Test: Orvis Clearwater fly rod and reel | Outbreak Magazine

The 9’5wt Orvis Clearwater deserves a commendable article, but if nothing else this rod proves a startling truth:

Orvis is, for the time being, ahead of the pack in the arms race which manufactures fly fishing equipment. From top to bottom, Orvis’s offerings surpass or equal even the fiercest competition, and the Orvis Clearwater update is perhaps the best example of this resurgence.

The cane costs $ 198; if you get the Clearwater reel and use it, you’re looking at $ 311 for a ready-to-fish outfit right out of the box. It’s a fantastic all-rounder rod, but it really excels in that 25 to 50 foot casting range. Of course, in its price range, it’s not built in the United States. The Clearwater, however, comes with the standard Orvis 25-year warranty.

But what specifically makes Clearwater such a remarkable piece of equipment? Let’s take a look.

What works

Overall performance
Fly rods are tools. The high-end rods Orvis, Sage, Winston, Thomas & Thomas and Scott are the Milwaukee or DeWalt of fly fishing, while choosing an entry-level rod is like betting on port freight. Often times a Harbor Freight special does the job, but not as well – or as pleasantly – as something more expensive. Rarely, however, will you get lucky in hell with a great tool.

The Clearwater 9’5wt outfit is that tool. You’ll never confuse it with a Milwaukee or a DeWalt, but it comes closer than anything the industry has to offer. The Clearwater isn’t very light, but it feels great in the hand. It’s a moderately fast rod that is sharper than relaxed, with forgiving action that new casters and beginners alike will appreciate. The tip is softer than I expected and does an admirable job in protecting the tip. A buddy and I took turns fishing size 14 parachute BWOs on a 6x tip in a snowstorm, and the tip never broke on any of us.

Rather delicate presentation
Orvis ships the Clearwater outfit with a matching Clearwater II reel and WF line. The reel is phenomenal, but I appreciate that Orvis is not too overweight the line. This allows the rod to load well at medium distances, while retaining enough delicacy to lay smaller dips on wary trout.

Now don’t confuse the Clearwater with a specialized dry fly rod. It’s not. But he handles the little flies just delicately enough to make those moments of finesse possible.

Build quality
Keep in mind that this is all relative since the Clearwater is a $ 198 rod, but the build quality is impressive. Orvis chose to give it an H3 themed sticker above the cap, alongside dark gray wire wraps holding the chrome snake guides in place. Cork is by no means a top stuff, but it’s better than what I’ve seen on most budget rods lately.

The black chrome blank is nice, looks great in the sun, and so far doesn’t seem to absorb scratches like the finish on other entry-level rods.

Photo: Spencer Durrant

Clearwater II Reel
I’m not sure if I’m more impressed with the Clearwater rod or reel. Orvis packs a Rulon disc in a die-cast tall arbor case that’s pretty darn almost bombproof. The spool has a surprisingly smooth pickup, adjusts easily in mid-fight, and is above and beyond what I would expect from a combo kit spool.

What does not work

Close performance
The Clearwater does just about everything well, but it’s not a good rod for fishing within 25 feet. The rod is stiff enough that it really needs at least 25 feet of line to load it properly. That’s the trade-off made, however, for stellar performance at other distances, while keeping the cane in I-don’t-have-to-hide-that-buy-from-my-other important territory.

Complete intake of wells
The Clearwater’s cork handle is a slightly modified version of a standard solid well. This is normally a gripping style that I like, and it’s one that most production rods seem to gravitate towards lately. It seems a bit of a stretch, however, on the Clearwater. This is a standard 5wt all-rounder, make no mistake, but it’s not H3. A full well reverse grip would suit the rod much better and increase the connection between the angler and the rod.

No hook
This is my only hit against the H3 line of rods, and when the Recon receives its update like the Clearwater did, I guess that feature will go away as well. Tom Rosenbauer, marketing director and fly fishing guru for Orvis, told me he thought the hooks were “archaic.”

Personally, I like them, and it drives me crazy when I grab the hook and it’s not there. Rosenbauer says anglers are fairly divided over wanting to keep a hook on their trout rods, which is why Orvis chose to remove it from the updated H3 and Clearwater. Not sure if adding one on your own voids the warranty, although I guess that’s still an option.

Last word

The Clearwater 9’5wt Outfit is by far the best entry-level and value-priced fly rod on the market. I didn’t think I would find a $ 200 rod that I liked better than the Fenwick Aetos, but Orvis has put together another fantastic product here. It’s a fairly fast rod that will appeal to novice casters, but the Clearwater has a soft tip to protect the lighter tip. It handles dry flies well, throws streamers very well, and does its nymph stick job. The build quality is better than I would expect on an entry level rod.

Even with the cork grip, no hook, and less-than-stellar performance nearby, the Clearwater is a clear winner in the entry-level rod market. Add the Clearwater II stellar reel and line, and I don’t see a better outfit available for less than $ 350. The Clearwater is a fun and affordable blue neck fly rod that has its place in the quiver of new and old anglers.


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