Review: Orvis Helios 8’5” 7wt

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By Justin Pickett

Designed to make fast, accurate shots into tight quarters, and pull beasties from their hidden lairs.

The new generation Orvis Helios has been out in the wild for a while now and we’ve had our hands on a few of them over the past several months. Looking back, the Helios 3 was, and still is, a great rod with a focus on quantifying accuracy, and was considered by many as a benchmark in the industry for six years, which is a longer tenure than most generations of rods are on the market. 

With this ground-up redesign, the team at the Orvis Rod Shop aimed to improve upon the performance and durability of the H3 with the new Helios, bringing new materials and new manufacturing processes to the table. The Helios sports increased recovery (vertical deflection), improved tracking (lateral deflection), and significantly increased  hoop strength of the blank. We’ve been fortunate to see and feel what these new Helios rods bring to the water and we like it!

Right out of the box, the new-generation Helios is sheltered in an aluminum rod tube that’s been given a coat of light gray paint to match the updated branding on the rod blank, and is topped off by a black, knurled cap where the rod model is laser etched for quick identification. The rod sock offers up a simple and pleasant new design. There are no strings to tie. A simple clasp sewn into a small strap wraps around the sock and snaps to keep it neatly rolled. There are no loose strings and this snap-strap just simplifies storing your rod. 

The branding of the new Helios is similar to the previous H3. A little less Nascar this go-round, but the white label remains with a touch of grey and a different font. The rod weight and length is printed on top of the label at the base of the butt so the angler can easily identify a rod. The cork remains flor-grade with one obvious change in the grips; Composite cork has been added to the forward section of the grips in all saltwater/big game weights, as well as the fighting butts, in order to combat breakdown from wear and tear. Composite cork has not been added to the grips of the finesse or trout, and is only found on the fighting butt of the tactical nymph rods. The feel of the composite cork is great and very welcomed. 

The reel seat is black anodized aluminum with double up-locking rings. The reel foot lock rides on a rail to prevent spinning and there is a polyurethane ring between the two locking rings that improves the bite and prevents them from loosening while fishing or traveling. 

Looking down the blank, it is laser straight. Even with modern manufacturing techniques, there are always little imperfections here and there. That’s just part of having something made by hand. However, this rod seems just about perfect from butt-to-tip. 

Another welcomed addition to the rod is the full set of REC recoil snake guides that adorn the blank with the exception of the titanium framed stripping guides that were chosen to reduce weight. The H3 didn’t have recoil guides and it’s a definite improvement. Each guide foot is tight and snaps right back after being held flat against the blank. This 8’5” 7wt 4D is painted a with a nice flat black that has a tiny bit of texture to it. All 4F rods receive matte olive paint. Orvis sticks with this flat paint throughout all models of the Helios, which I’m glad to see.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter, the performance of the rod and how it fishes. 

Recently, I’ve been fishing this rod for bass, as well as a handful of days throwing streamers for trout. Most of the fishing that I enjoy this time of year involves wading for Shoal Bass in the smaller tributaries of middle Georgia. In these smaller tribs, fish typically hold tight to banks and structure adjacent to current, especially in the hottest parts of the day. There is no shortage of low canopy and riparian vegetation on these feeder streams so most of my shots are tight and accuracy is paramount. It isn’t often that I get to make a backcast that’s proportionate in length to my forward cast and it isn’t uncommon for me to use my rod to pitch-n-flip, or even use a bow-and-arrow cast to present my fly into some of these tight spots. The Helios meets these specific needs like a champ.

This 8’5” 7-weight rod isn’t just a chopped down version of the nine-foot 7-weight. This new rod has its own specific taper and action designed to make fast, accurate shots into tight quarters, and pull beasties from their hidden lairs. Don’t let the length of this rod fool you into thinking that the action is going to be broomstick-ish. It is far from it. As one might expect, the butt of this rod has the gusto to pull on a big, surging fish and take control of a fight, but the tip of this rod was a bit of a surprise to me when it came to the action. It’s flexy, and more so than I expected. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s no noodle, but there is more flex in the tip of this rod than any of Orvis’s nine foot saltwater rods that gives it the ability to load fast and protect tippet.

This review is based on my own experience, fishing preferences, and fly casting skills (bad habits included). Everyone has their own opinion of what a rod should look like, feel like in the hand, and how it should perform on the water. Everyone’s cast is different and experience varies. The best thing for any angler to do when it comes to buying a new rod is to go to a shop and cast it if possible, and preferably with fly lines that are appropriate for your fishing needs so you know exactly how that rod will fish when you get it on the water. With these things in mind, I threw several different types and weights of fly lines with this rod in order to find both what I like best, and what other anglers might prefer to try on this rod. 

