What Hand Should Turn the Fly Reel?

by | Dec 20, 2023 | 47 comments

Let’s keep this one simple for a moment. Cast with one hand and reel with the other, because it makes good sense. Because it’s more efficient by a mile — it requires less movement and there’s less chance for error — and because using your off hand for all line maintenance creates better habits for both stripping and reeling. All of that pays off in the end.

Now, is it wrong to cast and reel with the same hand? Nope. I won’t go that far, because there’s not much room in fly fishing for absolutes. But after all the conversation and opinion I’ve heard on this topic, I’m still searching for any good reason why doing it the other way and reeling with the casting hand is better. Some anglers make it work. But it’s not the best choice.

.. . . There’s lots more to this one, so let’s dig in.

What’s So Bad?

The simple inefficiency of moving the fly rod from one hand to the other, just to reel in some line, is obvious. That’s a problem, but it’s not what hurts most. Fighting fish is where the biggest failures happen.

Throw a dry fly upstream and across, into the slow stall behind the largest rock in some great pocket water. Strip in slack, strip, strip . . . and a trout eats! The momentum of the trout carries it into a faster seam, and it swims downstream toward you. Strip more. And now . . . switch hands so you can reel??

Remember, the line under your trigger finger is keeping tension to the trout. But along with the rod swapping hands, that line and the tension must be transferred to your other hand and a new trigger finger as well. It’s too easy for bad things to happen in that transfer, especially, with everything moving in fast water, with a big trout upstream.

READ: Troutbitten | You Need a Good Trigger Finger

Most times, that switch from hand to hand works flawlessly. But what happens when it doesn’t?

There’s a chance for failure, every time. So why take the risk? Isn’t making that switch more dangerous than simply reeling with the other hand?

So, in the short term, reeling with the casting hand might lose fish. But in the long term, it encourages poor line maintenance principles. (More on that below.)

One more point here about the downsides of reeling with the casting hand. We all choose to cast with our dominant arm. So why would we choose to fight a trout with our weaker and less-skilled arm? Aren’t the most important moves in fighting a fish performed with the fly rod and not the reel? More on that below as well . . .

A Debate Renewed

Last week, we published a Troutbitten podcast with the title, Bad Habits That Hurt, where we highlighted some of the worst habits we see as guides and as friends to fellow anglers. We separated habits that are just personal style and aren’t really deal breakers, vs actual bad habits that hold angers back.

Give that podcast a listen, and you’ll be hard pressed to disagree with the worst habits.

PODCAST: Troutbitten | Bad Habits That Hurt — S9, Ep9

In that conversation I brought up the reel-hand debate. Because I believe strongly, using the non-dominant hand does hold anglers back. I’ve seen these consequences a hundred times. I’ve watched anglers struggle, and I’ve watched them lose fish. It’s a mistake that has repercussions, often unexpected and unacknowledged. Switching hands to reel in line complicates line maintenance, and there’s no good argument for reeling and casting with the same hand — not for trout fishing on a fly rod.

I knew this habit would be the most controversial of our podcast. There are enough anglers who do this, and I knew people would be defensive. Sure, all of this is good fun, but I think it’s also important to honestly consider the advantages and the consequences of our choices.

So, why do anglers cast and reel with the same hand? The simplest answer is tradition. Decades ago it was more common, so that’s how some anglers learned. But why should that matter? Aren’t we a group that prides ourselves on the advancement of fishing techniques and gear? Haven’t we moved on from barbed hooks, catch and kill, and cat gut leaders?

I heard from a bunch of fly fishers in the last couple of days since the podcast was published. I’ll cover some of their most frequent arguments as I walk through the rest of this discussion, and I’ll make my own argument for why it’s best to reel with the hand that isn’t casting the fly rod.

“Comfort Is King”

“It’s just more comfortable for me.”

Fair enough. This is the only argument that makes much sense. And if you can’t feel happy cranking with the other hand, then stay with what works for you!

Admittedly, it won’t hurt that much. It won’t cost you fish or cost you fishing time — until it does.

