The Orvis Helios 2, The Big O is Back

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Every once in a while a rod surprises you.

I think it’s fair to expect that in over a hundred and fifty years of making fly rods there will be ups and downs. Orvis has seen its share and they get a lot of trash for it but when you look at their record there have been far more good years than bad. I like Orvis as a company. I always have, but I admit that when I picked up the new Helios 2, my expectations were limited.

I’ve owned a few Orvis rods. Some better than others, but it’s been a while since I had one I really loved. I think that’s just changed. My new Helios 2- 9′ 4 weight mid flex is, in my opinion, the best fly rod Orvis has produced recent memory. I had the chance to fish it for the first time on the Delaware and it proved itself on the first fish.

Most readers will know the Delaware’s reputation as one of the best and most challenging dry fly rivers in the east. It’s well deserved. I fished it with Chris Budro from Orvis and our guide put us on rising fish less than a hundred yards from the launch. My first shot at a Delaware brown trout was not an easy one. A sixty foot backhand cast from the back of the boat to a trout sipping BWOs in the soft current on the far side of a seam.

The only way to get him was to throw a backhanded curve cast, landing the fly downstream of the leader, giving me a good six feet of drift. He was a picky fish but I worked him and he eventually ate. The Helios 2 performed flawlessly, landing cast after cast with delicacy and accuracy. I would not have caught that fish with a lesser rod.

I’ve fished it extensively over the last couple of months. Having had the opportunity to fish it in a variety of conditions I have to say, I love it all the more. It has gone from a rod I needed to fish in order to write a review, to a rod I wanted to fish because of how it performs. In the process the Helios 2 has put me on some very nice fish. The little 4 weight had no problem handling a ten pound rainbow for me.

The action of this rod is hard to describe. It has a wonderful feel while maintaining a fast recovery rate. It’s definitely a mid flex rod but it will surprise you with its line speed. Tight loops are no problem. When you hook up, the Helios 2 has remarkable authority over a fish. The tip is soft enough to spare light tippet, while the butt and mid let you show them who’s boss.

Fly-Rods_Orvis-Fly-Rods_Orvis-Helios-2_Orvis-Helios-2_60983_Alternate4_600The really innovative part of the design shows in the weight, or lack of it. The Helios 2 is remarkably light. 25% lighter than previous models. That’s a huge difference in the weight of a rod. The lighter rod pays off twice. It’s less fatiguing to fish, which is a real pleasure but the action benefits as well. There is an inherent crispness that a rod gains just from the removal of weight. In addition, the engineering behind the Helios 2 produces a more responsive rod with greater strength.

In addition, it’s lovely. The hardware is delicate and beautiful. The finish is outstanding and even the rod tube is good looking and innovative. Orvis rolls their own graphite rod tube for the Helios 2 which weighs next to nothing. It may sound silly, but with all the gear I carry, I love it! I’d love to have Orvis tubes for all my rods.

Kent and I recently toured the rod shop at Orvis and I was impressed by some of the innovative changes they’ve made. I have to say that the material cutting process Orvis uses is the most precise I have ever seen and quality control has been taken to a whole new level. The change behind the change is the most significant. The people.

The new Orvis is full of young, energetic, highly educated folks at the very top levels of the design process. Guys who are not satisfied with doing what has worked for years. Guys who want to do something bad ass. And they have. Their spirit comes through in the new Helios 2.

This rod is spirited and precise. It is powerful while retaining a delicate feel. It is a finely tuned fishing instrument. Best of all it comes with Orvis’s customer service, which is the best in the business.

There. I’ve written my review. Perhaps the most telling thing I can say is that, now it’s written, I’m going fishing and I’m taking my Helios 2.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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35 thoughts on “The Orvis Helios 2, The Big O is Back

  1. Louis – thank you for the review. I’ve been looking into moving forward with an H2. Would you recommend the 9′ 4wt for smallmouth? Have you fished the 10′ 4wt?



    • I have fished the 9’5wt for Smallies a great deal this fall. It is great for handling the fight of the fish, but not always the best for throwing the often large and heavy flies that I use.

      If I was going to spend money for an H2 to fish for bass, I think I would go with the 9’6wt. The 6wt has a bit more backbone and would handle the large streamers I throw a bit better.

      Also, one of these responses came from Mike Schmidt – if he is Michigan’s Mike, then he is a pretty intense, well respected smallie fisherman (well fisherman in general, but I have seen pictures of some of the bass he has caught). He wrote that the 6’6wt, tip-flex is his go-to streamer rod.

      Remember, the thing to note with the H2 (as with most Orvis rods) is that you can also chose a rod’s flex point. My 5wt is a mid-flex. The slower nature of that action may be a contributing factor to why I do not like casting large heavy streamers as much as lighter flies.

