Fly fishing reels will forever be the unsung heroes of a fly fishing outfit. While rods and line should absolutely be the priority, it’s important to understand the features of fly reels and the necessary aspects of them that help them perform. I’ve lost too many fish and purchased incorrect reels based on my minimal knowledge.

When I first started researching fly reels, one of the biggest questions I had was whether or not fly fishing reels are reversible. I don’t have a traditional casting style, so I need a right-hand retrieve. My answer to the question pleased me!

Selecting a fly reel
Selecting a fly reel

Yes, modern fly fishing reels are designed to be reversible.  The method of switching reeling direction varies by manufacture.  Righthanded freshwater fly fishers will traditionally cast with the right-hand and reel with the left-hand. 

Which Way Should a Fly Reel Wind?

The most important thing to remember is that your line should always come in on the bottom of a fly reel. However, you will notice that fly reels have a piece of metal welded across to create some structural integrity.

Your backing, fly line and leader should all go between the welded piece of cross metal and the arbor of your fly reel. If you go all the way under the crossing metal, you’ll find that the stripping and retrieval process can become quite messy. So yes, the line should be retrieved in on the bottom of the reel, but not under everything! Make sure it is retrieved between the crossing metal and the arbor.

How Do You Reverse a Fly Reel?

The fly fishing reel reversal method isn’t necessarily universal. Not every single company creates their reels to be reversed in the exact same way. However, the general premise and process is fairly similar across all brands and styles. Here are some steps on how to accomplish a retrieve reversal.

First, you’re going to need to divide the reel in two. To do this, look for a small lever or lock that is on the side of a reel crank. Push in the lever or completely unscrew the lock and you should be able to pull the two “cheeks” apart. Make sure you keep a firm grip on both because they can tend to become stuck and a weak grip could result in a catastrophic fall onto some hard ground.

2. Once they’re separated, you’ll have a “big” portion of the reel with the line, etc. This is the important part of the reel to focus on. This part of the reel is likely going to have the clutch bearing that you’re going to need to manipulate.

3. You can find the clutch bearing held in place by the flip spring. These parts of the reel are in the female portion on the spool piece of the reel.

Please Note: In sealed reel body style, the clutch bearing is often located in the male portion of the connection. You’ll have to open the male portion with a flathead screwdriver due to the fact that it likely has a semi-sealed drag. You’ll find the clutch bearing, flip it over and reseal everything.

When you reattach, make sure you aren’t sealing everything too tightly! Do your best to replace it exactly how it was when you opened things.

4. You’ll find the flip spring isn’t completely connected. There is a small portion of the spring that has a gap in it to ensure the tension stays. Locate the portion of the flip spring with the gap and use some sort of fine tool to pry it out. Please keep a thumb over a portion of the flip spring! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen anglers pop out the spring and it flies into the grass with no hope of it being found.

5. Once the flip spring is removed and safely placed aside, you will see the nut facing up at you. Remove the nut and flip it over. By flipping it over, you’re changing the retrieve hand on the reel.

6. Replace the flip spring and make sure it’s all snugly in place.

7. Place the male end of the reel back into the female end and you’ll likely hear the entire reel snap together. This snap ensures that you did it correctly!

Is it Wrong to Switch Hands after Casting?

No, it’s not wrong to switch hands after casting. Many saltwater anglers will cast and retrieve with the same hand. This is mainly due to the fact that there is more comfortability and power that comes with your dominant hand.

fly rod reel seat and reel foot
fly rod reel seat and reel foot

For freshwater anglers, it’s easier to cast with the dominant hand and retrieve with the opposite hand because you’re likely not fighting fish that are going to overpower your lesser dominant hand. If you know that you’re after some heavier fish, do yourself a favor and be prepared to cast and reel with the same hand! You’ll be thankful for the extra control that you receive.

Things to Consider if you Switch the Reeling Direction

If you set up your reel and then determine you need to switch it to the opposite retrieve, there are a few things you should do.

First, it’s a good idea to take the line off the reel and reload. If you loaded it with the intention of having a left-hand retrieve, the line layered itself with that pattern. To ensure that you have a smooth retrieve when you switch it, completely remove the line and backing and respool it.

Some may call it overkill, but there’s a definite difference in how the line layers. You can never overestimate the power of a smooth strip or retrieve. Your reel should be the one part of your rig that you really never notice. It needs to do its job without question regarding the performance. There are too many moving parts of fly fishing that you can’t worry about whether or not the line is laying properly.

Guide Tip: If you clean and maintain your fishing reels you won’t have to worry about breaking off when you hook into a trophy. Learn how in this article: How to Clean and Maintain Your Fly Reel

While you’re in the process of removing the line, go ahead and clean and treat the fly line. To do this, all you need is some warm water, hand soap and soft cloths. Put all of your fly line in the warm soapy water and slide a soft cloth along it. Once you’ve done this, put your fly line in the warm water without soap. As you remove the fly line from the water, dry it off with a different soft cloth. This will make sure your line is clean and ready to go for your time on the water!

One final thing you can do is clean and oil your fly reel. Many anglers take care of their rods but neglect the reel. Yes, it takes a little bit more time, but caring for a fly reel is going to allow for it to last for decades!

Last Cast

Fly fishing requires a willingness to ask questions and make mistakes. I remember the first time I looked up fly fishing reels I searched right-hand retrieve reels not knowing that most were reversible, and it didn’t matter what hand I was. I could always switch it if needed.

Continue to ask questions and find what best fits your style of fly fishing. A simple switch from a left-hand retrieve to a right-hand retrieve may make for an even better time out on the water.


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David Humphries at Guide Recommended

Hey David here the maker of Guide Recommended. I’m super passionate about everything fly fishing fishing; writing, teaching and even video.