The lines that I tested on this rod varied in labeled weight from 6-weight to 9-weight, and were a mix of floating lines and various sink-tip lines. When I gathered these lines together, I didn’t give any attention to their labeled line weights, since many lines are anywhere from one-half to two line sizes heavier depending on the application they are intended for. Instead, I chose lines based on the AFFTA standard weights, which measures the weight of the first thirty feet of the fly line. To keep things standard, I installed each line on the same reel so that the only variable was the line itself. Below, I’ve listed these fly lines and I have also listed the grain weight of the first thirty feet of the line in parentheses with the exception of those that are labeled with grain weights from the manufacturer. In doing so, I hope this gives you, the reader, a starting point and an idea of how you might like to setup this rod should you be interested in getting one for yourself.

SA Amplitude Titan Long WF6F (210Gr) and WF8F (280Gr)

SA Magnitude Saltwater Infinity Clear WF8F (225Gr)

Orvis Warmwater/Bass WF9F (260Gr)

Airflo Streamer Max 30ft 300Gr Sink Tip

SA Sonar Titan Trout Express Sink Tip 210Gr and 240Gr

Rio Streamer Tip WF6F/I (210Gr)

First, I’d like to state that this rod will throw all of them well. It was interesting and a lot of fun to throw all of these different lines on this rod and be able to see and feel how the rod reacted to each line’s taper and weight. To avoid being too long-winded and droning on about how the rod performed with each fly line, I’ll break things down more simply. 

If you prefer carrying more line during your cast, you will likely prefer to line this rod with something that is closer to the 7-weight AFFTA standard, such as the SA Titan Long 6WT, the Trout Express 210 grain line, or the 6WT Rio Streamer Tip. While both lines are labeled as 6-weights, they perform wonderfully on this rod and are closer in grain-weight to a standard 7-weight line than the rest of these lines. 

If you tend to shoot line to your target, then you may opt for a heavier line, such as Titan Long 8WT and the the Trout Express 240 grain sinking line. These heavier lines bend the rod much deeper into blank to satisfy the angler who wants to shoot line to their target. For me, the Airflo sinking line is approaching the realm of “why would I do this?”, but it will get the job done. As expected, the 300 grain head slows the action of this rod significantly. 

When it comes to fly lines for this rod, I feel like the heavy side of optimal performance is in the range of 270-280 grains, but that’s just my input. After fishing this rod around my home waters, I’ve decided to stick with the 8-weight SA Infinity taper. The longer head and taper gives me control when I am able to make longer casts, as well as the ability to carry heavier flies with more stability. While the 225 grain head is a little heavier than I would typically prefer, in combination with the taper, this line gives me just the right amount of weight to easily work this rod at shorter ranges while also making skip-casts and roll casts a ton of fun as well. 

The overall performance of this rod is what you should expect from a premium fly rod. In my experience, the Helios performed consistently, and achieving repeatable results was not arduous. With each cast, the Helios 8’5” 7-weight translated energy smoothly down the blank, and I was able to consistently make accurate casts into tight spaces time-after-time. The fish fighting capabilities of this rod are optimal for an angler who is looking for a rod with the power to pull a fish from cover while also protecting lighter tippet. When the water gets low and clear, I often find myself reaching for eight-pound, and sometimes as light as five-pound, test tippet in order to try and fool some of these bigger fish. Having the added benefit of some tippet protection while trying to pull a fish away from cover is a very welcomed bonus.

The new Orvis Helios D 8’5” 7-weight can be purchased for $1098 at Orvis.com, or at your local Orvis dealer. All Orvis Helios rods come with a 25 year warranty that covers any defects or breakage. Thanks to new manufacturing processes, all Clearwater, Recon, Mission, Helios 3, and the new Helios rods have interchangeable sections and can be repaired by simply shipping a new rod section to replace the broken one, which gets you back on the water in under a week. If the rod section can’t be fixed or replaced, then Orvis will send you a new rod. If your rod has been discontinued, they will send you the newest generation equivalent rod. 

I’ve had the pleasure of busting a Recon and a Helios 3 since Orvis began this new program. I simply filled out the online form describing which section I needed to replace, paid the $60 replacement fee, and I was done. With each rod, I received a new replacement section in three days. It was well worth it to me, and something you might consider if you’re interested in purchasing a new fly rod. 

Thank You to the awesome folks at Orvis for sending us a loaner rod and allowing us time to fish it so we could write up this review!

Justin Pickett

Gink & Gasoline

www.ginkandgasoline.com

hookups@ginkandgasoline.com 

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