In our latest gear review, we will be taking a detailed look into the newest line of rods to come out of Vermont, the Orvis Helios 3 Blackout series. Born of the same lineage as the coveted Helios 3D and 3F, the Blackout series was created with specialization in mind. Delivered in 3 SKU’s; the 9’5″, #5, the 8’5″, #8, and the 10′,#3, all serve vastly different purposes and are built with anglers on a mission in mind. In this review, we will be looking over the differences and similarities these rods have with not only each other, but their cousins the H3D and the H3F, as well as how all 3 rods performed in the field. Check out our personal thoughts below…
Note: In this review, we will only be going over the 9’5″,#5 Rod, and the 8’5″,#8 rod. This isn’t because the 11′,#3 Blackout is a euro-rod. We love euro rods. That review will come separately. Sorry. Now back to our scheduled programming.
Orvis 8’5″,#8 Blackout Rod Review
Orvis 9’5″,#5 Blackout Rod Review
H3D/ H3F Comparison
When we first heard about the new Blackout line back in April, we were briefed on the fact that a new “specialty rod” was coming out of Orvis HQ in Vermont. We didn’t know what to expect but we were extremely intrigued considering this release was shortly following releases of the same nature from competing rod brands. Upon learning more about each rod, and actually getting to take one out for a day – we only knew one thing: we needed one (or in this case, 3).
What is the H3 Blackout?
In summation, for those who haven’t figured it out yet, the Blackout line is a complementary line of H3 rods that Orvis unveiled as specialty rods. Each rod serves a unique purpose and is built for anglers who want to take their gear to the next level. The 9’5″, #5 is for those who are looking for a little more than an average trout rod. Its main purpose is for launching long, accurate casts, as well as making big mends over testy currents. Think of it like a 9′ #5, with all the perks of a 10′ #5. Next, we have the 8’5″, #8 which, in my opinion, is one of the most fascinating designs of the rod line. This rod packs a hard punch and is designed for delivering powerful, fast casts, around the clock. Finally, the 11′ #3 is, as one could easily guess, designed for Euro-nymphing. Now, in my opinion, the best euro-nymphing rod on the market (that I’ve used) was the Orvis Recon 10′ #3. Note the keyword “was”. The new Blackout euro-stick manages to deliver more sensitivity, and more control, all while boasting a whole extra foot of rod. How they even built the damn thing to work the way it does is beyond me.
When these rods finally showed up on our doorstep, they stayed in their plastic for around 30-seconds to a minute before they were reeled and lined up, en route to the river. Having played with the H3D and the H3F prior to this, we had a base to judge our comparison off of, and as we expected – these rods lived up to the family name.
After netting a few trout and having a few laughs, we reluctantly returned the rods to their tubes. In preparations for an upcoming trip to Swedish Laplands, we figured these puppies needed their beauty sleep before the long adventure. This leads us into the next segment…
The real field test started the same way most do nowadays: with a long plastic prod being inserted into my nasal cavity and tickling my brain. Upon leaving the testing facility, we made our way home and stuffed our suitcases full of clothing and gear that had spent the last week sprawled across our living room floor. Finally feeling somewhat composed, all that was left to do was to catch our 6 am flight the next day. The destination: Swedish Laplands, the mission: the bend some rods.
Orvis Blackout 8’5, #8 Rod Review:
Fast forward to about a week and change into the trip. We had holstered our two-handed Spey rods, and for the most part, had relinquished our dreams of Salmon. There was a profuse scent of disappointment that floated through the air – an almost skunky smell. However, it was time to play with the new toys, and I for one couldn’t have been more excited to test out the new blackout rods. Itching to catching something of decent proportion that boasted some attitude: we unsheathed the 8’5″, #8 Blackout Rod, slapped a reel on, and went to work.
