Orvis CFO III – 30 Years Apart

sweetandsalt

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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.
 
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moucheur2003

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Nice summary, S&S, thanks. One quibble: Orvis did not buy BFR until 1993, the last year in which the cast frame with rivets holding the drag was sold. (See the date here: Orvis Timeline .) The (BFR-made) barstock "no-rivet" frame was introduced in 1992, and the green CFO Disc models were developed in 1993 for the 1994 season. I remember because I bought a cast-alloy riveted-frame CFO, together with a Western 8' 4wt, at half price in 1993 when they were both being closed out, and I remember thinking the the forest-green color of the new disc models was peculiar because it did not match the Orvis rod cosmetics, but that it might look nice on a Winston.

Another CFO history resource is here: The Rusty Spinner: History of the Orvis C.F.O.
 

sweetandsalt

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Thank you, Moucheur. I do believe you are correct, your dates sound right to me. Not being very good with dates and numbers in general, I relied on two young gentlemen at Orvis Fly Fishing Customer Service who tried to help me but I did have a sense they were looking on their computers and not really knowing. Please, everyone, regard Moucheur's dates as corrective updates.

---------- Post added at 04:47 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:35 PM ----------

I have updated my time-line dates to reflect Moucheur's wise input. I sure hope the Orvis staff is correct on the Chinese reel's dates!
 

moucheur2003

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S&S: "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."

For a time, Hardy sold an Asian-made reel under the "Uniqua" nameplate that was uncannily similar to the Asian Orvis CFO. Aside from the color of the anodization, the main noticeable difference was in the internal drag mechanism (because, one supposes, the offset drag of the CFO was a proprietary Orvis design). I commented on the similarity to the rep in the Hardy/Greys booth at a winter fishing expo, and without saying it explicitly, he hinted that Hardy and Orvis were in effect buying the same reel from the same factory and merely putting their own minor tweaks on it.

In his two-volume treatise Trout, Ernest Schwiebert characterized the appearance of the CFO as having been based on the design of the Hardy Lightweight series (but substituting the palming rim of the CFOs for the rim of the cage frame on the Lightweights). If that's so, and since the original CFO was designed to be able to be easily manufactured by Hardy, it makes sense that neither Orvis nor Hardy had an exclusive enough claim on the cosmetics of the design to prevent the other from producing a new model that that owed a design nod to both older series.

 

mtbusman

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I have one of the post '93 BFR CFOs. It's a III. I bought it in '95 and used it for many years with my four weight IM6. They were a wonderful team. I've upgraded, you could say, but I can't part with either one. My CFO III still has a DT four weight SA XPS line on it, ready to go. If the creeks were open right now, I just might take it out. It's warm enough.
 

willyf

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One random note on the CFO. They made a little mistake when they launched the new version of the CFO in 2004--it didn't fit on the reel seat of the bamboo rods that Orvis was selling at the time. Considering that they usually paired a CFO with their bamboo rods, this was a big issue. I don't remember how they resolved it, but I figured this would be of interest to some of the CFO lovers.
 
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sweetandsalt

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For those not familiar with the externally threaded spindle, this is what it looks like. Another variation in the earliest examples is the elongated spool release lever. I think the Rusty spinner CFO History is a valuable reference and I hope some of these details about fine points like the engraving and long lever add to our insight about this seminal fly reel.



Moucheur's depicted Hardy Uniqua reveals an important fact about modern fly fishing tackle; creative property is little respected or protected in off-shore production. Just looking at the picture and observing the peripheral porting, the twin ports in the line guard pillar and the identical drag knob illustrates the commonality of manufacture of the Hardy and Orvis reels. Sure, the inside mounted mechanisms may vary; offering the consumer a choice but the computerized machining appears essentially identical. Economy of scale I suppose and I have no clue who developed the design. I know of a number of instances in which a Western designed, Asian made, rod or reel has appeared or reappeared under differing brand marketing names. I was told of an instance in which a US brand, building their rods off-shore, wanted to add a new category and the manufacturer told them not to waste their time in development, he was already making such a rod for a European brand and would simply make it in the US brands color and logo.
 
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jayr

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I have one of the ones made in China. When I bought it, it came with a Superfine and I knew little about them other than the combo was a deal I couldn't pass up.

I pretty much knew it was made elsewhere as it didn't have England or US stamped on it. In fact, it has nothing on it to indicate where it was manufactured, that I can find.

Upon taking it apart and cleaning and lubing it, I was surprised at how well made it actually is especially for being made in China.
 

ezduzit

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S&S--thank you for your report.

I have the English made CFO III Disc, which is now dedicated to my 4wt, shown here on my 5wt. BTW I've released a 24" rainbow and a 26" carp using a CFO III pawl and 5wt.

 

sweetandsalt

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Yes, this fine looking green one is the first CFO Disc from BFR upon which, I am confident, the Chinese made on is based. Mine does not but when new from Orvis I imagine the Chinese one had a little round sticker on it proudly proclaiming its country of origin.
 

rsagebrush

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I remember purchasing my first good fly reel, a CFO IV in 1972 the Screwback version. I lost it in a lake about 3 months later. A friend of mine came back about 2 weeks later and dove and found it. Some of the fiinnish had flaked off by then, I guess it was antiqued then.

Anyways 44 years later and a few dings along with hundreds of fish and it is still going strong.

Who says you need a machined reel.
 
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rtbelljr

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Outstanding read, thanks for taking the time to piece together. Just found CFO 123 I bought in 2002 from small Orvis shop in Southern Pines NC that was going out of business...got it spoiled up and matched to Sage 3wt, cant wait to fish it this weekend.
 

sweetandsalt

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When I got a new Sage ONE 8 1/2'/#4 this past spring, I reassigned my Loomis Streamdance GLX's Nautilus FWX 5/6 to it, a perfect combination. Replaced in the core quiver but not retired, the 8 1/2'/#4 Streamdance, which has a bronze anodized color on its reel seat, received the modern CFO Disc Drag depicted in this piece as a replacement reel, they look and balance very well together.

 
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