Expert Review: Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod

Published on 07/13/2022 · 11 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the fly rod which I purchased with my own money in 2020.
Josh H., Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Josh H.

All photos courtesy of Josh H.

About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the fly rod which I purchased with my own money in 2020.

My take

Huge leaps in tech advancement within the fly-fishing industry, regarding rod development, means the space between good and great continues to grow, although the Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod demands a new category that will be shared with a very select few: brilliant.

The Orvis Helios 3 series is widely regarded as the most technologically advanced fly rod to ever grace earth’s waters, and comes as a replacement for the beloved H2. The Helios 3 is offered in 3D and 3F. Shawn Combs, the director of product development at Orvis, explains the meaning of the two variants, simply, by saying, “The D stands for Distance and F stands for Feel.” One thing is true of both variants: they perform brilliantly. The focus of this review being on the Helios 3 “Feel”, I can honestly say that this is a rod that encompasses the meaning of the word. I had to pay for the pleasure, but let me tell you why you should consider following my lead.

About the rod

  • Model: Orvis Helios 3F
  • Rod length: 9ft
  • Rod weight: 4wt
  • Rod pieces: 4-piece
  • Rod material: Graphite w/ Orvis’s “secret sauce”

About me

  • Preferred fishing styles: Dry fly, nymphing, streamer fishing, saltwater
  • Preferred species: All trout species, salmon, panfish, all bass species, northern pike, muskellunge, carp, inshore, coastal, and blue water saltwater species
  • Experience: 30+ years

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: 2020
  • Reel paired with rod: Orvis Mirage LT II
  • Line paired to rod: Scientific Anglers AMP/INF WF4F
  • Duration tested: 2+ years
  • Waters I have used it on: Rivers and streams
  • Species targeted with rod during testing: Trout

How it performs

Casting Ease

What I was looking for

Being located in the American West, I’ve fished waters big and small. Some are rushing torrents of anger that hide their secrets among boulders and back eddies, others wide and meandering retreats of outdoor bliss and aquatic beauty, where any well-placed cast is rewarded. Some are tight and skinny, 12 feet or less from bank to bank hiding fish one has to cast at in order to discover. It was here where my 8ft 3in CF Burkheimer had seen its share of abuse and bad decisions, and honorably decided to throw in the towel after several years of faithful service. I liked the rod tremendously, but realized I really needed to employ sound logic when breaking brush to catch fish.

I have 2 and 3 weights at 6ft and longer that are better suited to this endeavor, and from now on they would be the tool for the job. The fact remained, I didn’t have a 4wt. I needed another one that would be cast without obstructions and had some added length to sling effectively in the larger waters I typically found myself in.

“Why not a 9ft?” I thought. I knew I wanted the same subtle feel, similar accuracy and added distance, predominantly a dry-fly rod that could be fished using other techniques just as easily. The time had come to see what was out there.

After some research on the interwebs and a call or two, I decided that I needed to try out a Helios 3 and luckily for me, Boise was only a short drive away.

Why I chose this gear

I walked into the fly shop knowing that I needed similar characteristics to the one I’d lost, so I instinctively veered right to the Orvis section and picked up the 1856 Bamboo, then, in my mind, my wife slugged me, so yeah, I set that down. Then I picked up the Helios 3F and began the customary wiggle-wobbles, bumps, and pulls. Instantly, I realized the differences, the action, the recovery, and the balance. “This is super nice,” I thought.

I requested a demonstration model, and my fly-fishing buddy, Rob, and I headed out to the lawn to put the Helios 3 series through the paces. Needless to say, I caved—almost immediately—buying the 3F after only 10 minutes with it, and so did Rob. The hype wasn’t just hype, it really was that good. We didn’t wait, we were in the water within the hour.