The first lake was small enough to work from the bank. Nonetheless, our Scandanavian friends insisted we give the inflatable “Fish Cat” pontoon a test drive. It wasn’t long before we were rigged and ready to go, causing the shoreline in search of something big to smash our streamer. The #8 Blackout offered a fierce punch, complemented by its short length that really allowed us to work every crevice of the weed beds we floated by. With swift and powerful casts, we slammed flies over every lily pad, and under every log we could find.
Soon, with a shockingly powerful take, a juvenile pike consumed our tackle and began our first play of the day. The fight wasn’t long, and soon after releasing the sprightly little fish, we packed up our gear and came to the mutual conclusion we might want to try a bigger body of water.
It wasn’t long until we were loaded into miscellaneous sections of our guide, Robin Landin’s motorboat, that we were off land, cruising towards a marshy pocket located on the south side of a much larger lake. The lake was known to hold an abundant population of Perch, and more importantly, a well-fed population of Pike. Upon closing into the suspected pike hole, voices grew quiet and rods became heavy. It was exactly what we were looking for…
Still wielding the #8 Blackout, we pounded the black water over and over again. Frogs, Game Changers, Pike Bunnies, D&D’s – you name it. It was about 20 minutes into this onslaught that the first boil appeared. If you know anything about pike fishing, you know that once that happens: it’s about to be on. With the #8 Blackout, targeting exactly where this strike was going to be was relatively effortless. The rod was easy to command and snapped casts in any direction on a dime – regardless of where the cast started.
In what felt like hours, but was realistically seconds, the water around my fly erupted in a flurry of scales and teeth. With one more adamant strip, my line was tight, and my fly was on a trip to the bottom of the lake with a pissed-off-pike attached to it. Quickly, I dug the fighting butt into my abdomen and started cranking back on the rod. While mid-cast, the Blackout delivers more of a #7 finesse, the robust backbone certainly reminds the user that they have a powerful wench at their disposal. After a few short runs, the fight was over and the fish was landed.
While there may have been larger Pike caught out of lakes before (this is up for debate amongst my colleagues and I), it was a success nonetheless. With hands trembling and smiles in abundance, we jetted back to shore to begin the next leg of our adventure.
Ease of Casting:
Orvis 9’5″, #5 Rod Review:
After the helicopter blades had ceased spinning and the whine of the engine had been drowned out by the howling wind, we stepped out of the aircraft to be treated by a refreshing chill in the air. Surrounded by snowcapped hills and mossy cliffs, there in front of us was our lake. This lake was where we would be spending the next 5 days camping as we hunted for the elusive char said to occupy the depths of this and adjacent bodies of water. Immediately upon setting up camp (which was not an easy task in a torrent of highland wind), we headed towards the water with the 5’9″, #5 Blackout in hand, hopeful for even a glimpse of Arctic Char.
While unfortunately, that evening was unsuccessful, we drowned our sorrows with a healthy splash of boxed wine and got ready for the days ahead. The next morning, it didn’t take long before we awoke to the sound of our guide, Jacob Eliason, screaming with excitement as the first Arctic Char of the trip zipped towards the center of the lake, bringing Jacob into his backing. In a bewildered state, we slipped into our clothes as quickly as possible, and sprinted towards the figure dancing around the lake – rod still in hand.
The fish was beautiful. It had always been a dream of mine to catch a lake-bound Arctic Char, and just to be in the mere presence of one was exhilarating. Immediately upon the fish’s release, a moment of glory and gratitude was held by all – quickly interrupted by the fervent scramble to get more flies in the water.
Over the next few days, we fished hard. In the pursuit of these Char, we had a great deal of time to observe the 9’5″ #5 Blackout rod in action. One of the most noticeable elements of the rod was its ability to throw extremely tight loops over impressively long distances. The additional 5″ contributed a massive amount of torque from the rods load to release. However, the low weight still allowed for these powerful casts to be laid gently onto the placid lake when presenting small dry flies.
Our targeting method was to cast only to actively feeding fish, which could pop up anywhere, at any point of the lake. So, the rod needed to be able to make quick, minor adjustments with each cast, without compromising presentation. It did just that. While following the rings left by rising fish, each cast was kept precise and maintained consistent with the last – largely due to lack of angler fatigue as the rod was doing almost all of the work.
