By Tom Rosenbauer
Two years ago, we set out to make the lightest fly rod in the industry. Part of the problem was that graphite fiber technology, at least the fiber that can be used in a premium fly rod, just has not changed much in the past few years.
But we have a number of new rod designers in our rod shop, young guys who look at things differently than older, more traditional designers. They knew that all the action in composite design is not in fiber technology but in the prepreg and scrim technology—in other words, the stuff that holds the graphite fibers together and the material that gives a finished rod hoop strength, or resistance to crushing. If you can lessen the amount of graphite fiber you need by using improved resin systems, and if you can use a lighter scrim and less of it, you can design a fly rod with less weight.
And this is exactly what they did. Now scrim is pretty un-sexy stuff. All it does is to keep the hollow graphite tube used to construct a rod from collapsing under the pressure of a long cast or a big fish. Unidirectional graphite fiber can’t do that by itself. In ordinary graphite fly rods the scrim is made from fiberglass, which is heavier, less expensive, and not as stiff as graphite. In Zero Gravity fly rods, the fiberglass scrim was replaced by graphite scrim with an epoxy binder, which allowed us to use less material and thus make a much lighter rod.
New Technology from the Space Satellite Industry
Building upon our Zero Gravity’s exclusive thermoplastic resin technology, which is stronger and lighter than the epoxy resins used to make traditional fly rods, the designers found an exciting new scrim in the space satellite industry. This unidirectional graphite scrim with a thermoplastic binder gives us the same strength in our rods, but uses much less material. We reduced the weight on our new Heliosblanks by 25% less than our already lightweight Zero Gravity blanks. Then the rod team designed, from scratch, new reel seats that would keep the 25% weight reduction throughout the entire rod.
So, they came up with the lightest rod we’ve ever designed. I was pretty excited. Lighter rods are more fun and less tiring, but could this really make someone cast better or put a fly someplace they never could before?
New Design Coupled with New Technology
Then I got a chance to cast one of these rods. “Whoa,” I thought. “This is an amazingly light rod and it wiggles nice, but this thing feels really different.” And it wasn’t just the weight. When I asked Andy Stone and Frank Hoard, the new designers, and Jim Logan, VP and head engineer in our rod shop, I found out why. The new material had given them the opportunity to take advantage of a new taper, a steeper and faster taper that was not stiffer, just more responsive and powerful.
Accuracy and Control for Freshwater Casting
So these Helios rods were fun on the casting pond. What would they feel like in real fishing conditions? I took a 4-weight to the Delaware River for trout fishing and tried it over some of the snottiest brown trout I’ve ever tangled with. That rod would put the fly just where I wanted it to go, almost like ESP. I took a 9-foot, 5-weight to Idaho’s South Fork, and the most amazing aspect of the rod’s performance was that I could switch from pounding the banks with size 8 Chernobyl Ants and then switch to tossing PMDs over finicky cutthroats on 6X with the same rod—and it still maintained the same control and accuracy in both cases.
Power for Casting Large Flies for Saltwater
Then I took a 10-weight striper fishing for big June fish on Cape Cod. It handled big stripers and big poppers in the wind like nothing I’d ever used, and after 10 hours of casting, my arm was not the slightest bit tired. The 10-weight then came along with me to Rhode Island in search of small bluefin tuna in August. The bluefins were not around, but the rod helped me make some quick, precise long casts into the wind for some nice bonito that were blowing up the surface but only gave you a few seconds to make a presentation before they steamed away.
Our testers have had the rods on trout all over the world, tarpon, snook, bonefish, redfish, and many other species. The universal reaction is that for hardcore anglers who fish on the edge and demand the most out of their equipment, Helios sets the standard for the next generation of graphite fly rods. Personally, I think they’ll make plain old backyard trout fishing a lot more fun as well.
By Eric Rickstad, editor of The Orvis News
"Handle to tip - it's all there. Never felt anything like it. No BS. Seriously impressed. The fly-fishing market will be buzzing."
"A New Dawn in Rod Making"
We set out on an adventure two years ago to make the world's lightest fly rod. Along the way, we also made the world's best.
The new Helios is so innovative and, frankly, so far ahead of all other fly rods it skips generations in how a fly rod should feel, cast, and fish. It is so sublimely light, incredibly responsive, deadly accurate, and just plain easy and enjoyable to cast that to compare it to other graphite rods is like comparing graphite to fiberglass. There is no comparison. The Helios is that good.
And everyone is noticing... The Helios has received praise across the board from anglers, guides, fly-fishing magazines, and bloggers alike.
Simply pick up a Helios and wiggle it and you'll understand the praise.
You'll be stunned by just how light and balanced the Helios is; at just 2 1/8 oz.the 8' 6" 5-wt feels like you¹re holding just a cork handle, and at at just 3 1/4 oz. the 9-wt. literally feels like a 5-wt.. That lightness — which sure comes in handy when you are casting all day — is the result of using, for the first time ever, our exclusive thermoplastic, thermoset resins from tip to butt to reduce the entire blank¹s weight.
