Gear Review: 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

I’ve heaped a ton of praise on the Orvis H3F lately, but with good reason. The various configurations of this rod series I’ve fished have been absolutely stellar. The first one I reviewed, an 8’6″ 4wt, is still arguably the best 4wt you’ll find on the market today.

I’ve experimented a lot with rod length in the past year or so, trying to determine how much of a difference it makes for my “usual” fishing circumstances. Is a 10′ 5wt, for example, worth the extra swing weight just for the reach?

As with everything in fly fishing, it depends. But after a month or so spent with the 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F, I’ve decided the extra length and weight of this rod is more than worth it.

For starters, this rod will pick up and throw line. Whether I had streamers or dries on the end didn’t matter; the rod just flat-out performed. Being 9’6″ long, it’s obviously a great tool for high-sticking dead drifts, and is an absolute dream for mending from a drift boat.

That comes at the cost of added weight, swing weight, and less subtlety than I’d like in close, but overall the 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F is a fantastic rod that’s worthy of a spot in any angler’s quiver.

What I Like

Raw Power

Even though this rod is part of the “3F” family, don’t mistake it for a slouch in the power department. It rockets line wherever you cast, and with whichever line you choose, too. I usually test rods out with various lines, because a good line can make all the difference in rod performance.

I used a Cortland 444 Classic Peach DT6F and the Orvis Power Taper WF6F on a Hardy Princess and Orvis Mirage reel, respectively. The 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F handled both lines flawlessly, though it mended the DT line better (as should be expected).

orvis h3f casting
Angler Ryan McCullough casting the Orvis H3F to wary brown trout. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Multiple times while using this rod to fish small dries in Oregon this March, I needed to pick up 50 or 60 feet of line and recast quickly. I rarely, if ever, had to false cast with this rod. That’s some serious power that comes in handy when hatches are sporadic and fish are wary.

Presentation

While I’d never call this rod a delicate dry fly tool, it is remarkably adept at soft, accurate presentations. For fishing pre-runoff hatches in low, crystal-clear water, that sort of delicacy is an absolute must. The 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F isn’t a Scott or Winston by any means, but it’ll get the job done.

Blank Strength

Honestly, six inches doesn’t feel like a huge difference in length, but as anyone can attest, length matters. And six inches is more than enough to make a normally great rod feel a bit wobbly.

You notice this a lot on some of the lower-end Euro Nymphing rods, if you’re paying attention. The rods are stout throughout the butt section, but lose any power, stability, and strength in the last few feet of the tip.

Orvis avoided that pitfall. The 9’6″ 6wt H3F has plenty of blank strength to help turn and lift fish. Given that this is the “F” model as opposed to its more powerful “D” model cousin, that’s pretty impressive.

Build Quality

I’ve touched on this in every other review I’ve done of an H3 rod, but I’ll briefly address it here. The build quality on the Orvis H3F and H3D series is impeccable. The thread wraps are tight, and you’ll find two SiC stripping guides alongside REC Recoil snake guides. As with all H3F rods, the finish is a matte gray.

Paired with the best cork on production rods I’ve found to date, an anodized aluminum reel seat, and a cork fighting butt. Nothing about the rod is fancy, but pick one up and it’s apparent that all components are top-notch.

orivs h3f in grass
The build quality of an Orvis H3F is hard to beat. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Don’t Like

Swing Weight

This was a new experience for me with an H3. Most of these rods have so little swing weight you never notice it. The 9’6″ 6wt had enough for me to notice and wear my arm out a little after a week of fishing sunup to sundown.

For the average angler, though, the swing weight won’t be too much of a deterrent.

Rod Weight

The H3 series hasn’t even been known for being light. These rods are actually heavier than their predecessor, the Helios 2. It’s a minuscule difference, though, which most folks won’t notice.

