Access line of rods a thorough working with on my recent trip to Arkansas. We've had some of these rods in the shop since November, but I had only cast them in the parking lot up until last weekend. So, I was looking forward to seeing how they perform in the field and where they actually stack up against the Helios and Hydros models.
First off, the rods are mid-priced - by today's standards - at $350 so the price is definitely in the ballpark for most anglers. Orvis has used their proprietary thermoplastic resin technology in designing the scrim of the graphite blanks. I guess the practical effect of this is that this technology allows them to substantially reduce the overall weight of the rod when compared to other rods that use more traditional materials such as fiberglass as the scrim. The scrim is basically the "backing" of the graphite and gives the graphite rigidity and structure. Fiberglass is the traditional material used in graphite rods. So, the rods are very lightweight - especially when compared to other manufacturer rods in this price range. Lightweight makes for a more natural casting stroke and less fatigue at the end of a day.
They look great with an a bronze finish and well appointed gold hardware with a brownish woven graphite reel seat. Rods come with a cordura rod tube and Orvis' 25 year unconditional warranty. At this time, Orvis charges $30 to service broken rods - which is quite a bit less than many other manufacturers.
How does the rods fish? They cast great in the parking lot and will pass just about anybodies "wiggle test" in the parking lot. They feel great in hand and most people have been shocked by the price as this is the lightest rod many people have felt before and there is an intuitive association with this which makes most expect a $500+ price tag.
How does it fish? Honestly I kind of expected to be telling everyone that these rods are basically the same blank they use in the Helios/Hydros. It's not. I found the rod I used (905-4 Tip Flex) to handle everything from small dries to streamers very well. Not the same degree of ease to fish as the premium rods but "good enough," - especially at this price. I found the rod to load well going forward, but harder to feel on the backcast. I got used to it after awhile but they don't load as quickly or easily as the Helios/Hydros - in my opinion.
Outside of that, I found the rod great to fish with - easy mending, plenty of "stoutness" to handle big fish yet it didn't take the fun out of smaller ones. I fished a lot with 6x tippet and didn't have any issues with the tip being too stiff on the hook-set. I definitely thought it was better suited for nymphing and streamers than small dries - a great all around rod for most of what we do here in SW Montana - but it wouldn't be my first choice if I was primarily fishing match the hatch dries on a spring creek.
The Access rods represents a substantial improvement over the Power Matrix line of rods that they are replacing and a great "next step" for most anglers looking to upgrade from a "starter rod." For the angler that already has a bunch of rods - this line probably isn't going to do much for you unless you are looking to get a "fill in the blank" line weight for more specialized use without spending the money that premium rods go for these days. For example - I plan on picking up an Access in the 907 Tip Flex and 843 Mid Flex models later this spring. I'll stick with the Helios and Hydros for my everyday use demands of a 5 and 6 weight.
So, if you're in the market for a new rod, take a look at the Access but be prepared to be impressed by the performance difference between these rods and ones that are twice the price. In many ways this makes it better for everyone as there is both real and perceived differences in value between all the various price points that Orvis now offers rods. Don't expect to get the same performance as you'd find in rods that go for $500+ but put them up against just about anything I've ever cast in this price range and I think you'll be impressed.