It wasn't that long ago that I said that I wasn't about to run out and pick up a Helios 3, but, uh, I did. The more I got exposed to the H3s that my fly fishing buddies and my father owned, the more it convinced me that I would be happy with one of my own. Well, back in June I got my own 4 wt. Helios 3F and I've already put a lot of hours on the water with the rod. Here are my thoughts on what Orvis has delivered with their latest flagship fly rod.
Note: This review will be based mostly around my experience and "feel" with the rod. If you want more technical specs and detailed comparisons to similar rods, check out the Yellowstone Angler reviews.
Some people like the feel of fast action rods, some people prefer a slower action rod, but everybody will agree that accuracy is not one of those subjective measures. Everybody wants to use a rod that casts accurately in all its intended uses, be it a fast or slow action rod, and Orvis designed the Helios 3 line of rods to be "accurate from anywhere." (See the Orvis-produced Helios 3 teaser video below.)
It's a slick video, and it makes some bold claims about outpacing the competition in many ways. Well, as someone who has rods from Cortland, G. Loomis, Sage, Orvis, Redington, Blue Halo, Trident, St. Croix, Tenkara, and others, I can say that the Helios 3F validates the claims Orvis is making about its accuracy.
The first time I took my H3 out, I was fishing a small creek in a remote canyon in Utah. The creek is home to native cutthroat, wild browns, and wary rainbows that all grow quite large. This particular creek demands perfect casting and presentation, or the fish are often spooked or totally disinterested in your offering. I rigged my H3 up, tied on a cricket pattern, and launched a cast that landed within a dime's width of my intended target, 30 feet upstream. The fly landed perfectly right in the seam between two currents and immediately a 16" rainbow was on my line. Over the course of the next few hours I was amazed at my ability to tuck casts into tight spots, reach under overhanging brush, hit small pockets from distance, and accurately present my fly in a variety of situations. It was a short fall to find myself completely in love with my new rod.
Since that day, the H3 has been my go-to rod for standard dry fly and nymph fishing, and I've even used it to throw some smaller streamers. The rod has performed beautifully and has a good mixture of strength and flexibility to fight and land big trout. The rod gives you plenty of backbone while still managing to protect lighter tippets when fish make their big move on you.
The rod also has a unique look to it. Rather than a glossy finish, Orvis has gone with a matte finish to reduce the likelihood of a glaring reflection spooking fish off. While it might not happen often, you'd hate to have the sun reflecting off your rod send that big brown flying upstream just as your fly lands into his feeding line. It's little things like this that really show that Orvis has build a rod to give the angler their best shot at catching fish.
The elimination of the hook keeper is a little odd. I'm sure some of that decision was driven by the desire to give the rod as clean of a profile as possible and to also not interfere with the Helios 3 label that sits just above the cork handle. Personally, I would have liked to have a hook keep there, but it's not a big thing to have to adjust to if you're used to having one with your other rods.
I have used the H3 on tiny creeks and larger streams and on stillwater fisheries of varying sizes. Everywhere I've taken it, it's been up to the task and has emerged as my clear cut favorite rod that I own. Sure, it might stay home if I'm going to be tossing larger streamers or looking to do some Euro nymphing, but I've found that the H3 truly is the most versatile and accurate rod that I own.
When it comes to manufacturer's claims, I'm usually a little skeptical and apt to take things with a grain of salt. I rarely feel like high-end products are worth the premium over mid-tier products, but with the Helios 3, I would say it's worth stretching your budget if you're in the market for a new fly rod. If it's a little outside your price range, it's truly worth saving up for a while longer. With the quality of casts, the versatility in performance, and the fantastic fit and finish the Helios 3 brings, it's a rod that can be your daily driver for a very long time to come. I have zero reservations recommending the Helios 3 to anybody, regardless of what type of water they fish.
It's worth noting that the Helios 3 comes in two variants. There's the 3F and then there's the 3D. The F is built more around finer presentation while the D is built more for distance. If you're throwing big bugs (streamers, bass patterns, etc.) and are on bigger water, the D is probably more suitable for your needs. If you're more often on small streams, fish a lot of dry flies, or are often fishing to spooky trout, the F is going to give you the lightest presentation possible. If you're in the market for a Helios 3, it's worth checking them out at a local fly shop and feeling the difference between the D and the F and seeing what sort of feel you prefer. With either the D or the F, you're going to end up with fantastic accuracy, but you might as well get the one that's more well-tuned to your style of fishing.
The praise is out there for this rod already, but it's definitely well earned. I was quite happy to find that Orvis' claims of a more accurate fly rod were true. With the type of water I most often fish, having the Helios 3 in my quiver has been quite a treat.