Is The Orvis Helios 3 The Most Accurate Fly Rod Ever Made?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

The Orvis H-3 is clearly one of the best fly rods to ever leave the Orvis shop, but it’s not all about the long cast.

The buzz around IFTD this year was heavy on the rod-talk. Just about every major fly rod manufacturer was brandishing their newest, tech-packed stick. At the head of the pack was the Orvis Helios 3. Developed with new materials, actions, and tapers, the H3 certainly has some big shoes to fill. The H2 was one of the best rods on the planet, with the one-piece models being some of the best rods I’ve ever thrown. Replacing the H2 was a task that Orvis did not take lightly.

The H3 comes in two different flex families. Departing from their traditional “tip flex” and “mid flex” monikers, the new Helios is available in “3D” (distance) and “3F” (feel). The hardware and aesthetics are pretty much the same for each rod with the blank color and accent colors being the only difference. The “3D” rods wear matte black, while the “3F” sports a stealthy grey. Aside from the matte black finish on the “3D”, the comfortable modified full wells grip was carried over from the H2 Covert. (Thank you Orvis!) The reel seat is machined in the same U.S. factory where the new Mirage reels are manufactured, and finished with a graphite insert. The blank is laser-straight with REC recoil snake guides and SiC/titanium stripping guides. I’d like to see some sort of a hook keeper (mainly on the heavier rods… think streamers), but it’s certainly not a deal breaker. Of course, the rod comes with a rod sock and a white aluminum rod tube that resembles the rod’s eye-catching branding.

Lets go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room…. That label…. What’s up with that?

Well let me tell you… No doubt, there are those that will hate that label. Why? It’s different. It’s bold. It demands your attention and it is far from traditional. But it is also genius. Standing out in a crowd of fly rods can be tough. Just about every rod is green, black, blue, or brown-ish without much else to set them apart, aside from their finish and craftsmanship, which can only be seen when in hand. Orvis has set the H3 apart from the crowd and we haven’t yet begun to speak on its performance, which is something to be excited about.

The idea behind the H3 design is evident. While most premium fly rods push high line speeds and long casts, Orvis wanted to develop the most accurate fly rod on the planet.

Orvis took on replacing the Helios 2 with an aggressive approach. It was not a redesign but a ground up rebuild. New tapers and materials were rolled into the blanks, but it’s what they did with those new blanks that makes the biggest difference in the performance of the H3. Developing new software and testing methods never used in the fly fishing industry, Orvis quantified blank performance in a new and precise way. They wanted the Helios 3 to be the best rod to ever come out of their rod shop, and they wanted to be able to prove it.

With each false cast, oscillations are introduced, which deflect the rod away from a straight line path. These deflections wreak havoc on accuracy, as well as robbing the angler of distance. With their new methods and new equipment, Orvis tested each section of the blank, measuring the deflections with newly developed software, which translates the data to graphs for comparison and analysis. They used the data to insure the blank would track truer and recover quicker than any rod before, creating the most accurate fly rod possible. New materials increased hoop strength, adding to the rod’s ability to resist twisting and deflecting, as well as increasing the rod’s overall strength and lifting power. Sounds pretty precise, which is exactly what Orvis was aiming for.

So does all this tech translate into performance?

Screen-Shot-2017-08-15-at-2.36.26-PMFor well over a decade, rod designers have been pushing for faster rods, higher Line Speed, and MORE DISTAAAANCE!! But how much does a 100ft cast even matter if you can’t hit the broad side of a barn? When it comes to casting, accuracy surely does matter… a lot. I’ll take a thirty-foot cast to a tea cup all day, and that’s what Orvis was after. Repeatable accuracy.

It’s refreshing to see a rod company take an approach to rod design revolved around accuracy. I’ve had the 905-4 H3D for a few months now and I’ve been throwing both Rio Grand and Cortland Trout Boss HTX floating lines, and both load the rod well and throw great with the 3D. I’ve fished with everything from dries to nymphs to streamers and it has handled each technique without a hiccup. Yes, it is still a fast rod, but the real differences are felt in the swing weight, recovery rate, and how true it tracks, which indeed does equate to better accuracy.

The tip is quick, but still soft. Don’t confuse fast with “broom stick”. At the end of each stroke, the tip recovers noticeably quicker than several of my other five weight rods. Some old, some released in the last few years. The difference in the older rods is noticeable to the naked eye, while the “slow motion” mode on your smart phone will reveal the truth when comparing the H3 to newer rods. It’s pretty impressive, actually.

The swing weight is ridiculously light and makes the departing H2 seem a little heavy, and even clunky. The feel of the rod is great. Each cast feels crisp and smooth, and can certainly reach out and punch through the wind. The whole package is certainly an improvement over its predecessor.

Be sure not to overlook the H3F. While I didn’t have the “real-world” experience with the 3F as I did with the 3D, I was able to cast several of them at IFTD and I was blown away. The HF really fit my casting style and tempo. Of course, each angler will be different, as will their casting style, which makes the H3 family, with its two distinct flex profiles, that much better. Obviously, 3F rods flex a little more into the middle of the blank, but the power and line speed needed to punch one out there is still present.

Most accurate fly rod in the world seems like kind of a big deal, right?

It’s a big claim and Orvis sure didn’t just accidentally stumble upon the secret recipe for accuracy. The new Helios 3 is wrapped up with new materials and performance backed up by science and newly developed methods for testing. It will certainly be turning heads in fly shops, and on the water. The 3D and 3F rods will suit a diverse range of anglers and fishing situations and, for me, is the best rod that Orvis could have built to replace the H2. I’m certainly looking forward to casting more models as they become available in the spring, including a one-piece H3 that will no doubt be a sweet stick. The new H3 is definitely worth a cast, and will be finding its place in the hands of many freshwater and saltwater anglers this fall.

