When most folks hear the word "drift" they probably first think about dead-drifting a fly for trout in a river somewhere. While this thought isn't incorrect, drift also has a second lesser-known meaning related to casting. Using drift while casting is quite simple and offers noteworthy benefits that can really improve your efficiency and distance. Heck, you may be doing it already and not even fully realize it!
I first started "drifting" a long time ago and knew it was often part of my long-range casting motion, but never realized it was a widely-used technique with an actual name. It's something I just kind of started doing naturally because it felt right and got the results I wanted. It wasn't until I stumbled upon an article about this technique that I came to the realization that "hey, I do that!"
Using drift goes against what we're first taught when performing a normal fly cast. Typically, on the back stroke and front stroke you're stopping the rod cold at each end. Drift, which takes place on the back stroke, simply means you bring or "drift" the rod tip further back after first stopping the rod.
Now, when I say further back, I don't mean to bring the rod back wildly. When you take your back stroke, stop the rod as you usually would. As the loop unfurls about halfway or so, simply reach back further with the rod tip, but do so while keeping the tip on the same straight path as the back stroke. This reach back should be smooth and relaxed in feel. Now that the drift has been done, when the time is right just go ahead and initiate the forward stroke.
So, why drift? Drifting on the back stroke gives you a longer front stroke and thus, more distance. Imagine a typical cast where you stop cold on the back stroke, then come forward on the front stroke. Think of how far your rod tip travels from where you stop on that back stroke to where you stop on that front stroke. Now, think about that same cast but with some rear drift thrown in after that back stroke. Since the rod tip was brought back along the same casting plane but just a touch further, it will now have a slightly longer distance to travel on the front stroke. This additional travel will help bend the rod more which generates increased power for added casting distance.
As stated earlier, I use drift (combined with a double haul) on long casts because it works well while feeling very fluid and rhythmic. Not only does it give me more power, but the drift motion provides somewhat of a brief muscle relaxation since I'm not focused on keeping the rod completely still. Like me, I think you'll become a fan of fly casting drift—get out and practice it!