Flat at high tideJonas Magnusson

Are you a drifter?

You probably aren’t. If you don’t know what I am talking about you definitely aren’t. Generally, casting instructors don’t see “natural” drifters so, drifting must be taught. “Why teach drifting and how does it affect my cast?”- you might ask. When I tell you – the elite casters all drift, and the distance casters all must drift too – I now have your attention.

The FFI’s definition of drift and drag. There are two kinds of drift, a rotational drift, and a translational drift. Below is the -FFI’s definition of a drift and drag. It is best to mention drag too as we both drift and drag during the same long cast.

Definitions of drift and drag
Definitions of drift and drag

Why is drift desirable? It helps smooth out your cast, by reducing slack which makes the casting stroke more efficient. This means that the fly line is straight at the start of the casting stroke. When a fly line is cast with a slack the first part of the casting stroke just straightens the line. It does not move forward until it is straight. We can use drift without drag to widen the casting arc on the last back cast before a delivery cast where the caster intends to shoot as much line as possible. We also use drift and drag when casting long.

Increased casting arc now demands more force and more bend of the rod for the next cast. It absolutely precludes creeping – because you can’t creep forward if the rod tip is going the other way. Coupled with drag it is very effective in removing slack.

After I learned to drift, I now do so on all casts. It isn’t strictly necessary for short casts but a must for long casts. How do we drift? After the stop on the back cast, (and/or forward cast – remember the casts are symmetric) we can rotate the rod back a bit (rotational drift). Some instructors say, “Rotate the rod half an inch back” and refer to this motion as a micro drift. This motion we can call rotational drift. We can rotate the rod from a smidgeon to rotate it horizontally which is a maximal rotational drift. The hand movements are referred to as translational drift. Maximal translational drift is obtained when the casting arm is straight back horizontally.

The “creep” where the rod is repositioned to the casting position in the lower picture is obviously not a casting fault and that creep could also be called “rotational drag”. Creep is almost always considered to be a fault but not in this case.


When carrying 60-80’ of line there inevitably will be some slack in the back cast that needs to be removed before the forward cast. The best casters, when hauling and casting long, will drift and then drag between casting strokes to remove as much slack as possible. This greatly increases the efficiency of the next cast as slack is minimal when the casting stroke/haul begin. Note that we drift/drag on both the front and the back cast. It allows for more line to be carried but only if used on both front and back casts. Whichever carry (front or back) is shorter will become the limiting factor.


Drift will cure creep (too early rod rotation) but for most creepers, that is certainly not the simplest cure. Just not moving the rod at all during the pause is much simpler and cures creep too. It is difficult to teach beginners or intermediates drift as a cure for creep. For some reason, stopping and then continuing to rotate the rod in the same direction as the line is going is difficult for most people.

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards