Rod Review: Orvis TLS Power Matrix 908-2 Tip-Flex 9.5

gear bagOrvis’s TLS line has been around quite a few years, and has certainly been the target of its fair share of reviews. But we fly fish in a world where four piece rods are the norm, and when I found this Orvis TLS Power Matrix 908-2 Tip-Flex 9.5 I figured it would be an oddity in my gear closet too. Yea, it’s a two piece, but my arm was twisted into giving it a go. The intended use – tromping around Denver looking for big smelly carp, a purpose for which assembly convenience trumps inability to stuff it into a commercial airliner’s overhead storage bin.

Since it’s an older model, I’ll be brief. This will be a single part review too (lucky you) since I’ve already fished the rod several times.

Fit and finish

The rod came in a nice burgundy colored cordura covered tube, complete with a zip away cap and a black cordura carry handle. There was no rod sock included – a simple divider is built into the tube. More ‘less parts’ is fine by me, and the tube is durable enough that a person could re-purpose it for a friendly came of stick-ball if so desired.

orvistlstube

The rod finish is glossy forest green, and just slightly darker around the wraps. If nothing else, green feels good – I now have less green in my pocket but I can probably spin it as part of some environmental cause. There are two black anodized stripping guides – the rest of the [snake] guides are nickel – and the reel seat is gloss black. The finish on the reel seat looks and feels tough – identical to that on several premium saltwater rods I’ve owned for years that still don’t have a scratch on them.

[BREAK] I’m presently polishing and buffing the reel seats on the premium saltwater rods I’ve owned for years, trying to get the scratches out. [END BREAK]

orvistlslabel   Orvis TLS handle

The cork is the fine grain variety you’d also find on much more expensive rods – good enough to stop up the ’89 Lafite Rothchild you’ve finally opened but are loath to share with anyone (it’s ok, I don’t blame you either). And don’t let the darkened color in the photo fool you – I take crappy photos regardless of lighting conditions it was acquired new, and I’ve simply put a lot of dirty, sweaty hours on it already. I like little touches too, and while this rod didn’t come with a robotic casting arm or the targeting system from a decommissioned Cruise missile, it still didn’t completely disappoint. The top of the cork has edges sanded round (to prevent snagging on whatever folks snag their cork handles on), and the manufacturer added a little red dot to the reel retention ring so you know where the indent is without twisting round and round. The only thing missing (besides a single beer bottle cooler mounted in the lower portion of the tube) is a loop or hole to place strung fly hooks.

Orvis must have a cadre of dwarves sitting in a basement in Manchester doing nothing but quality control under electron microscopes, because this is the second rod from them that I couldn’t find a single visual imperfection on. Both the Zero Gravity and this one were closeouts too.

In the field

The rod is about a three quarters of an ounce lighter than the other eight weight I’m using for carp, and the difference was noticeable. I paired the rod with that gel spun driven Lamson Velocity 3.5, throwing the stealthy Rio Carp line. The complete rig got a thumbs up, but I was soon wishing the feel in hand translated into smoothness with a belly full of line in flight. The TLS is stiff, really stiff, and casting was a workout even for someone who has been swinging eights and nines pretty regularly since spring (even if did include mostly smacking the street signs and park benches so commonplace in urban environs). Nonetheless, I won’t complain too much – casts track as accurately as you’d ever need. For carping, that means being able to drop weighted leeches into moving Dixie Cups at sixty feet. Now you understand why I don’t catch many carp.

I’m not much for feel anyway – getting the line out there in front of the fish, and then getting the fish into the net, is what really matters. And on that note, I hooked roughly a dozen carp over two afternoons on this rod, and didn’t land a single one. Many hooks were pulled, and many tippets popped. It could be a case of getting to know each other, or it might just be that the fly fisherman in question is an impatient jackass who wants to horse ’em like a tarpon the rod is too aggressively tapered for the soft mouths of the Colorado redfish.

Conclusion

It’s a keeper, but I won’t be doing anything but putrid, e. Coli infested fresh, warm water fishing with it. That’s a good thing, since it won’t fit in an overhead bin anyway (not that TSA would actually let me get on an airplane either). Interestingly, I found the rod light (good) and broomstick-like (not necessarily good), but Orvis has recently revised the model, upping the weight 3/8ths of an ounce and stiffening it up even more.

Did I pick this rod up at a significant discount? Yes. Would I pay full retail for the TLS Power Matrix 908-2 I have in my hands now, at a cool $365? Maybe. But would I do the same for a heavier, stiffer version knowing what I know now. Not likely, but I’m not keen on taking advantage of Orvis’s stellar 30-day return policy either.

That hindsight may, however, be for naught. If my suspicions are correct Orvis’s TLS line may be slated for the glue factory, with the T3 rounding out Orvis’s Helios-centered premium line instead. Again, it’s just speculation, but if I’m right you may soon find some of these rods at very reasonable prices. And with the quality build you’re getting, it’s worth it even as a spare.

Bonus: You won’t need to hit wrist curls at the gym anymore either.

MG signing off (to check if I’m on the no-fly list, because my new rod certainly is)

Comments

Matt Dunn says:

Nice review MG. One thing that I’ve always found odd about Orvis rods is that you can get them in different “speeds.” They made the TLS in a “mid-flex” as well, probably still do for the time being, which is a good bit softer than your tip-flex I’m guessing, at least my 5wt mid-flex is softer than my 5wt tip-flex.

Thanks Matt. Yes on the multiple ‘speeds’ per model, and it certainly results in very broad overall lineup for them. They probably never needed as many models as they have even now, and to some folks it was probably confusing. But an interesting concept, particularly as they made some in house and sourced some overseas. What I always found odd was that across lines some of the heavier models had multiple stiffness ratings even though most folks would find, say, a mid-flex 9-wt rather useless in many 9-wt scenarios.

Bob says:

I recently purchased the tip flex 9.5 in the 9ft 4 piece 9 wt. It doesn’t feel as stiff as my Sage X12 8 wt. It seems to feel more like my Sage SLT 4 piece 8 wt.
I purchased it primarily for Great Lakes Salmon and I am sure that it will work very well. The rod is comfortable to cast and pretty accurate and feels as if it has a good backbone