2020 Spring Fly Fishing Gear Guide

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

If your pandemic and resulting quarantine experience has been anything close to mine, you probably haven’t been out fishing enough lately. I’ve been cooped up, looking at all the new toys I plan to buy when work picks back up and the world goes back to normal. Thankfully, we’re starting to see that return to normalcy in a few places – my native Utah being one of them – so I figured now was as good a time as any to release the 2020 Spencer Durrant Outdoors Fly Fishing Gear Guide.

I tried to find great gear at various price points, because I know as well as anyone that we don’t all have the budget for a brand new Orvis H3. For those who do, however, I’ve included my opinions on the more expensive items. If you have any follow-up questions about any of my gear recommendations, leave your comments below or feel free to contact me directly.

Fly Rods

Best Overall Rod Winner – The Douglas Sky G. Photo by Spencer Durrant

Best Overall Rod – Douglas Sky G 9′ 5wt

I’ve made no secret that my current favorite production fly rod is the Orvis H3. But with a price tag that runs from $850 – $950 or more, it’s a steep asking price. The $795 tag on the Douglas Sky G is a bit more palatable – and, the Sky G has the lightest swing weight in its class. It’s also frighteningly light at 2.7oz, and has a bit more of that intangible wow factor than the H3.

For the everyday Rocky Mountain trout angler, I can’t think of a rod better-suited to tackle the various rivers and fish than the Douglas Sky G. Read my full review of it here.

Best Expensive Rod – Orvis H3D 9′ 6wt

At $950, the Orvis H3D commands a serious commitment – but it’s 100% worth it. While the Douglas Sky G is a great rod, it doesn’t have the outstanding versatility that the 9′ 6wt H3D does. I’ve used my 9′ 6wt H3D for everything from fishing Alaskan rivers for big dolly varden and sockeye, to catching pink salmon in the surf, to chucking big streamers for trout on the Green River. I can also turn around and fish dries when the situation calls for it.

The H3D is head-and-shoulders better than any other rod you can buy right now, but it’s priced just enough to be out of the reach of most anglers, which is the only reason it didn’t take the top spot as Best Overall Rod for 2020. If you have the money, though, buy an H3D. You won’t regret it.

Read my full review of this rod here.

Best Inexpensive Rod – Fenwick Aetos 9′ 5wt or Orvis Clearwater 9′ 5wt

At the sub-$200 price point, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better than either the Fenwick Aetos or the Orvis Clearwater. Neither is better than the other here, which is why I had to have a tie. The Fenwick feels a bit faster in my hands than the Clearwater, while both rods have similar swing weights. Honestly, I’d put both of these rods up against a lot of rods that are two or three times more expensive. They’re that good.

They’re not as flashy as the other rods on this list, but they’ll get the job done.

Read my full review of the Orvis Clearwater here, and read a review on the Fenwick Aetos here.


The new Ross Animas is supremely capable – and surprisingly affordable. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Best Overall Reel – Ross Animas

Ross updated one of their most popular reels ever – the Animas – for 2020. It’s light, looks absolutely fantastic, and the drag is as buttery-smooth and strong as we’ve come to expect from Ross. At $295, it’s right at the sweet spot for a bombproof reel that’ll last you for years and not break the bank. It has the power to put the brakes on big trout in heavy water, but there’s almost no startup inertia – which means fewer instances of broken tippet and lost fish.

Read my full review of the reel here.

Best Expensive Reel – Abel SDF

I’ve had an Abel TR-2 for years now, and that reel will outlive me. My good friend Ryan McCullough has some from the 90s, with Abel’s signature cork drag system, that are still stopping brown trout in their tracks. Abel is pricey, but they’re worth it.

The SDF is their fully-sealed disc-drag reel for freshwater. With a nearly unlimited array of color options, custom finishes, and hand-painted trout skins, the Abel SDF is the best reel you’ll find if money isn’t an object.

Read the full review here.

Best Inexpensive Reel – Orvis Clearwater

I waffled between this and the Redington Zero, but at the end of the day, the Clearwater is just better. It’s a die-cast aluminum reel, so it’s not going to blow you away with its light weight. The Clearwater isn’t egregiously heavy, though, and its drag is fantastic when you realize you’re paying less than $100 for it. I’ve used the Clearwater to wrangle big browns and rainbows in big water, and aside from less-than-ideal startup inertia, the drag is rock-solid.

Read a full review here.


