Lightning Rod

The new Orvis Helios.

Smell the ozone? If you're a saltwater fly angler, it's probably because Orvis just sent a bolt of lightning into the fly rod market. It's called the Helios, and it's unlike any other saltwater stick you've ever cast.

The Helios is the product of an Orvis mandate to make its premium rod lighter, faster, and stronger. But the rod still had to hold up to the heavy-duty jobs of casting bulky flies and fighting big fish. In building the new Helios rods, Orvis approached it kind of like a modern boat builder. Instead of just looking to improve the graphite, they looked to improve the stuff that holds it all together. They switched from a traditional fiberglass scrim impregnated with epoxy to a graphite one, bound with a thermoplastic resin. This system allowed Orvis to get away with much less material while keeping up rod strength. The end result is the lightest fly rod you've ever cast that still holds up under duress.

I had the opportunity to field test a prototype while fishing for striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore in the Northeast, and I found I could make long, accurate casts with floating, intermediate, or full sink line, and flies ranging from tiny silverside imitations to adult menhaden patterns. And fighting fish-the Helios held its own. I have yet to hear field reports of one shattering at the butt section like other "revolutionary" light rods.

So what's the downside? Price. Paying to play with one will cost in the $700 range. The rods become available in January, but Orvis is currently offering limited editions of both freshwater and saltwater models.

Price: $750. Contact: Orvis at 888/235-9763,