But for the length and weight of this rod, I felt that the 9’6″ 6wt was too heavy. Eliminating the fighting butt may be all Orvis needs to change in order to help it feel better in-hand.

orvis h3f with fish
Angler Ryan McCullough tricked this big brown with the Orvis H3F 9’6″ 6wt. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Final Word

Orvis continues to be the name to beat in the fly fishing arms race. No other company offers consistent value and performance over their lineup in the way Orvis does. From entry-level sticks to high-end models, Orvis has a rod for every angler.

The 9’6″ 6wt Orivs H3F may not be for every angler, but it has its place as an excellent distance rod. It’s an absolute wind cannon, perfect for using while fishing out of a drift boat, but also capable of delicately presenting dry flies.

The swing weight and overall rod weight are a slight deterrent, but not enough so that I’d write this rod off as “not good.” It’s an excellent piece of equipment that’s accurate, fun to fish, and most importantly, gets the job done.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His writing has appeared in multiple national publications over the past decade, including Field & Stream, American Angler, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, Hatch Magazine, and Gray’s Sporting Journal. Spencer is the founder of Spencer Durrant Outdoors. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Gear Review: Orvis H3D 9′ 6wt

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.

close  up of h3d grip
The cork on the H3D is wonderfully soft and smooth in hand. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

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

Accuracy

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.

Action

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.

Soft Tip

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.

Power

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.

h3d sitting on log
The 6wt H3D is surprisingly good on smaller streams. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Don’t Like

Price

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.

Snake Guides

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.

close up of orvis h3d 6wt
Overall, the H3D 9’6wt is a stellar rod. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Final Word

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.

Gear Review: Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt Euro Nymphing Rod

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Over the past two years, I’ve dabbled in Euro nymphing. I happen to be good friends with Gilbert Rowley, the unseen hero behind the camera for the the excellent Modern Nymphing films. I’ve had the chance to learn from Gilbert, as well as Lance Egan, and I’ve used every Euro nymphing rod I can get my hands on.

From Winston’s Super 10 series to the Sage ESN and Cortland Competition rods, I have a feel for what I want out of my Euro nymphing rod. It has to be light, quick, lively, sensitive, accurate, and able to double as a dry fly rod in extreme circumstances.

The Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt checks almost all of those boxes, but more importantly, it’s quickly moved to the front of my quiver when reaching for a Euro nymphing rod.

It won’t cast dries like the Winston Super 10, and it’s not as accurate as the Sage ESN. But Douglas sells this iteration of the DXF line for $395. With a rod this exceptional at that price point, it’s hard to spend top-dollar on such a niche-specific stick, unless you plan to dedicate most of your angling time to Euro nymphing.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt such a great Euro nymphing rod.

What Works

Weight

This aspect of Euro nymphing rod design has come a long way in recent years, though most lower-end sticks are still hefty enough to wear your shoulder out during an afternoon on the river.

The DXF clocks in at 3.2oz for the 11’3wt model. That’s the same weight as the Redington Hydrogen ESN, heavier than the 10’6″ 3wt Sage ESN’s 2 11/16thoz (Sage doesn’t make an 11′ version of their Euro rods), and lighter than the Cortland Competition MKII.

With how great most modern fly rods are, a lot of anglers don’t need to take weight into consideration when buying a new stick. With Euro rods, though, you do. Luckily, the DXF weighs right where it should for its length and line rating.

fish caught on a euro nymphing rod
Chris Cutler with a toad he caught Euro Nymphing on the Henry’s Fork. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Sensitivity

Euro nymphing is an exercise in feeling what’s happening with your flies, rather than seeing the take. Sure, your sighter will move when a fish really commits, but I often feel the takes before seeing any movement in my line.

Great rods help you feel those takes better, and the DXF is significantly more sensitive than any Euro rod I’ve fished except the Sage ESN. That’s including the Winston Super 10 – a personal favorite rod.