But, our new technology goes far beyond making the Helios just the world's lightest fly rod. It let us create the all-new Precision Power Taper, a straight, steep taper that gives a superior, smoother transition of power all down the rod from tip to butt. This gives you a fly rod that loads quickly, is fast, crisp, and light, and has a supremely-balanced feel right down close at the butt. You can actually feel the line load the rod and feel your entire casting stroke, so you control your cast far better than with any other fly rod to generate the best casts of your life.
All that and a gorgeous translucent-olive finish, a woven-graphite reel seat, and REC Recoil guides that resist breakage complete the new Helios, which comes in a handsome woven-graphite rod tube.
Fish a new Helios. Feel the difference. Leap ahead. And set out on a fly-fishing adventure of your own.
Made in Manchester, Vermont.
What others are saying about Helios
You’ve already read about the cool technology behind the ZG Helios Rod series and how it will make you a better caster. But don’t just take our word for it.
Here’s what the experts have to say about the Helios:
“Overall: A ‘crisp’ rod, you can feel the line moving through the guides, which reinforces that this is a very light, responsive rod.
“I don’t know what is going on with that rod, but it is the nicest 5-weight I’ve thrown in years, maybe ever. Since I’ve fished it the last couple of weeks it has landed 6-8 trout over 20 inches here in Michigan and in Wyoming. What impresses me the most is that the rod weighs nothing, yet can turn a 20-inch rainbow out of the wood (I rolled a fish over backwards right after he ate on the Pine River in Michigan to keep him out of wood) and deliver an 80-foot cast with ease. I love that rod, not something I say often. Casting, it will carry 60 feet or so of a weight forward line and still shoot another 30-35 feet. Most 5 weights can’t do that (not that you should be fishing that far away with a 5 weight!).
“The rod is so powerful yet very light; it casts at distance as good or better then any rod I’ve ever used.”
“You know I’m fussy yet, I think it’s the best balanced, most responsive 9-wt I’ve ever cast. It feels like you’ve got a 6- or 7-wt rod in hand. Kind of like a sports car with a wide torque curve. Great feel in close when you’re just cruising but with extraordinary, comfortable power when you step on the gas. Even markedly better than the Zero Gravity 9-wt, which I think is a super rod. The cosmetics are easy on the eyes, too. Love the new blank and wrap colors. ”
“Capt. Tony Biski had me try the new Orvis rod while fishing the flats of Monomoy. Absolutely the best rod I’ve ever cast—light, accurate, and you can cast it all day. Hats off to you and your team for bringing such a great rod to market.”
“The Helios rod is the lightest most responsive rod I have ever fished. Whether I am casting streamers, nymphs, or dry flies, the ZG Helios delivers them accurately and effortlessly. I can (and have) literally fished with the Helios all day for many days in a row and never get tired from casting it. This rod is my new favorite fly rod!”
“Jon Luke and I gave the Helios a workout in Wisconsin chasing muskies around, and the past few days over in eastern Washington fishing some fall bass. The rods are a dream to cast! They throw big flies with ease, handle big fish well, and appear to be one of the toughest, best casting rods I have ever had in my hands.”
“It seems that Orvis has pulled out all the stops on this project, very high tech, right down to the graphite tube. I almost liked everything about the rod — the cork is triple A with hardly any fill, streamline ferrules, wraps and guides, excellent. I liked the drilled-out reel seat hardware and the graphite seat. But especially the light weight and the way it cast.
“Over more than 50 years of fly fishing I have used and tried hundreds of rods. For the past 10 years or so, very few rods have really excited me, but I think the new Helios is really something. In my humble opinion, probably the most perfect fly rod I have ever cast.”
“Wow! Fished the Helios for everything from Bahamas bones in windy weather to Florida snook deep in heavy current. Super light, and delivers both in the delicacy and the power departments. Orvis’ best stick yet.”
“What a great rod: incredibly light, super responsive, and impressive looks. I’m partial to Orvis rods but this is a fantastic fishing tool. Before I even got to fish it I let a guide client try it out and he loved it. He had no problem casting and fishing with it even though he had his first casting lesson just an hour before. Later that day I took the rod down to the river and put it through its paces, what a ball. The rod responds and does what ever you ask it to do. Up-stream tuck casts, across-stream reach mends, feeding line downstream (and still setting the hook), it does it all at any distance. Very impressive. It was also very forgiving on hard hook sets with 6X, around 40 fish caught and no breakoffs with the Helios. Then just for fun I put on a heavy weighted #4 sculpin on 3x and made a few casts. Casting 60' with such a large fly was no problem, finding a big brown was, but it was still fun chucking a big fly with a 4wt. The new Helios will let you fish as close and small as you want but when you need to reach out with a big fly it still won’t let you down. My birthday is in January and I know what I will be getting myself, the Helios 904-4 Mid.”
“I got to use the 9-foot for a 5-weight line last summer, when it was still a big secret, and was amazed. It was incredibly light, about 2.5 ounces, but that’s not what got me. It was the almost effortless casting. You just lifted the line off the water, did a quick false cast and let it fly.