Throughout the few days we had at the lake, we caught our fair share of fish. Some were big, some were small, all were memorable. However, none were as memorable as the fish caught on the last day. No, this fish slayed by the Blackout #5 seared itself into our memories for all time to come…
The wake-up call was similar to the last. From the lake, a panicked scream echoed through the hills and into the confines of our tent. It was 5 am, and most of us were trying to secure a couple of hours of sleep. However, Jared Zissu had snuck off with the Blackout and had put in about 2 hours of work on a fish he had targeted.
Such as we had before, we sprinted from our shelter towards him, as the cries of nervous excitement continued. The fish had taken Jared into his backing already and was in the process of doing it again. He was measuring extreme caution as to not let the fish break his light tippet, and utilizing the Blackout’s flexibility in bending to accommodate for the light line. The amount of strength and fragility that this rod possessed was ratioed perfectly to play this fish.
As the reel screamed, Jared finally through on the brakes and began to horse the fish back into shore. No luck, the fish ran again. Yet again, Jared began working the fish back in – this time practically dragging it. As the beast finally drew closer to the bank, we all fell quiet at its immense size. We hadn’t seen anything like it in this lake before… or anywhere else for that matter.
With a fell swoop, Jacob jumped into the lake and slammed his net into the water. In a moment of sheer terror, we waited for the contents to be revealed behind the veil of water. Sure enough, the fish had been landed. As Jared stepped into the water to examine his catch, we were all awestruck. The pristine colors glistened off of this prehistoric monster as the summer sun illuminated its scales. High fives and hugs were shared by all, and the fish was quickly released back into the lake…
The trip concluded the next day. We packed our things and brought in a few more fish before the helicopter lifted us back to civilization. All of us were content. The mission was accomplished.
Ease of Casting:
What’s different about the H3D, the H3F, and the H3 Blackout?
Well, the answer is: not much. However, that’s not out of apathy or marketing gimmicks. No, it’s more along the line of the, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Instead of trying to be something wildly different, this rod is a refreshing redesign of what we love about the Helios 3 line. It’s accurate, it’s dependable, and lives up to the Orvis name. Instead of going and trying to reinvent the wheel, Orvis has delivered what many anglers have been clamoring for: a rod specifically designed to their situational needs. From a personal standpoint, I would say the two rods reviewed above, the 8’5″, #8 rod, and the 9’5″,#5 rod, are a perfect blend between the H3D and the H3F. Each capitalizing on the designs of the previous rods but adjusting in the departments where anglers in certain situations could use an extra touch of customizability. Whether that’s reach, power, or a combination of the 2.
The 11′,#3, while not mentioned in this particular review, is a rod well ahead of its class. Consider it the taller, smarter, more muscly version of its cousin: the 10’6″,#3 H3F. This rod boasts an extremely sensitive approach and provides a balanced feel with a reach unseen by many fly-rods in its weight class. Be on the lookout for a review surrounding this rod soon.
In conclusion, were here to answer the most commonly asked question surrounding this rod. “Is it something you need”? Well, no. Food, water, shelter, and a comfortable pair of waders is stuff you need. However, upon exploring these rods and their capabilities, we can comfortably say they’re something you want to have in your arsenal. Once you have your #3, #5, and #7/8 trout rods checked off – you’re in the market to specialize. And while these rods aren’t cheap, remember that neither are sportscars. With the way these rods perform and considering they’re made in America, the price tag is more than justified if you’re looking to take your rod arsenal to the next level. Needless to say, these rods will remain in our starting lineup for quite some time.
Check Them Out for Yourself:
Orvis Helios 3 Blackout Fly Rod: 9’5″, #5
Orvis Helios 3 Blackout Fly Rod: 8’5″, #8
Orvis Helios 3 Blackout Fly Rod: 11′, #3