1977 Zebco catalog, front cover.

Zebco has been a powerhouse in the fishing industry since 1949, and we thought it appropriate to take a brief look at the company on this, its 75th anniversary. But rather than provide a history of Zebco, we’re just going to present the entire Zebco 1977 catalog, and look at what the company had to offer in that year. 

The Zebco 1977 catalog is a sleekly designed publication, printed on heavy stock. Many pages show black or dark backgrounds with white lettering, with the reels showing either a silver and black color scheme, or dark green, brown, or gold with silver and black accents. Everything looks classy and rich. This is fishing gear for adults; not a cartoon character children’s rod and reel combo in sight. 

The catalog is primarily about Zebco’s reels and rods, with just a few pages on line, accessories, and promotional efforts. It opens with a two-page spread on the Zebco Omega 113 Ultra-Light spincast reel. Hailed as “The industry’s first and only professional caliber ultra-light spin-cast!” the Omega 113 came in at just 4 ozs. with a 4.1:1 retrieve speed, and 65 yards of 6 lb. monofilament. I have an Omega 113 and although it’s seen some use, it still runs and releases and retrieves line smoothly. I have not had it out on the water but I have little doubt it would do a fine job if matched with the appropriate ultra-light rod. 

1977 Zebco catalog, page 1.
1977 Zebco catalog, page 3.

The next two pages showed the rest of the 1977 Zebco Omega series, including the heavy freshwater Omega One and the Omega 33XBL. These spincast reels were introduced in 1977 and were made with finer, higher quality components than the non-Omega spincast reels. Cutaway diagrams of both reels highlight the quality components on the interiors. The Omega 33XBL also had an interchangeable handle for either left or right hand retrieves. 

These two pages also show the medium freshwater Zebco 909 with its bumped out front cover and the updated Zebco 33, first introduced in 1954 and arguably the most popular spincast reel model of all time. These are some beautiful reels and the catalog does a fantastic job of making them look like the kind of reels a spincast angler would covet and be proud to have in his arsenal. 

The next four pages showcase the rest of the Zebco 1977 spincast line, 10 reels in all, from the large 800-series, for medium to heavy fishing (13.5 ozs. for the big 888) to the diminutive Zebco 76 (coming in at 4 ozs.) for light freshwater fishing. Some of these models did better than others on the market. The Zebco 202, pages 6-7, had been a top seller since its introduction in 1961. It was called the 202 Zee Bee, and was a more affordable reel than the popular Zebco 33. I spoke with “That Zebco Guy,” Dick Braun, about the Zebco 1977 catalog. Braun told me that in the early 1970s Zebco was pumping out 30,000 202’s a day, compared to 3,000 33’s a day during the same time period. That’s an incredible production run and a testament to the popularity of the 202.

Next we get six pages of Zebco spinning reels, and we kick off these pages with a bang – two full pages dedicated to the magnificent Cardinal series. The story of the Zebco Cardinal is an interesting one, and there’s no one better at Bass Fishing Archives to tell part of that tale than Terry Battisti. Terry maintains that the “Zebco/ABU Cardinal 4 (and 3) was the best spinning reel of its time.” In my view, he’s not wrong in his opinion, but I favor the Mitchell 300 over the Cardinal, since that’s the reel I grew up fishing. Read Terry’s opinion of the Cardinal here, and then read his excellent piece on the 1976 Cardinal and Bass Pro Shops here. I will briefly flesh out some of Terry’s curiosity concerning Abu, Garcia and Zebco, thanks to my conversation with Dick Braun.