Rheos is a new name in eye wear for fly anglers – but they should be on your radar.

Best Inexpensive Sunglasses – Rheos Bahias

I’m a sunglasses snob, and I’ll readily admit it. I have more pairs of Smith sunglasses than most people deem necessary, but I figure with how often I’m outside, my eyes deserve the best.

Enter Rheos, a company that’s relatively new, and doesn’t have the cachet that Smith or Costa does. That shouldn’t matter to you, though, because Rheos is putting out a quality product. At $55, you get a pair of polarized shades that also float when you drop them in the water (I tested this multiple times on my local rivers). I fished in the Bahias for a few days straight, then switched back to my trusty Smith Chromapop+ lenses.

There’s a significant difference between the two, but that in no way makes the Rheos shades any less better. They’re affordable, they float, and they protect your eyes. What more can you ask for?

Best Expensive Sunglasses – Smith Guide’s Choice

I’ve worn Smith sunglasses for years now, and I don’t think I’ll ever change. I spend so much time outside, staring at the harsh light reflected off rivers and lakes, that I want only the absolute best in eye protection. The Guide’s Choice delivers. These high-profile, larger sunglasses, when paired with Smith’s proprietary Chromapop+ polarized lenses, combine to make for an extremely comfortable, functional accessory.

Other Random Goodies

These aren’t exactly a necessity, but I love accessories that make angling a bit easier – or more enjoyable. These products accomplish that, and I can personally recommend each of them.

Waders and Wading Boots

The Orvis PRO Waders are hands-down the best you can buy right now. Photo by Spencer Durrant

Best Overall Waders – Orvis PRO Waders

The Orvis PRO line of products is amazing. It’s worth every penny, as you can see from my review here. But the PRO Waders stand out as the best product from the entire line, and for good reason. Orvis uses a proprietary Cordura fabric to produce incredibly puncture and abrasion-resistant waders that haven’t failed me yet – and I’m notoriously hard on waders.

Best Expensive Waders – Simms G4Z

I love my Simms G4 waders, but they’re spendy – $849.95, to be exact. They’ll last through damn near anything, and Simms has a reputation for stellar customer service. Just this last year, I needed my G4s repaired due to an odd manufacturing defect. Simms couldn’t fix the waders, so they sent me a new pair instead. Talk to anyone who’s had to send their Simms in for warranty work, and you’ll likely hear a similar story.

Honorable Mention – Aquaz DRYZIP

Aquaz is a brand that’s new to lots of anglers, but one that I’ve come to fully trust in recent months. After Mike James, owner and head guide at the Quiet Fly Fisher, turned me on to Aquaz, I’ve become a fan. I have their DRYZIP waders, and have yet to find something to complain about. Zippered waders are one of the greatest inventions in this sport, and Aquaz delivers a great product for just under $425.

Read my full review here.

Tying Supplies

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing most of us indoors, I’ve seen tons of anglers take up fly tying. In a lot of cases, I suspect that the sale of tying supplies is the only thing keeping a lot of smaller fly shops in business.

With that in mind, please buy local when and where you can. Call local fly shops, place orders for pickup, or have them shipped to your home. Do whatever you can to support local fly shops.

If your fly shop doesn’t sell these exact supplies, they can likely order them for you.

  • Loon Outdoors Complete Fly Tying Tool Kit: this kit has everything – sans a vise – that you need to get started with fly tying. The quality of the tools is pretty good – you get a lot for $120 – and for a beginner who doesn’t know what they don’t know, this is a great starting point.
  • Loon Colored UV Resin: the rise of popularity in UV resin on flies has led to a lot of innovations in the resin itself. Loon just released a ton of new colored resins that are perfect when tying chironomids, or any of the popular Euro nymphing patterns.
  • Loon UV Infiniti Light: this light cooks UV resin nearly instantly, and thanks to a USB port that charges it, you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries.
  • Renzetti Presentation 4000: if you’re looking for a new vise, it’s hard to beat the versatility and longevity of the Renzetti Presentation 4000. If you plan to tie a lot of flies of different sizes – streamers to tiny midges – the Renzetti is a great options.
  • Regal Medallion: I’ve tied on a Regal Medallion for years now, and I love it. The vise is cheaper than the Renzetti, packs up small for traveling (my Regal has traveled from Utah to Alaska and everywhere between), and holds hooks with a rock-solid grip.

