Original Hardy-built, spring and pawl CFO and machined from bar-stock in China, disc-drag CFO
In the winter of 1971 – 72, Orvis introduced the CFO reel, designed by New Hampshire reel builder-great, Stanley Bogdan, to be manufactured by Hardy Brothers of Alnwick, England. Named after Orvis founder, Charles F. Orvis, inventor of the vented or ported fly reel in 1874, it was priced at about $120. At that time, Hardy‘s most popular trout reel was the Lightweight Series including Featherweight, LRH Lightweight and Princess. These leaf spring engaged, twin reversible pawl reels were well cast of an aluminum alloy and featured Hardy’s spring loaded latch and cap spool release; the new CFO series was to incorporate these given characteristics. Stan Bogdan’s design elegantly improved upon Lightweight’s surfaces, replaced the typical Hardy, threaded, edge-mounted check adjustment bolt with a radius-internal cam actuated by a rear-housing mounted knob and, importantly, added a flat, flared, smooth palming rim on the spool; a great and influential innovation. The Hardy spring and pawl mechanism really is an over-run check, hardly a drag, and the palming rim provided the fly fisher with a clean, intuitive surface to apply additional pressure, rather than inserting one’s finger into the spool against the outgoing line to add resistance. So many post CFO reels incorporate a palming rim that it has become, essentially, ubiquitous.
CFO, except in larger salmon sizes, are frameless, leaving the reel foot support and the “T” pillar to which the nickel silver line guard is screwed, to track in the inner recess of the spool’s palming rim. Later in the 1980’s Hardy CFOs eliminated the T pillar in favor of an “I” for ease of casting. The frameless design reduced weight substantially while quality and experienced manufacturing preserved adequate rigidity.
The first production CFOs had the center spindle affixed by a screw-head bolt visible on the back surface of the housing but these were inclined to loosen and were eventually replaced with a superior internal screw-in spindle connection.
Earlier CFOs, like this circa 1980 sample, had their inscriptions engraved but as production ramped up in response to overwhelming popularity, Hardy switched to stamping. The difference is not particularly important or even noticeable unless you have engraved and stamped examples beside one another. The edges around the letters of the stamped version are ever so slightly rounded and anyone familiar with the two processes can easily detect which is which. If one is seeking a prime classic CFO one would look for an example like this one, an engraved, “T” pillared, non-externally screwed spindle model. This reel matches and balances best with shorter #3 to 5-weight rods up to Orvis’s Far and Fine. By the size of 8’/#4 Western, my favorite early Orvis graphite of 1984, CFO IV is a better gravity neutral balancing match. This size III accepts a WF5F with about 70 yds. of #20 Dacron backing.
In 1993, Orvis acquired British Fly Reels and, although manufacturing continued to be “Made in England”, Orvis switched CFO production from Hardy to BFR. These latter CFOs did not have the rivets on their back surface as the spring and pawl componentry was supported by an internal plate. A first for the CFO series, a green, off-set disc drag model was introduced shortly thereafter and, although fine fishing reels, these BFR produced models represented the end of the seminal classic CFOs. Over the course of time and many varied Orvis reels, CFOs eventually returned briefly to Hardy manufacturer, machined in England and currently, a beautiful and faithful CFO III, machined and anodized by Abel in California for Orvis, is available. This Abel and the last Hardy versions are, as was the original, spring and pawl designs and, at $345, the modern CFO is a very fine and beautifully crafted fly reel.
For maximum contrast, I am electing to compare the first generation classic with a few years old, machined and anodized, offset disc-drag model built to Orvis’s specifications in China.
Retailing for $225 and available from 2004 to 2013 (source; Orvis FF Customer Service), this is a solid and well executed piece of work. Clearly intended to be reminiscent of the original in appearance though entirely different in color and internal mechanism, it is built to high quality standards.
Peer into the spool’s spindle recess and observe a one-way, needle clutch bearing. The spool is, in the modern reel idiom, counterbalanced, unlike the Hardy-built models. The venting ports encircling the frame’s periphery are, as far as I can determine, purely cosmetic and though a departure from the original’s appearance, are good looking. The gear teeth that the pawl engages with are finer than in the original so a different, more closely pitched sound is generated, not at all unpleasant, just different.
As its name indicates, this CFO Disc actually has a drag. OK, it is an off-set disc, a dead-end design that I believe dies with this reel. Orvis was the first and last to employ this design which may have originated with BFR but has been used by others as far away as STH in Argentine Patagonia and the Lamson-built, Orvis DXR made for them by the first iteration of that reel maker prior to its acquisition by Waterworks. On Lamson’s own version, they employed a caliper, pad and large disc similar to an automotive design. Orvis, consistent with the vast majority of fly reel makers, has gone to a concentric, hub mounted disc or stacked, multi-element drag modules, more directly engaging and superior designs. CFO Disc, via its traditionally positioned rear mounted drag knob is, never-the-less, easily fine tunable up to settings stouter than most any trout fishing situation might call for.
As a performance oriented angler who appreciates a linear, incremental drag to assist in quickly bringing a trout to hand and releasing it, this machined, disc-drag model might logically be appealing. However, employing a diminutive, standard arbor reel like CFO III, I would in all probability, be fishing a little rod in a small stream environment. Such habitats rarely benefit from the ultimate in technical tackle, rather favoring the simplicity of manually dextrose rod and reel handling that is at the heart of fly fishing; eschewing mechanical advantage. The buttery smooth, well-worn and oiled, original Hardy-built CFO possesses a classical charm un-equaled not only by the several very fine modern spring and pawl reels but also in comparison to its contemporary peers of decades past. Sometimes, not often, a rod or reel is introduced that by virtue of inspired design, optimal materials application and excellent fabrication, is imbued with near magical properties. Forty five year old original CFO is just such a reel, CFO is iconic.