I cast right-handed, so I should reel with my left hand — right? It all depends on who you ask. Ask a long-time saltwater fly fisherman or guide, and most of them will tell you that you should turn the crank with your dominant hand. But ask freshwater trout fishermen, and most are going to tell you should reel with the hand opposite your casting hand. That way you don’t have to switch hands in the middle of fighting a fish to use the reel.
We could go on and on making arguments for both sides (as many people do), but in the long run it’s really a matter of personal preference and what makes you comfortable. I believe there’s no right or wrong way to reel — as long as you can get the job done when you have a fish on.
I decided a long time ago it would be a good idea for me to learn how to reel and fish effectively both ways. That way, it would never be an issue to borrow gear from somebody or fishing a rod my guide has rigged up for me. This practice has come in handy in many situations for me, so you may want to give it some thought and try it yourself.
Wondering how other professionals feel about this, I decided to call a couple of my friends in the industry and ask 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 when he asks customers coming into the shop to get a reel spooled 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 you’re ‘bass-ackwards?’You have every right to fish the way you feel most comfortable.” Then comes his freshwater trout disclaimer: “But traditionally, if you cast right-handed you would reel with your left hand, and vice versa.”
The second pal I called is another a full-time saltwater flats guide. I already knew what his answer would be, so it was no shock. “You should always have your reel set up for your dominant hand. It’s a matter of common sense.”
I knew it was coming, because years ago we had set up a test. We tied a leader to a 5-pound weight and then tried reeling it across the yard using both dominant and non-dominant hands on the reel. If you are new to saltwater fishing, try it yourself. See which style makes you feel more comfortable. If you are an old-timer at the game, you’re probably set in your ways and won’t change anyhow.
Can you catch fish in salt water using your non-dominant hand? Of course — but I think anyone who has fly fished in salt water 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. On top of that, most saltwater gamefish are at least a few notches higher on the power scale. Fishing a reel spooled for your dominant hand makes more sense in most situations.
After consulting both of my friends and thinking it over further, I think anglers on each side 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.
In my 100 years of fly fishing (OK, only 60), I honestly can’t think of a time when I lost a fish because I was switching hands to reel, but I will admit that it has put me in precarious positions from time to time when a fish chose that instant to run at me. At that point, I have to switch back and strip in line like a madman, run around the gunwales of the boat, or step backwards in the stream or river — whatever it takes to stay tight to the fish.
Now, I have tried making my cast and immediately switching hands, leaving me set up to reel right-handed. The difference is, then I have to strip the fly right-handed and hold the rod with my left hand. It gave me “old dog, new trick” syndrome, and I just couldn’t get the hang of it.
It all boils down to this: There is no right or wrong with right or left. Get out and fish and find what’s most comfortable to you. Right now, in between wind and rain, the fishing has been pretty good in the Charlotte Harbor area. As the weather stays cooler now don’t forget to downsize your baitfish patterns and start throwing more crusty shrimp and crab patterns.
By the way, if you’re read this on the 20th when WaterLine comes out, you only have four more days to buy me something. So hurry up! Have a very Merry Christmas.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation Of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.