How We Got Here: The All New 4th Generation Helios
How We Got Here: The All New 4th Generation Helios
I’ve fished Orvis fly rods, along with many other brands, since the mid 1980s.
My first Orvis rod purchase was a used “Graphite II” two-piece, 8-foot 6-weight, I bought at Ed’s Sport Shop in Baldwin, Michigan, back when Josephine Sedlecky, whose first husband was “Ed” (she got the shop after the divorce), still spun the most magical grasshopper patterns the world has ever known. And the reason I bought that rod was because I’d lost the Fenwick 6-weight my parents gave me for my 18th birthday, when I carelessly propped it against a phone booth in the Detroit Airport and turned my back.
Crestfallen, I soon spent the money I’d saved from a summer farmhand job on the used Orvis fly rod. I still have that rod, though I never fish it. These days, I like to think of it as “retired.”
Like most of my Michigan friends back in the 90s, I felt a gravitational pull toward the West, and that didn’t just involve the fishing (one hard-earned week on the Bighorn or Madison could change a Midwesterner’s perspective forever)–it was also about the gear. A slick new Sage 590 RPL for the staggering price of $390 was a very hard pill for my young wife to swallow at the time, but she allowed me that indulgence, and we’re still married, so it proved worth the risk.
I also took a shine around that time to the pretty green paint on Winston rods, and I was enamored with those funky ferrule connections that Scott Rods had constructed. I fell for the Hardy ruffles and flourishes, and developed a deep devotion to those lower-priced, yet straight-shooting St. Croix fly rods. I caught the Loomis bug too, and became a minor-league fly rod aficionado with a small arsenal of different weights and tapers. This coincided with the “Trident” years for Orvis, and by that time, I had turned an about-face on Orvis gear, not necessarily out of spite, rather because I had literally migrated West.
But in 2005, as I was writing for Field & Stream magazine and had also just started Angling Trade, I got invited to a media junket on the West Branch of the Delaware River, to learn about Orvis’ new “Zero Gravity” rod. I got to share a cabin with Jim LePage, whom I still think has one of the brightest minds ever to land in fly fishing. The rod was definitely good. That signaled to me that Orvis was done resting on its laurels, and wanted to make leading-edge fly rods again to win anglers like me back.
About a year or so later, I got a curious invitation from Tom Rosenbauer, whom I’d already admired (heck, I’d read everything he’d ever written), to fish with him and this “boy wonder” guy from St. Louis named Steve Hemkens. We dove deep into Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison to just go fishing, in challenging conditions, but through that experience, I came away with a deeply positive impression. Orvis was about to trust this Hemkens dude with some heavy responsibilities, and though that was a purely “social” experience, I immediately got the sense that some significant recalibrations were coming down the pike.
Hemkens, it turned out, had challenged Orvis to create the “lightest fly rod in the world,” and within only a couple years after the “Zero Gravity” launch (the typical fly rod lifespan in the American market is about five years), I got a rod sent from Vermont in a nondescript tube. “We had to,” Orvis said. “The technology is that much better. We had to kill our own rod…”
That was Helios.
I distinctly remember talking to other media folks, like Marshall Cutchin from MidCurrent, who said that when he first opened his box, he thought Orvis had forgotten to drop a rod in the tube, it was so light. But Orvis hadn’t. The “Helios” was just that light–and much lighter than “Zero Gravity.” And it was indeed a paradigm-shifter, that reverberated around the fly-fishing world and signaled that Orvis wasn’t just playing around with dog beds and women’s clothing anymore. They were dead serious about the fly rod game and weren’t just interested in its traditional base–they also weren’t afraid to take on the in vogue “western” rod companies.
In my experience, the original “Helios” was the rod that literally changed the paradigm after the year 2000. There had been others, for sure, before that: Loomis IMX, then GLX; Winston with IM6; Sage RPL and RPL+; Scott’s “G” series were all tried and true standards, and still are, to this day.
But Helios reverberated and changed everything. That was in 2007.
In 2012, I got a prototype mailed to me that had inscribed on the blank, “The Second Coming.” For the record, I still have, and fish, that rod all the time. That was Helios 2, or just H2, and the unique selling proposition there was that it was stronger, and more durable, which it apparently is, because I never broke it, though I seemed to try plenty hard.
Five years after that, according to plan, I got sent another version: Helios 3, or simply H3, and this version was a bit more refined from the casting and fishing standpoint, as well as durability.
There’s literally a rod-breaking machine at the Orvis factory in Manchester, Vermont. It bends the rod until it snaps, and the company has charted out the points on a grid behind the pulley that bends and breaks the rod: “This is how far the tip of Helios got before it broke, this is where H2 broke, where H3 broke…” And it’s true that each Helios generation bent a little bit more than the prior. Of course, a lot of other competitors’ rods have also been broken, and it’s fair to say that Orvis doesn’t put out rods that break before the competition, at least not on their own machine.
Flylab considered building a rod breaking machine of our own to test rods, but A) it hurts my feelings too much to see rods break, B) I’m still waiting months for some rods that I broke the old fashioned way to get fixed and returned, and C) Since 99% of rods get broken in car doors, screen doors, rod racks, walked into trees, stepped on, sat on, crunched in drift boats and other real world scenarios, we decided there was no way to uniformly test rods that break by being a dumb-ass.
When H3 came out, it came with a hitch: a strangely “NASCAR”-looking white graphic on the rod blank just above the grip. That was so not Orvis, and I’ve heard every explanation from “they wanted it to be distinctive,” so that you could look across the river and see another angler, and know if they were fishing H3, to the company just wanted to instigate the type of discussion we’re still having today. It was an attention-getter, no matter how you slice it.
But personally I think it’s ugly. Yet, the rod casts beautifully, is extremely versatile and despite having many mishaps mainly involving my dog and boat, I haven’t been able to break one by accident or otherwise. Heck, a rod could be chartreuse with pink polka dots and I’d still hunt one down if it could cast and fish like H3.
Now, in 2024, seven years after H3 arrived, there will be another Orvis Rod–the 4th generation of Helios.
Will it move the weight, accuracy and durability needle to another level for fly rods?
Find out what we have to say about the all new 4th generation Helios in our new rod review...
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