Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod Series Review
We get questions about specific rod models all the time. "How does the 3wt compare to the 4wt?" and "When should I use this rod?" and "What line works best on this rod?". In an attempt to provide better info so you can make a more informed buying decision, we decided to start a 'model-by-model' blog series. We traveled to the Orvis headquarters in Manchester, VT this fall and had the chance to cast each and every rod in the 3F series. This article is designed to pass that info along to you. Of course, like our shootouts and other casting commentaries, these mini-reviews are based on our casting style and preferences. Your mileage may vary.
Series Overview: The Orvis Helios 3F Series (along with the Helios 3D Series) replaces the much-loved Orvis Helios 2 Rod Series as Orvis' flagship fly rod. Orvis has packed a bunch of technological advancements into these rods and they're lighter, more accurate, and more dynamic than ever before. If Orvis wasn't at the top of the fly rod game before with the Helios 2, they are now with the Helios 3. What's better? The team over at Orvis designed the 3F Series to include rods that are highly specialized, rods that are versatile, and rods that shocked us with their quirky ability to offer unexpected performance. After a visit to the Orvis headquarters and the thorough casting of each and every rod model (except for the 10' 6" 3wt Nymphing Rod), we've put together a detailed model-by-model review of one of the most popular freshwater fly rod series to date.
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An extremely lightweight, medium-fast 3wt. A super fun little rod that might even be “too light”, if there is such a thing. It’s a nice little spring creek rod for throwing smaller dries, like Sulphurs on Armstrong’s. I preferred it overall to the 8’4” 3wt, even though that’s probably the better length for spring creek fishing. This rod would also be at home fishing for small native brookies, Yamame, etc. but many people (myself included) would likely prefer something softer like a glass rod for those specific purposes.
Best Use: Spring creeks and other places where short distance dry fly accuracy is paramount. Panfish.
If you’re going to fish this rod, focus on short shots with small dry flies and don’t expect to push it into the middle/longer distances. We found that this rod has OPPOSITE performance when compared with the 4wt. Not a great rod at middle distances. It’s a little heavier than the shorter 3wt (as expected) but that’s in part because of the extra 10” of length. This rod is great for backcountry expeditions when fishing small rivers and dry flies.
Best Use: Small stream trout fishing including blue lining, backcountry, and streams with brushy banks.
While we didn't 'cast' this rod, chances are it's a pretty good Euro rod.
Best Use: Euro nymphing, tight line nymphing, freshwater & trout.
This rod is accurate at middle distances but requires the angler to slow down his/her casting stroke. It also does decently well at close distances. Great rod for small dry flies at middle distances… think Spring Creeks/ western rivers. This would also be a great option for anglers who hike into backcountry lakes and need accuracy with dry flies at middle distances but don’t want to carry a heavier 9’ rod.
Best Use: This is a great rod choice for small and medium-sized western rivers (think the Gallatin) and spring creeks where accuracy at short/middle distances is most important. A rod that could throw small streamers, too.
The 9’ 4wt is one of our favorite rods in the 3F series. This rod is super lightweight with solid performance at all distances and the ability to throw laser-tight loops. Big river, small river, distance casting, or dry flies from a boat this rod will get the job done in style. The 9’ 4wt is versatile enough to be a fish-wrangling tool from a drift boat with larger dries and a short-distance finesse weapon with smaller flies. This rod was built for spring creeks and beyond.
Best Use: This rod is an ideal mix between accuracy and versatility… use it for dry fly applications, light nymphing scenarios, and panfish/small bass on light streamers.
And if you want a rod that’s a little more distance oriented than the 9’ 4wt and don’t mind the extra weight, this is a great tool for nymphing and distance dry fly casting. Because of its softer action, the rod felt overlined with MPX. We also thought it felt tip heavy with a high swing weight. This rod has solid performance in close, really impressive performance at longer distances, but doesn’t do particularly well in the middle. Sort of a funky rod with finicky performance but good at specific techniques/distances.
Best Use: This rod is best used in a tailwater drift boat scenario when delicate dry fly presentations need to be made at longer distances.
This is one of Ben’s favorite models in the series. The rod feels incredibly light in hand, casts really well with SA MPX, and is a better 5wt than the 9’ rod model. How? It throws tighter loops and has better accuracy at short and long distances. This may be, in a large part, due to our casting style/stroke but we felt that the rod just performed beautifully at all distances. It’s a little faster than the 9’ 5wt and that may be one of the reasons we liked it so much. If you’re looking for a 5wt for nymphing and small streamers, upgrade to the 3D. If you want a 5wt for dry flies, this is your rod.
Best Use: This is a rod for medium and larger dry flies at short/medium distances and has power, accuracy, feel, and more for the ultimate in 5wt freshwater performance.
