Sage ONE v. Orvis Helios 2 | 5 weight Fly Rod Review
NOTE: Before reading our Sage ONE v. Orvis Helios 2 | 5 weight Fly Rod Review, it should be noted that we were using the Orvis Helios 2 Tip-Flex model. This rod also comes in a Mid-Flex version, and we can assume that the results would be far different. We lean towards the fastest action rods here on the Missouri River, so we are testing what we would use.
The battle between two great rods developed from a need to know!
Sage ONE v. Orvis Helios 2 | 5 weight Fly Rod Review.
One could argue that a majority of the trout, and maybe even saltwater, rods purchased in the next couple years will be one of these two rods. We could all agree that the Sage ONE and the Orvis Helios 2 are the two hottest rods on the market. Both have a lot of traction, strong sales, and a buzz can be heard in discussions regarding these two coveted rods. Evidenced by the frequency of the Sage ONE on the Missouri and beyond I can only speculate that it will be matched in popularity by the Orvis Helios 2.
This past year many have cast and fished the Sage ONE rods specifically for the Missouri and your local stream, lake or pond. It was introduced Fall 2011 and has quickly become an industry favorite. Since the introduction of the Helios 2 from Orvis many guests, friends, and clients have been asking us about it and how does it rate against the Sage ONE? Have you cast it? What does it feel like? It is super light!
Now that we have both rods living side by side on the shelf…the new question has become “OK, I hear they are both great rods. But what is the differences between the two? What should I get for my trip to ‘River X’? I like to dry fly fish, but I enjoy nymphing when the bugs aren’t popping.” Or, “I like to streamer fish first and foremost, but I still love to throw tiny flies at sipping trout? What should I do?”
John and Mark decided to take the two rods in question on the famous Missouri River and give them a head to head real world river examination. They would fish them with dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. A true test to see what each rod was designed for and the limits of which each could handle.
Here is our Sage ONE v. Orvis Helios 2 | 5 weight Fly Rod Review.
Sage ONE 590-4 v. Helios 2 905-4 tip-flex – Mark Raisler
Appearance: Sage ONE is black. Black is always cool. Really the first black rod since the sorta black Loomis GLX. The Helios is deep blue. Also cool. The tipping point for the Helios is the sleek attractive reel seat. A burl insert in the reel seat with a drastically reduced weight due to the updated hardware. Way more cool than the brown Sage seat.
Both come with great looking lightweight rod tubes and rod socks with identifiers attached so if you are the type to carry several rods on trips bundled into after market multiple rod tubes you can see what rod is what.
Shop Feel: The Orvis Helios 2 is 1/4 oz. lighter than the ONE. Both extremely light in hand with the lighter feeling of the two being the Helios 2. The Sage is really light feeling until you pick up the Orvis. I’d have to say the ONE is certainly more substantial felling in the hand. But all this goes off the radar when we are casting. Splitting hairs for sure. The Sage wiggles better than the Orvis. You know the test. The shop wiggle. Unfortunately too many rods have been purchased much to the anglers chagrin by not testing it in the field. The wiggle, albeit fun, tells you nothing about the pros and cons of any fly rod.
Casting Power: I have several Sage ONE fly rods for use in the boat so I am familiar with them. It has become my favorite rod line which surprised nobody more than me because I have long been a fan of old soggy Winston’s and Scott’s. So I began casting the Sage first. Just for a baseline feel.
Yes, the sage ONE has plenty of power. Long casts can and do happen. A great tool for the Missouri which is commonly windy and the opportunity, not a necessity, to make long casts with either a hopper or a small dry do present themselves. The ONE can deliver even with a side of wind. In the face from the north or a stiff across the shoulder wind while not dismissed does not sacrifice the efficient and strong casting characteristics of the Sage.
The Helios 2? I cast this secondly and I’ve got to state that I was immediately impressed with its ability to handle long lengths of line and the Helios 2 did not buckle when actually trying to over power the rod. I was under the mistaken impression that a rod that felt so incredibly ‘tip light’ could handle the power. The Sage does buckle a touch when replicating the too much power stroke. We, male anglers, often overpower that last cast to get a little something extra on the cast. A problem, yes. The Helios 2 must be built with this notion in mind. I like a rod that allows you to cast at different rates of speed and variable power. The Helios 2 is good for all styles and types of casters.
