Part II: About fly shops, discovering Orvis’ company stores, and Helios 3
By Skip Clement, Contributor
Fly fishing is only a billion dollar industry. Is it growing? With women, yes
Fly fishing, the industry, has had bumps and bustles in its modern history. Graphite, a technology leap, and two other volcanic events – one a business decision the other serendipitous. Repeatable? Not likely.
First, graphite displaced fiberglass which had replaced bamboo, but more importantly fiberglass made fly fishing affordable to the rank and file. Graphite harnessed power, light in hand, and casting far. The second, a business decision, Orvis’ 25-year warranty in 1988. The third, Karma. The inspirational movie A River Runs Through It. It is an autobiographical sketch from the Novella River by Norman Maclean. In it, fly fishing is a metaphor for life – a screenshot of an America that is less unsullied by modern complexities in 1910 to 1935, and not a laundered vision either. “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
The movie created a fly fishing stampede. New fly fishing adherents came to the tent with money – salvation is found in a fly rod.
Fly shops, are they the Silk Road to the fly fishing industry future?
Today, fly shops are resources for local/regional information – the umbilical cord to places where fly fishing happens: rivers, marshes, lakes, oceans, piers, surf, national parks, public lands, streams, ponds, estuaries, and creeks.
A declining population of fly fishers is a withering voice in American values. Fewer fly fishers, fewer voices connecting clean water, clean air, carbon emissions, and “The Best Idea Ever” to the economic value of our local resources. Values, as espoused by Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Orvis, Simms, Patagonia, Costa, including fly shops, and many other conservation organizations and conservation-minded businesses are the cornerstones of responsible national environmental policy.
Looking for Godot, but a Recon will do
I wanted to cast the Orvis Recon 9-foot, 8-weight and the 10-foot, 4-weight. I live in the Blue Ridge foothills of Georgia, way west of blue water, tides and marshes I came from. It’s trout, bass, carp, and land locked stripers now – not tarpon, snook, reds, and bonefish.
I called the Orvis rep, Ben Austin. He had gotten me interested in the Recon rods while a guest at the Low Country Fly Fishing Expo held each spring in Okatie, South Carolina.
Ben gave me the numbers of a few fly shops within a striking range that handled Orvis rods. I knew them all and called. None had what I wanted, made no comment about acquiring one or both rods for me to test drive, nor said they knew of a shop that had the Recon copies I was looking for. The latter, I thought odd?
They were all good fly shops, and the staffs were knowledgeable about local angling, but one of them had employees that spent most of their time at the counter, talking to each other and their drop-in fishing buddies… probably a little off-putting to some. I had made that mistake when I worked part-time in a Florida fly shop, but I was called on it and realized it was bad form.
A day at the company store?
I had driven by the Orvis store on Peachtree in Atlanta several times while on my way to Gary Merriman’s famous Fish Hawk fly shop but never thought of the “company store” as having much in the way of fly fishing anything. Besides, I already knew there were just a few Recons in sight of Atlanta.
On second thought one Saturday – what the heck, the traffic would be light. The Braves were away, Georgia Tech was away, Falcons were playing Sunday, and there was no other road clogging “event” in the city that day. I didn’t call because when I made my decision, they were not yet open – just maybe Orvis could locate the Recon fly rods I was looking for?
Orvis is the anchor tenant at the upscale Peachtree Street mini-mall. The storefront and immediate interior had the feel of someone having thought things out. It was different… like Apple stores are to digital and compared to Best Buy. No clutter, high-end everything but “Orvisly” understated. Perfect, I thought.
It was around eleven, and the store was pretty busy with mostly women shoppers in soft goods. Was I right?
The fly shop portion of the store was immediate, off to the right, and a little like the eye level shelves in a grocery chain – you couldn’t miss what they wanted you to see.
Justin Powell introduced himself as the Fishing Manager. Powell is not a corporate makeover. To me, more identifiable in appearance as a guide. I asked about the Recons.
I was looking at more fly rods than a light commercial truck could transport
The store had them, all of them, as a matter of fact, it had every fly rod that Orvis sold, I think. I never saw that many fly rods in a single store before. Several rods were reel ready to cast.
In minutes we were outside casting in the parking lot to a pothole target, yellow paint spill on the asphalt, and at a Bentley bumper – pothole 40-feet, yellow 60-feet, and the Bentley was not safe at 90-feet. I was impressed, but there was that damned vibration, and the Recon was unexpectedly a little unfriendly in tight. The quality was impeccable. The Recon price was right. I was there… I thought.
Now, does this guy know his stuff?
Powell asked, “Have you tried the Helios 2 rods?” I said yes, at the ICAST Show. “What did you think?” Expensive. In the performance league with the top Sage, Loomis, Scott, Thomas & Thomas, and Winston, I said. Adding, they each have minor short suits and unique, superior characteristics, but overall anyone would be glad to own any one of them.
Justin commented on the entirety of my references, except one, and never touched negative. He got all warts right and all the good points right – just the facts, not… but I think BS.
Justin Powell liked Orvis Helios fly rods and had reasons why he liked Orvis Helios rods that seemed measurably beyond a paycheck and script speak. His gift of enthusiasm like the flu, easy to catch and hard to get rid of. What a pleasure it is to go fly shop and talk to someone who hears you and knows his or her stuff.
I was right; he is a guide.
We were starting to influence ingress and egress in the parking lot, so we reeled up and went back into the store.
