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Rod Review

Getting a Grip on the New Helium: Kistler Custom Rod's Helium 2 LTX (continued)

Features: The Helium 2 LTX line from Kistler has a host of features some visible and others not. Of course, the real difference maker, as mentioned at the beginning of this article is the grip. So just how did that grip come into play on the water and what's the reasoning behind this particular implementation? What are all the other features of this over three hundred dollar rod? Let's take a look.

The Helium 2 LTX features Batson Enterprises Guides

Rear Grip Material: Trey Kistler tells us he was looking for something as an alternative to cork that provided a better grip (especially when wet) but was still light. Performance characteristics aside, the LTX grip material is so different, it takes almost a leap of faith to try. I was the only one amongst the TT editors willing to make a go of it for an extended period of time and in the end, after a trip or two, I didn't even notice it anymore.

The controversial grip material

Should your handle get wet, this material certainly provides a better gripping surface than cork, and interestingly enough does not show signs of dirt, or even wear, after three or four months of use. As further example, an unnamed Kistler pro-staffer sent us one of his tried and true He2 sticks so we could see, first hand, what the grip looked like after a year of use under tournament conditions. What we found was his He2 rod's handle, while not worn, had what looked like a layer of glossy sealant on it. The pro-staffer told us nothing was applied, nor was he aware of any differences in the handle from a new, stock model until we sent the rod back him. All we can surmise is the oils from his hand must have acted as a conditioning agent to the grip material and eventually resulted it that sheen.

All Helium 2 LTX rods now feature a metal butt cap/counterbalance


My only real criticism of the grip deals not with its texture but its hardness. I found it a bit unforgiving on the palms of my hand but I have this same problem with cork. I guess I just have delicate hands. Criticisms aside what I really appreciate is the willingness and desire of Trey Kistler to use unconventional materials in an effort to bring something unique and maybe even a little controversial to the market. Is it something, if available, I would specify on a custom rod? No. But again, I could say the same thing about cork. More importantly is this grip material something that would influence my decision to purchase more He2 sticks? Not in the least. In the end, I think it really adds to the light, responsive feel of the rod.

Kistler is making the switch from Batson reel seats back to Fuji

Reel Seat: But that's not all that is up with the Helium 2 LTX. How about a departure from Kistler's use of Batson reel seats to a move in favor of the industry standard Fuji ECS seat? Finally, after complaints continued to mount, of anglers experiencing issues securing their reels to the old reel seat, and Batson's subsequent inability to respond with tighter manufacturing tolerances, Kistler had no choice but to move on and switch back to Fuji. That's right, we said switch back. Apparently Kistler left the Fuji seats behind several years ago after similar complaints arose regarding their seats. Fuji made the necessary modifications to their product shortly thereafter and now Kistler has finally found their way back. In speaking with Trey Kistler about this move, it was not an easy decision because he wanted to stay loyal to Batson and help them work through this difficulty rather than simply abandon them, but in the end with reports of the reel seat problems growing, customer satisfaction was paramount and they had to make the move.

One of the detail items I really appreciate about Kistler's rods... the inserts match the highlight threads - trivial to some, a nice refinement to others.

Guides: Trey Kistler worked hand in hand with Batson to develop the guides you see on their rods today. The former generation of Batson guides were in need of some improvement due to problems with popped inserts. Working together to design a solution on these components, Batson now features on all their guides deep pressed frames to more securely hold the inserts. Similarly, the tip top guides now feature oversized, flanged rings to protect against this same concern.

Comparing the former guide construction (left) to the current (right)

These improvements were made several years ago but bears mentioning as an example of how a rod manufacturer working hand in hand with a component company can develop a solution to benefit both parties. Batson ends up with an improved product, and Kistler is rewarded with the colored inserts they need. After all, it may seem trivial, but is there anything more impressive, from a detailing perspective, than the guide inserts matching your thread wrap? It's one of the things I love about the original Helium series, and it's something I also appreciate with the Helium 2 LTX.

The new tip top guides (left) as compared to the old design (right)

Rear Grip Re-Design: Never one to rest on his laurels, Trey Kistler has been busy tweaking his Helium 2 LTX line of rods since their introduction at ICAST 2005. One of these tweaks made in 2006 for the 2007 production season was a redesign of the rod's rear grip proportions along with the inclusion of some fine, metal winding checks. The portion of the grip just rear of the reel seat is now a tad longer, and a tad thinner than the original Helium 2 LTX, and on either side of the exposed graphite portion of the rear grip are silver winding checks. Capping off these changes is a metal butt end that doubles as a counterbalance on some of the longer Helium 2 LTX sticks like the He2HC76T and the He2HC711T (shown to us during ICAST 2006). These are welcome modifications and touches we've come to expect from rods in this price range.

The grip of an early prototype He2 (top) compared to that of a current production model (bottom) - note the change in grip proportions along with the addition of metal winding checks on either side of the exposed graphite.