John and I did cast both rods with a RIO Outbound Short F/I streamer line with heavy streamers and while both rods did the job, it was clear that one of the two was more suited for handling large and bulky flies and lines. The Helios 2 was the clear winner here. While we normally don’t streamer fish with a 5 wt., usually a 6 wt. or 7 wt., the Helios was much easier to cast and it actually enjoyed the pressure. The Sage just felt like it was not designed to carry heavy loads. While the Orvis rod may not be designed for that either it can definitely endure the power of streamer or large dry fly fishing situations. The ONE required much more precise timing to be enjoyable.
Would I overline either rod? No, don’t need to. Even a line weight and a half, i.e. RIO Grand, is not necessary either. Although the Helios 2 could handle the load.
Casting Short: Sage ONE is the better rod for this event. The Helios 2 is a stiff tip flexing rod and while it shines in the medium and long range casts it does not have enough ‘feel’ to be your go-to under 30′ stick. We are talking about the dry fly situations that you find while wade fishing. The Orvis Helios 2 in this situation requires precise timing and a little pop in the stop to turn over the shorter casts.
Mending: Sage ONE here again is the winner for Mark. Just better flex throughout the rod allows again more feel and mending is a feel oriented game. You want the entire rod to carry the load while mending greater distances than 30′. The tip flex is not made for this type of activity. Powerful? Yes, Perfect for mending? No. The ONE is the one is this category. It just has a softer and more effective hand when it comes to mending.
Setting the Hook: On the ‘first set’ while nymphing with the Helios 2 it became clear that this rod was designed for hooking fish! Move that rod 2 feet and it will turn the trout head and get his attention. You got ‘em. The dark side to this is the dry fly set needs to be calibrated or else you will be re-tying flies all summer long. You may find yourself increasing the tippet diameter while dry fly angling. The ONE may be the winner in the dry fly hook set box while the Helios 2 is the clear winner for both the nymph and streamer styles.
Dry Fly Fishing: The bench mark of a rod’s effectiveness is the ability of the rod to perform dry fly duties well. It is the way that many of you test a rod. I have been fishing the Sage ONE for the last year in both the 5 and 6 weights and have enjoyed the feel, the hooking ability and the almost velvet like precision. Point the rod towards the fish and the fly lands in the right spot. So, I have a bias going into the test.
I started with the Helios 2 on this dry fly test fishing a small Cluster Midge. Truly a great caster just like the ONE. The tip flex gives one the rod deadly accuracy and it is a joy to fish. Medium and long casts are well with in the wheel house and those long strikes, setting the hook as per above, with the Helios 2 are just right. The rod reacts instantly and makes fishing a long line really entertaining.
The Sage ONE is light in the hand while casting a dry. Do I prefer it over the Helios 2? No. Maybe with more time I would change my mind. But if I was shopping for a dry fly rod only…I’d go with the Sage ONE. Simply a designed with a more generous flex pattern and a better feel.
Most of what we do here on the Missouri within the dry fly arena include 4x-6x tippets and smaller flies. The ONE is designed for this task. The Helios 2 will easily carry bushy floaty flies a long distance and when fishing hoppers here on this super-sized spring creek the goal is to get them as far away from the boat as possible. The Helios 2 shines when given this job. Dry-dropper is it’s middle name.
Nymph Fishing: A toss up for me. Both rods handle the bobber well. The Sage mends better. Both the ONE and the Helios 2 will cast split shot, longer leaders if necessary, and gaudy indicators. The Orvis Helios 2 sets the mark on setting abilities.
Streamer Fishing: Clearly the Orvis rod is the ticket if you indeed find yourself forced to use this rod as a streamer tool. It can handle the power, the weight, and the long casts. It will not fold like a dead salmon. The Sage just needed more attention while casting. The Helios 2 turned the fly over with ease.
Fighting Fish: The Helios 2 was tiresome after one strong fighting 18′ rainbow. If I was nymphing all day long and expected to fish and fight aggressively, I would toss the rod in the water. Only the tip flex’s and the pressure is delivered to your joints. Ever hear the line “My arm was tired from fighting fish!” Well, this rod will allow to use that line in conversation daily. The Sage 590 ONE runs away with this category.
Bottom Line: Wow, both of these tools are beautifully crafted, manufactured, and designed for fly fishing fun. A real tough choice and I am glad John and I had an opportunity to get out and fish them side by side employing all three disciplines. It gave me the experience to make a sound judgement on both 9′ 5 weights.
