Expert Review: Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit

Published on 02/03/2023 · 8 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the fly rod outfit, which I bought with my own money in May 2018.
Joseph Smith, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith

Photo by Joseph Smith

About this review This review is my honest opinion of the XXX, which I bought with my own money in May 2018.

My take

The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit is an entry-level combination fly rod and reel. The ease of casting and the construction will keep anglers happy without breaking the bank.

About this outfit:

  • Rod model: 2018 Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit
  • Length & Weight: 9’ 5wt
  • Rod Material: Graphite
  • Rod Pieces: 4 pieces
  • Reel Model: Clearwater II Large Arbor
  • Reel Material: Die-cast aluminum
  • Line: Orvis Clearwater WF 5 with backing
  • Accessories included: Rod tube

About me

  • Preferred fishing style: Drys, nymphing, streamers
  • Experience: 40+ years of fishing

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: May 2018
  • Days tested: 250+ days
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Eastern trout streams, farm ponds, and local lakes, fished while wading and from a drift boat
  • Species targeted: Trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, and smallmouth bass

How it performs

Casting Ease

Photo by Joseph Smith

What I was looking for

I was looking for an entry-level fly rod combination for my son. I wanted a rod/reel that he could use for many years to come—one that was durable that he would not outgrow as his skills progressed. This is a rod and reel combo that anyone, from a beginner to an expert, could enjoy and easily fish with.

Why I chose this gear

I ultimately chose this setup because my son liked the way it felt in his hands and the setup’s ease of casting. I also bought it for the 25-year warranty on the product—although not a lifetime, in 25 years it will be time for a new rod, and the technology will have progressed much further than this current setup. We also considered Echo and TFO setups but chose Orvis based on the look and feel. From the materials used to the quality of the construction, it simply felt and looked more elegant than the TFO and Echo startups.

Photo by Joseph Smith

What I love about it

  • Quality: This is a quality Orvis product. Graphite blanks with chrome with ceramic insert guides make for easy line control, and the reel seat is made from nickel aluminum. A cork grip completes the setup for an elegant and balanced feel. My son has fished with this outfit on nice days as well as in harsh conditions. This setup has withstood the abuse he has heaped upon it and it still looks and fishes great.
  • Durability: The rod has withstood years of a teenage boy fishing with it in all sorts of weather. The cork grip is slightly worn and the rod tip did break, but Orvis quickly repaired it with no questions asked, and the rod was returned in less than a week.
  • Versatility: Although this was primarily purchased as a trout rod, my son has caught panfish, and both smallmouth and largemouth bass with it. The rod has the ability to delicately present small dry flies to finicky trout and also has the backbone to throw big hair poppers and streamers. The reel has been able to protect 7x tippet and stop large bass without any issues. This outfit could be used as a light bass fly rod.
  • Use Case: This outfit was fished in the rain, sun, summer, spring, autumn, and winter. Dry flies, nymphs, streamers, bass bugs have all been cast with this outfit.


  • Power vs. Presentation: I would not classify this as designed for delicate presentations, nor would I classify it as designed for big flies. Rather, this is a jack-of-all-trades fly rod, and depending on each person’s needs, this can be a benefit or a drawback. It can do most things including fishing nymph rigs and dropper setups but if I was looking for a specific fly rod to make extra long casts, throw larger flies, or make delicate presentations, I would be best served to get a setup for that specific circumstance.
  • Weight: This 5 weight combination was bought as this is an ideal weight for trout.
  • Rod Length: The 9-foot length is a good all-around trout length.
  • Grip: The setup comes with a budget cork grip handle that has shown some wear but no major issues. As this is a 5 weight, there is no fighting butt.
  • Action: I would classify this as a medium-fast fly rod with a mid-flex action. For ease of casting, this is easy for beginners and not too painful for more advanced anglers.
  • Distance: Most fish are caught within 30 feet of the angler. This combination can reliably deliver a truly accurate cast from a novice angler of up to 50 feet. As casting skill improves though, there is no reason why longer accurate casts of beyond 100 feet can not be made.
  • Accuracy: Although there are more advanced rods designed specifically for impressive accuracy, this rod can accurately deliver a fly. The greater limitation will be the caster’s skill.
  • Build: If built in the USA is an important factor, this is made by Vermont rod designers with years of rod building experience. Other “budget” friendly setups are often manufactured abroad. The four-piece construction allows for easy storage.
  • Outfit aesthetics: This particular rod is green though the new clearwater rod series are black chrome with white accents. As part of the cosmetic facelift, the new clearwater rod series also sports a full black-nickel aluminum reel seat. Chrome snake guides assist with line management. Unlike the rod I purchased, the new rod series does not have a hook keeper. The blank includes a quick rod identifier. Both my son and I like the look, and as I stated earlier, it appears elegant.

