Nobody needs an $800 rod for fly fishing. Even for the hardcore angler, that sum would be better spent on a couple of casting lessons or guided trips, to say nothing of college tuitions and 401(k)s.
But the Orvis Helios 2 is a magic wand of sorts, a wisp of carbon-fiber that excels at two things:
• Deftly delivering a glorified piece of pocket lint through 60 yards of wind. Making a person forget the definition of “need.”
• It is regarded by many as the finest casting rod ever made.
Orvis leaned heavily on the aeronautics industry to develop the Helios 2. A list of the rod’s ingredients makes it sound like a very long, skinny space shuttle: unidirectional graphite scrim, nano-silica polymers, thermoplastic epoxy, and ceramic-lined titanium. These materials—and the way Orvis pieces them together—stretch the laws of physics a fair bit. The rod is both featherweight and really difficult to snap, flexible but strong enough to shoot line into a stiff wind or horse a striped bass out from under a pier.
The 5-weight version spans 10 feet and is about as heavy as a large egg. It’s also gorgeous: a deep lustrous blue, tapering away from a grip of blond cork and a burled wood rod seat that would not look out of place in the musical instruments wing of the Met.
With about 35 feet of line out, the Helios 2 feels like most fly rods, albeit lighter and a bit stiffer. As it casts farther, the rod starts to warm up, slinging line effortlessly, like a well-hit line drive. What’s also notable is what doesn’t happen: The tip doesn’t rattle or whip outside where you want it to go. (The rod is a more reliable tool than your casting arm, by far.)
Still, like most luxury products, the value of the Helios 2 far outstrips its pragmatism. It will not catch four times more fish than a $200 rod or cast four times farther. It’s expensive because it is a pinnacle of craftsmanship and technology. It costs more because of what went into it, not necessarily what you get out of it.
It took me a couple of years to buy a Helios 2, but an afternoon on the Delaware River in upstate New York in August sealed it. The fish—big, spooky brown trout—were always just a little farther, the wind a little stronger. My longtime fishing buddy passed me his Helios. One 17-inch fish later and I was in the shop by day's end. When I started casting for striped bass on the piers of Brooklyn a few weeks later, the 5-weight rod held its own, despite being at least two sizes smaller than ideal.
Many of the 4 million or so fly anglers in America want a Helios 2, but none of them needs one. Here's how to convince yourself to splurge on it.