Gear Review: Orvis PRO Collection

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Over the last four months, I’ve had the chance to play with most of the new gear in the Orvis PRO collection. From their waders to their boots, I’ve been thoroughly impressed.

Orvis sent along their PRO Insulated Hoody, PRO Wading Jacket, and PRO Underwader pants, as well. I’ve been using these all winter, and wanted to really put them through their paces before offering a review. To me, these are the pieces of gear most valuable to an angler. Waders and boots are built well enough to last by most companies, and come with (usually) great warranties. But the jackets, pants, and shirts that I use to layer during winter in the Rockies have to last just as long as my waders. If I get cold or wet, it makes for a miserable day on the water.

So, to really see if the PRO collection has what it takes to keep me warm and dry, I ditched my usual cold-weather fishing gear in favor of the stuff Orvis sent. My usual inch-thick Fortress Hybrid Hoodie got relegated to hunting-only duty in favor of the PRO Insulated Hoody. My go-to waterproof shell, the Sitka Stormfront Jacket, also saw little use on the water in favor of the PRO Wading Jacket.

And last, but not least, the time-tested combination of merino wool long johns beneath sweats was swapped out for the PRO Underwader pants. Making this many changes to a layering system I know works well was a big leap of faith.

But it’s a leap that definitely paid off.

PRO Insulated Hoody

Retail: $229

A mid-layer jacket should be light enough that you don’t sweat to death while wearing it, but heavy enough to lock in body heat and keep you warm. It gets bonus points for waterproofing or water-resistance. And – I can’t stress this enough – adequate pocket room.

The PRO Insulated Hoody checks all those boxes. It’s incredibly light, has plenty of pockets, and has kept me warm in temps down to 0. It is water and wind-resistant – I’ve worn it without an outer shell in a few rain and snow storms, and the Hoody hasn’t let me down yet. Orvis packed this thing with PrimaLoft Gold insulation, and built in plenty of vents for temperature control.

Plus, the PRO Insulated Hoody looks good enough that you could get away with wearing it in non-fishing settings. Throughout the winter, it’s become the jacket I reach for first when leaving the house. I never thought I’d find a PrimaLoft-based jacket that performed as well as my Fortress Hybrid Hoodie, or even my Browning Hell’s Canyon Jacket, but the PRO Insulated Hoody works admirably.

PRO Wading Jacket

Retail: $349

Outer shells are tough to get right. You have to make something that’s roomy enough to accommodate layers beneath, but not so big that cold air gets trapped between the shell and other layers. Then, there’s the business of water-and-wind-proofing the thing – including any outward-facing pockets.

That’s why I’ve clung so dearly to my Sitka Stormfront Jacket. But after a winter of wearing the PRO Wading Jacket, I have to give my nod to Orvis’s much more reasonably priced offering.

While I’m not fishing in a wet winter like my friends in the Pacific Northwest, winter in the Rockies is bone-chillingly cold. It’s often made worse by consistent wind. The PRO Wading Jacket does an excellent job at cutting windchill and capturing warmth, without cooking you inside an oven.

From blizzards to rain, the PRO Wading Jacket has stepped up to every challenge I’ve asked of it. While the technical specs are impressive – 3-layer proprietary woven fabric for the shell, fully-taped seams, 20k waterproofing and a 15 breathability rating – there’s one feature that stands out the strongest.

Orvis dubs this feature the “Dolphin Skin cuff system.” Essentially, it’s a band of waterproof rubber right at your wrist that forms a waterproof seal when you put on the jacket. Then when you reach to land or release a fish, you don’t soak your entire arm in frigid river water. I’ve tested the limits of the Dolphin Skin cuffs, and haven’t yet found a way to soak my sleeves. This feature alone is worth buying the jacket for.

PRO Underwader Pants

Retail: $139

My go-to clothing option beneath waders has been merino wool and sweats. It’s simple, warm, and most importantly, cheap.

The PRO Underwader pants aren’t as cheap as my option, but they might be even better. They’re comfortable enough that I’ve found myself wearing them probably more often than I should – especially in non-fishing settings. Drew Nisbet, the Community Leader for Orvis, and I both remarked in a recent conversation that we need about 5 more pairs of these pants, so we can live in them throughout the rest of the winter.

These are surprisingly durable, and I love the side-vents on the legs. The fleece lining is the perfect thickness for warmth, and the “stirrups” that prevent the legs from riding up when you’re putting on waders is a great little feature.

