Born in Manchester, VT in 1831, Charles F. Orvis was the fourth of seven children of Electa and Levi Orvis. The Battenkill Valley was still haunted by tale-telling soldiers of the Revolutionary War then, and surrounded by deep and wild woods. Charles, like many rural boys, developed a sense of self-reliance and a passion for field sports, particularly trout fishing:
“I remember well my first trout; I remember as well, the first fine rod and tackle I ever saw, and the genial old man who handled them. I had thought I knew how to fish with a fly; but when I saw my old friend step into the stream and make a cast, I just wound that line of mine right around the “pole” I has supposed was just right, and I followed an artist. (I never used that “pole” again). I devote my time that afternoon to what to me was a revelation, and the quiet, cordial way in which the old gentleman accepted my admiration, and the pleasure he evidently took in lending me a rod until I could get one, is one of the pleasant things I shall always retain in memory.”
In 1853, Franklin Orvis built the Equinox House and the success that followed allowed Charles to turn his love of rod building into a business. In 1856, Charles formed the C.F. Orvis Company, setting up in a small stone building next door to his brother’s Equinox House. In 1861he built the Orvis Hotel on the same street.
Through the 1870s the bamboo fly rod remained an inferior product. Much of the cane, even “Calcutta Cane” from India, which was considered the best was unreliable and inferior for casting and responsiveness. The cabinet-makers glue of the time was not adequate for the rods’ hard, planed surfaces, and an entirely new technology, including new machine tools, was needed to advance the rods’ abilities in the field.
During the 1880s many of the problems pertaining to bamboo rods were solved. Primitive ferrules that ruined rod action and allowed rot, were replaced by efficient ones. Milling techniques were improved to split bamboo into narrow strips. With its light weight and elasticity, bamboo could be made into eight to ten foot rods, much more manageable lengths than the fourteen foot rods of the previous generation. By the end of the 19th century, the bamboo rod was considered superior to rods crafted from other woods, though these other rods continued to be made, and made well, to allow anglers a choice between traditional and cutting edge materials.
Charles Orvis, realizing the importance of providing choice in a competitive market, experimented extensively with various rod-building materials. He handled and evaluated rods of various properties, likely that of U.S. shadblow, ironwood and cedar, as well as Mahoe, Pingo and Dagame from Cuba, and beefwood of Australia.
None of his experiments in rod-building were revolutionary, but Ned Buntline, a then prominent outdoor writer, reported in a fishing journal that, in the Orvis rod, “I think I have the best bamboo rod of its weight – six ounces – in America; yes, in the world. Put that down, not as a puff, but as a truth that I’ll stand by and fish by as long as I and that rod last.” Charles Orvis’s contribution was perhaps more philosophical than artistic.
He did not produce rods in enormous numbers, nor did he create custom rods of very few numbers. His goal was to build as many quality rods (to be fished, not collected) as he could personally oversee. A passionate angler first, he achieved his goal and produced quality rods at a good price. A. Nelson Cheney, a fisheries authority, claimed: “ every rod passes through his hands so that when delivered to the purchaser the seal of the master hand is upon it. His rod makers are not only of ingenious mechanical skill, but anglers of repute.”
Since the introduction of the first Orvis graphite fly rod in 1974, the materials, machines, and techniques used to build a graphite fly rod have changed tremendously. If you’re relying on a fly rod that pre-dates our Trident TL series, you’re missing out on performance features that make every aspect of the sport easier and more enjoyable. Below is a timeline of the Orvis Graphite Rod and it’s improvements:
1974 - Traditional Action Graphite
The introduction of graphite to fly rod building creates a fly rod with the same traditional action as bamboo but a fly rod that is significantly lighter overall with a much higher strength to weight ratio, it’s also thinner and therefore more aerodynamic, more durable, and extremely sensitive. Orvis used unidirectional graphite-individual fibers traveling in the same direction-mimicking fibers in bamboo.
1989 - HLS
Orvis researched and employed a higher modulus graphite fiber that meets company standards for its ratio of elasticity (resistance to bending) and tensile strength (resistance to breaking). The result is a more powerful fly fishing rod that generates significantly higher line speed, enhancing distance and wind-cutting power, hence the name, HLS which stood for High Line Speed.
