Are Fly Reels Left Handed Or Right Handed?

Most people cast with their good or dominant hand, and for the majority of the population, that is the right hand. This rarely makes a difference, but it can affect how one casts and which fly reel is a better fit for your hands.

For example, casting with your dominant hand results in better control.

And there is a definite benefit from being able to switch hands based on the wind, current or physical limitations. That’s why many fly reels can be used either way, though it isn’t immediately obvious. 

So, are fly reels left or right handed? Most fly reels are set up for left-hand retrieve and with the handle on the right side. This is meant to let you cast the reel with your right hand, then switch the rod to your left hand so you can crank the wheel with your right (the most dominant) hand. However, many of them can be switched to a right-hand retrieve.

Just know that you should reel with whichever hand is most comfortable to you, whether casting, reeling or both. If that involves casting with one hand and shifting to hold it in the other, know that this won’t affect your performance.

The fraction of a second you’re switching hands will almost never prevent you from losing a fish. Don’t make the decision of which hand to reel with and which one to hold with based on your “stronger” hand.

After all, your ability to retrieve the fish is more likely based on how fast you can reel it in, not how physically strong that arm is.

Get the fish out of the water and into the boat as fast as possible, because just fighting with it in a tug of war will break your line, waste your time and make you tired.

Why Is There Confusion on Whether Reels are Left or Right Handed? 

One reason why there is confusion over whether fly reels are left handed or right handed is that many models can be switched from one side to the other based on preference.

And there is variation in how people cast their lines, sometimes resulting in a right handed person using what others consider a left handed reel.

Use what is most comfortable to you, not the model that officially matches your dominant hand. 

How Can You Make a Fly Reel Suitable for the Other Hand? 

If you have a retrieve fly reel, first check for the user manual. That should tell you how to switch it to the other hand retrieve.

If you don’t have a user manual, check the manufacturer’s website. The manual should be there. The local fly shop could change it for you, too. Then you’ll have a more comfortable setup. 

Another option is buying one of the increasingly common reels with the reel handle on the left side.

You can tell which of these reels are designed for left handed people because the reel handle is on the left while the reel faces forward.

These reels can also be used by right handed people who cast with their right hand and reel with their left.

While that’s not the traditional technique, some people choose it because it means you don’t have to switch hands after making the cast. 

What Matters More than Left or Right Handed Reels? 

You want your baitcaster reel to be tuned for distance. Clean the factory grease from the rod except for the gears and use light oil. (The gears still need light grease.)

Be very careful with the ball bearings on which the spool revolves. These should be cleaned with solven, left to dry, and then lightly lubricated.

The spool line will now cast a lot further, but you’ll need more thumb control, too. Switch to a thin line, and it will cast farther, too.

Just make sure you use a thin line that is super-strong, or you’ll catch more fish only to lose them when the line breaks. 

If you’re careful, you could slightly overfill the spool.

Add line up to the edge of the reel. While this increases the odds of tangles, it will add distance.

It also means you can fish more without having to add more line to the reel. 

Don’t blame the reel when the issue is the rod. For example, try using a longer rod. Replace your 6 foot bait caster or spinning rod with a seven foot (or longer) rod.

These longer “fast action” rods generate more rod-tip speed. Your lure will fly faster and farther. You could get the same effect by lengthening the overhang, the distance between the lure and the rod tip.

The standard overhang is four to eight inches. If you can, set it to 24 inches. If you’re snapping off the lures, switch to a shock leader.

That will absorb the force of the distance cast and reduce friction on the main line as the lure travels.

Note that these are all hardware solutions that you can use no matter which side your caster is on, and it may solve the problems you have when bait casting blamed on fly casting technique. 

Could Technique Be What Is Making My Casting Fall Short? 

Yes. Too many anglers have an indefinite forward swipe when they cast. They don’t have a defined end to the stroke.

That kills the cast no matter which hand you hold it with. Have a hard stop for your cast to transfer the momentum and improve your distance. 

Another mistake people make is assuming distance is always the solution. Far casting is necessary to attract the fish in deeper water.

However, the key is to cast your lure where the fish are, wherever they are. Throwing the lure into the sunny shallows in the winter and shaded areas in the summer can increase the odds of getting a fish.

This is why it is more important to have good aim and put the lure wherever it will do best, not the farthest off spot.

A side benefit of good aim and technique is that you’re less likely to get lines tangled in the trees above you or throw the lure behind you.