By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
April 13, 2018
The Orvis Helios 3F 8’6″ 4wt is the best all-around trout rod for anglers in the Rockies.
Yes, I recognize that the “best” anything is subjective. Then again, the angling community has reached a consensus on the size 14 Adams and tan caddis as the two best dry flies of all time, right? Kidding aside, the new Orvis Helios 3 has the potential to become as widely accepted as those two timeless patterns.
Since I started fly fishing, Winston rods have been my go-to stick. The Orvis Helios 3 has a real chance to change that. The rod comes in two different designations — the 3F for “feel” and the 3D for “distance.” Performance differences exist between the two designations, but little changes in terms of rod design.
In fact, aside from the “NASCAR” sticker, as my buddy Sean Johnson dubbed it, nothing else about the appearance of an Orvis Helios 3 grabs your attention. If it’s on a rod rack next to something from Winston, Scott, Hardy, or Sage, it’d be easy to pass right over it. Hell, the H2 is more aesthetically pleasing than the H3.
But that’s what’s so great about the Helios 3. It’s a rod without the frills. It’s all business, built to cast straighter and deliver flies exactly where you feel they need to be. At $849, the Orvis Helios 3 is priced with the rest of the top-tier fly rods.
What I Liked
From the moment I first fished this rod I fell in love with its effortless casting stroke. I’ve fished Winstons for so long for that same reason, and the Orvis Helios 3, in both the F and D configurations, casts superbly.
With the 8’6″ 4wt model, I didn’t notice exceptionally high line speed. A few of the faster Sage rods get a fly line moving quicker, but that’s partly to compensate for torsional stability. A slower line speed means a more relaxed, careful casting style, which the Orvis Helios 3 delivers admirably.
Orvis bills this rod as “accurate from anywhere.” In the hands of a competent caster, the H3 will absolutely sing. In the hands of an average angler like myself? Well, it felt a bit unfair – for the fish, of course – that I could fling a dry-dropper rig beneath branches on the first try.
I will say that there’s a notable accuracy difference between this rod and most of my other 4-weights. Orvis engineered the H3 to track straight and wobble as little as possible, and those are two aspects of rod building that are universally accepted as impacting accuracy.
No Swing Weight
My buddy Hyrum fishes Sage rods like they’re going out of style. I broke his 9′ 4wt Sage X earlier this week, and offered to let him borrow a 4wt Winston while the X got repaired.
“Man, I don’t wanna downgrade,” was his reply.
And in some ways, he’s right. The first time I threw the X – and all subsequent times I’ve fished one of Hyrum’s – the lack of swing weight catches me off guard.
The Orvis Helios 3 is no different. You feel the line load on your front and back cast, but aside from that, the swing weight is nearly unidentifiable.
It’s Not Fancy
If you’re going to spend $849 on a fly rod, it might as well have some fancy accouterments, right? Well, just about every rod company would agree with you.
Orvis took things in a different direction with the H3, though. Instead of adding nickel silver, decorative wraps, or hand lettering, they slapped a matte gray finish on the H3F and spent the rest of the money on the blank.
It shows, because the Orvis Helios 3 outperforms nearly every other rod I own (my Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is the exception).
I love the fact that Orvis went all-in on making the best blank possible, creating a tool more than a piece of functional art. There’s something refreshing about the blue-collar attitude the H3 possesses. Aside from the high-grade cork, tight wraps, and even coats of epoxy, little else aesthetically points to the Orvis Helios 3 performing at the level it does.
What I Didn’t Like
No Hook Keep
The Helios 3 doesn’t come with a hook keep wrapped above the winding check. There’s a giant sticker in the way, so it’s understandable it’s not there. But there’s not a hook keep recessed under the reel seat hood, or elsewhere, for that matter.
Orvis Marketing Director Tom Rosenbauer told me they polled anglers on whether or not they wanted a hook keep. The response was split down the middle, so Orvis went without one.
It’s not a deal breaker, but I’d love to see the option for one on the rod.
I know, I know – this is a review of a 4wt and I’m complaining about backbone. But hear me out. The Orvis Helios 3 fights fish well, and the way the rod flexes, you’re not going to break off light tippet unless you try.
But there’s not nearly as much backbone for casting my traditional dry-dropper-dropper rig. A three-fly rig is a standard setup in my part of the Rockies. Perhaps it was the line I was using – a true-to-weight WF4F from Scientific Anglers – but the Helios 3 didn’t turn over that big rig as easily as other 4-weights do.
Lack of a hook keep aside, the Orvis Helios 3 is a stellar rod. I loved the H2, and so do tons of other anglers. Hell, John Gierach busted one out when he and I fished the Green River in March. But the H3 outpaces its predecessor by a mile. Smooth casting, no swing weight, and a no-frills blue-collar appearance combine to make it the best trout rod for the Rockies that I’ve ever fished.
Spencer Durrant is the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media, and a nationally-recognized fly fishing writer. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.