What I love about it

  • Quality: The quality is ‘Orvis Top Shelf’. By this I mean the 3F is meticulously put together, wraps are perfect, componentry is fantastic, fit is precise, and the performance is exacting. There was effort put into this rod in every aspect of its production. I have fished the rod with fervent dedication, and it has yet to let me down.
  • Versatility: Let me explain the three-star rating from above. This is a dry-fly instrument. Casting techniques flow from the rod—from snakes to hauls—the rod’s load is laser-like, the pickups long and the laydown is impeccable. The 4wt is the Ferrari of feather flingers. When I need to delicately present, regardless of distance, I simply look at where I want placement and wish the fly there; the rod does the rest. I can roll cast nymphing rigs with authority by a flick of my arm, and it works admirably, tightlining promising water while precariously perched on a midstream boulder when fish turn-off topside. I choose not to use weighted streamers with it, but I will tie a leech or unweighted bugger to a sink tip from time to time. Versatility is not necessarily the 4wt’s specialty, it is more likened to a scalpel, rather than a hammer. That being said, I do everything incredibly well with it—except streamers, which is a personal decision. I have complete confidence that the Helios 3’s in heavier weights can handle the load, so to speak.
  • Use Case: I have swung this rod from Tennessee to Yosemite and everywhere in between. Big water, small water, skinny water, and pocket water, no water is off limits. Its four-piece construction allows for easy travel. Nestled in its travel case, I pack it in my Samsonite and hit the road.
  • Action:
    • Ease of casting: Casters of all experience levels will find the H3F an absolute pleasure to cast. As I work it, I actually try to cast badly; it scoffs and simply delivers the line anyway. Sharp but predictable, the rod creates tight loops with little to no effort. With “Feel” in the name, I was amazed at how far I could get the fly away from me. Dampening and tracking are fantastic, and frankly hard to believe.
    • Recovery rate: The rod recovers instantly and directly. It wants to be in one state of existence, and when it's not, it systematically returns. The result is outright accurate performance.
    • Power: There is power in this 4wt. It really shows how good it is at 40-45ft generating tight loops and pinpoint placement. I have been searching for its bottom end while out on the water, but honestly, I haven’t been able to find it. It aims to please.
    • Line speed: The 3F is as advertised: it generates impressive line speeds regardless of the moderately fast action, but can lay down a perfectly placed cast with nary a ripple if I need it to.
    • Ideal casting distance: It is fantastic at 45ft. I found that distance to be the sweet spot for this rod, a bonafide sniper at this range.
    • Accuracy: The rod is accurate, period. The Helios is good at 25ft, although not drop-in-a-shot-glass good. Nevertheless, I can still present the fly confidently to a fish that has revealed its position. 45ft is crazy good. 60ft+ is easily achieved, controllable, and surprisingly accurate.
  • Weight: I can’t say enough about this rod in 4wt. You won’t find any other rod that would outright lay waste to the H3F in this arena. Some characteristics might be slightly better, like the close-game for instance, whereas others, like distance from a moderate rod, would be worse. That being said, outperforming it by a landslide is out of the question; it truly holds its own against all challengers. Additionally, the 3F has considerable backbone to bring large and determined trout in for a meet and greet without concern.
  • Literal weight: This rod, at around 2.8oz, makes it one of the lighter rods in the industry, and with an overall rig weight of just under 8oz, it’s extremely comfortable to work. Swing weight is incredibly important when you spend consecutive days pushing water and launching flies.
  • Length: The test length is 9ft, and is my preferred length to provide adaptability in my fishing scenarios, both wade and drift. The 4wt is also offered in 8ft 6in to accommodate tight fishing, and the 10ft length makes for a convincing Euro nymphing option.
  • Sensitivity: The feeling throughout this rod is amazing, You name it, you feel it.
  • Grip: Snub-nose full wells, premium cork that is shaped comfortably, making it fit naturally in the hand. It reminds me of some of my favorite Sage offerings with this grip style.
  • Aesthetics: The reel seat and rings are TIII anodized aluminum in black with a carbon insert. The blank and insert coloration is matte gray, which Orvis calls “Storm”. The wraps are slightly darker gray than the blank in color. The SiC/titanium stripping guide, and REC snakes are top notch. Alignment dots save time with assembly. So overall, it is a slick-looking stick.
  • Build: Made in Manchester, VT, the rod is 100% U.S. made and perfected.
  • Warranty: Orvis has a 25-Year Guarantee and will repair or replace the Helios 3F, no questions asked. Shipping and handling are not included.

Issues I've Encountered

  • Performance: In close, the rod could be a touch better. If I am honest, this is me nitpicking.
  • Branding: Okay, the elephant in the room. The branding on the rod is a large white wrap inscribed with the rod info just forward of the handle. Personally, it doesn’t bother me too much, and it doesn’t affect the performance at all.
  • Other: Orvis, I like hook keepers.

Favorite moment with this gear

I have so many great days in and on the water with this rod, although if pressed to select one, it would probably be Coeur d'Alene, solo, in October of 2021.

The Coeur d'Alene (CDA) River is a premier native cutthroat water in northern Idaho. I found myself with the time and availability to embark on a solo fly trip with the intention of meeting a fellow Curated Fly-Fishing Expert for a day of fishing in the pristine wilderness that is CDA National Forest. Jeff and I brought a few to the net that day and I enjoyed the fellowship. We parted ways that afternoon. I decided that I couldn’t just head back south to my stomping grounds without exploring what the river was hiding. That decision inevitably turned into a week’s worth of much-needed mental reinvigoration.

I was awakened on the fourth morning by the consistent eruption of water. I rolled over and opened the tent flap to see a morning Pale Morning Dun (PMD) hatch coming off and a sizable fish eagerly taking from the surface. Throwing on some pants and wiping the sleep from my eyes, I grabbed the 3F and selected a suitable imitation from my flybox. False casting rearward of the fish, I slipped in line, and with a silent prayer and a slight adjustment, I off-handed the fly into the lane. The next few seconds are a blur, just as I allowed the swing to take effect, the fish launched itself from the water in pursuit of my fly. The flash of gold and red was all I saw as it fell back to the water, and as soon as I could regain my composure, I set the hook. The result was 5 minutes of complete astonishment and a personal-best westslope cutty that measured an impressive 19in. With nobody within 30 miles of me sporting a camera, and my phone still in my roof top tent, the memory now replays only in my mind.

Favorite memory: Coeur d’Alene River - CDA N.F. Idaho Photo by Josh Hoffman

Value for the money vs. other options

The Helios 3F is not the most expensive rod available and it is certainly not the least expensive. What you are getting for your $1000 is one of the best moderately fast-action fly rods available within the industry, up there with the likes of G.Loomis, Sage, and Scott. It comes down to specifics, although the list is short. This rod is designed to make you a better caster and fisherman, to provide you with incredible accuracy and finesse at moderate distances, to handle large water and small water with equal effectiveness, and bring confidence, success and enjoyment from its use. Does it succeed? Yes. Is it worth the price? I say, “Absolutely.”

Final verdict

The Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod is a masterpiece that displays what innovation, determination, and love of a sport can produce. Orvis took the H2, a rod that was loved throughout the fly-fishing community, and decided to make a version even better.

Depending on each individual’s frequently applied technique, the Helios 3F might not be the rod for everyone. But, anyone like me—a person that appreciates all aspects of sport although prefers to tie on a dry even when I shouldn’t—is going to be hard-pressed to find a rod better suited for the task. The price made me perspire a little at checkout, but once I cast the rod in its natural habitat, I knew I made the right decision.

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