Photographer: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Here’s Why You Should Spend $800 on a Fly Rod

The Orvis Helios 2, a feat of craftsmanship and technology, will change the way you fish forever.

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:

  1. Deftly delivering a glorified piece of pocket lint through 60 yards of wind.
  2. Making a person forget the definition of “need.”

It is regarded by many as the finest casting rod ever made.

The Helios 2 at work.

The Helios 2 at work.

Source: Orvis

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.

The author with his catch and the Orvis Helios 2

The author, with his catch and the Orvis Helios 2.

Source: Kyle Stock

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.

The Sell

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.

Start by making a list of all the lavish things you dream about owning. A ski chalet, an air-cooled Porsche, maybe even a more expensive fly rod, like the “heirloom quality” bamboo models Orvis pieces together. Don’t buy any of them.

Behavioral economists call these things anchors. On one end of the spectrum, $800 is a $2,500 retirement nest egg, if invested modestly for 20 years. In the middle, it’s a new iPhone. And at the extreme other end of the spectrum, it’s a dirt cheap toy—at least relative to a condo in St. Moritz. This is where you want to drop your anchor. 

A photo posted by @orvispittsburgh on

Next, I recommend you borrow a Helios 2. Be sure to do it near great fishing water during stellar conditions, so you’ll be sure to catch some fish. Most top-flight fly shops keep a demo or two around that they will be glad to lend out, particularly to those who stock up on flies and tip their guides well.

Catch some fish with the rod. Take some pictures. Make one the home screen on your phone.

Finally, tell yourself that if you buy a Helios 2, you’ll go fishing more often. You won’t be wrong about this. After all, you’ll need to amortize the thing.  

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.