Traditional Fly Reels - When & How
"Through the mid-1800s, most reel makers did not design reels with specific types of fishing in mind, other than to adjust the size of the reel to match the size of the fish an angler wanted to pursue. That trend changed in 1870 when Charles F. Orvis of Manchester, Vermont, introduced his revolutionary Orvis Trout Reel, designed specifically for fly fishing. Orvis received patent number 150,883 for what anglers today recognize as the traditional fly-reel design. His single-action reel was both a step forward and a step backward in reel technology, because he created a new breed of reels while dramatically simplifying the mechanics of the reel.

 

Instead of the complex gear mechanisms common to the American multiplying reel, Orvis simply designed a narrow spool that used the line to increase the retrieval rate. Orvis also perforated the sides and spool to reduce the weight of the reel and to allow line to dry more quickly. This cut down on the problems of mildew and rot that accompanied the use of silk lines. The reel mounted upright on the rod, marking a departure from previously produced fly reels. The ingenious first model came with a black-walnut box and sold for only $2.50.

Although Orvis's reel launched a new trend in reel making, he does not deserve all the credit. Other reel makers like Billinghurst, who had earlier experimented with ways to reduce the weight of the reel and improve its line-drying efficiency, influenced his design.

Orvis built his Trout Reel with a new alloy called nickel-plated brass, but reel makers, including Orvis, experimented with other materials during the mid- to late 1800s, as they strove to improve design. A few builders attempted to use aluminum, but technology had not advanced far enough to make it a practical reel material. It would have to wait until the twentieth century to make its mark in reel construction."

The quoted text and illustration from Classic Fishing Lures and Tackle, by Eric L. Sorenson, published by the Voyageur Press.