Rod Sleeve: Another nice touch with all Helium 2 LTX sticks is the accompaniment of a black rod sleeve to protect your rod when not in use. Much like their Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) counterparts, the He2 rod sleeves feature a velvet outer layer with a durable nylon inside to facilitate the sliding of your rod in and out of the sleeve. Certainly this sleeve does nothing for the performance of the rod, but it is another fine detail we've come to appreciate from companies that go through the effort.

All Helium 2 LTX rods feature a custom rod sleeve

Blank Design: What would a Kistler Helium rod be without a little mystery and intrigue? Trey Kistler tells us that each Helium 2 rod has included, within the blank, a special woven fabric of undisclosed identity whose purpose is to help reinforce the strength of the rod during hookset. This material is placed not along the entire length of the blank, but only in strategic areas as needed. Of course, we have no way of verifying his claims, but at the same time, we have no real reason to doubt them either. Our He2HC76T performed very well during hooksets and the ensuing battles with fish.

A look at the book end, silver winding check detailing of the split rear grip.


Applications: Kept within the box of its intended application (jigs and soft plastics), the He2HC76T is a fine rod and able to be fished in heavy cover and in open water. One technique I did not employ with this rod was Carolina rigging, but I see no reason why it would not excel in this application as well. The one bait I would not recommend with this or really, any other flipping stick, is a swimbait. Certainly it can be done. Steve Kennedy proved that with his He2HC711T on Clear Lake in the Spring of 2007, but because of the relatively fast taper of these rods, you're not giving yourself the best chance of success. If you watched the coverage, then you know he lost some really nice fish. Stay within the box of flipping, pitching, punching, and even Carolina rigging and this rod will serve you more than adequately.

One last look at our He2 + Custom TDZ Combination : Total Weight? 12.3 oz

Warranty: As outlined in previous reviews, Kistler Custom Rods has a tiered warranty program. All new rods are protected by a 90-day full replacement guarantee against manufacturer defects or workmanship. Should a manufacturer defect or workmanship issue transpire after those first 90 days but within the first year of the rod's purchase date, Kistler Custom Rods offers a replacement warranty for $50 ($35 for the rod, $15 for shipping). Beyond this first year, and for individual claim questions, please contact Kistler Custom Rods directly. These coverages do not apply to accidental breakage due to use or neglect.


Kistler Helium 2 LTX He2HC76T Ratings (?/10)

Construction/Quality A very well crafted rod with good detailing. 9
Performance Same lofty expectations for the rod's sensitivity as the Daiwa CompileX - about the same performance - same score 8.5
Price There's no way around it, this is a premium priced stick 7.5
Features The list of interesting features took up half the review! If it were only available as a one-piece blank... 9
Design (Ergonomics) Detailing is very well done, balance is good and the grip material is really a non-issue once you get over initial reservations. 9
Application Serves its purpose as a soft plastics and jig rod very well 8.5

Total Score


Pluses and Minuses:

                 Plus                                    Minus

J Light and Well Balanced L Pricey
J Powerful when you need it L 2 out of 3 TT Editors agree, the grip is a tough feature to overcome
J Nicely Detailed  L I would absolutely adore a one-piece version of this stick similar to its cousin, the He76HC, but none is available.
J Comes with an attractive and protective rod sleeve!

Conclusion: Is there any more controversial a rod company out there today than Kistler Custom Rods? Many simply loathe Kistler for their preference to keep design and manufacturing decisions close to the vest. Others find it offensive that Kistler borrows on ideas from custom rod builders and offers these features up on production rods. Still more chastise the company for their choice in components. Yet through it all, we consumers benefit from products like the cost competitive Mg TS, the once innovative original Helium LTA, and the now polarizing Helium 2 LTX. Not to mention the products by other rod companies that have seemingly followed suit with some of the same design choices.


It might not be a tough fighting, 5 pound channel cat, but I guess this 4lb bass will do thanks to the He2HC76T!


I'm the only one out of the other editors who was willing to give the Helium 2 LTX a chance because the others simply could not get over the grip material on this rod. Then again I'm also the only one of us using a few fishing rods with a funky crooked handle (the Megabass Slant Bridge). Certainly the price point of the Helium 2 LTX makes it difficult to take a chance on something that doesn't ring true to you on first impression. There's no denying that, but what I find refreshing is Kistler's dedication in bringing us something different. Whether that be color coordinated guides, an open ended hook keeper, a one-piece flipping stick, eliminating unnecessary portions of the grip, or introducing us to a funky, yet functional grip material, Kistler Custom Rods is not afraid to take a chance. While I'm not here to profess the He2HC76T is my favorite new stick (that's a tough title to claim with me), or that I'm only going to buy rods with this new grip material, I can say, when I need a rod for flipping, pitching, or punching, I'll be sure to have the He2HC76T on my front deck rigged and ready to go.


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