Wrapping Up

The Orvis PRO collection is as good as you’d expect – and better in a lot of areas. I’m really pleased with how well everything has performed in one of the tougher winters I’ve had. The weather hasn’t been kind, but the Orvis PRO collection has stepped up to the plate and performed admirably. If you’re in the market for any of this style of gear, I’d highly recommend taking a look at what Orvis has to offer.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer from Utah. He’s currently the News Editor at MidCurrent, and his writing has been published in multiple national magazines over the past decade. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Gear Review: Douglas Outdoors LRS 9′ 5wt

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Around the end of last year, Douglas Outdoors introduce their new LRS line of rods. LRS stands for “Lake, River, Sea,” indicating that Douglas intends this rod family to address your angling needs no matter the body of water you’re in.

For the most part, the LRS does just that. It’s an absolutely gorgeous rod with an eye-catching deep blue finish, paired with better-than-expected cork and a wallet-friendly price of $249. I’ve had my 9′ 5wt LRS for about a month, and have fished it everywhere except the sea. So far, it’s performed above and beyond what I expected out of a $250 fly rod.

In fact, the LRS is such a fun rod, it rivals the Orvis Clearwater as my favorite budget-rod pick. Let’s take a deeper look at exactly why I say that.

What I Like

Progressive action

Douglas Outdoors isn’t known for building the stiff, fast-action rods that dominated the market for the better part of this decade. They’ve always put out products I’d classify as medium-fast, much like Scott, Winston, and a select few models from Sage.

The LRS, though, is more than just a moderate action rod. It’s quick and lively in close, then slows up just enough to punch flies out to 60 feet. The action is eerily reminiscent of most Winston fly rods, albeit with a heavier swing weight.

The LRS excels at 40-50 feet, but is plenty capable within 20, and in a good caster’s hands can work past 60 feet. I fished the LRS in some pretty nasty wind on Utah’s Green River in mid-June, and I was still able to push big foam cicadas out to the banks. I had to work like hell to make the cast, but at least I knew the LRS could handle things, albeit not as well as a stiffer rod would.

Regardless, this feels like Douglas Outdoors’ most user-friendly rod I’ve fished.

douglas lrs fly rod with fish
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Feel in close

Most rods under the $300 mark aren’t great in close. A few exceptions exist – especially for fiberglass – but it’s hard to make a rod that’s great at distance and in the short game, without giving your wallet a heart attack.

Again, Douglas Outdoors has really outdone themselves with the LRS. Casting small dries off the tip worked great, and it was equally as effective for nymphing in tight quarters. I said this earlier, but it bears saying again – this rod feels a lot like a Winston.

Build quality

I adore the blue blank Douglas went with here. I think it just pops, especially when compared to other rods, as pictured below.

douglas outdoors lrs next to orvis h3f 8'6" 4wt fly rod
The LRS just looks good. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

(For the record, my 8’6″ 4wt Orvis H3F is my favorite 4wt I own, even if it doesn’t have the same sex appeal as the Douglas LRS).

The blank sparkles in the sunlight, which was about impossible for me to capture in a good photo. Go give one a wiggle at your nearest fly shop on a sunny day, and you’ll see what I mean.

Moving on, the cork is better than expected for a $250 rod. I’m not a huge fan of the burls on either end, but that doesn’t factor into how the rod fishes. Thread wraps are tight, with a good even finish. The reel seat, while not spectacular, feels solid.

What I Don’t Like

Not enough backbone

Despite its pleasant progressive action, the 9′ 5wt LRS just doesn’t pack the backbone I expected. Getting flies to lay out in the wind was a challenge, and turning over bigger bugs wasn’t as easy as I’d like.

The LRS is plenty hefty to handle bigger fish, thanks to a solid butt section. I just wish the solidity in the bottom third of the rod extended further up into the tip.

Double uplocking rings

I’m a firm believer that 99% of us trout anglers don’t need a disc drag reel (feel free to disagree with me in the comments). Even when fighting 20-inch trout, it’s rare you need a reel with more stopping power than what a click-pawl offers.

But folks like their large-arbor disc drag reels, which means rod companies continually add double uplocking rings to their reel seats. I think it’s overkill, I don’t like the way it looks, and I wish we’d scrap uplocking seats altogether and go back to downlocking hardware.