“The first thing one notices about the Helios rod is the weight, or lack of it. Touted as the lightest rod ever made, it employs resins to hold graphite fibers together rather than fiberglass scrim. The net result: weight reduction of up to 40 percent in the blank, another 20 percent trimmed from the reel seat. This featherweight somehow gains in performance and has played to rave reviews. This beauty is quick, powerful, sensitive, durable - the complete fly rod in sizes 3-10. Perhaps the only question is whether it will deliver sticker shock at $755.”
“I found the Tip-Flex 9-foot 6-weight remarkably light in the hand, responsive, and powerful. Here was a smooth, sensuous pleasure in the cast. The Tip-Flex 8-weight was assertive and powerfully progressive, a casting joy without fatigue. This rod could easily replace my 10-weight. And I bet no angler can cast the Tip-Flex 4-weight without a smile. When my brother cast the rod, he dryly noted that now we have fly rods lighter than the lines they toss. Not quite, but the Helios is rising, and it is a new dawn in rod-making.”
“The new Orvis Helios 9 wt is the best rod I have ever fished with. I just wish we had hooked up with the elusive permits so I could have experienced its response to large, very active gamefish. This should be a big seller for them since those of us now in our 60’s don’t have the strength or ability to throw flies as far or as accurately as we once could using the heavier rods. Using a rod about 2 oz lighter is a fantastic advantage. I think those fishing for salmon, steelhead, etc. where it is not just sight fishing will love the lighter weight and ease of casting. Please tell Orvis they have a real winner there.”
“The wind blew consistently between 10 and 20 knots everyday during my most recent trip to Casa Blanca, Mexico, where I fished for bonefish, tarpon, and permit. Not only did the high wind make casting with accuracy more challenging, but the fish were even more spooky than normal. The 9 wt. ZG Helios, which felt lighter than an 8 wt. rod, made casting in these conditions pleasant while other rods did not perform nearly as well. Not only could I cast with accuracy into or across an often stiff wind with the Helios, but the rod had both the sensitivity (due in large part to it’s light weight) to hook and fight 3-5 pound bonefish as well as the backbone to land 35+ pound Tarpon very quickly. Stated simply, the 9 wt. Helios outperformed other rods of both smaller and larger line sizes from 8 wt. to 10 wt.”
“Thanks again for getting the Helios 10-wt to me this fall. I used the rod a bunch of times on albies, blues, and stripers from NY to NC. The rod is sweet to say the least. It casts unbelievably easy and feels so light. At first I was a little leery of putting the screws to the rod for fear I might break it. It just felt too light to really think it could be strong too. Anyway, I cranked the drag on my reel all the way down and put the screws to bunch of crazy NC albies... kicked their asses! This rod is tough. I did the same with some jumbo blues and fall run, but not so jumbo stripers, and had a blast doing it. Everyone who fishes this rod loves it, and how could they not?”
“I fished the 909-4 Helios on Andros last week. Freaking awesome stick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Great in close and at distances. All the guides and even Crazy Charlie loved it. They could not believe it was a nine weight. Top notch baby.”
“Took the 8-weight Helios out yesterday for the first time – just to throw it around for a little and caught a 7-lb. redfish on the 5th or 6th cast. That is hands down the most amazing fly rod I have ever thrown...period. Light as a feather, and solid as a rock. As a matter of fact that 8-weight feels like a 6.”
“Thought I’d let you know: I gave my new Helios 6-wt a workout Friday. Caught about 50 stripers in the 18-22” range at the bay. Halfway through hooked into one that took me to my backing. 10 minutes later landed a 30” 11-lb. on the 6-wt. Carson was wondering about the Helios being so light if it would stand up to bigger fish without blowing up. His fears were laid to rest…”
“I have let six of my clients use the Helios and they all think that it is the best rod they have ever cast; I know that four of them will buy them when they arrive back.”
“The new Helios rods may just be the best rod that I’ve ever fished for trout with. They look good and fish even better!”
“The Helios is an awesome rod! This is definitely the best graphite rod that Orvis has ever produced and, in my opinion, the finest currently being produced by any manufacturer. It’s perfect. I can’t think of a single thing I would change. I rarely say that about any piece of fishing equipment. Although the Helios stands out from the crowd in all of the line weights and lengths that I cast, after having cast the 9 and 10 weights at the shop, and after having fished this 10' 7-wt, I can say that the heavier and longer the rod, the more the Helios stands out as superior.”
"Thanks to Mike and Brett I am lucky and I’ve tried the first HELIOS rod that came to Argentina, a 865-4 – 2 1/8 oz. - Mid Flex 6.5. The first test was on Tunuyan’s Rio Grande, fast water but a very small stream, It’s impossible to describe the lightweight sensation of this new Orvis rod, the perfect balance for the BLA I. But the greatest surprise was its strength and soul to throw flies in any difficult situation. Wind doesn’t exist for this rod. Then comes the though test for the Helios, Tordillo and Salado rivers in Mendoza, here the wind it’s really strong, I was able to cast with the same elegance, a delicate dry or a bead head streamer. A whole afternoon without stress in my back, that has more than 45 years as you know, casting flies… But no one can imagine the power that this rod has to fight a big trout and land it so nicely. It has an incredible strength despite of its weight. I’ve never used such a wonderful and nice rod in my life."