      Most of my favorite streamer rods (9’7wt Cortland Big Sky, and 9’6’7wt Heritage Streamer) are very fast action rods.

      Anyway, good luck with the decision. I do not think you can go wrong with the H2.

      • I would assume that most 5wt rods are not designed through big heavy streamers. 6 wt and 7 wt would be the preferred weight of rod for small mouth, unless you where dead drifting nymphs. That 5 weight is probably a great trout rod on open western streams when nymphing or dry fly fishing for trout.

      • Just my 2 cents. The 10’4wt is an awesome rod, I would not fish for smaillies (we have Guadalupe bass) with anything smaller than a 6wt though. My experience with Bass Fishing and Guiding (a little) here in Central Texas is go big. My go to Rod for bass is an 8wt, That said I LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!! my 9’6″ 6wt. again just my 2 cents

  2. Agreed! Shawn Combs and the boys are making huge strides and the H2 is towards the top of that list. The H2 6wt tip flex quickly became my go to streamer rod. Power, precision, feel.

  3. I recently stumbled into ownership of a Helios 2, the 9′ 5wt. I have to admit that it has become one of my favorite rods to fish. Lately, I find myself having to remember that I have other rods, including the Hardy Zenith (also a 9′ 5wt) that need to be fished.

    I really like the way the Helios 2 and think it preforms very well with dries and soft hackles on my local streams (including the WB of the Delaware). I do not like it as much with heavier streamers, but that could just be me. When I think I will use weighted flies, I generally take the Zenith – which handles everything very nicely.

    The Helios has landed some large Delaware Browns, as well as big fish on the WB of the Ausable for me. Which has been great.

    As another plug to Orvis, their new (relatively) Hydros 3D trout line is great to cast, floats high, and has not problem turning over anything I cast. It is easily as good, if not better, than any other “trout” specific line out there.

  4. Aren’t we giving rods too much credit?…

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Orvis for their tradition in fly fishing and their heritage (I have several of their older Superfine graphite and bamboo rods I love).

    I think the ‘… the rod performed superb…’ type of raves is probably 80% the casting ability of the fisherman, 10% the excitement of a new rod in the hand and 10% real(?) improvement (or disappointment) of the rod.

    Excellent casters can cast any rod well. Ones preference for faster or more moderate action will determine if a rod feels good to him (or her)?

    I love trying out different rods. I even love casting tight loops with super fast rods, but for my fishing I prefer a medium-fast rod.

    What do you think about my comment?

    • Jay –

      I agree with you, that any rod can be used to cast by a decent fly fisherman. In fact, I remember seeing video of Lee and Joan Wulff casting a fly line without a rod.

      That said, there is a reason that I (as well as so many others) enjoy casting, eying and occasionally (read as often as I can afford) purchasing new fly rods.

      The design, action and even appearance, lend themselves to our ravings/rankings/reviews. But there is also more to it than just that. There is the weight of the rod/blank and the flex and on occasion even the purpose for which the rod was designed (spey, switch, saltwater, etc).

      There is also how the rod performs on the water. It is one thing to cast a line on a grass patch outside of a fly shop. While it is clearly another thing to cast a fly on the water and then fight a fish.

      I have cast rods that I loved, until I fought my first large trout. And others, that did not seem like they would do well with big fish, only to find out I was wrong.

      So while I agree, that it is not all rod (in a review) I also believe that it is not all fisherman either.

    • I would tend to agree with you for most reviews (like if you go on the site and the customer reviews are all like ZOMG this thing is awesome). Most of those people just took the thing out on the lawn and fired a few casts with it and thought it was just the best thing ever.

      Serious reviewers take the thing out in the field for a long time and look for reasons to hate it. I’ve had a few rods that I just flat out didn’t like in the field, but I love lawn casting them. I’ve had mine for a season. The H2 is one of those rods that was so nice in the field I stopped noticing the rod all together. I’m a pretty good caster, and I can fish pretty much any rod, but that thing like becomes an extension of my arm, and I’m repeatedly drilling poppers into dinner plate sized breaks in cover at 75 feet with one or two back casts. In moments like that I just giggle, and I notice the rod again. There are rods I just flat out can’t do that with. That moment is when I know a rod is good. I don’t notice the rod when using it, AND It’s actually making me more effective on the water.

      I’m totally with you, when I see someone on a site say “This rod performs awesome” I am generally skeptical. I dont want to believe them. Thats when I start looking for the really in depth reviews.

      I think my favorite test is when I teach a new angler to cast, on a beater SA starter rod, a rod I still use as a backup. Then just for kicks I hand them one of my rigs and you can see the “holy sh#$” moment on their face when they cast it. They have no idea what a Helios or Loomis or Sage rod is, or that it cost me 8 bills. It’s the ultimate unbiased test of the differences in rod design.