I digress. Honestly, it’s not a dealbreaker here. The uplocking rings don’t affect the action or feel of the LRS. I just took this as a moment to get on a bit of a soapbox.

douglas outdoors lrs fly rod with brown trout

Final Word

The Douglas Outdoors 9′ 5wt LRS is one of the most impressive budget-friendly rods I’ve ever seen. I’d put it neck-and-neck with the Orvis Clearwater, and even go so far as to say the Douglas is better fishing within 20 feet than the Orvis.

The LRS features such a pleasant progressive action that it’s just fun to cast, and I love the blank color. While I wish the cork burls were gone, and the reel seat hardware downsized, there’s not one thing I can point to that detracts from the rod’s performance itself. Sure, it has a heavier swing weight than I’d like, but remember – it’s a $250 rod.

And it’s a damn good one, at that.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and fishing guide from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, and other national publications. Spencer is the founder/editor of Spencer Durrant Outdoors. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.

Gear Review: Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack

mountainsmith dry tour hip pack being fished
By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

I’m always tinkering around with how I carry my gear while on the water. From the traditional vest to slings, I probably have too many options for carting my tackle around on the river. For the past few months, I’ve had the Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack.

Hip packs have always intrigued me with their theoretically easier access to must-have items, cup holders, and myriad of pockets. On top of that, most hip packs I’ve used are waterproof, an absolute must for an outdoors writer who always has a camera on hand.

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack is the second hip pack I’ve put through the review wringer, and while I’m still not converted to the hip pack game, I’ll easily rank it ahead of the Simms Dry Creek hip pack. It’s relatively comfortable, easily adjustable, and spacious. The waterproof nylon feels solid, the zippers are taut, and there’s even a detachable water bottle holder.

However, there’s a lack of multiple inner compartments and the zippers are almost impossible to operate one-handed. You’ll pay a premium for this product – $179.95 – but that’s cheaper than most fully-waterproof hip packs.

mountainsmith dry tour close up
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Like

Ease of adjustment

Most packs, be it for backpacking, fishing, or hunting, have unnecessarily complicated adjustment systems. And the packs that adjust easily tend to require multiple readjustments throughout the day to stay comfortably in place.

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour has the easiest adjustment system I’ve seen on a hip pack. I can tighten or loosen the shoulder and hip straps with one hand, which is a major plus. And the straps stayed in place longer than other packs I’ve used.

Fully waterproof

What some manufacturers consider “waterproof,” I’ve found to be anything but. I once had a supposedly waterproof pocket in some waders fill with water and ruin a phone while fishing the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour is fully waterproof, as far as I’m concerned. I filled it with various water-friendly items and held it underwater for five minutes while fishing. I did this over various trips, and never sprung a leak. The tough fabric and waterproofing finish all live up to what Mountainsmith claims it’ll do.

Plenty of space

This pack will hold 7L of gear, which is plenty of room for my Sony a6300, extra batteries, another lens, two or three fly boxes, and the various accouterments necessary for a day on the water.

It also has a detachable cup holder, which works just as well when attached to the pack. 12-oz cans of Mountain Dew fit in it perfectly.

mountainsmith dry tour cup holder
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Don’t Like

Tight zippers

The zippers on the Mountainsmith Dry Tour are heavy-duty affairs. You likely won’t see a water leakage issue due to zippers failing. However, they’re tight as all get out and nearly impossible to use one-handed. It’s inconvenient to find a place for my fly rod while digging my camera or other gear out of the hip pack, but it’s not exactly a deal breaker.

Not enough compartments

There’s plenty of room in the Dry Tour, but just like most every other hip pack I’ve played with, this one doesn’t have enough compartments. I know it’s hard to strike a balance between a spacious main compartment and smaller ones, but I’d like to see someone try. Small pockets for floatant, nippers, thin fly boxes, or even spare sunglasses would be nice.

Final Word

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack is my first experience with Mountainsmith products, but from what I’ve seen so far I’m impressed. It’s a well-built, solid piece of gear that’s as waterproof and tough as advertised. With 7 liters of storage space, you’ll be set for at least a day or two on the water. And, it’s more easily adjustable than any other hip pack I’ve used.

It does, however, have a few drawbacks with tight zippers and not enough compartments inside the main storage area. Putting those two strikes aside, though, it’s still a great piece of gear at a fairly reasonable price.

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

Gear Review: 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F

orvis h3f still shot
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.


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


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.

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.


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


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

euro nymphing rod header image
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


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.


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.


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.