The Orvis Rod Lineup – Not your grandfather’s rods anymore.

The Orvis Rod Lineup – Not your grandfather’s rods anymore.

There’s the age-old question in fly fishing, “Do I go with X manufacturer or Y manufacturer? Which is the best?” Well, if you put ten different avid anglers in a room, you’ll get twenty different answers. So, we’re not going to go that route as I feel like most anglers already prefer one brand over another. Maybe it’s because their buddy has a certain brand or that was the brand they fished when they went out with a guide.

I, personally, will always hold a soft spot for the manufacturer of the rod I used to catch my first trout on a fly. Regardless, at least in my experience, I don’t see anglers jumping from brand to brand with each new rod that they own. Although, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve owned most of the manufacturers and they all have some great attributes.

But let’s say, like many people, you’re leaning towards Orvis. Orvis was interesting for me personally. I hate to say it, but I kind of saw them as my grandfather’s brand because they’ve been around so long. An Orvis bamboo rod was a status symbol. Unfortunately for me, I kind of left Orvis rods to the grandpas and I missed out for sure. Orvis is an epic brand that’s been putting a ton of technology into their rods for the last several years.

Their customer service and warranty set the bar in the fly-fishing industry, and I love that when you have an issue or a question, you call and get someone from the good old US of A. I’ve come to really appreciate all their fly-fishing gear from their rods, reels, packs, waders, and even their clothing.

Okay, I said we’d talk about the Orvis rod lineup, so let’s dive into that. I’m going to do it a bit differently though. I’m not going to regurgitate the selling points that you could easily go read for yourself on the Orvis website. I’ve actually owned and fished the entire lineup of rods with the exception of the bamboo rod. I’m going to tell you about my experience and where you may want to land in the spectrum of rods. The four general rods in the Orvis lineup that we’re going to hit are The Encounter, The Clearwater, The Recon, and The Helios 3 (both F and D).

I’m just going to put this out there that, in my experience, the number one important factor for people when rod shopping is price. That’s the limiter. We know that if money were no object, we’d all own our own drift boats, fishing cabins, pontoon plane for those weekend Alaska trips, a skiff in the Bahamas, a rod for every day of the month, and a pack that matches our wading boots . . .

Okay maybe not the last one. In any event, I think the price tag really tells us the story of where we’re going to land. So why even write this blog? Because many of us want to know where the “break” is when it comes to use value and actual value for our individual purposes. Will I get that much more out of a Recon than a Clearwater? Is it worth it? Will I catch 75% more fish? The answer to the last question is always, yes; just like stickers on the side of your Tacoma’s topper make you catch more fish.

The Encounter

Let’s dive right in. This is technically the Encounter II now as it was recently updated. I had the prior model as well. This is actually a complete outfit that retails for $198. There are two 5-weight options in 8.5’ and 9’, two 6-weight options in 9’ and 9.5’, and an 8-weight option in a 9’. I also guide with several of the 9’ 5wts. In this setup, you get everything to get you on the water minus tippet and flies. You get the rod, rod/reel case, reel, line, and leader.

The Encounter is considered an “entry-level” rod, but I put quotes around that because these rods will be great for everyone. I had one in an 8 weight that I fished for a while because I rarely used an 8 weight here in Colorado. It was a great rod. Also, as a side note, any rod from any of the big manufacturers will be better than one of the Walmart or Big Box specials. Thus, someone could argue that the Encounter is even one step up from an “entry-level” rod.

Here are my thoughts on the Encounter. I really like the new grip design and I appreciate that you get a complete setup that’s under $200. These are some of my guide rods and I can tell you that some clients are very hard on them and they’ve handled the abuse in stride.

I haven’t had to use the 5-year warranty yet (knock on a wooden drift boat), but I’ve been impressed so far that they’ve stood up to what they have including clients running the tips into the ground and trees as well as seeing how far over they can bend the rod on a rockfish on 0x tippet. The swing weight of these rods is a bit heavier than the rest of the lineup. Is it really that noticeable?

Mildly when comparing it to a Clearwater, but you’d definitely notice the difference if I handed you a Recon or Helios. The line that comes with it is just okay, although I appreciate that it has a welded loop on the end for your leader. The drag on the reel is not my favorite as it has a tendency to surge if you haven’t adjusted it in a while.