      As Michael says above, its probably not ALL rod, but if the rod is good, its not ALL fisherman either

      • Chris, very well said. I agree 100%.

        As a note, I have fished my H2 (9’5wt for one summer/fall season) and my Zenith (9’5wt for 2+ years).

        In your words, both are extensions of my arm, and are not tools I am thinking about.

        • In just about 30 years of fly fishing (started with a junk glass rod wen I was 14), the rods I fish are nearly all made during periods of 1980’s (Orvis Superfines) and mid 1990’s (Sage LL, SP, Loomis IMX).

          What I’m trying to say is what makes the rods of the past 10 years (Sage XP, TCR, Ones, Orvis Helios, Hardy Zeniths, etc.) all in common? They are with a few exceptions all fast t ultra-fast rods. What is considered as THE way of fly fishing? Casting chunky woolly buggers and hoppers to the banks from a wobbly drift boat…

          Basically the casting abilities of fly fishermen hasn’t improved with the stiffness of the rods of the past years. Just take a look at dozen recent-ish videos of fly fishing on Youtube and I’ve yet to see a nice tight loop cast with a relaxed well timed cast. Yet most fly fishermen are thinking they are casting ‘fabulous’ or need the ‘high performance’ rods…

          So, what does all this mean?
          My guess is all these premium rods largely fool fly fishermen with mediocre casting abilities by thinking the rod is great (it casts a mile…) and toss a hopper, a wooly bugger or a nymph with HUGE Wagamana bobbers) and think they are fly fishing…

          Hand anyone a medium-fast rod, a tiny weighted nymph or a dry fly and ask them to carefully approach that trout hiding under that branch and tell them do no more than 2 false casts to drop the fly two feet above the fish…

          OK, let’s talk now about rods & fly fishing…

          • Jay,
            Forgive me I’m a Limey and don’t quite get the point you are trying to make sir. Are you saying that every rod produced in the last 10 years is super fast? I have a Helios 9′ #6 and its a mid flex rod. Not fast in my view. Likewise the Superfine. Through action and bends to about a foot behind the handle! In my experience I have seen people that are as you say mediocre casters get beaten up by fast rods. Tailing loops and “wind knots” by the hundred. Casts that crash into the water. Casting ability is needed to be able to enjoy a rod. I think from your post we are a little alike in preferring mid to tip or medium fast rods. The new H2 is a very nice tool. I tried the 9′ #6 Mid flex to replace the old Helios equivalent and did not like it. The tip flex H2 version is as you may say on your side of the pond “a doozy” ? Yet I don’t like the old Helios tip flex rod. I also tried the new lower priced rods called the Encounter which I think is nice.
            Oh and in the UK we rarely use small weight rods to throw big flies. And Chris S your comment on the light bulb moment of using one nice but cheap rod and then using a really well set up outfit is a delight to see. And it can be as simple as using a different line that makes the difference IMHO.
            So there you go. A Limey’s musings. Look forward to the replies.

      • Well said.
        I have Roped my entire life just started fly fishing again a couple years ago.
        I beat the heck out of the water with a beginner rod then moved up to the H2 9′ #5 tip flex WOW a great rod can make you a better caster you still have to do your part. I am looking to buy a second H2 and thinking that I want a 9′ #4 mid flex.
        A GOOD ROPER CAN CATCH WITH ANY ROPE. BUT, GOOD ROPERS HAVE GOOD ROPES. I believe the same applies to Fly Fishing

  5. Great informative review. I actually have just bought the H2 7′ 4wt and it has not arrived yet. Have you fished the 7′ 4weight mid flex or the smaller weight models?

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  7. Hi Keith,

    I think your reply corresponds with what I wrote:

    1) No, not all current rods are fast but the majority of rods are generally fast rods. Certainly when compared to ‘old school’ rods.

    Rods that are considered slow just won’t sell causing a risk to rod manufacturers.

    2) Most fly fishermen have mediocre casting abilities.

    Your idea about lines is very true: a good (casting) line is actually more important than a good(?) rod.

    • Agreed on the lines. Different line + same rod = different rod?
      Like I said I am in the UK and we have a lot of small streams in my area. They are mainly smaller than 40feet wide. The Orvis Superfine Trout Bum and Superfine Touch are spot on for fishing them. And they are slower rods. I think folks need to try the tools before just accepting what someone else likes as what the like. If a fast rod works for you then fine. I’m with you on the mid to tip action rods sir. And yes the manufacturers do have to go with the current trend for fast stuff. DID they (the manufacturers) create the need though?