Clearwater Large Arbor Reel:

  • Drag system: This is a disc drag system (stainless to stacked carbon) that has stopped trout and landed big bass, all while protecting fine tippets. The other reel features such as the easy-to-turn drag knob make using this reel easy.

Clearwater Line:

  • Quality: The quality of the fly line is adequate for 99% of freshwater fishing situations. Anglers would likely only need another line if they needed a sinking line.
  • Design: The welded loops make for easy loop-to-loop attachments.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Issues I’ve encountered

Clearwater Rod:

  • Warranty: The outfit is covered by a standard Orvis 25-year guarantee. Unfortunately, I had to use it to replace a tip, but the great customer service took care of in less than 1 week. There was a shipping cost associated with it, but was easy on the wallet and still less expensive than a new outfit.

Clearwater Large Arbor Reel:

  • Size: This is a size II large arbor. This is what came with the rod and is designed to be balanced with it. At this size, the reel’s main function is to hold the line, and this reel does just that. It is not a glamorous reel, and in larger sizes, I would want a better-constructed drag and reel that feels more durable, but at the 5 weight size, extra money is more for looks than function.
  • Build: This is die-cast aluminum. It may not have the structural strength of a bar stock reel, but at the 5 weight size, it’s likely not going to matter. Again, in the larger sizes, I would want a better-constructed reel. In short, it’s not the prettiest but gets the job done.

Clearwater Line:

  • Performance: With periodic cleaning, this line floats just fine. If anglers opt to not clean their line (frequency based on the amount of usage), their casting distance will suffer and the line will not float as well as it should. If you start to notice your distance falling off or the line not floating as well, clean it.

Favorite moment with this gear

My favorite moment with this gear was watching my son catch his first fish with this on a fly that he had tied himself. He effortlessly cast the fly to the rising fish, patiently waited until the take, and then set the hook. The rod bent over, and the reel started to sing with the first run of the fish. After my son got over his surprise, he was able to control the fish with the drag of the reel and bring the fish easily to hand—a truly memorable experience.

Value for the money vs. other options

Again, when shopping for this, we looked at the TFO and Echo models. Yes, both the TFO and Echo combos are less expensive, but the fly fishing rod and reel combination package was still in the same price range and the price difference was not a deterrent to us. For us, it came down to how it casted. In my son’s hands, he preferred the ease of casting with the Orvis model and we both felt it looked more refined and elegant than an entry-level rod. When compared to the Orvis Encounter, it was a significant upgrade.

Final verdict

The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit is a well-built entry-level Orvis fly rod combination that will allow new anglers to enjoy fishing and not have to worry about gear holding them back. The great performance of these medium-fast freshwater rods makes this one of the best fly rods for beginners. Although we fished the Clearwater 5-weight, the Clearwater series is designed as a comprehensive series and most applications are in this rod's wheelhouse. Small stream addicts can find medium-action small stream rods, and fast-action big game rods can be had for anglers chasing big trout on big water, casting big hoppers and heavy streamers. As a value-priced weapon of choice, even an experienced discerning angler should check out this great rod as a spare backup rod for their next fly fishing adventure.

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