What is most comfortable isn’t always best — especially at first. I coached Little League for nine years. And at the youngest levels, many kids showed up wanting to put the glove on their dominant hand. But did I allow that? Does anyone? No. Kids must learn to throw from their strongest side and catch with the other. It’s a two-handed process. Likewise, many young ball players wish to hold the bat with the wrong hand on top. It might seem natural, but it doesn’t work as well. No child is permitted to hold the bat with their dominant hand on the bottom. And no one argues this.

So what’s the difference for the reeling hand?

I think because there’s no one standing over you while you’re learning and saying, “Don’t do it that way. Trust me, this way’s better in the long run,” you can easily fall into the habit of casting and reeling with the same hand. And because the measure of success in fishing is too often a fish in the net, a couple of trout reinforces a bad choice, and everyone moves on.

“It’s just more comfortable for me.”

A little discomfort at first pays big dividends down the line. There are examples of this all through the learning process of fly fishing (and throughout life). We correct for good casting form and accuracy. Why not this?

READ: Troutbitten | What to Trust

“But Tom Rosenbauer Does It”

Tom, we love you. Yes, here at Troutbitten, we love Tom Rosenbauer. Who doesn’t? Tom’s book, Prospecting for Trout remains one of the most influential resources of my fly fishing life. I’ve had good conversations with Tom, and I can’t say enough great stuff about what he has done for so many anglers in this sport.

I’ve been told that Flip Pallot has this habit too, along with Lefty Kreh and a few YouTube personalities that I’ll leave unmentioned.

Clearly, casting and reeling with the same hand works for many excellent anglers.

But, honestly, the habits of other anglers mean nothing to me. What is most efficient? What works best for the way I fish? How can I set myself up to be the most versatile angler? How can I be in the best control of my line, my leader and my fly? And how can I consistently bring the fish I fool to the net? That’s what matters. Those are my standards.

Again, I’ve never heard an argument for why reeling with the same hand that casts the rod is actually better. All I hear are reasons why it’s not that bad.

Here are a few . . .

“Your Dominant Hand Can Reel Faster”

This one comes over from the salt fishing world. This common argument asserts that reeling fast matters most.

It doesn’t. Because if I need line retrieval that fast, I’m stripping the line in anyway. On a fly setup, that’s always the fastest way to retrieve line.

I can’t imagine that anyone who puts in a few weeks with the reel handle on their off-hand side wouldn’t get used to reeling with that lousy, good-for-nothing hand anyway. Put it to work, and make it learn a new skill.

Incidentally, I’m positive that many anglers, like me, reel with our non-dominant hand much faster than the dominant hand — simply because we’ve done it for so long.

READ: Troutbitten | Maybe You’re Holding the Fly Rod Wrong

“Your Dominant Hand is Stronger”

Here’s another one brought over from the saltwater world.

I’ve been told that you can crank harder with your strongest hand.

I don’t care about that! Who fights fish and brings them in by torqueing on the reel anyway? We use the rod for that. On the biggest fish, on the heaviest loads, we pull the rod back to move the fish in closer, then reel down as we drop the rod, getting ready for the next pull back. That’s good fish fighting. Use the rod! I don’t know anyone who uses the strength of their reel hand to winch in a fish. That’s bad technique.

Also to this point about strength . . .

No one suggests casting with the non-dominant hand, right? So why change hands after setting the hook? Why take the fish fighting skills out of the dominant hand? Is reeling more important than the moves you make with the rod to fight a fish? Surely not. Far more important is what the rod does.

“I Don’t Put Trout on the Reel Anyway”

Well, you probably should. Good habits and best practices dictate keeping any line that is not in use wound on the reel.

Is this a hard and fast rule? Of course not. But it’s a good habit, because line on the water is just waiting for something bad to happen to it. Eventually, that dangling line will tangle on a branch, your wading staff, your hemostats, or it’ll wrap around your leg.

READ: Troutbitten | Habits: Keep It On the Reel

Since this is real life, the worst tangle will happen on the best fish of your life.

Good anglers reel in extra line, when it’s not in use. This happens frequently, sometimes a few times per minute, sometimes in between casts. Peel off an extra few feet if you need it. And reel in the extra couple feet when you don’t need it.

Keeping things clean out there just makes sense, and good habits produce good things over time.

“Gear Anglers Do It”

Yes, if you watch Bassmaster, you’ll see it enough — cast the line, then switch hands and reel with the casting hand.

