Anything Fly Fishing

History of the Orvis C.F.O.

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All that follows has been published as part of a website I put together many years ago. I’ve been considering closing down that particular site as I haven’t updated it in over a year, so I thought I would republish this information here (it’s the only section of the website that still gets regular hits).

I understand that the blogosphere is populated by many flyfishers who pride themselves on a fishing style that is nothing like that of their fathers. Unlike these folks, I often enjoy fishing the way it was done thirty, forty or fifty years ago. By extension, I enjoy fishing with the same tackle my father or grandfather would have used all those years ago (had they not been unabashed worm dunkers).

Hence my obsession with the Orvis CFO. The CFO has become something of a modern classic; the rarest variations often demand two or three times their original asking price.

I’ve become something of a collector and researcher, and the history I’ve compiled will help those folks who wish to date their reels. For those folks who want to know if their reel was made by Hardy or BFR, all I can say is that sometimes it is impossible to know. I’ve stopped at 1997 as that year marked the final change to the original style of CFO. The Asian incarnations of the reel (bronze color with champagne colored appointments or a gold “limited edition”), simply do not interest me as do the older models.

History of the Orvis CFO

In 1874 Charles Frederick Orvis received a patent for his ventilated fly reel. This reel was the first of its kind, and is considered by many to be the father of all modern fly reels. Many years later, the Orvis company introduced the CFO reel to commemorate Charles Orvis’ achievement. The CFOs were first offered in 1971 and quickly became a success. The original CFO was a spring and pawl design; the disc drag model was introduced in 1994. The prototype CFO, “designed and made by Stan (Bogdan) now resides in the American Museum of Fly-Fishing in Manchester, Vermont” (Marchant 45).

Stan Bogdan’s Prototype CFO

(1971) 1972 – 1977

The Orvis CFO was first offered in the company’s catalog for the Christmas season in 1971. The photos below detail the contents of that catalog.

Catalog photos courtesy of Jukka Kujala

The original reels had a screw that went through the back of the frame, which held the spindle. The earliest of these had inverted script, which appeared upside down when hung on a rod. The newer model did not have the screw, instead the spindle threaded into the inside of the reel. The screw on the back was replaced with a cap. All reels with the screw through the back are early models. For roughly the next 20 years, all CFOs were manufactured by Hardy.

1977 – 1978

CFOs were offered in sizes II, III, IV, and V. Size II and III came standard without the nickel silver line guard, but the III was also offered with the guard for an additional charge. All other reels came standard with the line guard. All of the reels with the exception of the II had adjustable spring and pawl drags. The CFO multiplier was introduced in sizes III, IV, and V. The multipliers have a retrieve rate of 1 2/3 to 1. At this time, all CFOs are cast and then machined. On all these models, the spring and pawl mechanisms are held in place by rivets, which show on the back of the reels.

A limited edition CFO reel was offered as part of a rod/reel package. These silver CFOs were limited to a production run of 300 units. The first two hundred reels were paired with 8′ 3/2 Battenkill bamboo rods. Rods and reels have matching serial numbers. The sets were sold in mahogany, felt lined boxes so the rods and reels might be presented together. Very often the reels have been separated from their matching rods. The remaining 100 rods, rounding out the group of 300, were not bamboo but were greenheart. At the time of this writing, there is some question as to the existence of all 100 greenheart rods. There is also some debate as to whether or not all 300 reels were ultimately available for sale.

1978 – 1979

A size VI CFO was offered. A limited edition CFO was offered in both silver and gold color schemes. These reels were machined from solid bar stock aluminum. They were hand engraved with their limited edition number and “C.F. Orvis.” 500 reels of each color were available.


The limited edition reel is no longer offered.


The CFO III without the line guard is no longer available.


A new saltwater CFO is introduced. This reel was produced by STH and manufactured in Argentina. The drag is still spring and pawl, but all parts are made of corrosion resistant materials. The reels were available in Light and Medium sizes; each is a bright gold color. These reels are not CFOs as most collectors and anglers think of them. They’re included as part of this chronology for the sake of everyone’s understanding.