1993 - PM 10
Advancements in the graphite matrix allowed the PM (Power Matrix)10 to achieve a 30% increase in fly rod toughness over HLS rods despite being and average of 10% thinner and lighter. Precision sanding machinery ensured that, when sanding epoxy resin lines off to achieve a smooth blank, the integrity of surface graphite fibers would not be compromised. Two coats of finish were applied ensuring a durable finish.
1996 - Trident
A vibration dampening system gleaned from the U.S. Navy’s Trident Submarine Program, MVR technology enabled the Trident fly rod to cast smoothly by eliminating vibrations, allowing the fly line to move efficiently through the guides. With minimal interference from the fly rod, the fly line could be directed more accurately. Two finish coats, one finish and another UV-blocking, eliminating progressive damage from UV rays. Integrated ferrule systems provided a smooth, consistent, uninterrupted transfer of power across the ferrules and eliminated key breakage point. Titanium Nitride guides cut the coefficient of friction substantially, enhancing distance and accuracy of the Trident Rods.
1997 - Orvis Flex Index Introduced
Flex indexing allows the quantification of fly-rod action, from slow to fast, full-flex to tip-flex. With this information a fly rod designer can build a fly rod to suit the casting style and action preference, or to meet the demands of a particular fishery. Orvis now offers three different actions in most fly rod weights. The caster can choose the rod action that suits them best.
1998 - Trident TL
High-modulus graphite was applied over a mandrel that incorporates many changing angles, rather than just one steady taper from butt to tip. The resulting compound taper resulted in a fly fishing rod that strategically used less material in key locations. The fly rod designer can vary the wall thickness and overall diameter in an infinite number of ways, precisely controlling action and weight. A major factory upgrade including, laser gauging equipment and precision grinding machines were added. With a tolerance of 1/1000 of an inch, the fit at the ferrule is perfected resulting in a seamless transmission of power from butt to tip.
2002 - T3 Fly Rod
This rod is the ultimate payoff of compound taper technology. Along any given section of the fly rod, three essential variables are manipulated by the fly rod designer - taper, wall thickness, and graphite modulus - to achieve perfect balance in hand and swing weight. In addition, the designer dictated exactly where the fly rod’s power zones resided - towards the butt in fly rods that are meant to lift big game fish, or distributed more evenly in small stream, delicate fly fishing rods. The use of ultra-high modulus graphite, made possible by employing thermoplastic-enriched, thermo-set resins in the graphite matrix, resulted in a fly rod that is 20% lighter, 20% tougher, and 20% stronger than any Orvis fly rod built to date.
2005 - Zero Gravity
Fly Rod Our exclusive resins are set at a high cure temperature, and completely encased the graphite fibers used as the main source of power, distance, and accuracy in a fly rod. In contrast to the standard epoxy resins found in all other fly rods, thermoplastics make the fly rod stronger, tougher, and more accurate. We added just the right amount of boron into the butt section of the rod to produce reserved power, because boron compresses less under stress. This power takes over in your longest casts or when playing big fish with maximum stress on the fly rod. Plus, the new Strategic Positioning System, developed specifically for Zero Gravity fly rods, allows us to place the boron fibers in precisely the right spot and in just the right amount for each individual fly rod taper. Fiberglass is used in most all graphite fly fishing rods. Graphite and resins by themselves don’t offer enough strength to withstand normal fishing conditions. So, a supportive layer of fiberglass is attached to the graphite fibers before they’re wrapped around a steel mandrel to form the taper. It’s worked well for 30 years, but it adds weight to a rod. The Zero G fly rods use the latest in scrim technology: Unidirectional graphite scrim, which is lighter, stronger, and more dependable than fiberglass scrim. Because this material, part of the Strategic Positioning System, is so strong we only need to use a fraction of the graphite, as compared to the fiberglass used in other fly rods. The result is a much thinner and stronger rod. Some other fly fishing rod manufacturers claim to use graphite scrim in their rods, but many use a mat of graphite fibers, which doesn’t offer the strength and superior fiber alignment (and thus better fly rod “tracking”) you get by using unidirectional graphite scrim.
2007 - Helios
In September of 2007, the Helios was introduced. It is a combination of a steeped Orvis rod building history and the latest high-tech materials available in rod building. It encompasses Orvis’s next generation exclusive thermoset thermoplastic resin technology combined with an all-new steeper taper that make the rod extremely light, yet strong enough to battle big fish on super hard runs.