But this is a bad comparison that doesn’t hold up.

With gear fishing, there is no line management issue similar to fly fishing.

After making the cast with a spinning rod the line is on the reel, ready to crank. But make a cast with a fly rod, and some line is often off the reel and in the line hand. We also crank the spinning reel to recover slack, but we strip the fly line.

That alone is the fundamental difference and why this comparison doesn’t hold up. Gear angler issues and fly angler issues are not the same.

Make You Own Rules

No one dictates the rules of fly fishing. Assuming you’re following the fishing regulations of state and country, you’re free to fish any way you desire. Do what makes you happy. That’s one of the things we love about all this.

But we go to great lengths to learn strong knots, to form tight casting loops and put our flies on target. So how can the same angler who deliberates over the wire diameter and strength of a particular hook accept the inefficiency and the risk of reeling with the casting hand?

That decision seems odd to me.

Do What You Will

Yes, in our podcast I called this a deal breaker. I think reeling with the casting hand is a bad habit that holds anglers back, because I’ve seen the short term mistakes and long term consequences too many times to believe otherwise.

Absolutely, we find examples of excellent anglers who’ve adapted and made this work. But the inefficiencies remain. And when it comes to fly fishing for trout, I’m still waiting to hear just one true advantage of reeling and casting with the same hand.

No matter what, have fun out there. It’s just fishing.

Fish hard, friends.


** For a list of our favorite fly rods and reels, visit the Recommended Gear page here on Troutbitten. **

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. You forgot another inefficiency. When you buy a new fly reel, they are inevitably left hand wind (and most are switchable). It’s pretty easy to switch it to right hand wind, but it’s an inefficiency nonetheless.

    With fly fishing (vs gear fishing), it’s easy to put extra line on the reel with the line hand – I wouldn’t use the handle, even if it was on the correct side – I just give the rim of the spool a little flick and the slack line is gone.

    If I’m honest, I could probably switch over to winding with the correct hand for fly fishing pretty easily. I’ve done it when using other people’s gear and it hasn’t been a problem, even fishing for big carp that can take you down to the backing. Gear fishing is another story. I’ve tried to switch and it’s cost me fish every time, so I’ve switched back. I’ve fought tuna, sharks and king (Spanish) mackerel with my non-dominant hand on the rod, so I’m not scared of an 18″ trout.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Personally, I don’t consider switching the reel setup right or left an inefficiency. It’s just part of setting up our gear. And it’s a one time thing, no big deal, in my opinion.

      “With fly fishing (vs gear fishing), it’s easy to put extra line on the reel with the line hand – I wouldn’t use the handle, even if it was on the correct side – I just give the rim of the spool a little flick and the slack line is gone.”

      But not all reels allow for this. And many that do, don’t spin freely enough for quick pickup. In fact, I find it pretty rare that a reel allows for quick pickup this way — efficiently enough to make it an engrained habit. The Sage ESN does this well. But even with that one, I wouldn’t mind it being a little more free. Add in that the thicker the line you’re picking up, the more resistance in putting it on the reel, and what you describe isn’t a viable alternative in many cases.


  2. Accomplished anglers like Tom R., Flip Pallot, Phil Monahan, and the Jensens can switch hands seamlessly with virtually no risk of jeopardizing the fight. One of the explanations for this choice may be that fly reels back in the day (pre mid 1980s) were made with right hand retrieves that could not be switched to left hand. So, growing up with those reels simply made it the most comfortable way to fight fish. They do tend to strip with their left line hand and net with their left hand as well. So, it’s a lot of back-and-forth hand switching that for those who do it, seems to be a non-issue.

    Here are some excerpts from an essay (https://news.orvis.com/fly-fishing/right-or-wrong-reeling) in the Orvis News by Phil Monahan who casts and reels right:

    “As a lifelong right-handed caster and retriever, I have been subjected to this kind of ludicrous lecturing on a fairly regular basis. 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. 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.”

    Conclusion: For those who do cast right-handed and switch to reel right-handed, this certainly isn’t a bad habit, deal breaker, or a mistake that increases the chances of losing a fish. However, it probably shouldn’t be recommended to beginners because it adds one extra “moving part” that will unnecessarily complicate an already challenging skill set.