The Large saltwater CFO is offered to accommodate larger line weights.


A new drag is offered in the saltwater CFO, a double pawl system. An angler can use the light pawl for minimal resistance, the heavy pawl for strong resistance, or both for an even stronger drag. This design was copied from the Presentation series of reels. The CFO VI freshwater was dropped from the inventory as was the CFO Multiplier.


The CFO saltwater model is dropped from the catalog.


The CFO VI is reintroduced, and the CFO II is replaced by the 123. The 123 has a larger diameter, line guard, and an adjustable drag.


CFO size selection is downsized; the reel is only available in sizes 123, III and IV.


The CFO VI is once again reintroduced. At this point the 123, III, IV and VI are available. A new anniversary edition is available, to commemorate the 20th year of the CFO reels. These reels were machined from bar stock aluminum and had a platinum finish. This edition was a size III and was designed to accept spools from standard reels.


Machined reels are introduced this year, and were available in sizes II, 123, III and IV. These reels feature a “no rivet” design. The rivets that were used to hold the drag pawls in place are removed; the pawls are now internally affixed to a reinforced internal plate. The old cast reels are still offered this year in sizes 123, III and IV. These still had rivets through the back. The new reels were manufactured in such a way as to allow interchangeability of spools between machined and cast CFOs. However, some experimentation may be necessary before a proper fit can be attained. An “Introductory Edition CFO III” was also offered this year. The reel was identical to the new, machined reel except for the finish. The Introductory CFO had an olive finish (slightly different from later disc-drag models) and featured gold anodized aluminum hardware. The line guard on this model was made from nickel silver.


The CFO I is introduced. This reel has a slightly larger diameter than the CFO II and is designed to match up with the One Weight and One Ounce rods. The CFO I also had an adjustable drag, which the CFO II did not. The cast reels are dropped from inventory. All CFOs are now available in either gray with silver appointments or olive with gold components. These reels were available in size I, 123, III and IV.


The CFO III disc is introduced. These reels were green with silver components, and should not be confused with their olive, spring and pawl counterparts. The first 2000 of these models were introductory editions. Each of the introductory reels was individually numbered. Incidentally, the C.F.O. 1874 reproduction reel is offered this year. The reel foot on this reel was affixed with four screws, while the original’s reel foot was held in place by three rivets.


The olive spring and pawl models are dropped from inventory. The CFO disc is offered in sizes I, 123, III, IV and V.


Size IV and V disc reels are offered with corrosion resistant finishes and parts, for use in saltwater. These reels are named the CFO Saltwater IV and V.


Small changes are made to the drag mechanism of the CFO disc. All spools are still interchangeable, but the clutch gear components are not.


Two limited edition reels are offered – one in the United States and the other in the UK. Both are manufactured by Hardy in England, supposedly on machines that utilize the tooling of the original 1971 – 1972 reels. The reels bear several updates to the original, including changes to the finish and the spindle cap.

U.S.A. version of the new reel

The U.K. model

*** Many production anomalies exist. I’ve seen CFOs in red and jet black, and still others without script on the back. This is further compounded by the fact that some reels (especially the earlier models) were occasionally modified by their owners. As to value, I’ve followed the sale of many reels at auction (Ebay, Lang’s, etc.), and those that consistently demand the highest prices ($400.00 to $900.00) are the silver limited edition of 1977, gold and silver limited edition model of 1979 and the original 1972 model with inverted script.***


Akiyama, Yoshi. CFO Prototype. American Museum of Fly Fishing, Manchester, VT.

Marchant, Douglas J. “Stan Bogdan: The Man and His Reel.” Art of Angling Journal. 1:3. Eds. Paul Schmookler and Ingrid Sils. 2002.

Mike Daley is an active blogger and publishes

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