Action

It’s hard to describe “action” on Euro rods. Most “casts” don’t happen with fly line leaving the guides. Hell, I’ve seen great Euro nymphing anglers fish a leader so long that their fly line never leaves their reel.

That being said, there is an art to casting nothing but straight leader and two heavy bugs off the tips of an 11′ rod. The DXF puts flies where you need them without making you work too hard for it. I was surprised to find that Douglas built a more accurate rod than Winston and Redington. But that’s a recurring theme with Douglas lately. They’re consistently outcasting my expectations.

The DXF has a nice stiff backbone to help turn fish and cast flies. The tip is loose and feels a bit like a noodle – usually a sign that your rod won’t be as accurate as you’d hoped. I don’t know how, but the DXF makes it work. The light tip is obviously great in protecting light tippet as well.

euro nymphing rod macro shot
The Douglas DXF – in all its configurations – is an exceptionally well-built rod. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Build Quality

The mid-priced rod market is blowing up in fly fishing. It’s arguably the only market growing in the sport, but that’s a conversation for another day. All the demand for rods that fish well but aren’t equivalent to a mortgage payment has forced builders to get creative.

From completely custom builds from builders like Shane Gray to Instagram-ready rods built by Blue Halo, the aesthetic appeal of fly fishing has never been more prominent.

The problem is that a lot of attempts to make rods that stand out from the pack results in added weight, decreased performance, higher prices, or a combination of the three.

Douglas doesn’t escape this completely – the DXF comes with burnt cork rings on the end of the grip, as does their flagship rod, the Sky – but they do an admirable job at building a functional, but attractive, piece of gear.

The DXF’s matte green blanks, dark green wraps, white lettering, and hard-chromed snake guides all show a bit of class. This is underscored by the gorgeous burled wood reel seat and double uplocking rings.

The cork is better-than-expected quality for a sub-$400 rod, and it comes shipped with a rod sock and triangular Cordura rod tube. I don’t see anywhere that Douglas cut corners when building the DXF. Compromises have to be made to sell a sub-$400 rod, obviously, but that reality aside, the DXF is a solidly built, good-looking stick.

What Doesn’t

Guide Spacing

One spring day in 2018 I sat in a drift boat with Bob White, the sporting artist, and our guide Charlie Card. Charlie brought up the topic of competitive fishing – and his brief stint with Fly Fish TeamUSA – which Bob found fascinating.

What caught my attention, though, was an observation Charlie made of the French national team’s custom-built Euro nymphing rods. Where most Western-style rods have a hook keep, the French national team placed a stripping guide. According to Charlie, this was done to reduce line sage between reel and rod, bettering the connection between angler and line.

That sounded like a bit much, but I’ve come to realize the French are onto something. Other Euro rods I’ve fished have guides lower on butt section, and more guides in total. Adjusting guide spacing on the DXF would help make this rod even better.

Uplocking Reel Seat

Blame it on my old-school tendencies, but I don’t like uplocking reel seats. Reels should sit in a downlocking seat, putting all their weight at the very end of a fly rod. That creates a better balance for every kind of fishing, but Euro nymphing especially.

Douglas could improve the DXF by swapping out its double-ring uplocker with a single-ring downlocker. This will help better balance the rod, and I personally think downlockers look better.

small fish caught on euro nymphing rod
Author Spencer Durrant with a decent cutthroat caught Euro nymphing on the Henry’s Fork. Photo by Chris Cutler.

Final Word

Douglas put together an absolute winner with the DXF. It’s a lively, fun, light, well-built Euro nymphing rod that fishes better than sticks twice its modest $395 price. I wish the reel seat were different, and guide spacing could be improved, but overall, this is just about the best Euro nymphing rod I’ve fished to date. The Sage ESN still holds the top spot, but Douglas’s foray into Euro nymphing should easily go toe-to-toe with Winston, Cortland, Redington, and other manufacturers.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, American Angler, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant, and on Facebook @SpencerDurrantOutdoors.