Today, Orvis introduced three new additions to its vaunted Helios 3 lineup, which the Manchester, Vermont company has been teasing for the last month or so. The three new rod offerings are the culmination of a multi-year collaborative effort between Orvis' rod design team and some of the fly fishing world's most passionate and best guides. As is becoming an increasing industry trend, each of the new models is purpose-built rather than aiming to be do-it-all tools. Or, as Orvis puts it, the Helios 3 Blackouts are "supremely accurate H3 rods designed to excel in specific angling scenarios."
Two of the new models—a 5-weight and a 3-weight—are freshwater-focused, while a new 8-weight is targeted for saltier pursuits. All three rods are built on the same foundation as the rest of the award-winning Helios 3 rods and feature a midnight black Type III anodized aluminum reel seat, an black/matte aesthetic (blank, wraps, etc), single-foot REC recoil guides, SiC/titanium stripping guides, and are made in the U.S. and backed by Orvis' iron-clad 25-year warranty.
The new H3 Blackout 5-weight, which tapes out at a unique 9' 5", was designed specifically as a drift boat tool. Orvis added the extra five inches of length to aid in scenarios commonly encountered by drift boat anglers—namely the need for extend-range line control when throwing long dry fly casts or nymphing at far reaches. According to Orvis, however, on-the-water testing revealed the 9' 5" H3 Blackout to a boon to walk-and-wade anglers, as well—its extra reach proving to be an asset when needing to reach over complex current seams. Orvis describes the odd new length and extra reach of the H3 Blackout 5-weight as it's "secret sauce," calling it a rod that offers the advantages of a 10-footer while casting like a 9-footer.
Utah fly fishing guide, author, and regular Hatch Magazine columnist Spencer Durrant called the new 5-weight a rod that's "light, accurate, easy to cast, and mends like a dream," noting that the extra-length is almost undetectable when casting. "If someone just handed me this rod to cast, and I didn’t look at it closely, I don’t think I’d notice the extra length while casting," he added.
Likely due to the fact that it the ranks of drift boat and dry fly anglers are increasingly being matched by the ever-expanding horde of Euro-nymphing anglers, Orvis also crafted a new H3 Blackout rod aimed at tight-liners. And the new 11-foot H3 Blackout 3-weight is almost certainly Orvis' most serious foray into the world of Euro-nymphing yet. Calling it an "11-foot rod with the swing weight of a 10-foot rod," Orvis is touting the rod's "unreal sensitivity," extra-soft tip that protects the finest tippets available on the market, and extra 6" of length which it deems crucial to control. Proudly, Orvis explains that the rod is the product of conversations with "storied guides and their long conversations with our design team" and is "living proof our designers are perfecting rod development in lock-step with insightful anglers pushing the technique toward new territory."
Speaking of the new 11-foot H3 Blackout, George Daniel—Euro-nymphing guru, former coach for both the USA Youth and Adult Fly-Fishing Teams, and regular columnist here at Hatch Magazine—notes, “most Euro rod blanks have thin walls with a narrow butt section and just lack the reserved power to control a bigger fish. The new H3 Blackout is the perfect balance between a soft, sensitive tip for strike detection and the beefy butt section I need when a true giant climbs on.”
Whereas Orvis tacked on five inches to the industry standard 9' length of 5-weight freshwater rods, it snipped 7 inches off the standard length for your all-around 8-weight saltwater performer in crafting the third of its new H3 Blackout offerings. Orvis crafted the new 8' 5" 8-weight H3 Blackout to be a high-line speed, accurate performer capable of delivering tight loops and reducing the need for false casts and retargets of elusive quarry that anglers often only get one shot at—think bonefish, permit, and the like. In Orvis' terms, its a rod built for "surgical, one-shot" accuracy. Orvis also calls it an 8-weight that feels like a 7, and those that have spent time with the 8-weight H3 Blackout largely agree.
Of the new H3 Blackout 8-weight, Hatch Magazine editor Chad Shmukler noted, "The best description of what makes a great fly rod that I ever heard was uttered by an angler far wiser than me, who said that a great rod is one that disappears in your hand; that does its job effortlessly without you ever having to think about it. But perhaps equally impressive is a rod like the H3 Blackout 8-weight that, cast after cast, forces you to look down at the graphite, resin, and cork implement in your hand and wonder in bewilderment how the hell it enabled you to do the thing you just did—that thing being exceeding your own expectations."
It's rare when angler reactions to new rods, reels, or other gear match a company's marketing speak. But early feedback from those that have had time on the water with Orvis' new Helios 3 offerings suggest the Vermont rod maker may have something special on its hands.
It's also well worth noting that for anglers that have, for the last several years, chosen to concern themselves more with appearance rather than performance—ignoring Orvis' top-to-bottom excellent Helios 3 lineup because of its rods' eye-catching and oft-criticized white butt sections—the new 'Blackout' models offer a much more tuned-down, muted, toned down appearance to suit discriminating tastes.
Dig into all the details of the new Orvis H3 Blackout series here.