Over the course of the year, we’re lucky to share the water with a lot of super great, super fishy, people from countries all over the world. That lends itself to some healthy angler debate at times, allowing us to keep up to date on the latest tips and techniques in the fly fishing world.
Arguably one of the oldest debates of all within our sport is which hand you prefer to reel with? Your dominant hand (rod hand), or your non-dominant hand? Each has its advantages, and depending on whether you’re fishing with a one or two-handed rod, those advantages can vary as well.
Recently, our pal Stuart Foxall put together a great write-up on the advantages of reeling with your dominant hand (right hand, for right handed casters) when fishing with a two-handed rod. Stuart hails from the UK, and thus was able to school us on why many spey anglers opt to real with their dominant hand dating all the way back to the Victorian era. Give it a read below!
Reeling ‘Right’ or Wrong?
I was reminded of a question the last day of my annual visit to Alaska West earlier this summer. The question was (and this relates to right-hand dominant fishermen mainly),”why do you set up your fly reel for right hand retrieve?”
In all actuality, the reason I was reminded of this question was by making a school boy error! Once again, keep in mind this conversation was geared mainly toward right handed spey anglers, so just swap the theory if you’re left handed.
Believe it or not, most European’s still have their reels set up for a right hand retrieve largely because of tradition. This tradition dates all the way back to the Victorian era when anglers had right hand reels on their overly long, ultra heavy, double-handed fly rods. In fact, to balance up these rods, the anglers would actually hold their rod down low by their sides to prevent too many aches and pains during a full day of salmon fishing.
This relaxed style of holding the rod down by their side, with their right handed reel, meant that when a salmon took the fly the handle of the reel was on the outside of the fisherman. Thus, nothing for the reel handle to catch on during a smash take, which most often results in a break-off. The old Tweed jackets of yesteryear (no Goretex breathables then) had big, bulky, exterior pockets, easily in the way of a spinning reel handle. Therefore, if the reel handle was placed on the left hand side (nearest to the angler) there would have been lots of snagging or catching of the handle in the jacket pockets while hooking and playing fish. If you check the majority of old Hardy and/or other vintage era reels, you will find most are right-hand retrieve for that very reason. Not to mention most folks can reel fastest with their dominant hand as well.
So.. What was the school boy error that reminded me of this question to begin with?
On the last afternoon of my trip at Alaska West, I was using a guide’s new rod (with a left hand retrieve reel) for reference and was trying hard to get one last big king salmon before the end of the trip. My fly swung right into the juiciest part of the run when my line went tight.. I leaned my body towards the fish to give it a little extra slack to turn on my fly as the line and rod became MEGA heavy. However, as I prepared to set the hook, my line went slack and the water where my fly was boiled as if a hippo had been spooked! I reeled in my line, left handed, only to find that my leader had snapped. The reel handle had jammed in my open jacket pocket..
I guess those Victorian’s knew a lot more about fishing than we give them credit for.