Orvis Helios 4D & 4F Review & Model-by-Model Comparisons

February 06, 2024
Orvis Helios 4D & 4F Review & Model-by-Model Comparisons
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New 2024 Orvis HELIOS 4D & 4F Review & Model-by-Model Comparisons - The Best Fly Rods Ever (According to Orvis)

The NEW Orvis Helios 4D and 4F Fly Rods* for 2024 have been released! Ok guys, get ready for some of the boldest, most incredible, most jaw-dropping... claims about a fly rod, that have ever been made before (not saying they aren't true, but I will need a few more weeks of rigorous testing). Orvis says their new rods are "The Most Accurate Fly Rods in the World" - but am I the most accurate caster? Hmmm. What Orvis means, in simpler terms, is these new rods have less "wobble" to them when you throw them (see image below). We'll dig in and find out just how accurate the claims, and the rods, really are. Hail Tom.

Update: Wow, a lot of angry Orvis fanatics reacting to this article, not fully reading what I have written. It's a joke guys, relax. The rods are great but I get to make fun of the marketing hype if I want to. Jeez. Calm down. You were going to buy it no matter what a review said anyway, so why are you even reading this? Praise Tom.

First impression after casting a few of them: I'd say it's true they are very accurate, however I would also qualify that by saying the tradeoff is a bit of feel. They are precise and if I had to summarize, I'd say they are "crisp" and responsive. You'll still need to know how to cast, though. Some of you will like this rod, and some of you won't. They are also pretty line-dependent in my brief testing so far, meaning that the rods behave differently with different tapers and grain weights of lines - I will add lots of detail to this review-in-progress when I have more time. 

*Quick note here: Orvis actually isn't technically calling this new rod series the "Helios 4" but rather just "HELIOS" in either "D" or "F" versions. They dropped the version number for these new ones. I might sometimes say 4D and 4F in this review just to make it more clear which version I am referring to, like the previous 3D and 3F.

Just remember it's D (for Distance) and F (for Finesse) so these are actually two completely different rod series, and they encompass a very wide range of potential casting/fly fishing scenarios. I would be wary of reviews that only cover one rod out of the dozens in this series. And I am always skeptical of reviews that only heap praise and try to sell you the latest thing, without a detailed reason why. My review will take awhile to complete, this is just a rough draft so far, but I think it will be more beneficial to the reader once I am done. Now, I am not going to review the 2wt (sorry) but I will try to evaluate every model I think will be popular. 

Orvis Helios 4D Rods

Orvis Helios 4F Rods

Now, as you may know from my other reviews, I am fortunate enough to own all of the best saltwater fly rods on the market currently (plus a few very nice freshwater rods). I buy every new saltwater rod that comes out and I test it extensively. And more importantly, I have tested them all with every single great fly line there is. So I have a pretty good frame of reference. Keep in mind that while I may not be an expert in freshwater fly fishing compared to saltwater, I do still get to cast the best rods in that realm as well. 

This new HELIOS rod series is direct competition for the top fly rods from SAGE, Winston, Scott, Thomas & Thomas, G. Loomis, Hardy, and a handful of smaller rod brands as well. I am talking about the top-end, $1,000+ fly rods from major brands, in both freshwater and saltwater. The Helios D (for Distance) and F (for Finesse) have some overlapping models so it might get a little confusing which one you want to get, or what rod it competes with from other brands you are considering. Well, I'm happy to help with that if you ever want to call or email me. I'll try to cover it here as best I can.

Here's an overview of all the different models, info straight from Orvis: 

Helios 4F Fly Rod Models & Specs: 

 LENGTH  WT.   GRIP CONFIGURATION
7'6"  2 6.5" Half Wells grip 
7'6"  3 6.5" Half Wells grip
8'4"  3 7" Modified Full Wells, no fighting butt
10'  3 7" Modified Full Wells, downlocking seat w/.75" fighting butt
11'  3 7" Modified Full Wells downlocking seat w/.75" fighting butt
7'6"  4 6.5" Half Wells grip
8'6"  4 7" Modified Full Wells, no fighting butt
9'  4 7" Modified Full Wells, no fighting butt
8'6"  5 7" Modified Full Wells, no fighting butt
9'  5 7" Modified Full Wells, no fighting butt
9'  6 7" Modified Full Wells, no fighting butt
9'  8 7" Full Wells w/1.25" fighting butt, D Series Shown, F Series in Pewter

