way to reel as long as you’re able to get the job done on the water. I figured out a long time ago it would be beneficial for me to learn how to reel and fish effectively both ways. That way it would never be an issue when I was borrowing gear from a buddy, fishing the rod my guide has rigged up for me, or hitting the saltwater flats. It’s worked out great for me and I highly recommend others doing so.

That being said, having sat here and pondered this subject for about an hour now, I decided to call a couple of my buddies in the industry to get their personal opinions. My first buddy works at one of the most prestigious fly shops in the country and he told me the left hand right hand debate, has become one of his biggest pet peeves. He says customers come into the shop all the time asking to get a reel spooled up and when he asks them if they want left or right hand retrieve, he often gets the answer, “Let me call my buddy and ask him what setup I should use”. My fly shop buddy argues, “There’s no law or rule that requires us to fish and reel a certain way. Who cares if someone says your ass backwards. You have every right to fish the way you feel most comfortable”. I happen to strongly agree with my fly shop buddy on this one. There’s always more than one way to do things in the sport of fly fishing. At times, some seem to work a little better than others, but in most situations all will get the job done satisfactory in the end.

The second buddy I called is a full-time saltwater flats guide, and it was no shock when I heard him say, “You should always have your reel setup for your dominant hand. It’s a matter of common sense”. Now he admits he’s a little biased since he’s a saltwater guide, but he quickly recommended If I didn’t agree with him, to go out in the yard and try reeling in a five pound weight with my fly rod using both my dominant and non-dominant hands. So I took his advice and it was quickly apparent to me how under gunned my non-dominant hand would be if I was having to reel in a powerful saltwater fish for long distances. Can you catch fish in saltwater using your non-dominant hand? Yes, but I think anyone that’s fly fished in saltwater would agree there’s a definite advantage to fishing a reel rigged for your dominant hand. After all, fish regularly make long runs into your backing that require reeling in large amounts of line quickly, and on top of that, most saltwater gamefish are at least a few notches higher on the power scale of the totem pole. Fishing a reel spooled for your dominant hand makes the most sense in most situations.

After consulting both of my friends and thinking it over further, I think anglers on both sides of the fence have valid arguments. Especially when you’re moving between saltwater and freshwater applications. However, whether you’ll admit it or not, if you have to switch hands during the fight to reel in your fly line, you’re always putting yourself at risk for getting slack in your line that could possibly result in you losing a fish. It may only happen a small percentage of the time, but it can happen. Saltwater anglers generally fail to see this point because many times when they hook a fish it screams away in the opposite direction, quickly clearing their excess fly line for them. But in many freshwater situations, I often find that fish do the exact opposite, initially swimming towards the angler, and they find themselves switching hands before they’re able to get the excess fly line onto the reel. Here’s my question to the hand switchers, “If you like reeling with your dominant hand why not switch hands immediately after your cast? It seems to me it would make more sense to do this since you wouldn’t have to worry about switching hands during the fight. You would already have the rod in the correct position, right? It wouldn’t take long to get comfortable managing and stripping your line with your dominant hand. I could go on and on arguing for both sides actually, but I think in the end it’s really a matter of personal preference. Fish how you want, but don’t ignore situations when one hand retrieve will work better over the other.

What’s your opinion on this topic?

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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34 thoughts on “What’s Correct, Left or Right Hand Retreive?

  1. I’m for whatever feels more comfortable and gets me the most speed and power out of casting/retrieving . Some of the critters lurking out there in the deep blue will test your skillz to the max. How about figuring out a way to get another handle on the other side of the reel? I can’t see how it could be done but where there is a will and a lost fish there is a way. This feature will be included with my heated rod package….all handles will be coated with “drug of your choice” as well.

  2. I cast right and reel right, which works out perfect because I write and do fine motor skill things with my left, and throw with my right. So stripping left comes most natural (requiring more dexterity), and then if I end up having to actually reel one in (which I rarely do anyways), I can just switch.

    But I totally agree about learning to do all of it with both hands. It’ll make you a much better fisherman, and sure is fun.

  3. I cast right and reel left, always have. I understand the saltwater guides position on reeling with your dominant hand but I have found I can reel with strength and dexterity with my left hand, and I get better the more fish I catch. I fish mostly Redfish so I rarely have a fish run at top speed towards me. I suppose a fast bonefish headed directly at me might challenge my non dominant reeling hand, but they haven’t so far. I also feel the rod control is better with my dominant hand.

