Orvis On Sale at Fishwest: Economies of Scale At Work

Fishwest is one of the biggest internet fly fishing retailers. For years, they have sold gear from all the big names (e.g., Patagonia, Simms, Sage, Winston, and many others). I had posted earlier (see here) about the economies of scale emerging in the retail fly fishing market. That post included discussion of the merger of Fishwest with Missoula-based Grizzly Hackle Holdings.

Today I got an email from Fishwest announcing that it was carrying Orvis. I checked and they appear to have a good selection of Orvis gear including the Helios 2 (many but not all rods in the series). I did notice their Mirage reels and Silver Sonic waders were not currently available.

That was a bit of a surprise as Orvis has its own distribution channels, including its own stores, a network of fly shops that carry their gear, and their own internet store. I was more than a bit surprised.

Who wins the most with this announcement? I think Orvis wins – maybe not big to start, but over time it’ll be huge as it gives them significant visibility and another distribution channel in the west and west coast of the United States. It seems to me this is part of a much bigger strategy.

Orvis has been out west for a long time, with many stores, endorsed guide and lodge operations, and dealer network. (We have an outstanding Orvis store in Bellevue that is highly regarded for its outreach on fly fishing and fly fishing education.) At the same time it has been viewed by many in the west as a stodgy east coast business with sometimes good but not great fly gear, dog beds and traditional if affected clothing.

But the truth is that much of their current fly gear is as good as anything anyone else is making (and so are some of their dog beds). The Helios 2 is properly regarded by many reviewers as among the very best rods for sale today.

Given the size of the retail fly fishing market (see here), roughly $750 million annually, it’s clear – particularly if the fears of a declining population of fly fishers are realized – that any brand (and Orvis is a brand just as much as a Sage or a Winston are) must not settle on existing market share if they are to survive and prosper.

Orvis has clearly demonstrated over the last few years a resurgence by a new freshness in design, a young set of designers (if their videos are accurate representations), and a willingness to change the game in how it does business. I think they want to produce the best gear they are capable of producing and they want to reestablish themselves as the leader in areas such as rods, reels, and waders.

I also think Grizzly Hackle Holdings/Fishwest wins big. They are bringing on a brand with market presence and share, lots of advertising, high volume catalog mailings,and an extensive network of schools, guides, and lodges endorsed by Orvis. The more advertising there is for Orvis, the more chance they will win additional business selling Orvis products.

Does anyone lose on this? I think that remains to be seen.

But certainly the move of Orvis into a new distribution channel demonstrates a refreshing break with the past. Other equipment makers – particularly rods, reels, and waders – likely need to think about a world where Orvis is more visible and is offered in a big way outside their historic way of selling their gear.

Retooling the Rod Inventory: Considering the Orvis Helios 2 8-Weight

Orvis Helios 2 8 Weight

I’ve had a long affection and appreciation for Winston rods. For years I admired the reputation and mystique of the Winston brand. I’ve owned a 5 weight BIIIX for over three years that I used on the Cedar and Yakima rivers. I loved its beautiful green color, the build quality, the soft tip that allowed flies to gently fall on the rivers, and its general fishing ability.

When I started fishing in the saltwater fisheries of Puget Sound, anticipating the wind, I jumped on what was then the newly released faster BIII-SX in a 9’ 6” 6 weight. I liked casting the rod and found it a bit stiffer than the BIIIX but nonetheless a fine fishing rod.

A six-weight rod is more than enough rod for the sea run cutthroat trout and resident Coho salmon of Puget Sound. But I wanted to go after the migrating cousins (Coho/silvers and pinks) and that meant an 8-weight.

Given it was saltwater fishing my immediate and obvious conclusion was the BIII-SX in a 9-foot 8 weight. I got a chance to do more than a bit of lawn casting with it and…I really didn’t like it.

I tried casting it with a Rio Outbound Short (8-weight); a Rio Outbound (8 weight); and an Airflo 40+ (9 weight). It was an exasperating experience. I didn’t feel as I could get the road to load for me in a way I would have expected with an 8 weight. I tried varying my cast in stroke length, timing, and power application. Nothing I did made me feel like I was getting to the Winston sweet spot I could find with the 6-weight.

I was disappointed. It may have been the rod in that weight is too fast for my casting abilities. I’ve begun working on my double haul and sometimes get a rough approximation of one. So, I certainly think that my technique needs improvement. But still, I started to think I was too restricted in my thinking about rod brands.

Not really ever feeling love for Sage rods, which may be blasphemy for someone living in Washington, I decided to check out Orvis – after reading a lot of the buzz over the last year or so about the Helios 2.

I was first able to get my hands on a 9’ 6” 6 weight (saltwater with fighting butt). If nothing else, I figured I could get a feel for how the at least one rod in the series casts and fishes.

My first impression was that it was lighter that the BIII-SX in the same weight¬ – turns out it was half an ounce, and I was surprised I could feel the difference. While I was checking the 6 weight differences, I looked and found the Helios was over an ounce lighter in 8-weight (for the 9 foot rod).

It’s not the beautiful Winston green, but a refined midnight blue; . The reel seat is attractive with a skeleton frame surrounding what is advertised as woven graphite; it’s good looking! (I did see the rod tube, and well…to each his own).

Enough about aesthetics. How did it cast?

Well and this was almost not a surprise given the praise heaped on it by most of the reviews I’ve read, it was a great casting rod. Light in hand and light in swing. I found it easy to shoot line; at the same time it was easy to accurately cast with only several feet of line and leader beyond the rod tip.

Comparing rods, even when switching back and forth between my BIII-SX and the Helios 2, is always subjective based on perception as much as observation of casts. But I’m prepared to say that I liked casting the Helios 2 much more than the BIII-SX. I had the sense my casts were straighter and more confident than with the BIII-SX.

Of course, not all rods in a series are the same. Often one-rod weight and length will be terrific; then moving up or down to another weight and it’s difficult to believe they are from the same series – as I noted with the BIII-SX above.

But I’ve found the rod I want to look at for my 8-weight. If it casts anywhere near as well as the 9’ 6” 6-weight, the crew from Vermont will be getting my business.

And now what to do about the 6-weight?

Money not growing on trees or being the latest lottery winner, it’s difficult to conceive of having two premium rods of the same weight and length. And even a justification of having a backup when a rod needs repair (as I had with a broken tip on the BIII-SX this summer) is a bit of a stretch.

So I’ll keep the BIII-SX for now and get the Helios 2 in 8-weight. After that, something may be going on sale on eBay. And more important, I need to get some additional casting coaching and instruction.

The ONE Versus The Two Updated

Headwaters Fly Shop lost their blog content earlier this year. The link no longer works. This is unfortunate as the comparison was fair and well-balanced.

I came across an interesting comparison by Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig, Montana of two of the hottest fly rods selling at the moment: the Sage ONE and the Orvis Helios 2.

I can’t comment on their comparison as I’m yet to cast the Helios 2. I have cast the Sage One, and for me I just couldn’t find the love. I attribute that my casting that needs improvement; in any case I just felt pain in my shoulder every time I cast it; sidearm, quarter arm, and overhead. And I’ve not felt that in other rods I’ve cast from Sage, Winston, or Orvis.

Read the post here.