  

Helios 4D Fly Rod Models & Specs: 

 LENGTH  WT.  GRIP CONFIGURATION
10'  4 7" Modified Full Wells*
9'  5 7" Modified Full Wells*
9'5"  5 7" Modified Full Wells*
10'  5 7" Modified Full Wells*
9'  6 7" Modified Full Wells downlocking seat w/.75" fighting butt
10'  6 7" Full Wells w/.75" fighting butt
8'5"  7 7" Full Wells w/.75" fighting butt
9'  7 7" Full Wells w/.75" fighting butt
10'  7 7" Full Wells w/.75" fighting butt
8'5"  8 7" Full Wells w/1.25" fighting butt
9'  8 7" Full Wells w/1.25" fighting butt
9'  9 7" Full Wells w/1.25" fighting butt
8'5" 10 7" Full Wells w/1.25" fighting butt
9' 10 7" Full Wells w/1.25" fighting butt
9' 11 7" Full Wells w/2.25" fighting butt
9' 12 7" Full Wells w/2.25" fighting butt
8'5" 14 Extended Full Wells w/2.25" fighting butt

 

 

 

An interesting thing to note is that Orvis skipped all fly fishing shows with these new rods. That would have been a great place to "prove it" against all the other rods out there. 

Anyway, enough about marketing, we all want to know how the rods actually stack up, and to do that I will need plenty of time. I don't jump to conclusions, I thoroughly test every single rod with every single line. 

Styling/Appearance and Components - 

Visually the Helios 4 series looks very nice. Not a radical departure from the Helios 3 and clearly in that same family from a styling standpoint. A little cleaner, more modern, maybe more subtle as well. Matte black is not a terribly exciting option for the blank but it is fine. Composite cork on the forward part of the grip - similar to Thomas & Thomas (T&T) rods. I'll be honest, the reel seats are a somewhat thin aluminum which does save weight but feels a bit cheaper than other reel seats for saltwater rods. The guides are titanium - although Orvis does not seem to mention this on their own website, so it is a bit unclear. Fun fact, they are actually identical to those on my Thomas & Thomas Sextant so I am very familiar with these. At $1,198 it's a 20% price bump over the last Helios 3 for a similar look. Changes are mainly in the rod blank itself. At any rate, the rods look very nice in my opinion. Not quite at the level of Winston and T&T but they are certainly nice and a good evolution of the Helios series. The white at the base of the rod has long been argued about online, but in reality I think it won't matter much. Orvis does this so people can easily see and identify their rods in pictures and videos, great for social media. It's brand recognition, like the iconic white earbuds / AirPods from Apple for example. You can have any color you like, as long as you want white (with a matte black blank). Will we see a blue variant later on, like with the Helios 3? I don't know. But I do know how much more popular blue base was than white for the 3D at least.

Warranty - 

Many people say they buy Orvis just for the great warranty. People don't all know this but most fly rods carry a lifetime warranty anyway. Orvis says "25 Year Warranty" which to be honest is probably more realistic than saying "Lifetime" but it is technically shorter depending on your age when you buy the rods I guess. Anyway, I wouldn't worry about warranty when you are talking about all the top fly rod brands, because really most of them take great care of customers. My main point is, don't choose a fly rod based on the warranty. 