  4. Ok now let’s have us a great debate…. I have a question for all of those people who choose to reel with their non dominate hand.. Let’s be clear it’s not left or right hand retrieve its dominant hand versus non dominant hand… So, in saying this my question is this. In the middle of one of the four super bowls that Joe Montana (right handed) won I never seen him throw one pass with his left hand nor did I ever see Nolan Ryan in the middle of one of his MLB record seven no hitters start pitching left handed (also right handed)…. Sure this is not the super bowl or a MLB game but you want to perform at your best no? So why would reel with your non dominant hand???? Trout guys, let me be clear I too use to guide for trout and I use to reel with my non dominant hand (left).. My first trip to the Keys and my first hooked up 100+lb tarpon gave me a really really quick lesson in why NOT to reel with your non dominant hand… After the fight I felt like I just got finished with 5 rounds in a UFC title fight.. My casting arm was busted and my non dominant hand ( at the time I reeled with) I couldn’t make a fist due to the cramping… Why do this to yourself? You just spent 4k to come to the keys and the one great day of fishing your screwed for the rest of the day because you don’t want to learn to reel properly? Guys I have seen this multiple multiple times from the platform.. SEVERAL times guys have looked up flat of their back from the bow of my boat and asked can we please not do that again I don’t have it in me LOL! Here’s what happens you work twice as hard fighting that fish reeling with your non dominant hand.. Think about it. Now I know some of you are saying I’ve tried reeling with my dominant hand it does not feel right. Well of course not you have been taught wrong your whole life to reel with the non dominant hand because most of us grew up trout fishing. It takes time to get your coordination back in your dominant hand..
    Now.. I have also heard the argument trout fisherman and Kent stated about switching hands in the middle of a fight. It is irrelevant ( sorry homey). If you are trout fishing and a fish turns back toward you your going to STRIP the slack in at the beginning of the fight anyway so it doesn’t matter where the reel handle is!. It’s not till you get the fish to the reel that you have to switch anyway. I would hope that most of us have enough coordination to switch hands when I fish is peeling line away from us? That way when the fish is on the reel and he decides to turn up river at you guess what? Your reeling with your dominate hand and he has no chance..
    There are many many more examples I could give but I’m stopping there cause this topic is almost like discussing religion or politics no matter how many examples or truths it will still fall on def ears lol.. If anything do yourself a favor learn both. Because when you make your first trip to salt i dont want you to leave tear stains on the deck of my boat due to you losing a fish of a lifetime because you were not reeling with your dominant hand. I will have no sympathy hahahaha!

    • Joel,

      Thanks for your comments. I feel you homey. I still do not see why anglers that reel with their dominant hand don’t just switch hands right off the bat during their first strip of the fly line. Then the need for switching hands would be obsolete. I didn’t hear you bring up that option at all.

      Second, I do agree 100% going dominant for saltwater is a very good idea an makes more sense, I just hate people saying its my way or the highway. Everyone has the right to fish and reel the way they want to. Even if they are going to end up screwing themselves over during a fight.

      I have people that I guide all the time that prefer to use a type of cast that is much more challenging to make a good presentation with, and most of the time they mess it up. I learned a long time ago I have to be cool letting people fish the way they want, they have the right. My job is to suggest, explain, and provide an enjoyable experience on the water.

      Have a great Xmas man!


      • you don’t switch hands before the eat because most people don’t hit the mark perfectly with their first shot, or maybe the fish turned, or it didnt see the fly… so you have to make another shot..

    • I am one that fishes for trout with the reel in the non dominant hand position(left for me) and Salt with the reel in dominant hand position. I questioned this at one point because of the slight confusion of rod handling after hook up. But I set it up that way thinking about how I use off shore rigs and how I like to reel with my right hand there. Since I am so used to striping with my left hand I have a hard time with switching hands after the cast(right handed) to set up my right hand for striping and reeling. So I stick with striping with my left hand and only switch over to reel with my right when I get the line to the reel. It doesn’t seem to be a problem with giving the fish slack. So it works. I think this is a really interesting topic to bring up, Kent, because I have really questioned my salt water set up being different from my fresh water. I am enjoying reading the replies.

