Fly Fishing Retailer '07: Orvis Helios Rod Origins

September 18, 2007 By: Marshall Cutchin

You never know what an industry party might reveal in the way of product design insight. We were talking with Dave Perkins, Rick Ruoff, Fitz Coker and Orvis chief designer Jim LePage at the Simms party last night and I was trying to change the subject from fly fishing for carp and gar (Dave Perkins: “Everyone needs a good carp story in their back pocket.”). Not that fly fishing for carp isn’t fun, it’s just that the aficionados of the sport tend to enter a sort of extended rapture in the process of recounting the difficulties and glories of their pursuit. With the unassuming Mr. LePage at my side, it occurred to me that it might be a chance to get the real story behind the beginnings of the Orvis’s new ultralight Helios series.
“Were you responsible for the Helios, Jim?” I asked. “Well, I suppose so,” he said. “I actually starting building a rod about two years ago with the idea of creating the lightest rod out there, and I knew that we would need to start with superlight components. Then a few months into that search we discovered that a new process allowed the manufacture of scrim at half the weight of the stuff we were currently using.” From there, LePage launched into a monologue on resin application and curing processes that deserved an audience of aeronautical engineers but which left me in a typical state of befuddled wonder. It reminded me, as these conversations always do, of how lucky our sport is to have folks of such high levels of knowledge and enthusiasm among its product design ranks.
“So when the first finished prototype was ready for testing, even I was blown away. I knew it was light, but I hadn’t guessed it was going to be 35% lighter than anything we thought we could build. Of course, I started doing fulcrum-point weight testing to be sure we had achieved the right ‘hand weight’ for the taper and build and just got a big smile on my face.”
Although I was mildly disappointed that in the production rod the light olive-yellow finish has been darkened to a deep olive (rod colors always seem to be committee decisions), everyone we’ve talked to at the show agrees that the Helios is one of the best rods they’ve cast. We got a chance to test the 10-weight on the casting pool, and though we won’t know for sure until we tie on a fat crab fly, we already want this rod in our hands in the Keys next spring.