Orvis Helios 3F Rod Review: A Euro-Nymphing Rod That Can Do It All

European-style nymphing is growing in popularity on trout waters across the United States, and fly rod manufacturers have taken notice. Orvis follows suit with the new Helios 3F.

There are more euro-nymphing rods on the market today than ever before. And for good reason: The technique flat-out catches fish. Following this trend, Orvis released its new high-end euro stick, the Helios 3F 10’6″ three-weight.

We took it out on the water to give it a run for its money.

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What the Heck Is ‘Euro Nymphing’?

European nymphing is a modern nymph fishing method born from competition fly angling. The technique utilizes weighted flies to achieve depth (as opposed to split shot) and a bright monofilament section of line, called a sighter, in place of a traditional strike indicator.

The angler holds the bright sighter off the water in a high-stick fashion to maintain contact with the flies. Then, when the sighter straightens or pauses, the fisherman sets the hook, as this indicates that a fish has intercepted the heavy flies mid-drift.

Helios 3F Review: Appearance & Components Orvis Helios 3F fly fishing rod

The rod features high-quality cork and a down-locking reel seat with a fighting butt. This rod sports these features due to the longer length of the rod. The additional mass of the fighting butt and pushing the reel further down the reel seat help the rod balance at the cork handle. Correct balance pays dividends over an entire day of high-sticking in regards to shoulder fatigue.

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The blank is matte-gray, which I like because it may help avoid spooking fish. There’s no way to tell for sure if it makes a difference. However, in a euro-nymphing situation where an angler is often close to fish, any degree of stealth is helpful.

For the long moments when you’re off the water, the Helios comes in a black rod sock and a white aluminum tube with a logo similar to the one above the cork handle. Yes, it’s ugly, but at least everyone on the trout stream will know you’re accurate from anywhere, bro.

Standard Euro Actions & How the Rod Compares

The author fishing the Orvis Helios 3F fly rod

Rods for European style nymphing are generally longer, lighter, and a have a softer tip than your regular 9-foot 5-weight. Ultimately, the Helios 3F fits this description.

I fished the 10’6″ Helios next to other euro rods that were only 10 feet in length, and I appreciated the extra distance the Helios gave me. It allowed me to reach over currents that I couldn’t with my shorter rods and helped eliminate sag — which causes drag on euro systems — at farther distances.

The Helios features a soft tip. This is vital when casting a monofilament leader and lightly weighted nymphs instead of a full fly line. The soft tip leads to a more sensitive rod, which allows an angler to maintain better contact with their rig. This rod is so sensitive that I can honestly feel the difference between my flies ticking a rock on the bottom and a trout eating my flies.

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While the Helios has a soft tip, the butt and midsection are anything but. These sections are stiff and quite sturdy.

It’s common for euro rods to have that type of action, but the Helios has the stiffest butt and midsection out of all the euro rods I own. My ESN, Recon, and Hydrogen all bend lower in the rod blank when casting. With the Helios, virtually all the bend is in the tip. I believe this makes it the most versatile euro rod out there. (More on this later.)

Now, is it “accurate from anywhere” as the brand claims? It’s supposedly the most accurate fly rod out there due to the lack of side-to-side rod movement in the cast. Of course, Sage has been making this claim for years with its Konnetic HD technology.

It makes sense, then, to compare the Orvis Helios 3F to my Sage ESN. The Orvis is just as accurate as the Sage, but not more so. Of course, maybe I suck at casting and can’t tell the difference. Either way, I can consistently put the fly exactly where I want.

Where the Helios 3F Fly Rod Struggles

So, is the rod all sunshine and rainbows? Nope. There are some facets I dislike.

The rod doesn’t have a hook keeper, a feature that’s becoming standard in the industry. That omission needs to stop now: I don’t like reaching up to place my hooks on a stripping guide or stabbing holes in cork. Do you hear me, manufacturers? Bring. Back. Hook. Keepers.

The other thing I don’t enjoy is the use of double-foot snake guides rather than single-foot guides. When euro-nymphing, the line/leader connection is feeding through the guides often. I’ve found that this junction doesn’t go through the double-foot guides as well as it does on the single-footers unless the connection is perfectly smooth. On my rods with single-foot guides, the connection always feeds well regardless of how clean I tie the knot. However, as soon as I re-tied a smoother knot, the problem with the double-foot guides went away.

I’m also the millionth person on the planet to mention that the Helios 3F ugly. Aside from the glaring white label, the reel seat bothers me. It looks and feels like plastic. For $898, it feels cheap. While performance is more important than looks, at that price, a rod should offer both.

Helios 3F: More Than Just a Euro Rod

The author fishing the Orvis Helios 3F fly rod

Despite these drawbacks, the best thing about this rod is its all-around performance. Remember when I said I’d come back to it being the most versatile rod out there? While Orvis markets it as a euro-nymphing rod, it’s much more than that.

This rod throws dries, indicator nymph rigs, and light streamers fantastically. When not euro nymphing, I pair the rod with a four-weight SA trout taper line. I overline the rod to engage that stiffer butt section for longer casts and punching through the wind.

As for dry flies, I’ve thrown everything from big hoppers to size 24 midges on the Helios. Was it the best tool in my arsenal for those individual situations? No, but it threw both shockingly well, and you’d be hard pressed to find one rod that performed as well in both categories.

When overhead casting dries, it’s harder to form laser-tight loops due to the longer length. I didn’t find this to be a huge issue, though, as it still cast in the wind just fine, and the fish didn’t seem to notice.

This rod is an indicator fisherman’s dream. I’ve had clients fish this rod with a 3/4-inch thingamabobber, two flies, and a couple BB shots on a drop-shot system. The rod throws it like an absolute champ. Again, this is because of that stiff butt and midsection. Heavier rigs engage the power in the thicker portions of the rod.

Due to the longer length, mending and high-sticking indicator rigs on this rod is also a breeze. It’s ridiculously easy to mend all the way down to the bobber, even at long distances.

The rod also excels at throwing smaller trout streamers. Fishing small, bugger-type patterns is quite fun on this rod, as you can hold the rod high and perform stalling, jig-style retrieves.

Final Thoughts

In all honesty, if you put me in a corner and told me I could only own one trout rod for the rest of my life, this might be it.

Does that mean you can throw an 8-inch streamer on a sinking line with it? Sure you can. You can also drink nonalcoholic beer, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

This rod wouldn’t do well in that situation, but it excels in most trout fishing situations. So, aside from chucking big streamers and other extreme scenarios, I would be happy to approach a trout stream equipped with only this rod. With increased demand, long and light rods are becoming more abundant. But it’s tough to find one better than the Orvis Helios 3F.