      • Jay,

        Thank you for your comment and I’m really glad you’re finding this post interesting. It’s great every once in a while to write a post that gets us all debating respectfully.


  5. Hey guys like I said this is like discussing religion or politics everyone probably has an experience that could prove either side. I am merely pointing out from my personal experience and experiences I have had with my clients. It is more important in salt than trout fishing (I mean how often does a trout really get you to the reel) not often. Yes people do have the right to fish the way they want I have no argument there, people do however pay me to teach them the proper way to cast, hook, fight, and land fish properly. If this means blowing up what they have been taught that’s what I have to do. If you have fished down here you understand you can go long periods of time without even seeing a fish due to weather, poor fishing etc… Etc… So I just think as guide I have to manage everything that can go wrong before it happens so when the time does come to casting, hooking, and fighting a fish. Because there are days ( especially in the Keys) when you might not get another chance. One example that I can give (which has nothing to do with whichever hand you reel with) a guy booked me for a half day 2yrs ago and when he got on the boat he started tying a fly on… I asked if I could inspect his set up. He answered don’t worry I just had it set up by xxxxxxx at the xxxxxxxxx flyshop.. (a very well known person in the industry and a very well known fly shop so with holding names) like a dumbass I said ok that’s cool and let it ride… Well you know what happened he hooked and lost his first and only tarpon due to the set up was alllllllllll wrong. Now this person lives overseas and has no plans to coming back to the keys for sometime due to the cost… How do you think he feels? Even though I didn’t set it up I feel at fault because I failed to inspect his gear as i always do with everyone else.. Sooooo to my point… When asked I give a strong opinion because I want people to have their best shot at the fish that will last in their memory for a lifetime..so enough religion, politics, and what hand to reel with lol…

    • Joel, one of these days i want to get down there and fish with you. I’m just waiting for my Gink and Gasoline coupon for “fishing with the dick—-E”. My salt experience, or lack there of, is limited to 1 red fish and 3 trips after them. So let me get this straight….the next time I go out for a salty beast i need to switch my reel to a right handed (dominant hand) retrieve? Which I honestly have never tried, but it makes sense. It’s got to be better than making a mess on the deck of stripped line that has the potential to screw up the entire hook-up. My left hand will feel so much more left out.

      • Well Charlie what you need to do is hop in with Louis and head down with him that way I can not only teach you to fish down here I can teach your ass to pole me around rofl! Because kent apparently is not going to come back down ever…. I guess it’s cause I make him reel with his dominant hand….

          • About time thought I was going to have to get blue ridge on you and body slam you in the Walmart parking lot… Lol

        • OOOOO No NO Nonononono NO Kent….as Kenny Powers would say I’m Fu$king in and Your Fu$king out!!! I will pole u guys around all day long anytime. Since Kent is my Homie let him slide a little, but next time he pulls the dreaded last minute back out give me a holler.

          • Murphy,

            Your more than welcome to take my place if I have to back out last minute because of guide trip bookings. Make sure you pack plenty of Mountain Dew for Joel.


  6. This is a silly debate. Reeling in line is a straight-forward action. You just turn the crank. No skill, no training, no special talent required.

    OTOH, playing a fish with the rod can be a bit tricky and is much less straight-forward. I want my brain/arm/hand system deployed from my strong/dominant side.

    Reel with your off hand. Otherwise you’ll look like you take all your advice from guides who are foolishly stuck in the wrong groove. Unlike me.

    • I’d argue the opposite, that holding a rod in your hand is much more straight forward than stripping, reeling and possibly palming. It doesn’t take much coordination to stick the butt of a rod into your hip and hold on does it? I’ll keep reeling and stripping with my dominant hand. Its worked great for me, but I’m still the fool right? Unlike you

  7. Another argument for RHR for a righty: when you’re clearing your line it’s more likely the fly line will get hung up on the reel knob if you cast right reel left than cast right reel right

  8. I never fish the salt and I never put a trout on a reel, but fight it with the line held against the rod. I’ve caught trout up to 12 pounds without using the reel. So the only time I crank (using my non-dominant hand) is when I reel up at the end of the day. Works for this trout fisher.

  9. Correct? Are you seriously asking ‘what is correct’? You know, if another pompous, self righteous guide tries to tell me what is and what isn’t correct I’m going to take his rig (and his tip) and shove it up his arse. What hand I reel with is none of your freaking business! What a bunch of steroidal Halfordian crap.