    Phil Monahan has this message for those who insist that he is reeling with the wrong hand: “Shut up and mind your own business, Mr. Fly-Fishing Rules Man.”

    • Hi Rick

      Thanks for your comment.

      In my article above, I already addressed everything you brought up.

      “Accomplished anglers can switch hands seamlessly with virtually no risk of jeopardizing the fight.”

      I’m glad you included the word, “virtually,” because that’s my point. Everything is fine, until it isn’t. Again, I’m still searching for a good reason to reel with the casting hand. Instead, everyone tells me it’s (almost) always fine.

      I have previous read the article you just quoted from Phil. I think Phil is great, just like Tom. But there’s nothing in his whole article that provides a good reason to reel with the casting hand. It’s another example of saying it doesn’t matter (all that much.)

      Last point, I’m not creating rules for you, for Phil, or for anyone else. In the article above, I walk though the strengths and weaknesses of reeling with that casting hand. I also acknowledged the tradition. The conclusion is that there are inherent inefficiencies to work through. Ultimately, everyone should consider these for themselves and decide if they are willing to accept those inefficiencies and why they accept them. But do so with eyes wide open.


  3. I’m left handed and I cast with that hand. I’ve switched every fly reel I’ve purchased to right hand retrieve. This started in my bass fishing days. I had reels that were right hand retrieve and it worked well for me. I would check any spinning reel to make sure it was switchable before I bought it.

    Don’t fix what works, so your note on preferences is spot on.

  4. I enjoyed that part of the podcast! I was though surprised to hear that you see a fair amount of younger anglers that switch hands. I always viewed it as a leftover from times past or a constraint of using vintage gear and perhaps something past down from an older generation of mentors.

  5. I am left handed. But I grew up batting right handed for a simple reason. There weren’t enough kids in the ‘hood to play all positions. So no first baseman (it was the pitcher), no second baseman, and no right fielder. Anything hit to that side of the field was an out.
    When I started fishing with conventional equipment, it felt natural to hold the rod in my right hand and reel with my left. So when I started fly fishing I just did the same. Line management and reeling was just natural with my left hand.
    Occasionally I will cast with my left hand under certain situation. But rarely. It all worked out when I had left shoulder replacement surgery this past July. Too hot to fish and when Fall fishing came using my left arm to control the line/reel was part of the rehab. If I was casting with my left arm I would not have been able to fish. It all worked out!

  6. Great article Dom and thanks again for another epic guided trip/in-depth learning experience this week. I am in agreement with you…still haven’t seen a great argument (or any other than it doesn’t matter) for switching rod hands.

    From my perspective, it is the fish fighting aspect that seals the argument for casting with dominant and fighting fish with dominant hand. I am much stronger on my right side and more kinesthetically aware and competent on that side than on my left. Reeling is a relatively low skill activity compared to the above.

    I am planning on catching more nice brown trout like the ones you introduced me to in the future and want to be in the best position to (a) catch them and (b) fight them ethically and that can be best accomplished with my right hand on the rod.

    • “Kinesthetically aware and competent.” That’s why I like you.

  7. As someone who has never been exactly sure what hand to use – not really ambidextrous but I do a lot left handed and a lot right handed. I write left handed, use tools mostly left handed. Throw a ball with my right, right eye dominant.
    When I started flyfishing in my 20s, other than some casting lessons at the fly shop, I was pretty much self taught and since I wanted to cast with my left, they set me up RHR. That definitely felt the most natural for casting and it never occurred to me – or was in anything I read that I should set up LHR. I think your point is valid – why add the swap at a critical time? Seems like unnecessary risk of something occurring when it doesn;t need to.
    Then about 10 years ago, I ended up doing something that put a minor tear in the labrum of my left shoulder… best and worst thing that ever happened to my casting. I couldn’t cast with my left hand for very long and the doc said don’t do that anyway – we decided to see where it was in 6 months of physical therapy before talking seriously about surgery.
    Would you quit fishing? Not hardly, right?
    I spent the next year learning to cast with my right hand. Worst thing ever for my casting – I was terrible at first, I don’t remember being that poor at casting when I was starting out. (Probably just my 20-something ego’s memory) Best thing ever, after a month or so and half a dozen days on the water (and practice at the park), I was proficient again, maybe not as good as my left hand, but near enough. And when I went back to left handed casting after a year (and no surgery), I found that I would often just swap hands if I had a tough back handed cast to make. I don’t do that as often now, that right handed skill has eroded significantly.
    As far as retrieving goes, I only swapped one of my reels over during that time, the one I used the most, and just lived with swapping hands if I actually need to use the reel- I mean I usually can get away with hand lining the trout I catch anyway, so no need to swap, other than picking up line between casts or whatever.
    I will say this… it’s funny, when I started tying flies, I used to wrap with my left hand, and did for several years, and I didn’t tie a lot. I had some books – mainly Skip Morris’. Then YouTube took off and when people started posting a lot of quality tying videos, maybe 12 years ago, I started to really get into tying. (Flagler’s oldest is 15 years ago) But, the videos are all set up right handed… vise on the left, and wrapping with the right. I found it too confusing and started wrapping with my right hand. I find it ironic – but that’s a typical left handed reaction.

