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Freshwater Rods

Orvis Helios 9-foot 5-weight Fly Rod

Orvis’ 4th Generation Helios is all about accuracy.
Kirk Deeter author.
Kirk Deeter
February 7, 2024
Orvis | Helios 9-foot 5-weight Fly Rod
product description
“Available in both Distance and Finesse actions, Helios is the most advanced fly rod ever conceived, and the culmination of nearly two decades of constant progression. Pushing accuracy into the realm of total intuition, it represents the industry’s biggest leap forward to date.” – Orvis
company ethos
“We live to develop and share our equipment, apparel and expertise to outfit deeper connections and authentic experiences in the outdoors for a more inspired life.” – Orvis

Tracking.

Let’s talk about tracking.  

Because that’s what Orvis just staked a multi-million-dollar rod model launch on–and that will, no doubt, shape the future of Orvis rods.

Welcome to the world, “Helios”–not “Helios 4,” “Helios Next,” or “Super Helios”–just, once again, “Helios.”   

Product story

This new creation from Orvis was built on a platform of providing “supreme accuracy.” How does that happen? The best laboratory measure is to specifically gauge how the rod “tracks.” Tracking is all about how the rod tip travels as you make forward and backward casts. If it wobbles around, no bueno. If it slices a nearly perfect straight line as you cast, that’s good. 

Orvis built a machine to test this tracking performance. Flex the rod, release it (using an archery release) and then record the path the rod tip travels with a special camera device. If the graph looks like a plate of spaghetti, not so good. If it looks like a pen retracing itself, up and down, that’s good.

Orvis did this test with 29 rod models, including some of their own, and, not surprisingly, this new Helios graded out best. Yeah, sure, it’s Orvis’ own machine, and, obviously, the company wasn’t going to release a rod that came in second place in its own test. For the record, the other top “contenders” in this mix were the rods I’ve already touted for their accuracy.

(Side note: It’s about time the rod companies drilled down on accuracy over distance, because in almost every trout fly-fishing scenario, anywhere in the world, accuracy counts for so much more than the ability to make a hero, distance cast.)

Performance

I have fished three versions of the new Helios: the standard 9-foot 5-weight in a “F” for “finesse;” a 10-foot 6-weight “D” for “distance” version; and the 8-foot 5-inch 7-weight in the salt (which I think is especially sweet).

I fished the 5-weight most. I fished it in Vermont, on the Battenkill, and more extensively in Colorado, on a few rivers. I fished it with dry flies, nymph rigs and streamers. For the sake of simplicity, that’s the rod this review will focus on.

It’s noticeably lighter than most 5-weight rods I’ve ever cast, including Helios 3–it comes in at 3.77 ounces, and the company also says it’s 10 percent lighter in terms of swing weight.

It seems more accurate, but how does one really judge? Orvis’ graphs say it’s four times more accurate, but until I build my own “tracking tester” machine (and I will) I’m not taking anyone’s word for it. I’m just going to cast.  

For me, the best accuracy test is a simple autumn exercise. I cut the flies off and watch for leaves floating down the river. They drift, they sink, they resurface. And if I can pick out a leaf and drop the cast on it in the brief windows when it’s floating, that, to me, simulates how to make an accurate cast in a timeframe that matters.

I did a lot of timed target casting on the lawn also (40-feet in four seconds) with about 10 rods I like. I found that I could “will” casts intuitively with Helios. I feel that with a handful of other rods also, but Helios distinguishes itself, for me, with moving targets.

So I’m buying the accuracy spiel, but every caster is different and you need to feel it for yourself to decide if tracking even matters to you, and if this rod matches your stroke.

Now, of course, there are a few other very important factors to consider as well. 

Design and more

First, is durability. I’ve learned the hard way that anyone can break any fly rod if they try hard enough. For the record, Orvis also has a rod-breaking machine, and this new Helios is remarkably less prone to flex breakage than any other rod the company has built. Which is saying a lot, because I’ve never broken any Orvis rod on a fish. And, when it comes to warranties and what happens when you break your fancy rod, one way or another, Orvis clearly laps the field in terms of replacement and getting you back on the water. It isn’t close. This is a realm where Orvis has a stranglehold on the competition. (I’m still waiting on a Winston fix I submitted in August.)

Aesthetics. They’ve toned down the total “NASCAR” look, with the gaudy logo on the rod blank above the grip, that I personally think marred H3. To me, the new design still isn’t clicking–it’s like building an iconic Aston Martin, and putting a spoiler and whitewall tires on it. I don’t begin to understand this. It might be a generational thing. You might dig the look. And at the end of the day, all I really care about is how the rod casts. I’d fish a new Helios if it were purple with pink polka dots.

Cost. We’re talking $1100 for a fly rod, $1200 for saltwater models. That’s a lot of money. But that’s where all the top-end rods are ending up these days. I’m really starting to ask myself where it all ends. How much lighter can rods get? Do they have to cast themselves? Do you really need all that? Heck no, just like you don’t need a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz to drive from point a to point b. This is all an exercise in high-end engineering, design and manufacturing.

I also think if you’re going to market a rod based on how accurate it is, that’s really a matter of “feel,” right? So while there are 29 rods in the lineup, and the importance of feel (finesse) transitions to distance as casters evolve from freshwater to saltwater, I think any “distance” trout rod is basically a prop for bad to mediocre casters. Which is fine, if that’s you, and that’s what you need. Truth is, to turn any “D” into an “F”, just put a heavier line on it, which will also turn your 5-weight into a true 6-weight.

In the end, only a good casting stroke will help you, especially with this rod. If you’re a “middle of the road” angler, if you’re practical and want a work-horse rod, by all means, forget all of what I just said and go buy an Orvis Recon. 

