Gear Review: The New Orvis Helios 2 Switch Rod

Written by: Reid Baker, Freestone Outfitters

The Helios 2 Switch Rod in action, swinging for summer-run steelhead.
All photos by Reid Baker

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter our Helios 2 Switch Rod giveaway, which has just three days left.]

Having spent the last several years being enamored with two-handed fly rods—and in particular using them for chasing anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest—I have cast a wide variety of rods in a variety of sizes and settings. I was drawn to switch and Spey rods for their power, their ability to cast long with minimal backcast space, and perhaps most of all their ability to control line extremely well with a single lift or mend. Particularly in steelhead and salmon fishing, two-handers shine in their ability to speed up or slow down a swinging presentation with ease and move a lot of line with minimal effort, a huge advantage when it comes to presenting flies on larger rivers. Yet few rods have made me more excited than the new Helios 2 Switch Rod. This fall, I used Orvis’s newest cannon for my trip to the Skeena System targeting wild steelhead, and was amazed by the power, versatility, and ease this rod exuded.

When Spey rods first began making their way to the US from Western Europe, they were long, cumbersome, and heavy. Often reaching 15 feet, these telephone-pole-like rods weighed into the double-digits of ounces. No doubt, given their length, they were powerful and able to control line, but more often than not at the expense of the casters’ arm strength by the time he got off the water. Many anglers were turned off by these rods at this time, saying that though they were certainly great tools for large coastal rivers, they were difficult to maneuver, frustratingly tiring to use, and too clunky for any river smaller than the biggest and most commanding of rivers seen in the Pacific Northwest or British Isles.

Because of their ability to control and mend line easily in nymphing and swinging alike, the H2 switch rods are just as functional in Colorado as they are in the Northwest. Here we have a beautiful Colorado brown trout that fell victim to a controlled indicator-and-nymph presentation.

Fortunately, rod manufacturers and designers got smart with their designs, tapers, and materials and made huge leaps in their production of these rods. Subsequently, they expanded the horizons of two-handed rods’ potential, making them accessible to anglers in virtually any mid-sized to larger river setting. Now from coastal main-stem rivers, to the great lakes tributaries, to Rocky mountain freestone rivers and technical tailwaters, these rods have found their place in more anglers’ rod quivers than ever before, in a wide variety of regions. From swinging streamers or large steelhead flies, to wet flies and even dead-drift nymphing with an indicator, these rods are here to stay and can be used by any of us who are looking to broaden our angling horizons or find a new tool for our local homewaters.

Few companies have designed a more user friendly two-handed rod than Orvis. Beginning years ago with the original Helios rod, in both one- and two-handed models, they blew the market away with the highest quality graphite, use of thermo-resins, and state-of-the-art components to make the world’s lightest fly rod. Built for comfort—and yet extremely powerful, durable, and accurate—Helios line would forever change the way rod companies would design their products. The Helios 2 only continues that technological innovation. The highest quality components and design have allowed for Orvis to put the power of a 15-foot rod in a significantly lighter, more compact and maneuverable package without sacrificing clout and line control.

Mark Shamburg forms a D-loop while swinging light flies through a run using the Helios 2.

For this trip I used the 11-foot 7- and 8-weight Switch models, paired with with a Mirage V reel and Hydros floating switch lines. It’s no secret that the Helios 2 is light, so it needs no re-iteration by this point. However, what blew me away was the ease with which I could mend line and the power I felt for launching longer Spey casts. This was especially useful when I was using the H2 for skating dry flies or swinging light wet flies below the surface. Almost effortlessly, I could speed up or slow down my presentation, and this control would be crucial. The rods proved to be fantastic for targeting summer-run steelhead on the swing. Though I did not experiment with shooting heads or sinking tips on these particular rods, a lighter Skagit or Skandi system could very easily be integrated, and I am confident the H2 could handle and present a much more powerful line setup, if conditions demanded.

Where the H2 especially shone was during dead-drift indicator presentations.On larger rivers in British Columbia, the ability to make roll casts or overhand casts with distance and accuracy was crucial. I was able to control significantly more line, high stick or stack mend, which made for effective and easy drag-free drifts. Obviously in this scenario, the light in-hand feel was a huge advantage..

An H2 Switch 11-foot 7-wt and Mirage V poised to skate dries through a steelhead run.

Ultimately, by combining power and strength with increased length and line control in a smaller, lighter package, the Helios 2 has won me over. I believe these rods can suit summer-steelhead and Great Lakes anglers, Rocky Mountain trout anglers, and beyond. Depending on which scenario you see yourself fishing these rods most, Orvis has you covered. The H2 Switch has a place in my two-handed rod quiver, and I look forward to many more days with this rod in Colorado and beyond.

Reid Baker is the Guide Manager for Freestone Outfitters in Littleton, Colorado.

One thought on “Gear Review: The New Orvis Helios 2 Switch Rod”

  1. Went to Orvis store and was looking for a 4 weight. Picked up a Hellos 2 and was sold. Came home and just kept thinking about it. Traded in some tackle and put it toward the new Helios 2 and will be delivered soon. Next rod that has me facinated is the Helios 2 switch rod. Just have to figure out if it will be a 5 or 6 weight. Being an older angler I swore I would never need another rod. But these rods sell themselves.

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