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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17 thoughts on “Is The Orvis Helios 3 The Most Accurate Fly Rod Ever Made?

  1. I have often wondered if rod “accuracy” is just hype. I’m of the opinion that a decent rod in the hands of a good caster will put the fly where the caster wants it.

    given the many variables in casting (including your line taper, and definitely the leader) I just find it hard to believe a claim that “rod X is more accurate than rod Y”. you could have a 900 dollar rod with a 100 dollar line and if your leader design sucks, so will your accuracy.

    (I say all this as a guy who has an H1 and H2, and who is also a gear whore who will likely end up with a H3)

    • I agree.

      All this focus on gear ‘improvements’ just makes it more complex than needed. I’m sure it’s a nice rod but come on a mediocre caster will not suddenly become Mel Krieger or Steve/Tim Rajeff because of H3! 🙂

  2. I am just curious why you use a bump line if the rod doesn’t feel “broom sticky:”. It has been in my experience that a rod that needs a line such as Rio Grand has more often then not been pretty stiff. I would be interested more how you felt about the rod after having a true to line size line on it. It is absolute madness and nonsense that we use lines that are a full size heavier to load rods. As far as accuracy goes i agree completely with Chris S. But that being said I still can’t wait to get my hands on the H3 and see what the hype is about.

    • I absolutely agree, calling a rod a 5wt only to have it perform/load poorly for 90% of anglers out there with a true 5wt line is ridiculous. These manufacturers are doing anglers a disservice. Rods should be tweaked with different tapers and lines, not brought to life. Most rod manufacturers do it and it’s misleading and frustrating for consumers. If you’re going to call it a 5wt, make damn sure it throws a true 5wt line well. If it needs a 6wt line to work properly, you should have called it a 6wt to begin with! I’ve only had the chance to cast the 8wt H3 and I found there to be nothing special about it, I even preferred the H2. I haven’t cast the “freshwater” version yet so maybe there’s still hope.

  3. I am generally a Scott and G Loomis fan and generally don’t care for Orvis rods (although I love their reels and own a dozen or so). Saying that, I fished for two days on the Upper Miss for smallmouth recently and had the fortune to fish the first day with an 8wt Sage X and the second day with the H3 (feel version). I was blown away by the H3 and the Sage X didn’t compare (both rods used the same Titan Taper line). It was very accurate, felt light in hand, and while it was the softer version, felt I could throw it as far as I wanted. It was an unexpected surprise.

    My son loved it as well, here is a picture with a 20 inch he caught with the rod.

  4. Agree about the points of accuracy, not to mention wind. That being said…

    I dislike the label (obnoxious) and the rod tube. I’m a little reminded of Hank Patterson’s review of the new nippers… “who made your nippers?” “Oh yeah, ORVIS!” (in case you forget?) Or is this to try and show off you have a really high priced rod + advertising for Orvis? Not that aesthetics are everything, because they’re not. Really though, if someone is serious about getting an H3, they’re going to either find it on the rack or they’ll ask (or they’ll buy it online).

    No hook holder? Come on Orvis! Yes I know you can go around your reel and then hook onto the guides. But come on, virtually every rod has this…who made the decision to skip that feature?

    Yes, I own an Orvis rod…

    • on the hook keeper thing, I think they are good on anything 5wt and below (even though I dont use em), but I get why they dont put them on the bigger rods, and I think that comes to what happens when you cast those. most of the time you shoot those rods, and if you really let it fly the slack line at the reel can wrap around the top of the grip. its an easy fix without a hook holder, but usually requires two hands and a bit of effort if a hook keeper is there. If the fly gets grabbed really quickly after it lands, that thing can cost you the fish or it can damage the line

  5. At the H3 price point, anglers can choose from many rods that are right at the cutting edge of technology and performance. Little details like aesthetics make a big difference to consumers. I am a loyal Orvis customer (own a couple of H2s and fly lines and Hydros and Mirage reels), but I’d never buy a rod with that white label.

    • If you really want to own the rod, just wrap over the label with black tape and secure it with UV resin. Easy to remove later when you decide to sell it.

  6. I agree with Jim 100 percent.Looks do matter when someone is considering laying down nearly $900 bucks for a rod.I too am a loyal orvis customer but these H3s are simply awful,from an aethestics perspective..THey should have made the the label either green or blue depending on the model.IT would have looked much better than than the white label on a matte black blank.

  7. Pingback: Video: The Full Launch of the Helios 3 Fly Rods - Orvis News

  8. For $900 the rod should be beautiful, not a walking billboard for Orvis. Also don’t break a tip and expect a free repair. They charge $60 plus shipping and the turnaround is 5 to 6 weeks. Going back to Sage.

  9. I have used Orvis Rods for 40 years and most of their rods were a pleasure to fish with.I fish for Atlantic Salmon were there is hour,s upon hour,s of casting,the Rod not having a hook keeper is OK with me,I alway,s take them off if a certain Rod has one. They catch your fly line a lot at least they do it to me plus I use long leaders tapered to tippet,s of 6 or 8 pound test,so using leaders 13 to 15 feet when I am finished I do not like attaching the hook anywhere that leaves my butt section of leader through my tip guide,this put,s memory in the butt section of mono,I make sure when my fly is attached to the first or second guide that my fly line is through the tip eye,it leave,s a little memory but is soon gone when you start fishing again.I just received my Helious 3F today in the mail,I like the look of this Rod but not the white flag but I can live with that if it cast,s as well as they say,my latest Rod from Orvis is my Hydro,s rods,I have a 6 wt and a 9 wt,if people didn,t know, ths is the original Helios blank with lesser jewellery on it,it cast,s beautiful. Trust me,Orvis has treated me very well over the year,s.

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