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The Drift
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Roy Sommers emails:

I've been told that if I want to extend the length of my current cast(~80 ft), I need to learn to drift.  Yet every time I attempt to drift it ruins my forward cast. Looking at the side view movie of your cast it appears that after an abrupt stop on the back cast,  you raise your arm almost straight up.  I assume this would be called a drift, although it doesn't accomplish the effect normally attributed to a drift of placing the rod hand further back so that it can travel a further distance on the forward cast and thereby produce more distance.  Can you explain your drift, and how I can accomplish a drift without breaking up the timing and tight loop of my normal cast.
Roy Sommers

Paul answers:

Hi Roy,

This is an excellent question; thanks!

Drifting is one of the most important elements of the flycast and also one of the most overlooked. Drifting, for the uninitiated, is when the rodtip tracks the path of the flyline after the stop on either, the forward or backcasts. It is most useful on the backcast.

It achieves several things all of which are desirable:

Firstly, is cushions the stroke, and helps eliminate tip bounce.

Secondly, it gives better timing, allowing the backcast to fully straighten out.

Thirdly, it allows a more open stroke on the forward cast (on the back cast we are normally only bending the tip of the rod, whereas with a long forward cast we want to bend the entire rod. This requires a relocation of the rod tip).

And lastly it takes out all the energy of the loop travelling backwards. This is, I think, the most important point. If you make a backcast and just watch it straighten out you will notice that when it straightens it pulls the rod tip backwards. This is because it still has momentum. We want to eliminate this momentum. We do this by drifting backwards. One side effect is that drifting actually gives us more time. If we don't drift backwards this backwards momentum can force an uneven path of the rod tip during the forward cast (which creates tailing loops at worst, or simply uneven non-sexy loops at best).

The best way to achieve the drift is to make the 'stop' in the backcast and then continue backwards with the rodtip. It has to be an upwards hand movement as well as a tilting backwards, since we want the rod tip to track the path of the flyline. It is a subtle movement. It is not a double-movement. It is graceful :-) Do not be too hasty to make the drift; by it's very nature it gives you more time.

A good tip is to 'feel' for the line straightening with the tip of the rod.

Learning to drift properly will make you a better caster.

You raise another point. Namely the concept of positioning the rod hand further back in order that it can move through a greater distance on the forward cast. This is not why I drift. For distance I'll drift in order to change the starting angle of the rod for the forward cast, and mainly in order to allow for a greater bend in the rod.

I have tried to eliminate forward movement of my hand as I find it to be counter-productive. I believe that the correct movement to be almost directly downwards.

When you consider that for the maximum bend is normally accommodated by a tip movement of some 5 ft at the most, and that this can be achieved at a flick of the wrist, moving the hand forwards a foot or so doesn't achieve very much. In fact you cannot move your hand forward fast. Rotating the hand is a very much quicker movement and translates to a far higher tip speed. It also allows a much crisper stop.

Where drifting upwards with the hand comes in useful, is that it allows us to, almost, flatten the rod on the rear drift. This allows us to move the tip through a far greater distance than would otherwise be obtainable.

This MPEG has been on site for a while but really shows my emphasis of the drift. The tip of the rod is tracking the path of the flyline after the stop.


Having said all of this, I do not consider drifting to be the key to distance casting. Distance doesn't really result from the rod hand, but rather the hauling hand. Obtaining maximum bend in the rod is easy. I would focus on trying to achieve a smooth stroke and an abrupt stop with the rod hand. Think 'heavy'.

Easy distance comes from an effective double-haul. The hauling speed should be quick and the haul should be timed to coincide with the 'stop'. This is the main key to distance. Over-exerting the stroke generally opens the stroke too much for the flex in the rod; the rod tip tracks a circular path and an open loop results.

If you are having trouble achieving the drift in practice, you can try stopping the rod in the backcast and allow the line to land on the ground. Then drift back and make a forward cast from this position. The idea here is it slows everything down and trains the mind into believing that it has more time. After a few of these attempts, try putting the cast together.

One last thought about drifting that has occurred to me, is that through the use of drifting, it allows us to change the angle of the stop on the forward cast; we can stop the rod closer to the vertical. This gives us more time and room to be creative with slackline casts.

Mel Krieger taught me to drift and it had a profound effect on my casting and took it to a different level. Definitely worth learning :-)


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