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.”
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.)
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.
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.