This is a rod that provides the angler with feedback and feel, but not as much accuracy as we were expecting, especially at close range. We cast the 5wt version of the 3F side-by-side with the 5wt version of the 3D and we thought the 3D was just a better rod overall. It had more power, better accuracy at distance, and solid performance at shorter distances, too. That’s not to say the 3F 5wt isn’t a nice dry fly rod… but it’s just not as versatile as the 5wt 3D.
Best Use: This is a rod for the angler who targets trout at close range on smaller to medium-sized rivers and doesn’t need high performance at distance or with nymphs/streamers.
We really like this model. Although it’s slightly heavy, it's a versatile rod that's a lot better than the H2. Extra length adds ability and distance capabilities to a solid rod model. This rod is also great at mending line and increasing an angler’s reach on smaller rivers.
Best Use: This rod is primarily a nymphing stick but its increased length also helps improve dry fly accuracy at distance. Would make a decent streamer stick, too.
This rod is more like a 5.5. We didn’t like it as much as the 6wt 3D… it’s a fine rod but if you’re going to use a 6wt for larger dries and small streamers, just go with the 3D. The 6wt 3F is more clunky than the 3D and its action caters to anglers with a slower casting stroke. The 9’ 6wt almost feels like the 10’ 5wt in some ways… just without the increased reach and distance capabilities. Again, we like the 6wt 3D much better.
Best Use: This rod is meant to be used as a streamer rod from a drift boat or a bass rod in lake/pond scenarios. You could also use it as a stillwater trout rod.
We found this model to be heavy and clunky. The rod did fine at longer distances but wasn’t one of our favorites in the group. That being said, the increased length does help throw some larger freshwater streamers. This could also be used to cast a hopper/dropper setup at the banks from a drift boat on a larger river like the Yellowstone.
Best Use: This is really a bass rod… but could also be used for larger trout fishing (Alaska, perhaps) and anywhere else that a 9’ 6wt is the optimal rod.
We really liked the 10' 6wt and recommend this rod over the 9' 6" 6wt. The 10' version just had more power and more accuracy at distance, both of which are worth having if you're going to upgrade to a longer rod than the 9' 6wt. While the rod is probably heavier than the 9' 6" version, we actually didn't feel it... the 10' felt lighter than the 9' 6". This would make a great streamer rod for small bass, trout, and more. Plus a great nymphing rod for small Steelhead.
Best Use: This is a streamer/nymphing rod. Think trout from a drift boat or Great Lakes Steelhead (Steelhead Alley) on eggs, nymphs, and more.
The 9’ 7wt 3F is also a great bass rod. This rod is great at throwing streamers at middle distances and would be a fine rod for pounding the banks on a large trout river like the Madison. It would also be a great rod for lake fishing for bass because of the strong and powerful middle section of the rod. If we had to choose between the 7wt 3F and 7wt 3D, we’d take the 7wt 3D any day but this rod has its uses, too. It also makes a decent short-range bonefish rod or a rod for making accurate casts to schoolie stripers in a marshy environment.
Best Use: This rod is a great rod for accurately landing bass streamers in between docks or pounding a riverbank with trout streamers.
This 7wt is a great rod for anglers looking for a rod that's different than the 7wt 3D. It’s a little lighter and a little softer making it better for short distance accuracy. The lightweight design also makes it a stellar candidate for single-handed nymphing applications on Salmon/Steelhead Rivers (think Great Lakes Steelhead). While it’s accurate at shorter distances and lightweight overall, we found that it was still able to sling a nymph rig or streamer rig accurately at distance.
Best Use: This is a versatile rod in that it’s a solid option for Steelhead, salmon, bass, trout on streamers from a drift boat, and more.
The 3F 8wt is lightweight and snappy with a faster action and better accuracy at distance than other rods in the 3F series. The 8wt’s accuracy at distance doesn’t come at the expense of performance in close, however, and the rod can also land a fly on a dinner plate at 40-feet. One of the things we really like about this rod at all distances is that even though it has power and the ability to make long casts, it also provides the angler with a bunch of feedback regardless of distance.
Best Use: This rod can really be used in a variety of situations but is meant for accuracy on the flats and in light saltwater situations. This would be a great rod for bass in freshwater, too.
This rod is heavy. Although it’s a lot of rod to handle, it’s slow and forgiving… maybe a decent rod for beginners who want extra length for easier accuracy when throwing larger nymph rigs at Great Lake and West Coast Steelhead.
Best Use: This is a rod designed for Steelhead anglers who need the extra reach but still want to nymph with a single-hand rod. 10 feet = better line mending capabilities and better nymphing capabilities.
Because we love the Helios 3F rod series so much, it was tough to pick our favorite rod. The 8’ 6” 5wt was one of the coolest rods in the series with unexpected performance and a buttery smooth design. We also felt that the 9’ 4wt perfectly captured the soul and the feel that Orvis was trying to build into the 3F rods.
Least Favorite Rod:
While it’s an extremely good lineup overall, if we had to pick a weakness, it’s in the longer rods in the series, and amongst those, the 9’6” 6wt was probably our least favorite.