This is a user error on my part, though, because you are not supposed to keep your drags engaged when not in use. Is it fair to mention the line and reel? Isn’t this a Orvis rod lineup discussion? It sure is, but because it comes as a package, it’s worth a mention. However, one of the cool things is that you can turn any rod into a combo with Orvis or, even better, come into the shop and we’ll do the same.

Verdict on the Encounter.

It’s a good solid rod at a good price. It casts dries well, it nymphs well, and it’ll even throw streamers well. The swing weight can be a little fatiguing by the end of the day, but that’s to be expected with a rod at this price point. I was always a fan of the fit and finish, but I really like the new finish on the Encounter II with a quality cork handle, sweet green blank, and decent hardware. The Encounter will be a solid starter rod, a nice backup rod, or a good travel rod if you need one for that special fly-fishing trip.

You’re going to buy this Orvis rod setup if you want to get into fly fishing with a good foundation, a great company, a good warranty, and a solid starting position to get on the river today.

The Clearwater

I struggle to comment on the Clearwater. It’s not because I don’t own them (because I do), or because they’re not a great rod (because they are). I struggle, rather because I almost wonder where this rod fits for anglers, although I suppose the answer is obvious. It’s a “tweener” rod. It fits right in for those anglers who want a rod that’s nicer than a “base” rod, but don’t want to go all out and spend $600 on a US-made Recon. At $249, you get a very solid rod that has a lower swing weight than the Encounter while also having nicer furniture and you get the Orvis 25-year warranty.

Just as with the Encounter, the Clearwater does it all well. I also appreciate the full line of euro nymphing-specific Clearwaters. All the Clearwaters are pretty darn accurate, and they are a pleasure to cast all day. Remember, as with most manufacturers, the new “lower-end to mid-level rods” really just get the prior higher-end rods’ technology. You can also get the Clearwater in a combo that retails for $419. You get a decent line and a cast reel.

Again, the drag still isn’t my favorite, but back to talking about Orvis rods. So, why would you get this one over the Encounter or instead of the Recon? Well, it’s less than half the price of the Recon and it really is more enjoyable to fish than the Encounter. As far as blank speed, it’s a “medium” to “medium-fast.”

You’re going to buy this rod if you want a solidly built rod with a great warranty that will not only leave you happy for years but won’t break the bank.

The Recon

Now on to that sweet “mid-level” rod made in Manchester Vermont, USA. This may be my favorite Orvis rod in the whole lineup. Sure, it’s not as fancy or light as the Helios, but man, it’s an awesome rod. The Recon feels great in your hand, has a low swing weight, comes with a 25-year warranty, and looks oh-so-good in that matte green. Technically, these are Recon IIs just like the Encounter as they were refreshed not too long ago.

As far as other comparable USA-made rods, the Recon can throw dries, nymphs, and streamers with the best of them. The Recon is my dedicated 6wt rod for my own fishing. I use it in my drift boat and wading more than any of my other 6 wts including those that cost almost twice as much.

So, where does the Recon fit in the lineup? It’s right behind the Helios, of course, but there’s something more. To me, it fits between the Helios F and D. Remember the “F” stands for “finesse” and the “D” stands for “distance.” More on this in a minute. The Recon is definitely faster than the F but not as fast as the D. The swing weight is pretty low, but not quite as low as either the F or D. As far as accuracy, I’d say it’s just as accurate as both the F and D.

You’re going to buy this Orvis rod if you’re looking for that next step up, but you can’t fathom spending $1,000 on a Helios just yet. You want a rod made by hand in the USA, but your patriotism is bigger than your wallet. I hear anglers talk about rods they can hand down to their kids; I think you can do that with the Recon.

The Helios 3F

No, I’m not going to talk about the F and the D together, because I REALLY see them as two different rods. As I mentioned above, the “F” stands for “Finesse.” Those who told you it stands for “fast,” they’re wrong, although this rod is pretty darn fast.

I currently own the F in a 9’ 5wt and it’s a great “high-end,” hand-made, USA-built rod. The cork feels smoother in your hand and the furniture is top-of-the-line. This rod is also super light in the hand which your shoulder will thank you for at the end of the day. Yes, you should actually be casting with your shoulder and bicep, not your wrist. The matte black blank isn’t anything flashy, but Orvis leaves that to the rod band identifier just above the grip. Pro tip, you don’t have to get the white band one unless you want everyone on the river to know that you’re fishing an Orvis Helios 3.