Value and Price Point - Comparing Rod Brands

"Price is what you pay, value is what you get." This is not an inexpensive rod series but in fairness, neither is the competition. In 2024, expect to spend at least $1,000 for a top-end fly rod from any brand. This one ranges from around $1,100 to $1,200 depending on the specific model and size. Mostly saltwater rods are what I am focusing on, and those are $1,198 which is $98 more than a Sage Salt R8 - a proven performer and one of the best saltwater rods on the planet, without a doubt. The Sage R8 Core series (mainly freshwater with some anadromous applications mixed in) sits at $1,050 which means the Helios 4 in most sizes is $48 more and up to $148 more depending which specific ones you are comparing (8wt for example). Sage performance, as well as fit and finish are among the highest of any rod company. Sage SALT R8 components are a bit nicer than the Helios series (which as I mentioned shares the same guides as the competing T&T). Scott and Winston both use Ceracoil guides. But, Winston is nearly $1,300 so for value it's clearly the Sage SALT R8 series rods that win here. The Thomas & Thomas Sextant meanwhile at just under $1,000 is really another fantastic value for the money and can do everything these other rods do while looking even better. The Scott Sector (saltwater) is at $1,045 and is excellent - I own a few. The Scott Centric (freshwater) comes in at an entirely reasonable $945 making it not only one of the best performers, but the best deal by far. Winston's price point is the second highest behind the G. Loomis Asquith so while I consider them to be excellent rods, they won't win on value next to some of the other options. Hardy is not bad, just not quite as good as other options at the same price. The Douglas Sky G is a great value and often overlooked, sitting at a very attractive $895 price point. The least expensive of what I'd consider the "very good" to "excellent" level of fly rods.  

*Now as a side note, some little whiny person trolling in the comments on my article says Orvis is better than Sage and I "need to do more research before I review fly rods." It's pretty funny considering I personally sell more saltwater fly rods than any other individual salesperson in the entire United States (and probably the world). I know exactly what is most popular and also what my customers enjoy using the most, which is really my main focus. My shop carries only the best brands in the entire fly fishing industry. Just want to clarify that yes, I am in fact very familiar with most fly rods in existence today. I also have around $30,000 worth of saltwater fly lines in inventory to test with as well. And unlike certain other reviewers who only test rods with one line, I am not afraid to sacrifice quite a few fly lines in order to properly test each new fly rod that is released. It's really the ONLY way to get a good sense of what a fly rod can do. You have to cast it, but you also need to be testing it under conditions equal to those you know potential customers will encounter. And you need to factor in line choices, it's actually a pretty big deal. 

*Update: I have had some upset Orvis fans thinking I am saying these aren't great rods, that is not the case at all. I said they are excellent but to get the excellence out of them some lines work better than others. Everybody relax. If you are already a devoted Orvis enthusiast, this review won't matter to you anyway you are still just going to go buy the Helios no matter what. My goal is to help you squeeze every bit of performance out of it once you have it. That is best accomplished by correctly matching fly lines to rods. Not every rod can be number one at everything in every category. No fly rod is.

   

Conclusions - Part 1 

I like these new rods, I think they are interesting for sure. Because this is a rod evolved from the highest level Orvis rod series, I knew immediately it would be in the "Top Ten" best rods available today, without a doubt. Can it crack the top five? That's not easy. The Sage R8, Scott Centric, and Winston Air 2 are certainly leading the top 5 for freshwater rods, in my opinion. In saltwater, it's clearly the Scott Sector and Sage Salt R8 that are the ones to beat, and the newest Winston Air 2 Max series is fantastic as well. Keep in mind that Orvis probably has to make thousands more of these rods (in the USA) every year compared to other smaller brands. So making them all black for example is probably a very efficient and smart move for them (although not very exciting to me). In case you are new to fly fishing, Orvis is huge. They make more money on things like dog beds than some fly rod companies make on rods. Don't worry, it's not the same people making the dog beds that make the rods. 

The new Orvis Helios is a great choice. It's obviously in the Top Ten rods, but I knew that as soon as it was even rumored. Likely in the Top Five, but I honestly don't quite think it's Top Three. Actually the 9wt is in the Top Three; performance is noticeably better than other Helios models and also the majority of rival 9wt rods. And meanwhile Orvis fanatics thought I was being negative. Not at all. This is all subjective, it is my opinion. I am still doing more testing and I will try more lines and rod weights over time. The Helios seems line-dependent in a way rods like the Sage SALT R8 are not, meaning this Helios series performs best when you get a good matching line for it. That's the key. This is why people go to us for expert advice. I am not going to talk you out of, or into, this Helios rod. That's not what I do. You can make your own decisions on which rod to buy, and I will help you get it to perform at its best. All the rods in my "Top Five" or even "Top Ten" work great. Don't stress too much. 