A chance to taste test. What struck me was that Orvis had everything in that smallish fly shop within a store.
Justin had appointment customers, so I canvassed the store with pleasant interruptions from unchallenging southern sales folks – oozing charm as natural as their breathing.
I kept looking for familiar brands (I was fly shop potty trained). There weren’t any – except maybe Buff and Yeti coffee mugs.
I couldn’t figure out how such a small retail space had so much stuff? Then, it hit me. They don’t carry umpteen brands of everything. For example, five different brands of reels would need a lot of display case real estate. There were no display cases. ALL Orvis’ reels were displayed on the equivalent of a bookcase shelf. There, every fly reel that Orvis sold was available for touch and feel. All flagship models are made in the U. S. A conventional fly shop’s reel offering would be filled with holes – missing weights and models.
From mountain brookies to Istiophorus platypterus, Orvis’ reel inventory had it covered
I started poking, yanking, twisting, and sleuthing every fly fishing product Orvis had. Nothing nudged me as not being excellent quality, but what did standout was the prices. Not discount store numbers, of course, but more competitive compared to some well known, high-end brands sold at local fly shops, online, and at Big Box stores. The less expensive versions of waders, for example, were also competitive regarding equivalent to competition. Simms might have the edge there, though not by a long shot.
Back for more
Justin rounded me up and said, “Before you go, we gotta have you cast this (Helios 3) 5- and 8-weight. We have a D and F. The D stands for distance and the F for fine.” Fine more flex. I sarcastically remarked. Oh boy, another $100 for a new paint job. “No, no. These rods have no equal.” To that, I said to myself, bull sh#t.
When we were outside, Justin peeled off about 75-feet of line on the eight and said, “Here.” I thought that was odd, sure I could cast okay, but why so much line?
I pulled in some line, but not much, and remarked on the ease of pick up (there’s no “surface tension” created by asphalt) while making some purposeful false casts – letting out line, looking back at the loop and rod flex. A little deeper than advertised (no possible measurement – just “one” person’s guestimate), but it was fast and the loops were perfect.
I’m not that good a caster to have had all that go so well on a first date. Hmm?
I let it out and it jerked to an unfinished stop at about 80-feet. Shit, I blurted out, how much is left in the tank? “Go for it,” Justin said.
I was way off target on the next muscle shot (my truck hood the recipient). Powell said, “Let it.” I knew what he meant.
The Orvis Helios 3D Eight hit my limit. With three false casts, (one too many when tarpon fishing), a little over 100-feet. The rod was at work; I had let it. The fly near the end of the lot – smack in between the goal posts of parked car bumpers and the sidewalk curb.
The 5-weight was in the featherweight category; it seemed to know where I was aiming like a good dog knows your hand signals. It too could be cranked out there, but I never thought of a five as having much to do with a 100-feet, more pinpoint at 30- to 45-feet, where the trout live.
It was very easy to feel everything happening in the eight and five. I wasn’t working hard, but the rods were. That is a defining feature
Powell’s turn with the eight, he started at 100-feet and moseyed up to well beyond that – the end of the parking lot. No three points awarded though – a little right of center. Wind?
I tried the F model in the eight, which I was sure I’d prefer but it was the D that captured my soul. I want those sticks in D version – five and an eight. With different fly lines, leader add-ons, plus tips and spare spools, I could catch anything that swam in the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, or Tennessee, and The Bahamas or coastal Georgia.
• The Orvis owned and operated store fly fishing department “management” that I spoke to, spent time with, or interviewed by phone, were all high caliber folks, fly fishing aficionados – schooled and traveled, engaging and passionate. However, Orvis owned stores seem only to have one fly fishing Guru – not untypical of small local fly shops, but unusual for a fly shop as sophisticated as Orvis. That is an issue. Arrive on the wrong day, wrong time and you’re on your own. You’ll get helped and accommodated by someone friendly and competent, but not necessarily seasoned in fly fishing matters. That can be off-putting.
• The Orvis brand fly fishing products are all high-end, even their entry level versions of any class of product are excellent. Also, attached to every Orvis’ product you buy is the comforting fact that the company will be there tomorrow. The 25 year fly rod warranty not withstanding.
• Orvis’ pricing is noticeably competitive throughout the range of fly fishing rods, reels, fly lines, leader materials and accouterments: fanny packs, packs, wade boots, waders, socks, doodads and, of course, their soft goods are superior.
• Orvis owned store fly shops are not a fly tyers haven.
• The Helios 3s only suffering is just like ALL the high end, fast action graphites – in tight at 30- 35-feet they suffer. But here’s a tip for rods that are untrained at short range. Choke up, think baseball, and you won’t have to become a contortionist to make accurate, short pitches happen. NOTE: Fortuitously, Orvis’ rod marking above the handle of the Helios 3’s are grip made ready for choking up – check it out. Don’t blame any fast action fly rod for a kerplunking fly at short range that is weighted.
• Can I vouch for the eight’s lifting and turning power? Nope. Toughness? Nope. What about the five? Same. Would I buy one? No, both.
There is no such thing as perfect in a fly rod, but the Helios 3’s might be as close as you’re going to get
To date, I have not cast a fly rod as user-friendly as the Helios 3D. Yes, it is a noticeably an improvement over the “2” (five and eight). You can be the judge of why, but the “3”(five and eight) do for me what I can’t do for myself.