  8. For a baitcaster, sure, swapping hands works fine. For a fly rod? No way Jose. And again… why for??? Seems a little crazy to even be a topic for conversation, but nevertheless necessitated..

    • I’ve been using bait casters since the 70s…and have always cast right, reeled right.

      It doesn’t make any more sense for conventional angling than it does for fly fishing.

  9. Dom,
    I enjoyed this article and found it quite interesting. I’ve grown up fishing bait and spinners so I was used to reeling with my left hand from a young age. I recently started using a baitcasting reel while fishing for bass and find having to reel with my right hand quite awkward as its more difficult to get reels that I can use my left hand. So I’m forced to cast with my right and then switch to reel. It all feels wrong.

    Keep up the wonderful content as every time I read an article, see a video or listen to a podcast it makes me want to get out on the water.

    • I get all my baitcast reels with left hand retrieve, then cast right, reel left.

      It makes no more sense to switch with gear than it does when fly fishing.

  10. I guess I am a weirdo. I am left handed but when I first picked up a fly rod, it felt way more natural to cast with my right arm and reel with my left (dominant hand). Now, to be fair, I also golf righty so perhaps that is where my comfort casting right comes from. I can cast lefty when the situation call for it and when I’d rather do that than back cast, so perhaps developing my right side has allowed me the best of both worlds-functional ambidexterity.

  11. Fish how you want, there are no rules in fly fishing, have fun out there, but also why are you fishing like a moron, is so on brand. I love it, kind of.

    But anyway, I was thinking your argument was not all that strong until you brought up the point about the disadvantage of PLAYING the fish with the rod in the non-dominant hand. I’m trying to imagine myself trying to turn a good fish with my left hand, and it’s not pretty.

    In the end, the only remaining argument I see for reeling with the casting hand and fighting fish with the rod in the non-dominant hand is that it feels way more “right,” and changing to what’s not feeling natural would jeopardize the outcome more than doing it Troutbitten-wrong. Particularly if an angler is almost ambidextrous, but definitely feels that some motor movements are more natural with one hand than with the other.

    One more disagreement: I think this question is more important for novice anglers than for seasoned anglers. Once the “bad” habit is entrenched, the ship has sailed and unlearning it may hold an angler back more than continuing with it—in this particular case. And I’m just not buying that Jensen is being held back because he’s doing it Troutbitten-wrong.

    Love your work, even if occasionally it’s wrong 🙂

  12. I’m a left hander but as with many things, I was taught to do things like play tennis, bat, cast etc by right handers. As a result, I generally cast right handed and manage my line right handed (even when I cast left handed). Because my left arm is stronger, I like to hold the rod in it to fight a fish so right handed wind is my preference. I get the inefficiencies but at 70 years old I don’t think I’ll change. Nice article Domenick. Thank you.

  13. In my early days of fly fishing I bought some what inexpensive gear. Pflueger fly reels came with a right hand retrieve.
    So now when I get a new reel I spin the spool around so it’s a right hand retrieve.
    Been doing it for 40+ years and would never change. And yes, I am right handed!

  14. As a lefty who “switches” once reeling, I’ve found it an advantage when I share my gear with right-handed family members—it’s already “right” for them.