Versatility

Don’t get me wrong, Helios is incredibly versatile. There’s nowhere I wouldn’t take a 9-foot 5-weight “F” version trout fishing on the planet. If you legitimately think you’ve arrived at the top of the game, and you want a distinctively different casting tool that can take casting accuracy to another level entirely–there is arguably no better fly rod on the market. Period.

Pros

Accuracy. It’s a legitimately “more accurate casting” rod. No arguing the science, nor the on-river performance.

It’s lighter. If you’re into lighter, you’re not going to beat Helios.

Durable. Lab tests show it’s harder to break, and if you still manage to break it, Orvis stands apart by way of warranty fulfillment, and it isn’t close. 

Cons

Do you really deserve, and really want to spend over a grand for a fly rod?

Do you really care about “tracking?” I mean, so much that happens in your casting hand matters more than the rod you hold, right? Do you want a self-driving car, or do you want to feel the road?

We admire Orvis for the “D” versus “F” marketing thing, but isn’t that really all about the fly line you use? We get it for the salt, but shouldn’t most rods under a 7-weight really be about finesse and feel?

Pricing

Here again, I almost choke on the notion of recommending a fly rod that costs over a grand. There are many great fly rods–including a bunch offered by The Orvis Company–that will get you on fish and provide a literal lifetime of enjoyment, for a fraction of this cost.  

But I will say this: If you’re “that good” and you can feel your cast and you want to take things to another level, Helios is the equivalent of what professional golfers play when it comes to choosing the clubs in their bags.  

It’s definitely worth it, for some, but you need to honestly know what “worth it” means when it comes to the game you play.

Craftsmanship

High-end components and attention to detail, with a distinctly modern, industrial design. We don't completely love the overt marketing aesthetic (on the rod), but maybe some will. 

Durability

Helios is remarkably less prone to flex breakage than any other rod the company has built.

  • Price: $1098
  • Dimensions: 9-foot 5-weight, 4-piece fly rod (F series)
  • Weight: 3.77 ounces
  • Swing Weight: 10% reduction in levered swing weight equals a crisp and balanced feel. What is swing weight? The weight spread evenly throughout the length of the fly rod. When balanced, it requires less force to swing it smoothly and feels more responsive 
  • Construction/Materials: Carbon fiber with dramatically increased hoop strength, minimized vibration along the blank
  • Guides: Titanium stripping guides, REC recoil (crushable) titanium snake guides
  • Rod action: Fast
  • Rod tracking: Straight 
  • Rod recovery: Fast
  • Warranty information: Orvis warranty program

Orvis Helios overview–a lot of cliches, and remarkably light on detail.

Orvis Helios origin story: explaining “numerical claims about accuracy.”

Orvis rod repair warranty.

“The Orvis 25-Year Guarantee means we’ll fix your broken fly rod, and if we can’t fix it, we’ll replace it, no questions asked. Purchase an Orvis Helios™ 3, Recon® Superfine®, Clearwater®, or Mission rod from Orvis or an authorized Orvis dealer and we will repair or replace it for a quarter of a century. If we can’t repair it, we’ll choose a newer model rod of at least equal value to replace it. Your investment is assured for a nominal handling charge.”

Likely buyers

A good caster, who can split hairs between adequate and great. Someone who cares a lot about dropping accurate casts in the money zone. A technology geek. Someone who really understands quality engineering when it comes to fly rods. Someone who wants a “legacy” rod that will be worth something 20 years from now. Someone who doesn’t want a fly rod to break. Not so much for bargain hunters, newbies and dabblers.

This is an “aficionado” rod. 

If you’ve earned it, go ahead and buy one.

What others say  

“I suppose if you’re a fishing guide and need your clients to make consistent, 40-to-50-foot casts all day from the boat, you’d be overjoyed to see them show up with a pair of Helios 9-foot 5-weights–light, crisp, rods on the verge of casting themselves. But on the Henry’s Fork, or Silver Creek, or anyplace where big fish and forgiving rod actions trump bang-the-bank, bobber mentalities, it’s a lot of money to pay for a rod that really isn’t teaching the angler how to fish. I’m happy to wait for the next iteration of rod design, where these new resins and technologies are married with classic, medium-actions, before crowing any rod line as the ‘biggest leap to date.’” – Andrew Steketee

“I fished the 8-foot 5-inch 10-weight Helios (D series) in the Louisiana marsh for big reds and black drum. This is a fast rod and you’re going to need a lot of line speed to make it work–definitely not for novices. It’s powerful, but also has a very nice feel. Great for quick shots at appearing fish, but also could launch bombs if required. The accuracy seemed quite good, but not better than my other (older) saltwater rods. Super fast, meh aesthetics, high-end price point. Overall, a very nice rod.” – Tim Romano

Conclusion

In terms of accuracy, yeah, the new Helios is all that it’s billed to be.

It’s a magical stick. It’s silly-straight, and it can certainly take a “semi-pro” to “pro” level, when it comes to making meaningful casts.  

Is it the best fly rod in the world now? You decide. People gravitate toward certain rod actions for certain reasons, and that’s completely up to them. I’m still on the fence myself, and some days my favorite fly rod is one thing, and the next something different.

But Helios immediately deserves to be in that conversation. And, yeah if I we’re going on a bucket-list trip to New Zealand or Argentina, I’d be sure to have a new Helios in the quiver.

Orvis Helios 4 Lifestyle shot
Orvis Helios 4 Lifestyle shot
Orvis Helios 4 Lifestyle shot
Orvis Helios 4 Lifestyle shot
Orvis Helios 4 Lifestyle shot
Orvis Helios 4 Lifestyle shot
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