Thanks to the generosity of Tom Rosenbauer, I’ve had two extra fly rods in my quiver for the past three weeks – the Orvis Superfine Carbon 905 and 804. As any regular reader of this column knows, I’m a sucker for rods with slow, classic action, and that’s exactly what this series of rods deliver.
I’m also a sucker for beautiful craftsmanship, and Orvis knocked it out of the park with this rod series. A simple cork grip and reel seat, paired with the classic Orvis unsanded blanks give the Superfine Carbon rods an understated, beautiful look.
These rods are fairly light, although they pack a heavier-than-average swing weight, thanks to their slow action. That’s not a bad thing, but you’ll definitely notice more of an ache in your casting arm after a day of throwing the Superfine Carbon as opposed to the Helios 2.
Both the 905 and 804 excel at fishing dries. Only my Tom Morgan Favorite WT Winston and antique J.S. Sharpe’s bamboo rod lay dries on the water with more aplomb. It should be noted here that I tested both of these rods using an Abel TR-2 reel on the 905 and a Hardy Princess on the 804. The Abel had RIO DT LightLine, while the Hardy rocked the WF LightLine. So line choice definitely had some affect on how the rods presented dry flies.
I did notice a slight hitch in the cast when throwing past 50 feet, on both models. Near the end of the cast, the line would lose a bit of its power and accuracy. I assumed this was due to my mediocre casting skills, but two guide buddies of mine casted both rods and noticed the same thing.
I fished nymphs and streamers with these rods as well, although I didn’t use a streamer on the 804. The 905 handled a nymph rig fine, and as long as you use a double haul and really pay attention to the load of the line, it’ll throw an average-sized Wooly Bugger. But I wouldn’t use the 905 as a go-to nymph or streamer rod. The 804 handled nymphs fine, but again – it performed better when fished with a dry-dropper rig than two nymphs, split shot, and a strike indicator.
All in all, I was highly impressed with this series of rods. Orvis is continually impressing me with every rod they produce these days, and for $425 the Superfine Carbon is competitively priced. In the $300-450 range, it’s hard to find something that beats this offering.
Now, let’s dive into a few specifics about the rods.
What I liked
It throws dries incredibly well
I love being able to throw dries to trout without thinking about the cast. I love when I pick up a rod and it feels like an extension of my arm, rather than a tool in my hand.
That’s what the 905 delivers for dries, when you need a big rod for bigger waters. I broke this rod in on the Green during a decent BWO hatch, and it handled presentations smoothly. When I hooked up with a trout, the half-moon bend in the rod looked awesome, but there was still enough backbone to steer the 20+ inch browns to the net.
The 804 does an even better job of dry fly presentation, but as with any 4wt, you sacrifice power and backbone for delicacy. That’s not always a bad thing – if you’re consistently catching fish 22 inches or bigger, take me with you – since not every trout requires 5wt power to land.
I fished the 804 alongside my Tom Morgan Favorite WT (804 model) and it was an incredibly close call to which rod I preferred more, for dry fly fishing. In the end, the heavier swing weight of the Superfine Carbon made me partial to the TMF, but only slightly so. I plan on buying an 804 Superfine Carbon because I don’t think my rod quiver (being the dry fly enthusiast I am) is complete without it. The 804 flexes much deeper than the TMF, so smaller fish are a lot more fun on it. The TMF has a stiffer tip, though, which lends itself well to short casts in tight quarters.
Handles streamers when you need it to
While I would never tell anyone to use this rod primarily for streamers, it will pick up and throw streamers. Granted, you want to throw streamers that you’d throw on any normal 5wt, but this rod will get the job done.
The 804 isn’t a rod I’d throw a streamer on unless you absolutely had to. And at that point, I’d overline the rod and double-haul every cast. It just doesn’t have the power to really handle streamers – but that’s not a bad thing. The 804 Superfine Carbon wasn’t built with that in mind. It was built to roll cast marvelously, throw to picky trout, and provide a full-flexing rod action.
The 905 is the rod to use if you want to nymph with a heavier nymph rig. The 804 is just a bit underpowered to throw a whole bunch of heavy flies, split shot, and an indicator. That said, two smaller flies in pocket water with the 804 is an awesome experience.
What I didn’t like
Both of these rods flex right into the cork – literally. Orvis markets these as “full-flex” rods, and that’s not just marketing mumbo-jumbo crafted to drum up sales. They have an very comparable action to bamboo, in all honesty. Crisp bamboo, but bamboo nonetheless.
However, as anyone who fishes bamboo can attest, a day spent throwing one of those rods around leaves your shoulder a bit sore. The same can be said with the Superfine Carbon rods. Even though these rods are exceptionally light, the amount of force exerted on your casting arm from the full-flex action is definitely felt after a solid 10-hour day on the water.
Uplocking Reel Seat
I’m not aware of any major rod builder, aside from Tom Morgan, that makes rods with downlocking reel seats any longer. I tried to get Winston to put a downlocking reel seat on my TMF when they built it a few months ago, and I was informed that’s something they don’t build anymore.
That being said, I think a rod with such classic action, and a full-cork grip and reel seat, should come with the downlocking reel seat option. I like the way a rod is balanced when the reel sits at the very end of the rod, and on my rods that feature a downlocker, I seem to tangle line around the reel less frequently.
Not enough power to fight stronger wind
As with any slow-action fly rod, you sacrifice power to fight wind in order to achieve delicate presentations. It’s a catch-22, but it’s one of the traits of the Superfine Carbon series that’ll make you think twice about fishing it on a gusty day. The 905 handled 10-15mph gusts on the Green decently, but I was really working the rod to get my flies where they needed to be.
I don’t know if you can find a better classic-action, dry fly rod for $425. I’m starting to really love Orvis the more I fish their rods (I’m partial to Winston, but Orvis is an incredibly close second) and I have yet to be disappointed by any Orvis rod. The Superfine Carbon series is a great option for anglers who want a rod more suited for dry flies, but don’t want to spend the big bucks for a top-of-the-line rod. You still get amazing build quality and a 25-year warranty when you buy the Superfine Carbon, and you’re only out $425. In today’s rod market, that’s a decent price.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and novelist from Utah. His debut novel, Learning to Fly, is due out in late summer 2016 from GenZ Publishing. Spencer also authors columns for the Standard-Examiner, KSL.com, Hatch Magazine, On the Fly Magazine, and the Orvis Fly Fishing Blog, and is the marketing director for Trout Life. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram @Spencer_Durrant, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/spencerdurrantauthor.