by Steve ‘Starlo’ Starling •
It’s an argument almost as old as fishing itself: which hand should you crank your reel with?
You might never have realised it, but almost every spinning reel or ‘eggbeater’ sold in North America or Europe has its handle on the left side. Many threadline reels that reach our shores are also set up this way, although the majority of Aussie buyers quickly swap the handle to the right-hand side after purchase. But look at photos or footage of American and European anglers in action and you’ll see that almost all of them crank their spinning reels with their left hand.
This isn’t because southpaws dominate in those other parts of the world. Right-handed people are the clear majority over there, as elsewhere. It’s simply that the accepted practice in those countries is to wind threadlines (and some other reel styles) with the angler’s non-dominant hand. Kids learn to fish that way and it’s seen as a perfectly natural thing to do. I have no idea why it never really caught on here.
I’m right-handed, but I switched to using left-hand drive eggbeaters (as well as fly reels and centrepins) almost 40 years ago. Although I can still ‘switch-hit’ reasonably effectively these days when picking up a right-handed outfit, I’m much more comfortable cranking left-handed on the reel styles described… yet all my baitcasters, overheads and Alvey sidecasts remain right-hand drive. Why is it so?
For me, it all comes down to the mechanics of casting with a spinning reel. Most of us who use them regularly cast these outfits by wrapping our dominant hand around the reel seat, with the reel’s stem emerging between two of our fingers: usually either the pointer and middle finger or the middle and ring finger, depending on the size and design of the reel. Whether we then go on to cast single-handed, or bring our non-dominant hand in to play on the butt end of the rod to perform a two-handed cast, it makes great sense (to me and many others) not to go through the motions of swapping the outfit from one hand to the other to begin the retrieve or fight a fish. That stronger, more dexterous dominant hand can stay right where it is after the cast is completed, while the non-dominant hand comes up to perform the relatively menial and mechanical task of turning the handle.
Over the past 40 years, I reckon cranking with my non-dominant hand while holding and working the rod with my dominant hand when using spinning tackle has caught me a whole heap of fish I would otherwise have missed.
Things are a little different with other styles of reel such as baitcasters (plug reels) and sidecasts, where the ideal casting grip differs from the preferred retrieving and fish-fighting grip. A change of grip is required on these outfits, and this switch is most efficiently achieved (in my opinion) by smoothly passing the outfit from one hand to the other… A subject we’ll return to in a future column.
In the end, there’s no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to hold an outfit or crank your reel, and you’re arguably better off sticking with what works best for you. That said, every angler I know who’s bitten the bullet and put up with the couple of days of uncoordinated discomfort required to switch their brain and muscle memory from dominant to non-dominant-handed reel cranking on spinning gear has said they would never, ever go back. It’s something worth thinking about…