Review: Orvis Clearwater 11-weight 9’4″ pike/musky fly rod | Hatch . Magazine

Minnesota and Wisconsin have to have some of the highest tarpon bars per capita in the country, outside of Florida. Most of these sticks, of course, you’ll never see a drop of salt water, unless you count the tears—because musky fishermen fall so often, whether from November’s ice storms, chronic tendinitis, or worst of all, trout populations.

But the one thing we no longer cry about is the struggle to find a decent musky oud. Big, hard saltwater rods were the only option back when the musk craze started a decade or so ago, but now there are a handful of specialized “predator” rods on the market, some made by rod designers who understand that. Do not use a musk stick in the same way you use a tarpon.

The large saltwater fishing rod is designed to be fast and light, to accurately put small flies occasionally in the wind, while retaining an iron spine for the wear of giant fish. It’s polished and sturdy, yet delicate, and carefully concealed when not on the bow of the boat.

The musky rod should be fast enough to throw heavy giant flies onto heavy lines, yet still forgiving enough to do so The whole day. You need to fight a giant fish long enough to get into the net — think steering pull, not hold a tug — and be sturdy enough for a pontoon job on the rocky, wooden rivers of the upper Great Lakes.

A quick note about bar weight ratings. For the size of musky flies I prefer to catch—based on the ones I’ve acquired or purchased from some of the best levels and guides in the business—the 450-grain full trough line is ideal. It really takes an 11 pound rod to toss this stuff. Ten with 400 is good for smaller flies, and giant late-season hunters may prefer 12 weights with a 500 or 550-grain line. But the 11 weight class is the bread and butter.

Of course – in the hand of the right wheel, and in combination with the right line, practically any rod can be. Much of the musk was landed on unsalted tarpon bars, but not elegantly.

But there’s another major problem with these bars: cost. The budget angler looking for a five- or eight-weight rod has plenty of options and many good choices. Not so with 10 and 11 weight bars, which often get close to a thousand dollars. There are 10 budget weights – and very few 11 – but it’s often either a telephone pole or a spaghetti.

But now, we have Oud Al Miski options. Sometimes they are reattached to saltwater rods, and sometimes they are designed for this purpose. Usually, you’ll see an extended fight butt, and sometimes an extended well fist. Most of the time, like any special rod, it is placed close to the highest price level for a particular group of companies.

Which is why when I saw that Orvis was offering an 11’9’4-inch rod in the Clearwater Inlet line, I was intrigued. I have two other pairs of Clearwater bars, and found them to be better than you would expect for the price. They’re made in Asia, as are all bars at this price point, but designed by the same bar shop that gave us all three award-winning Helios designs.

The Clearwater Road series is an example of my budget equipment buying rule: always choose low-priced models from a high-quality company, rather than the high-priced models of a start-up company.

Once I got a demo in my hand, I was even more impressed. Our musky camp crew took her on a three-day snowstorm in late October in northern Minnesota. We had wind, cold, waves and very few fish encounters. We didn’t have time for a lot of line switching, vibration tests or remote transmission. We just fished.

What is working

Design Choices

On paper, it’s almost perfect musk. It’s an 11-weight, which actually puts it in a significant minority of budget bars of any style. Extended combat is a great feature for the deep eight, or what Wisconsin mentor Chris Whelen called “fifty percent of the cast.” Orvis went a step further and in fact added Measures 4″ to rod length – 9’4″ overall. They’ve also upgraded the reel seat design from previous Clearwater models, which is very nice as the reels tend to sag when you’ve been streaming all day. The double locking rings are heavily knurled so you can check for tightness even with gloves on. One wish-list item that’s left unchecked is the extended grip on the front of the full bore—adding a nice musky pole effect, and the option for two-handed casting—but that’s definitely too much to ask for at this price point.


During our musky blizzard camp, this rod handled standard 10-14-inch flies comfortably with both the 450-grain Orvis PRO Depth Charge and with my cool 450-grain Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 25 cover. It’s rated as a “quick” action but doesn’t feel “quick” compared to the 11-weight 3D Helios, or the 11-weight Helios II. The timing isn’t perfect, though, with a noticeable drop in swing weight. It’s a pretty breakable rod and it didn’t bother us.

Pictured: Tom Hazelton

For fishfighting: Well, musk only needs horses. You don’t give them a quarter, no slack, no streak. As long as it’s not pasta, any heavy rod will do the job. While we didn’t spot any musk this weekend, a friend of mine landed at least three in a day on Clearwater this fall, and he said he quarreled with them easily.

Overall fit and finish

If you look closely, you can see defects in the epoxy coil and thread; This is true for most imported bars. But the gray vacuum effect, modern decals that match the H3’s design, and subdued colors are a bar effect that doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t. Same for the grip: rubbery on the ends, decent cork in the middle. It’s not a fancy rod. It is a working rod. Get it dirty and sticky, and forget about it. You will do the job.


At $249, this bar has no business in casting this well, or having the features of this wishlist. It comes at a much lower price than its closest competitor, TFO Esox, which in itself is a great value. Personally, I think Clearwater is the best rod too – especially when it comes to swing weight. It is backed by a 25-year Orvis warranty.

What is not working


I wish Orvis released that wand five years ago. I have a stack of cheap-to-medium priced 10 and 11 weights, and none have quite made it to the right place. I’ve been asked “Which penis should I get to catch?” Dozens of times, and so far, I have had no answer at any cost. Clearwater suits any angler, from the dabbler to the musky junkie.

Orvis Clearwater 11-weight pike and musky fly rod
Photo: Chris Miller

last word

Are there any nicer looking musky sticks available? Are there lighter and faster grab bars available? Yes, for both of them. But not at this price. Not even close. There are also plenty of heavy, dense, and imported 10′ and 11′ weight bars for that price—and more—that aren’t fun to toss, let alone every day.

The musky guide boat will be well stocked with a handful of these in the racks, as will the inquisitive first-time musky fisherman who will be well-armed with one as their first dive into the Esox world.

Learn more about the 11″, 9’4″ ORVIS FLY ROD Strainer (via Orvis)

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