By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
Over the past half-decade, I haven’t been as consistently impressed with a rod family as I am with the Orvis H3 lineup. They’re light, have a low swing weight, track incredibly straight, and are absolute lasers at distance. From the 8’6″ 4wt H3F to the 9’8wt H3D, each rod hits the sweet spot for its length and line weight. Call it premature, but I think the Orvis H3 series will gain the cult following the Sage XP currently enjoys.
The 9’6wt H3D was my second H3, and it had its first true test in Alaska in June 2018. The rod handled big salmon streamers just fine, but followed that up with surprisingly good dry fly presentation for hungry grayling. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice a change in accuracy when throwing streamers or dries.
The 9’6wt H3D features a full-wells cork grip, the standard H3 gray anodized aluminium reel seat, and a fighting butt. Since this is the “D” model, the blank is matte black with matching wraps. Rounding out the components are two SiC stripping guides, followed by REC recoil snake guides. Some folks don’t care for the white sticker above the grip, but I like it. The rest of the rod is fairly plain-looking, a far cry from the classy blue hues of the Helios 2 rods.
The rod performs like few others I’ve ever seen. It’s a beefy 6wt, to be fair – and heavier than the Helios 2 rods – but with a surprising amount of feel and delicacy available. A new Orvis H3D 9’6wt runs $949 and comes backed by the standard Orvis 25-year warranty.
I hesitate to call it the “best” 6wt on the market, but at the same time, I can’t readily place another rod ahead of it. The H3 is in a league all its own, and is one of the few top-tier production rods that’s worth every penny of its steep asking price.
What I Like
Orvis has spent a big chunk of change on marketing the H3 as “accurate from anywhere.” In the hands of a competent caster, they’re not wrong.
The 6wt H3D, in particular, is a laser of a rod. When throwing average trout-sized streamers from a drift boat, I rarely had to re-cast to get my fly right where I wanted. Switching over to dries, the rod did just as well.
The H3D is definitely fast, but not in the realm of the Sage One or Method. It’s lively, quick, and sensitive in-hand, even in heavier weights. I have an H3D in a 9′ 8wt, and it’s just as sensitive as its 6wt brother.
Novice and expert casters alike will get the H3D to work excellently. It’s fast enough to be forgiving, but in the right hands, it’s astoundingly powerful and accurate.
I didn’t expect this, but the 9’6wt H3D has a surprisingly soft tip. I’m not sure if this stems from the rod’s increased torsional stability, but I’m extremely grateful for it. A few weeks after I got home from Alaska, I was on Utah’s famed Boulder Mountain. My buddy Jeff and I were chasing tiger trout and splake, and the fish weren’t interested in anything unless it was a size 20 or smaller.
So I tied on a few nymphs, a long 6x fluorocarbon leader, and started a slow hand-twist retrieve back to where I sat in my float tube. Something heavy gobbled up a midge, I set the hook, and immediately felt the tell-tale death rolls indicative of tiger trout.
More than once, the fish made runs I thought would snap the tippet. But the Orvis H3D 9’6wt tip absorbed the impact and kept the tippet intact. A few minutes later I had a 20-inch tiger in my lap.
As much as I’ve raved about this rod’s feel and accuracy, it shouldn’t be overlooked as stick with plenty of oomph. The H3’s an absolute wind cannon, and you can cast to backing without too much effort.
What I Don’t Like
Everyone has to make a living, and Orvis isn’t any different. It almost feels disingenuous of me to complain about the price, since I run my own business and get tired of folks balking at my prices.
What bothers me about the $949 price tag for this rod is that a majority of anglers won’t get the chance to fish one. Add $200 to that rod cost, and that’s my mortgage payment. The H3D is worth $949, don’t get me wrong – but it’s still a hard pill to swallow.
I’m not used to fishing Recoil snake guides, because every time I clean ice from a frozen eyelet, I’m convinced I just broke my rod. This doesn’t affect rod performance or anything. It’s just a feature I’m not all that fond of.
No Hook Keep
Orvis eliminated the hook keep on all H3 rods. The 9’6wt H3D is no exception. About a year ago, when I first got my hands on an H3, I jokingly told Tom Rosenabuer that if he’d put a hook keep on all the H3F rods, they’d be absolutely perfect.
The lack of a hook keep isn’t a deal breaker, especially on a heavier-weight rod like this one. But it’s one of the few things Orvis did with the H3 series that I don’t absolutely love.
The Orvis H3D 9’6wt is one of the most impressive rods I’ve ever fished, and it’s proven extremely capable for fishing dries to grayling, small nymphs to tiger trout, and streamers to angry browns and rainbows. It’s light, accurate as hell, fun to fish, and deceptively powerful.
The $949 price tag is steep, and it’ll prevent a lot of anglers from owning this rod. The lack of a hook keep still bothers me, but it’s honestly the most legitimate gripe I have against the rod. Orvis hit a home-run with the H3D.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, Hatch Magazine, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.