  8. Thanks for the review, Louis. I’d like to know how it compares against the Sage ONE, as I haven’t cast the Helios 2 to-date. I have cast the Scott Radian against the Sage Method and the ONE, and while I really liked the Method — I ended up preferring the ONE.

    I also just learned last week that Sage has ‘reinvented’ their G5 Technology that was used in the popular Z-Axis rod and that Sage will be offering that new technology in a new rod called the ACCEL. The ACCEL is scheduled for release in August. So, I’m hoping to cast the Helios 2 and the ACCEL towards the end of summer, then make a decision on a new rod.

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  10. Anyone having durability issues with H2?
    Mine just broke for the second time in less than a year.
    I have been very disappointed.
    Yes orvis will replace but I am not pleased

    • I just broke 2 brand new H2’s switch 8wts this week. I have a Sage ONE and 2 Echo3 2 handers and never had any issues. The H2 broke right at the first ferrule both times, and both the first time out. I had a GoPro on and you can see the break right as I start the forward cast. I sent the video to the local store and they are sending it to Vermont. Orvis service is great, but you can’t replace lost time on the water. They are sending me another but I’m gun shy now, feel I should just get my money back and spend another $95 on the SageX.

      • Sorry to hear that William. Rods break for a lot of reasons, but I don’t think thats typical for the H2. I have 4 of them and fish them hard with no issues. I only know one other angler who has broken one, and I know folks who have broken X rods too. All of the companies you mention make great rods. It sounds like you had some bad luck.

        • Louis,
          Thanks for the response. Id be interested to know if any of your H2 rods are switch rods? It seems that most of the issues that I have heard of in the past few weeks are on the switches. It seems they can’t take the torque of the sustained anchor cast. and break in the but section.

          • I broke 3 H2 rods.
            All 9′ 5 wts. Tip and mid flex.
            These specs are consistant with all the rods coming into central Pa shops broken. Once again I would like to mention I have many Orvis products and this is the only I have a negative experience with.

          • Fished my Echo 3 7114 this summer. zero issues. Switched back to my 3rd H2 7114 and broke it after 2 days in the exact same spot as the other 2. I actually babied it , checked the ferrules ever regularly , they were waxed, tight, broke on the same spot as the other 2. Right below the first ferrule. I absolutely loved the way it casts, but I don’t think it was truly designed to take the torque of a Skagit cast.
            I love Orvis reels! Iove the recon! and Orvis customer service goes above and beyond. I did get a full refund and replaced it with an X. So far it has outlasted the H2. Meaning it has survived more than 3 days of casting. it is Interesting that as hot a switch rods are right now, Orvis is down to only one model for sale.

      • Yeah i loved the way the H2 felt in had but after breaking 3 in 45 days i gave up.
        Full refund from Orvis and purchased a Scott Radian which i love and has performed awesome

  11. I am surprised at the comment that not many reports of the H2 breaking.
    Local pro shops in Central pa have infomed me they have a lot of the H2 rods coming in. That information from these well respected shops is what made my decision easy after the 3rd rod broke.
    I fish the Scott Radian the same way i fish the H2 and have not had an issue.

    • This has spurred me to write an article on the subject. Don’t take this personally, but anglers break rods. I have a good friend who broke 2 H-2s, but it was totally his fault. The way he fights fish is not good for a high performance graphite rod. He’s much happier now fishing a Superfine Glass. I have 4 H-2s ranging from 4wt-11wt and I fish them hard. I’ve never had an issue.

      • Do not take it personally at all.
        Orvis makes great products with customer service that can not be matched.
        The H2 just was not for me.
        Please let me know where i can find your article.

      • Id love it if I ever had a chance to fight a fish on my 2 H2’s, so far they both broke while casting. I’ve seen the same complaint on other sites as well. Don’t get me wrong. Other than the H2 I love Orvis. I’v got 8 Orvis reels, a few packs, and a bunch or Trout Bum stuff. I love Orvis, the customer service is 2nd to none other. I’ve just had a bad experience with the H2 switch. My 3rd replacement is in the 4runner now waxed and waiting for a day above 27 degrees to go fish a run or two to see if I can keep it together. My feeling is pretty soon ill be walking out of the woods again with the sections in my hand and the reel in my pack. Hope I’m wrong, but something is up with these rods, and its not a new problem judging by the recall a few years back and the comments ive read and heard. If its me, (and its not) my Echo’s and Sage are all fine. for $895 you shouldn’t have to worry about the rod, only what’s in the water up ahead.

        • I’ve been fishing with the 9′ 5wt since it came out with no issues whatsoever. With that said, I’ve had two buddies who are continuously breaking the 8wt switch. I wonder if the issue is with the big game rods?

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