Now the question begs…which rod would I choose to go on a trout fishing vacation, to fish for the next 10 years, or to add to the ever growing fly rod quiver? It is a fractured answer for sure.
If you like to dry fly and nymph fish, then I choose the Sage ONE. A better tool for the job. You can feel more with the Sage. Enough power to handle the perpetual winds of fishing conditions with a ton of accuracy built into the rod for all your small fly pursuits.
If your game includes dry fly and streamer fishing only and you believe nymphing is a dirty word, then the Orvis Helios 2 is your 5 weight of choice. A dry fly stick designed by a sniper with enough backbone to throw the big junk too. If you are a power player, then it becomes a no-brainer vote for the Helios 2.
Sage ONE 590-4 v. Helios 2 905-4 tip-flex – John Arnold
I like my trout rods fast. Real fast. This is especially true on the Missouri River where long casts and wind are always part of the equation. Unlike many, I prefer a faster rod for dry fly fishing. In my opinion, properly designed fast action rods are far more accurate than slower action rods, and to me, accuracy is the most important attribute of my dry fly rod. I do not like to be caught “under-gunned”, especially on a river like the Missouri, where we commonly present small dries on 12′+ leaders at 60-70 feet.
When Sage came out with the ONE last year, it instantly became my favorite. I felt like they had returned to their faster roots after the mushy Z-Axis detour. The 590 ONE has been my primary dry fly rod for the last year, and I absolutely love it.
When I first picked up the Helios 2 905-4 tip-flex, I knew I would like it as well. In fact it felt very similar to the Sage ONE. While casting it in the grass, that opinion continued. I kind of had that “six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other” feeling in my gut.
On the lawn, both rods are light in the hand. Crazy light. Both are fast (stiff) but not clubby or too damp. An action I like as well. Both are incredibly accurate. So how much different could they be on the water? As it turns out, far more different than I thought.
Mark and I took them both out for a comparison the other day after repeated requests for an accurate and detailed report for customers. Here’s my take…
Build Quality: Both rods are beautifully built. I love the classy black on the Sage ONE, as well as the blue/silver/red finish on the Helios 2. I have come to prefer the “window” style seat on the Helios over the “starting to get old” wood insert unlocking seat on the Sage ONE. It does appear that Sage is using somewhat different hardware on the seat. I hope it will have less tendency to come unscrewed than past Sage reel seats. Personally, I like the look of the Helios. Always been a sucker for a blue rod, going back to Teton fly rods if you’re old enough to remember.
Weight in the hand: The Orvis feels a touch lighter to me in the hand. And it is. According to the specs, the Helios 2 is lighter by a 1/4 oz. I don’t really think it’s an overall weight difference as much as a swing-weight difference. The Orvis feels a little lighter in the tip, and my understanding from those involved in the design confirms this.
Real world weight: While the Helios 2 might be lighter, the Sage ONE “fished” lighter. The Orvis Helios 2 has a stronger tip than the Sage. Once loaded up with a line, casting and fishing, the Sage ONE felt like the slightly lighter of the two rods. When your fishing with the rod tip down, that stiffer tip on the Helios pulls a little harder against the line. Remember, we are talking about small differences here.
Casting Power: When I think Sage, I think power. My preconceived notion was that the Sage ONE would be slightly more powerful than the Helios 2. After we left the lawn and got to fishing, it quickly became apparent which of the two rods was more powerful. Surprisingly (to me) it was the Orvis Helios 2. The Helios 2 was a clear winner while casting streamers and making long nymph casts with weight. It set the hook immediately at distance with an indicator and split shot. Easy to cast, yet cannot be overpowered. A rare combination.
Casting Short: The Sage was a pretty clear winner here. They both do the job, but the Sage ONE did it almost instinctively while you had to punch the Helios 2 a bit. As stated, I love fast rods and would have no problem using the Helios for short dry fly presentations, but I think the vast majority of anglers would prefer the Sage ONE. I wouldn’t want to use the Helios 2 Tip-Flex on a small creek.
Mending: This may have been our first clue as to how different these rods are. We started out with a weighted nymph rig from the boat. Both rods threw it great, but the Sage ONE mended much easier than the Helios 2. The slightly softer and fuller flex of the Sage made for a much easier and more relaxed mend. The Helios 2 was noticeably stiffer in the tip, forcing you to use a bit more power to mend and feed line.