What do I own and enjoy most? Sage, Winston, Scott, and T&T (in no particular order). I also own other rod brands (G. Loomis, Orvis, Hardy, etc) which work great. I own custom fly rods, including bamboo rods, which I know won't outperform some of the other ones on this list, but which I happen to just really like. Buy what makes you happy. 

   

 

*A note on how I review things: I don't like reviews which always just shower praise on every new product. That's never the whole story. People sometimes read my reviews and think I am biased, or I favor one brand over another. I have high standards for my own gear and no brand gets a free pass. My entire job is to make sure customers get real advice on the best possible equipment for their money, and that they enjoy what they bought. I test everything as best I am able because I am also curious and frankly I enjoy experimenting and sharing the results. If a new rod is great, I will actually buy a few for myself. Speaking of which, nobody sponsors me or gives me free fly rods in exchange for a favorable review or anything like that. I only benefit from writing these reviews if customers purchase something from our fly shop and online store, which of course we greatly appreciate. Thanks for your support! 

  

 

In order to give the most accurate and in-depth review possible, I need a lot of time to write this review. So what I do is publish the outline of the review and then update as I go. Anything below this line is not finished yet and can be ignored for now.  

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Model-by-Model Notes and Line Recommendations: 

Initial casting impressions: These rods are fairly line-dependent so this section will be more important than it usually is for more all-around versatile rods. The strangest surprise so far in my testing was that the best line was... Airflo? I mean it's a good line, I use it myself on a few of my reels but I would have thought for sure Scientific Anglers or RIO would steal that prize. Anyway I will continue testing more lines and really dig into which ones are the winners for the new Helios rod series.

**Update as of 2/21/24: I am finally allowed to reveal the "other" fly lines I have been testing this rod with, the all-new Scientific Anglers Magnitude Clear Floating Lines. These are awesome and worked very well with the new Helios rods.

  

------> This section is not finished yet but I am working hard to test all the different fly lines and update this as I am able

6wt - I don't suggest using this rod size in saltwater in general (not directed at the Helios I just mean use a 7wt at minimum for salt). This is nice if you want a crossover freshwater/streamer and ultralight saltwater option. SA Bonefish Plus or RIO Elite Bonefish are probably going to be the best bets, or RIO Elite Gold / SA Infinity if you are using it in freshwater.

7wt - Go with SA Bonefish / Bonefish PLUS, RIO Elite Bonefish or Premier Redfish line, all are bestsellers and work great, just depending which fish you are after. 

8wt - I always test a TON of fly lines with any 8 weight and the new Helios series handled most of these lines fairly well:

SA Bonefish - Lightest line tested, true-to-weight at 210gr and performed very nicely. The Helios could probably use just a bit more weight but this line still worked totally fine.

*New: SA Bonefish PLUS! - Basically a perfect line for this rod. You can check out my full review of the new fly line here.

RIO Elite Bonefish - The most popular Bonefish fly line we sell - No surprise this was a top performer. Typically this is what we include in Bonefish rod & reel combo outfits. This is the number one best-selling Bonefish line, however the all-new SA Bonefish PLUS lines are a pretty big challenge to that title now.

SA Infinity Salt - Another excellent line on most saltwater rods. This line is a half size heavy but has a fairly long head length and can carry line at distance very well. Pretty close to Flats Pro in terms of the concept behind it, a general-purpose line with a much longer head than Redfish, Grand Slam, or QuickShooter types of saltwater lines, which allows much more control at distance and really continues to load the rod well even with a lot of line out. 

RIO Elite Flats Pro - Heaviest flats line option with more weight and longer head than other "normal" saltwater lines. This is a full size heavy. I would prefer something a little lighter than this for the Helios, at least in 8wt, but it did work.

RIO Premier Redfish - The newest version, it's a Redfish line so not a long head; works great on pretty much every rod I've tried it with. Redfish fans rejoice, this is an easy choice. SA Redfish is also a good one, I just didn't cast it with this specific rod.

Airflo Flats Tactical Taper - This is a great line, performs well on almost every rod I have tested it on. You can go up to the Universal Taper (next one on this list) for heavier flies or more windy conditions.

