The new H3D Blackout rods, the latest evolution of the Orvis Helios 3 family of fly rods, are purpose-built tools designed to address three specific, common fishing needs that Orvis and its team of field testers identified. The design of one of those new rods—the 9’5” 5-weight model—was driven by feedback from guides who spend the majority of their time fishing out of drift boats. According to Orvis, the “secret sauce” of this new rod, the thing that makes it special, is the extra five inches in length which Orvis says gives it the reach and superb long-range mending capabilities of a 10-footer while still casting like a 9-footer. And, like the rest of the Helios 3 lineup, Orvis also bills this new offering as “supremely accurate.”
Despite Orvis’ track record of excellence—particularly with the Helios 3 family—I was still left somewhat skeptical after reading through the promotional materials for the new H3 Blackout models. After years spent working in the marketing field, the better part of a decade spent reviewing fly rods, and a fair share of time spent writing ad copy for new products, it’s hard not to be. Company claims about new fly rods don’t different all that much, are always grandiose, and in most cases, rods fall shy of their supposed greatness—with only a handful of notable exceptions.
I set out with the H3 Blackout hoping it would live up to — or close to – its billing. From the Green River in Utah, to the Kenai and Russian Rivers in Alaska, I’ve fished the new Orvis Helios 3 Blackout through a variety of situations. But, given that this latest Helios 3 is touted as a purpose-built rod, I made sure to fish it in the conditions for which it was made: from a drift boat, throwing long nymph drifts and extended reach casts to rising trout.
Going in, I was worried the rod’s odd length would throw its performance off. I’ve only fished a few 9’6” rods in my life, but they were all either too heavy on the swing, or their tip was so light that accuracy suffered at longer distances.
That’s not a problem with the 9’5” Blackout. When fishing nymphs through deep holes on the Green River from a drift boat, I was surprised at how much of a difference five inches makes. The same goes for fishing to rainbows on the Russian River in Alaska. Every little back eddy, piece of slack water, or slight seam is that much easier to access with this rod, putting you in a position to catch more fish.
The standout feature of the 9’5” 5wt Blackout is its mending ability. As I mentioned earlier, the rod is fairly stiff throughout its length. While you sacrifice some feel for that, you get a fantastic mending product in return. Even with 60 feet of weight-forward line out, I didn’t have a hard time throwing mends across multiple current seams. The rod has the backbone to pick up and place line with little effort — even the thin running line behind the short heads on most weight-forward lines these days.
Honestly, using this rod to mend line on long drifts reminds me of mending with an old bamboo rod and double-taper line—minus the outrageous weight of those three-piece behemoths.
As claimed, the 9’5” H3 Blackout casts almost exactly like a regular 9-footer. It’s a hair slower than I expected, but still very much a fast-action rod. At times it feels more like an H3F as opposed to an H3D.
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. You really only feel it when you’re in tight quarters, surrounded by trees and snags (which is not the fishing situation this rod was built for).
The 9’5” 5wt Blackout tracks well and generates good line speed. The swing weight feels similar to the 9’6” 6wt H3F I fished a few years ago; it’s there, but it’s not very noticeable.
Orvis really went all-in to sell this rod as a precision tool. Dubbing it “superbly accurate” gives the rod a lot to live up to, and in large part, it does just that.
The high line speed helps drive accuracy, as does the responsive tip section. While the tip flexes plenty to protect lighter tippets, it’s not nearly as soft as I expected. By keeping the tip stiffer, Orvis was able to maintain the levels of laser-like accuracy in the original H3 series, and perhaps even improve on that a bit.
Unless I was fishing into a stiff headwind or throwing flies that you really shouldn’t on a 5wt (six-inch long, triple-articulated streamers), I didn’t have problems with fly placement. I pointed the tip where my flies needed to go, threw a few casts, and they arrived on point.
Of course, accuracy depends much more on the angler than the rod. However, a good angler working with a high-performance rod can throw better casts than with a subpar product. The 9’5” 5wt Blackout is a rod that rewards sound casting fundamentals.
It should go without saying these days, but it’s worth mentioning since this rod isn’t your usual 9’ 5wt. The H3 Blackout is noticeably light in hand. What Doesn’t Work
No Hook Keep
I’ll keep going back to Orvis about this, but I’m frustrated that there’s no hook keepers on their rods anymore. I know a lot of folks prefer to hang their flies off the first stripping guide. Just as many love a hook keep. In all my years of fly fishing, I’ve never once looked at a hook keeper and thought well that’s gotta go.
But this is a design move Orvis is sticking with, because they feel that’s where the market is headed. They might be right. I might be completely wrong. But I still want my hook keep.
Single Uplocking Ring
Usually I don’t like double-uplocking rings on reel seats for rods 5wt and lighter. It’s overkill, looks clunky, and throws the rod’s balance off.
But Orvis makes their uplocking rings from ultralight anodized aluminum, so bulk and weight isn’t an issue. But with this rod being purpose-built as a boat road, I reckon folks will fish it with a larger reel. A double uplocking ring would help keep the bigger, heavier reels more secure, especially if you’re using it on something like sockeye, dolly varden, or really big trout.
The 9’5” 5wt Orvis H3 Blackout is the latest success story from Orvis. It’s light, accurate, easy to cast, and mends like an absolute dream. Adding five inches wasn’t just a marketing gimmick, the extra length makes a functional, practical difference—far more than I expected it to—noticeably increasing your ability to mend effectively and reach across complex current seams. After a few months spent fishing this latest addition to the Helios 3 family, I’m quite impressed. Orvis has yet another home-run-hitter in their lineup.