Setting the hook: This is a big deal to me. The winner here was the Helios 2. The faster more responsive tip reacted instantly. With a nymph rig, I came tight almost immediately. It’s just delicate enough that we broke nothing off on the set.
Dry fly fishing: For technical dry fly fishing, I would choose the Sage One. It’s a fast and powerful rod, but it’s a bit more delicate than the Helios 2. This gives you an advantage when mending, making short presentations and protecting light tippets. (I should say that the one fish I landed on top (there were not many rising) was on 5X, a #16 Midge cluster, and the Helios 2. It too performed great).
For Hoppers, Salmonflies and big foam Attractors, I would pick the Helios 2. It’s going to deliver big flies long distances with ease and incredible accuracy. Droppers hanging off the back won’t even be noticed.
Nymph fishing: For short leash, late summer nymphing and medium (up to 4 feet) deep nymphing I would choose the Sage ONE. It just has a more delicate approach and would be less likely to pull the hook or break the tippet. I like to hit them hard when nymphing and prefer a little fuller flexing rod when using lighter (4X-5X) tippets.
If, however, I was nymphing the Missouri at 10,000+ CFS with a 10+ foot leader and lots of weight, the Helios would be an easy choice. The same holds true for nymphing freestone rivers during a stonefly hatch or throwing the “slop rig”. More power here and a fast and hard hook set when you need it.
Because most angler don’t own 2 nymph rods, I would have to give the nod to the Helios 2. It simply can do more things better.
Streamer fishing: Pretty simple decision. The 590 Sage ONE wasn’t designed for this and while it works fine, it lacks some power up top. We were using a 5 weight RIO Outbound Short F/I (our standard streamer line on the Mo’), and at longer distances you could collapse the tip of the ONE. The Helios 2, on the other hand, felt like it was made for streamer fishing and pushed both the RIO Outbound Short and a heavy fly with ease to any distance in the wind, and it felt like it had more left in the tank. I use a 7 weight for streamer fishing, and the 905 Helios 2 has me rethinking that. A great streamer rod.
Fighting Fish: The Helios 2 definitely put more strain on your wrist while fighting fish due to it’s stiffer tip. I was almost looking for a fighting butt. If you have wrist, hand or lower arm problems, I would pick the Sage ONE.
Bottom Line: I love fast action rods and these are the two best fast action 5′s I have ever cast or fished. Both of these rods are extremely impressive and I would have no complaints fishing either in almost any trout fishing situation. I would typically expect the rod that’s lighter in the tip to be a little less powerful with a weaker tip prone to collapsing when you overpower it (a common design that I hate). Not the case here. The Helios 2 wins the power contest despite it’s lighter tip. My quick description of each: While both powerful, the Sage ONE feels “calmer” in my hand. The Helios 2 feels very lively, like it wants to jump out of my hand.
If I had to choose only one of these rods for a wide variety of conditions, it would be the Helios 2. Why? As I said, I don’t like to get caught “under-gunned”, and you won’t with this rod. Planning a trip to New Zealand or Patagonia and don’t want to bring 5 rods with you? Choose the Helios 2. If you only own one rod for trout fishing, and you fish a wide variety of water types (including big lakes), conditions and hatches, I would again choose the Helios 2. It can tackle any situation easily from small dries to big streamers and sink tips, and you’ll never feel like you needed more rod. I would not choose the Helios 2 Tip-Flex for small spring creeks, however. For such a powerful rod, it is not difficult to cast. It may be slightly more forgiving and easier to cast than the Sage ONE for many anglers.
If I was purchasing a 5 weight rod for technical dry fly fishing and some light nymphing, I would pick the Sage ONE. It makes better short presentations and just “feels” like a dry fly rod. It’s absolutely perfect for long leader presentations on the Missouri, Henry’s Fork, Silver Creek, etc., and it has the power to make medium and long presentations as well. It mends great, and if you do a little bit of nymphing here and there, it’ll work fine. If you frequent smaller out of the way creeks you will probably prefer the Sage ONE as well. If you are a double-taper line fanatic, this would be my choice. It’s no wimp, however, and can handle most situations. If I were looking for an all around rod and was a sworn Sage fanatic, I would probably consider the 690-4 Sage ONE.
In the future, we may have to test the Mid-Flex model of the Helios 2 as well and see how it stacks up against the ONE.
If you have any questions about either of these rods, feel free to leave you comments here, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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