Airflo Flats Universal Taper - A very nice all-around saltwater line that not a lot of people know about. Great with the new Helios and everything else I have ever used it with.

RIO Warmwater Predator - A new jungle line for 2023, the heaviest line tested by far, nearly two line sizes heavy. Probably not what most people will be using, but certainly an option. Consider sizing this down (put a 7wt line on your 8wt) if you can. This is mainly just a line for peacock bass and golden dorado but you can certainly also use it in saltwater.

SA Magnitude Series Clear Lines - More info coming soon, these were just announced right after I published this article but I have had them for awhile doing my usual testing. Everything I tried worked great with the new rods.

 

9wt - The Permit Rod:

RIO Elite Bonefish - The most popular Bonefish fly line we sell - worked great but I liked Rio Permit line just a little better personally. It's only a 10 grain difference between the two though.

RIO Elite Permit - Pretty much the most likely fly line to be matched with the 9wt and performs flawlessly but we will also test other lines on it soon.

RIO Premier Redfish - The new version, it's a Redfish line so not a long head. This is a great line though for sure.

SA Grand Slam - Naturally this is going to be one of the most popular choices. Short head, loads the rod easily, quick casts without a lot of false casting.

RIO Warmwater Predator - Brand new line for 2023, the heaviest line tested by far, approximately two line sizes heavy. Great on the Helios which was actually a pretty big surprise honestly. Usually heavy lines will bog down performance but this 9wt rod is honestly impressive. If you need this line, you need it - otherwise stick with Permit or Flats Pro lines.

   

10wt: Great all-around saltwater size for many different fish species, most likely the main targets will be Permit and medium-sized Tarpon.

RIO Elite Permit 10wt - Great choice for Permit, of course. This one or RIO Tarpon, or Flats Pro are the most likely fly lines to be matched with the 10wt.

SA Grand Slam - Great, of course, and many people like this line. I prefer a longer head but this works great.

RIO Elite Flats Pro - Heaviest typical flats line option with a bit more weight and longer head than most other saltwater lines.

RIO Premier Tarpon Clear Tip (Newest version for 2023) - New but a familiar taper for me since it is based on Rio Elite Tarpon. Works perfectly and has a clear floating tip which can be nice to have for Permit or Tarpon.

RIO Warmwater Predator - Brand new line for 2023, the heaviest line tested by far, approximately two line sizes heavy. Great on the Helios which was actually a pretty big surprise honestly. Usually heavy lines will bog down performance but this 9wt rod is honestly impressive. If you need this line, you need it - otherwise stick with Permit, Tarpon, Grand Slam, or Flats Pro lines.

  

11wt: The go-to Tarpon rod weight, especially here in Florida.

RIO Premier Tarpon Clear Tip (Newest version for 2023) - This is a very popular new line from RIO. Very nice. As a bonus, this new line has a clear floating tip which RIO says they have spent years perfecting.

SA Tarpon - You know it, you love it. It's this or the RIO, take your pick, these are the gold standard lines for Tarpon.

RIO Elite Tarpon - This has always been the best-selling choice for the majority of my Tarpon customers. The brand new Premier Tarpon Clear Tip I just mentioned above is pretty nice so far and seems to have a similar taper, so both are great options here.

SA Amplitude Textured Infinity Salt - This is a nice line but not nearly as popular in 11wt as Tarpon lines are, in general.

RIO Elite Flats Pro - Always a popular choice. No major reason to get this over the Rio Tarpon line though, but you can if you want. Longer head, different taper design. I like the unique versions of this line such as the clear tips or full intermediate if you are going deeper.

 

12wt: BIG Tarpon, Giant Trevally & light offshore fly fishing -

Most people buying a 12wt are going after Tarpon or GT. Maybe a Sailfish - or an Arapaima. I'd go with RIO Tarpon or Elite GT for the first two species, or RIO's Leviathan series for the Sailfish and other offshore applications. Maybe a Tropical Outbound Short if you just love really heavy lines but the GT line is also very heavy. 

 

NEW there's an even bigger Helios than a 12wt, the 14wt although I am not going to test it for awhile probably. If you have to have it, get it. 

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