It’s billed as the most accurate fly rod ever built. It sports, as my friend Sean Johnson put it, a “NASCAR sticker” on the blank. It’s a top-of-the-line rod with almost none of the fancy country-club accouterments that decorate other flagship products.
Orvis has, in no small way, completely reinvented its brand with the launch of the new Helios 3 fly rod. In my opinion, they’ve absolutely hit the mark.
I’ve had the opportunity – thanks to Orvis legend Tom Rosenbauer – to fish the Helios 3D, in a 590 configuration, for the last few weeks. I’ve come away thoroughly impressed, surprised, and curios as to how this latest innovation from Orvis will shake up the fly rod industry in the coming years.
Just like its predecessor, the H3 is offered in two models. The 3D is for distance, while the 3F is for finesse. I haven’t thrown a 3F, but from all accounts the differences in action are similar to what anglers saw with the mid-flex and tip-flex version of the much-loved Helios 2.
At $849, the H3 is pricier than the H2. But as someone who considered the H2 among the best graphite rods ever built (it’s right up there with the good ol’ XP from Sage, Winston’s IM6, and the Loomis GLX), I have no problem telling you right now that the H3 is worth its price tag.
What I Liked
I’ve always been partial to Winston fly rods, largely due to the Winston “feel” that defines their iconic products.
The H3 has a feel all its own, and it’s superb. The rod is light, but not too light that you’d think twice about using it to fight larger fish. As my filmmaking buddy Gilbert Rowley (IF4 award-winning producer/director of Modern Nymphing, Wide Open, and The Jungle’s Edge) aptly said one afternoon while fishing on the Provo River, “This rod has lifting power.”
The H3 has the power to turn fish, yet the tip is soft enough to absorb runs and head shakes from big trout.
It’s just plain fun to cast and fish. The swing weight is almost nonexistent, and as far as I can tell the blank tracks as true as any I’ve ever cast.
Orvis bills the H3 as being, “Accurate from Anywhere.” Accuracy in casting does have a good deal to do with the rod, but it’s influenced much more by the angler. I’d say I’m slightly above average with my casting ability. I’m no Tim Rajeff, but then, few people are. What I noticed most about my accuracy with the H3 wasn’t laser-tight loops tossed to a teacup at 70 feet.
Getting my flies to land where I wanted them required fewer false casts than with any other rod I’ve fished. The power in this rod, the ability to feel the line unload off the tip on your back cast, and the straight-shooting blank combine to help you decrease the amount of time your line spends out of the water.
For the better part of a decade now, we’ve seen rod builders churn out products that are built to catch your eye. The outrageously bright Sage MOD and Bolt are good examples of this marketing tactic, while Scott, Winston, and Hardy have all done their part in crafting gorgeous rods.
Orvis went that route with the H2, but the H3? It’s the most bare-bones flagship rod I’ve ever seen. Some folks might pick it up, see the $849 price tag, and wonder where the nickel silver butt cap is, or the handwritten inscription. After all, part of the allure of an expensive rod is the feeling of holding something expensive, right?
Not really. I’ve fished rods worth more than $2,000 and plenty worth about $50. The difference in cost is only noticeable when fishing the rods.
The H3D comes finished in a matte black with almost no fancy hardware at all. The big logo sticker on the bottom of the rod is the only real bit of decoration, and even that is minimal in its branding. The uplocking reel seat is made from Type III anodized aluminum, but it’s finished in a thick, non-reflective paint. If you covered up the giant sticker bearing the rod’s name and handed it off to a long-time Orvis fan, I don’t think they’d be able to find one thing about the rod’s construction that points to this product coming from Vermont.
All of that is incredible, because it means Orvis finally did to its flagship rod what I’ve hoped other rod makers would do: they put as much money as possible into the blank. They built a rod for fishing, not for hanging on the mantel or admiring in the sunlight. The high-grade cork is honestly the only aesthetic indication that the H3 is a premier rod.
The moment you cast it, though, you see where all the money went in building the H3. To hell with nickel silver, double uplocking rings, winding checks, and a hook keep. Orvis built a rod with no frills, a true blue-collar piece of fishing equipment that flat out gets the job done.
What I Didn’t Like
No Hook Keep
This is a tiny complaint, but I wish that Orvis would’ve added this to the H3, or at least given anglers the option for it. When I asked Tom Rosenbauer why a hook keep was left off the H3, he said that anglers are split about 50/50 on liking a hook keep. Tom’s personal feelings were that he wouldn’t want hooks that close to his shooting line, and he pointed out the recessed hood on the reel seat that makes for a good place to hold fly hooks.
Call me old school but I like the hook keep.
Not a Wind Cannon
A lot of flagship rods are supposed to be able to shoot line through a 20 mile-an-hour headwind, and still lay the fly gracefully on the water’s surface.
No rod I’ve ever thrown accomplishes that task, but I was a bit surprised at how much I had to work the H3 against stiff wind. Some of that may have had to do with the line – I fish a Cortland Precision Omniverse WF on all of my 5wt rods – but even so I wasn’t seeing the power in the wind I expected.
There’s not much I didn’t like about the H3, and a whole lot that I loved. It’s a great rod, built to fish. The matte finish on the blank makes me think it’ll hold up well to scratches and a rough-and-tumble fishing style.
I’m a huge fan of the modified full wells cork grip, the bare-bones construction, and the fact that Orvis put their design focus on the blank and not the rod as a whole. The “NASCAR” sticker grew on me, and I think that for a rod with this much to offer it deserves a bit of personality.
At $849, the H3 is an investment. Any flagship rod is. But if you’re in the market for a rod that’ll really help you take the next step as an angler, the H3 needs to go to the top of your list for consideration. It’s an incredible tool, and one I see myself using quite often in the near future.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, sports writer, and novelist from Utah. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.