The Helios 3F is a bit slower than the Recon and way slower than the D, but it’s still a pretty fast rod. Orvis uses an awesome technology where they look at the rod tip “scatter.” Basically, this means they used a fancy computer to tell them how fast the rod settles down after a cast. They claim it’s better than pretty much every rod out there and I think they might be right.

The Helios 3F (and D for that matter) has almost no rod wiggle which equates to more accurate casts even when you’re throwing a tiny dry or a heavy nymph rig. The technology in the Orvis rod blank allows you to easily mend 45 feet of fly line that’s “stuck” to the water. The F, to me, is really a great all-around rod just like the Recon. It does it all well and there’s nothing I’ve thrown at mine that it couldn’t handle.

You’re going to buy this rod if you want the top-of-the-line rod from Orvis (bamboo excluded). This is the highest-performance rod that Orvis makes that will still give you the feeling of, well, luxury when you fish it. It’ll do it all and do so with grace. This is the “flagship” rod, in my opinion, from Orvis.

Helios 3D

“But wait, how could the F be the flagship rod? Aren’t’ the F and the D pretty much the same?” They are worlds apart and have totally different purposes. It’s like a luxury SUV vs. a Porsche. The luxury SUV will do it all and do it well, but it won’t drive 200mph on the Autobahn. The D is the Porsche, in case you weren’t picking up what I was laying down there. It’s fast. It’s direct. It’s precise. It’s a machine. It’s not meant for daily use on western rivers for your average angler, in my opinion, unless you want a REALLY fast rod.

Am I telling you not to buy this rod? Quite the contrary. If you like fast rods that aren’t a broomstick (you know EXACTLY which other brands I’m talking about), the D is for you. It has a ton of feel and feels great in your hand, but it’ll mend a half weight heavy line 60 feet or more across multiple currents. To this, I can personally attest. It’s crazy fast and crazy accurate. With all that speed, though, you do lose some tippet protection and it seems less willing to throw dries. It’ll launch a nymph rig or a streamer into oblivion, though. And yes, the tip settles down just as well as the F if not better.

You’re going to buy this Orvis rod if you like those REALLY fast rods and you want one that gives you feeling and accuracy along with crazy line speed. This rod crushes those other truly fast rods. I say “truly fast” because there are some other rods out there that are “fast,” but they fall more in line with the Helios F and, again, do everything well. If you don’t want to do everything well but want to touch the other side of almost any river with a bank shot and your heavy streamer, this is going to be the rod for you. I’m still blown away by the D’s distance ability and I’ve had two in my quiver.

The Last Drift: Orvis Rods?

The Orvis Rod Lineup – Not your grandfathers rods anymore, man holding fish in a boat in a river

There’s a saying in car sales that the right car for the customer is the car we have on the lot. I think that some manufacturers of fly rods have the same sentiment. This means that they have created a rod lineup that may not have a place for everyone, but they’ll try to shoehorn you into a rod; that’s not the case with Orvis. Orvis truly has a rod for everyone based on what each angler might want.

If you want a fast rod, but don’t want to break the bank entirely, they have the Recon. If you want to start out fishing with a great setup, you have the Encounter. If you want a really good rod that will last you more than a few years, but you’re on somewhat of a budget, you have the Clearwater. Finally, they have the Helios 3F and D for those who want the best whether it be the best all-around rod or the best truly fast rod.

Just as with anything, you have to decide where the “breakpoint” is for you and which rod satisfies the majority of your needs. One thing I know for sure, and I really am speaking from experience, is that whichever one of the Orvis rods you decide to take home from one of our shops, you’re going to be really happy with it. There are no disappointments in the Orvis rod lineup. So, look at your budget, decide what’s most important to you in a rod, and thank your grandpa for supporting an awesome company from the USA and passing on that legacy to you, because these are not your grandfather’s rods anymore.

Come on into the shop and wiggle some rods to figure out what is best for you and your budget. Or, shop our online store now!

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

About the Author

Chris Opfer

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