  15. I agree with you 110% for all your reasoning. End of story. However … I am 78 years old. My dad taught me at 10 years old to cast right … reel left … with the latest 6wt solid fiberglass Shakespeare 8’6″ fly rod and Pflueger Medalist 1894 … i think! ( it might have been hollow rod and Hardy Perfect.) Now I live and fish in Alaska and have caught thousands of salmon, trout and grayling my way. And I’m too old to change. However I now use a Sage XP/Z-Axis 4100-4 and Canyon 2 for trout/grayling and Winston BIIx 696-4 for pinks, reds and silvers. Not looking back … be safe and enjoy what ya got (8->}

  16. I agree with all your points save one. I fish for migratory tarpon. If I fight the fish with my right hand (dominant) and reel with my left, it damages my wrist. I find after a fight my casing is affected. So, I switch hands to protect my wrist and go for more than one fish a day. I am also old enough (and weak enough) that the same is largely true with bonefish, snook and reds. Having gotten used to right hand retrieve, I do it with trout as well.

    • But that’s Tarpon fishing! Again, this is about fly fishing for trout. The line management skills required are actually pretty different.


  17. There is no good reason to ever cast and reel with the same hand unless you are missing one arm. It is a very inefficient way to fish using a fly rod, spinning, or bait caster. One other thing you should mention is anytime you move your rod from one hand to the other you take a chance on dropping your rod from your hands into the water. If you are fishing high flows of water on some tailwaters and you drop your rod overboard you can go ahead and kiss your outfit goodbye. Orvis will love you for it.

  18. I kinda scratch my head as to why we’re even focusing on this. I do get a little bit of a condescending vibe on the article, which I think is validated by the fact you wrote it.

    I’m a lefty, I can cast with either, but unless the angle is better with my right, I’ll use my left. I take up line-either strip or reel with my left, as my right just isn’t as fast or sure-particularly with stripping. I’ve never been as sure taking up line with my right, and have the distinct possibility of losing a fish. So, it’s more comfortable for me, AND it’s better in that I’ll keep the tension on my line better with my left hand.

    It’s such a fast and seamless transfer, it’s not anything to worry about. I used to think I was an oddball, til I learned I had some pretty good company in this method. To me, it’s preference. Just like whether one uses a sling, chest, waist or backpack. Of course, I can’t fathom why anyone would use a vest.

    • Hi Ed,

      Thanks for your comment. I think it’s an important topic. That’s why I wrote it. I see how this habit hurts many anglers. You don’t see that, and it doesn’t hurt you. But I see it, especially while guiding, and it holds anglers back. So it’s well worth talking through. Too often, casting instructors and others who are teaching anglers say to just “do what is comfortable.” For all the reasons I mentioned above, I think that’s bad advice.

      I don’t think it’s fair to say having my opinion and talking it through as I did above is condescending. Not sure how else I can sum it up other than how I wrapped up this article — You do what works, Ed. But for many others, especially those not already engrained in habits, I would strongly suggest using both hands, and I gave many good reasons why.

      Again, I’m still looking for an answer as to why using the casting hand to reel is actually a better habit. And if it’s not better, then why don’t we teach a way that does have many other benefits and takes less risks, as outlined above? It doesn’t hurt you, but for many others, it truly is a handicap.

      If you’re looking for reasons on why I like a vest, I have an article for you on that one too:


      That’s what I do. I share my ideas about what works for me. And I give reasons why I think things could be better.


    • This article and comments are a spin off from a recent podcast about bad habits that can harm fishing success.
      The Troutbitten crew considered switching hands to reel as one of those bad habits based on the conjecture that the practice increases the risk of losing a fish or even the rod. There are many accomplished fly anglers who apparently do not share these concerns. Thanks for bringing it back to Earth; nothing more than a personal preference. Not much different than the personal preference of rod grip. And yes, you are in very good company.

      • Oh, Rick. Much more than conjecture. I could list a couple dozen times where I witnessed anglers, reeling with the casting hand, who lost fish because of poor line management. You haven’t. Ed hasn’t. That’s fantastic! But not all fish run away from us, Rick. Many fish run toward us, and that’s where this back and forth stuff becomes complicated. Nowhere in my text did I suggest that an anglers might lose the rod. What I have pointed out is that there is an unmistakable risk for loss of control. That happens not just while fighting fish, but while simply . . . fishing, too.