  10. My only concern for clients is how they want their line set up on their reel. I have to do a little demo for them since everyone has a different interpretation and name for it.

  11. I cast and crank right-handed (I am right-handed). Casting a ten weight all day for roosterfish, tuna or yellowtail, then having to lift with the same arm would be ineffective for me over the course of the day or week.

  12. As a saltwater guide for bones all of my own fishing is done with a left hand retrieve. I like my strong arm, right arm, fighting the fish. I’ve seen people get into some big fish and have their left arm give out on the fight and then make mistakes. If the fight lasts a while I and your arm gets tired it can lead to a loss of a good fish. Then again it’s all what you are used to.

  13. Being a lifelong left hander I fish a standard rod and reel by casting with my right hand and use the reel with my left (dominant) hand. However, when fly fishing I switch and cast the fly rod with the left (dominant) hand and reel with the right hand as I can cast a fly line much better with the left hand. I agree that I can reel faster with my left (dominant) than right but have caught large carp and many other species on the fly and can keep up with my right hand reeling. But then I’m a lefty so that means I’m sinister (from the Italian for left – Sinistra). Go figure! It’s whaterver works for you…

  14. Casting with your dominant hand/arm should give you best results I think- more strenght and control. You can very easily get quite proficient reeling with the remaining hand. No need to switch hands. I’m a lefty and years ago started using a baitcaster and they were all right hand crank so it was natural to cast left and reel right- no switching required.

  15. Salty guide here. I teach my clients and casting students to do what feels best for them. I can fish both ways but I prefer to reel with my off hand. Always have and have never had an issue with it. I don’t like the thought of having to switch rods hands during a fight. Even took an offshore trip in Costa Rica a few years ago and the captain had it set up for reeling right handed, my dominant hand. That felt super odd and I was not as confident. I supposed 20 plus years of reeling with my off hand will do that. Decided right then and there to be able to go both ways.

  16. Which hand to reel with boils down to the answer to “how important is quick retrieval?” If you are trying to lift a big salty fish 6 to 12 inches at a time, if your off hand is 10 % slower it takes that much longer and that many more lifts to land. If you have yards of line on the deck to clear (and can’t let the fish run) then faster hand is also important. Why do trouters use off hand? When was the last time you had to lift a trout 6 inches at a time? Or a trout took 30 feet of line in 1 second?

  17. Regardless of fly fishing, using a spinner, or casting rod, the rod is always in my dominant hand and my reel is in my non-dominant hand.

    Reason one is I always have positive control of the rod, there’s never a moment when switching hands where positive control is lost because the rod is already in the hand it’s always going to be in.

    Second reason is damn near everything is in the rod, not the reel. Your casting accuracy is from the hand casting the rod, your finesse movements are in your rod hand, and when fighting a fish the fight is in the hand holding the rod unless for some reason you’re using your reel as a winch. Your dominant hand will be better at all of these things, and as a kid or beginning angler, your non-dominant hand won’t be quite as fast on the reel as your dominant hand, but over time as you use it more the difference will be negligible.

    • I’m lefy handed mostly. Either way works….spinning has always been cast with your dominant hand and reel opposite. When I started doing that about the only reel available was a Mitchell 301- for lefties w/ right hand crank. Baitcasting has been weird from the get go. Most cast right handed but ( until fairly recently) the reels were right-hand crank. Casting with my left meant never changing hands- fine with me. Always thought casting with your dominant hand/arm made sense from an accuracy and strenght/ fatigue viewpoint, but it all works- fish won’t notice.

  18. Handling hand (rod holding) always focus on set hook.

    Working hand, Fly line handling always focus on strike, set hook and fee, there for can control fly line and retrieve quick, if you have to switch your hand for handling a strong Salmon or Tarpon or Red fish and theme tiny quick Brook stream trout, you will be confused and miss strike.

    You cast left hand (rod holding) you retrieve right hand, you cast right (rod holding) hand rod you retrieve left hand. Never switch that seconds of time loss can loose a fish of a life time.

    • Sorry for bad spelling lol! i am a french dude out of CND. all i am saying, always retrieve from your line hand, never switch over to quick set, you’ll loose time.

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