        So it’s not just personal preference. For you? Sure, it’s a preference. And I would not suggest that you change your habits, simply because you clearly don’t want to.

        But I’m still looking for an advantage of reeling with the casting hand. Offer one, if you have it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but downsides. And that’s the reality.

        You guys are focused on a defense that “other anglers do it.” I say, who cares what other anglers do!

        . . . Honestly, the habits of other anglers mean nothing to me. What is most efficient? What works best for the way I fish? How can I set myself up to be the most versatile angler? How can I be in the best control of my line, my leader and my fly? And how can I consistently bring the fish I fool to the net? That’s what matters. Those are my standards.

        That’s what I’ll base my decision on.

        Yes, it’s just fishing. Be happy and do what you want! But it’s fair to acknowledge the inefficiencies, if you choose to accept them, and move forward anyway.

        Good stuff.

  19. Hi Dom,

    After listening to the bad habits podcast I was expecting this article to appear!

    I couldn’t agree more. I started me fishing journey in small creeks with a spinning rod, casting with my right hand and reeling with it too. But even the inefficiency of swapping hands cost me valuable time while my lure was drifting back towards me. So I taught myself to reel with my left hand (I struggle to reel with my right now).

    However, I have spent some time working in a Fly shop in Australia where lots of saltwater fly fishing goes on. When customers came in looking for SW gear and didn’t know what hand to reel with, we would put a left hand retrieve and right hand retrieve reel in their hands to see which hand could reel faster. The justification for this being, if you have a bonefish (of similar) racing towards you, you want to be able to bring in line as fast as possible while keeping the fish on the reel.

    With this being said, I would still tell the same customer to reel with their non-casting hand for trout, because of the reasons you have listed above.

    Just thought I would add another point that you guys didn’t really cover (although I think Austin tried to suggest that it had something to do with the SW game).

    Anyway, thanks for everything Troutbitten. I have been listening to your podcasts for many years, and the tips and skills I have gain from them have accelerated my fly fishing journey, allowed me to enjoy my time on the water more, and helped me put many more fish in the net!

    Tight lines,


    • Thanks, Josh!

      Agreed, Saltwater may not the same as trout water.


  20. Folks usually who prefer the right-hand retrieve usually don’t complain when they pick up a left-hand setup. But, oh my god, give a “cast right, real left” a right had retrieve outfit and get ready for whining of epic proportions.

  21. Good piece, and it continues a discussion across fly, spinning, and baitcasting that’s I’ve seen, and taken part in, many times. Always with the same conclusion: It doesn’t matter.

    Which means I’m left wondering, “If switching doesn’t matter, why do it?”

    I fish with fly, spincasting, and baitcasting gear; probably a somewhere between a 70/30 and a 60/40 split, fly/gear, though I seldom use spin-casting gear.

    Everyone I know casts right, reels left (or casts left, reels right if they’re left handed) with spin-casting gear. I’ve never seen anyone switch, though I’m sure there’s people that do it.

    I’d say that at least half of the people I fish with that use bait casters do “the switch” and cast right/reel right (or vice versa if they are lefties). I don’t and never will…it makes no sense to me, for all of the reasons you mention in your article. I’ve seen plenty of them loose, or miss, fish because of this.

    Same with fly fishing for me: I’ve never seen a benefit to making the switch defined anywhere…so I don’t. I know a couple people who do, and like you have seen the line go slack during the switch. Oops…

    One other comment: I seldom put fish on the reel when fly fishing…but I’m a musky/pike/bass angler for the most part, and I’ve never been convinced there’s benefit to trying to pick up what can be 30, 40, 50, or 60 feet of fly line off the deck with the reel before fighting the fish…it’s – to me – a distraction no one needs, and as with “making the switch” above, I’ve seen lots of fish lost to fiddling around trying to get these fish on the reel.

    • Thanks for your comment. On you last point, it matters a lot whether you’re floating or wading. Also matters a lot how strong the tippet is and whether you have to let a big fish run or can horse it in. Love it.



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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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