1977 Zebco catalog, page 8.
1977 Zebco catalog, page 12.

Braun told me that Lennart Borgstrom, then President of ABU, approached the Garcia Corporation (unsure if Borgstrom approached Tom Lenk, president of Garcia at the time) to see if Garcia would be interested in carrying the Cardinal reel, which had made its debut in Sweden in 1965. Garcia (Lenk?) told Borgstrom that such an agreement would be a conflict of interest, since Garcia was already carrying the popular French Mitchell reel. Garcia/Lenk? suggested Borgstrom fly to Tulsa, Oklahoma and speak with Zebco, which Borgstrom did. He spoke with Ralph Lafferty, President of Zebco at the time, about representing the Cardinal line in the U.S. In the course of their conversation it was revealed that Lafferty had been a captain in the 10th Mountain Infantry Division during WWII and had been stationed in Sweden near the German border. Although Borgstrom was just a boy when Lafferty was in the military, according to Braun their mutual Sweden connection during wartime created an instantaneous brotherhood and lifelong friendship between the two men. Thus, Zebco became the U.S. representative for the Cardinal line, at least until Lafferty left Zebco to become the CEO of Garcia.

Following the Cardinal reels are four pages of Zebco’s XB, XBL, XR and XRL series of spinning reels. According to Braun, these spinning reels were made by the Japanese company Ryobi. Nowadays Ryobi is known primarily for its power tools, and has abandoned their American fishing division, but back in the day they produced a strong line of spinning, baitcast, spincast and fly fishing reels. Ryobi sold its tackle division to Japanese tackle conglomerate Joshuya in 2000. You can still get Ryobi reels off of Amazon. Anyway, back to the catalog. We begin with three XB ball bearing, heavy and light saltwater reels that somewhat resemble the black Mitchell reels of the time. The next page shows the three XBL freshwater series reels, featuring handles that could be changed to the left or right side to accommodate left or right hand dominant anglers.

Dick Braun told me an interesting story of Zebco’s contract with Ryobi. In 1972-’73, Ryobi signed an agreement with Zebco to manufacture one-million spinning reels for the company. These reels are the XB, XBL, XR and XRL series. According to Braun, Ryobi was so appreciative of their relationship and the contract with Zebco, that after they completed manufacture of the million reels, they made an additional four 45XBL reels plated in gold, and gifted them to Zebco. Those four gold-plated reels eventually left Zebco, and Dick ended up acquiring three of them, while a fellow collector acquired the fourth. 

The final two pages of spinning reels showcase the handsome bronze and green XR and XRL series. These were all freshwater reels save for the 80XRL, which was considered a medium saltwater reel.

The next section comprises 12 pages (14-25) of Zebco fishing rods, beginning with the Zebco Pro Staff Rods. The Pro Staff, and the Sundowner series especially, are beautiful rods featuring brown blanks and either natural or burnt cork handles that look to me to be very similar in styling to the famous Fenwick brown rods, right down to the decorative braided thread winding above the foregrip. The Karl T. White book, ZEBCO, The Family Reel, says that from the early 1970s to 1977, Heddon manufactured Zebco’s fishing rods.

1977 Zebco catalog, page 14.
1977 Zebco catalog, page 19.

Next we get a couple of pages featuring the Zebco Centennial Rods, which were still good-looking rods but more budget oriented. I’d say these were the company’s middle-of-the-road rods, and were probably attractive to a lot of anglers. Zebco seemed pretty serious about their rod game at this time, putting out some solid rods that were attractive and definite workhorses for anglers. Their “Pack Rods” and then their 4000 and 4400 series rods, dismissed any special series nomenclature and were simply called “Zebco Rods.” These were budget rods, with lighter reel seats, lower quality blanks and components, and hard plastic reel seats. These cheaper rods were mostly light action rods.

Closing out the rod and reel portion of the catalog are two pages dedicated to the rod and reel combos that Zebco is also known for. Most companies put together rod and reel combos, but Zebco made it a major part of their product line and really promoted it. In fact, my brother bought a couple of Zebco Bullet Spincast Combos for a trip he made a couple years ago to the Boundary Waters. He’s not a regular fisherman, but he knew Zebco and relied on their expertise in setting him up with a combo that was easy to use and that he could rely on.

We then get three or four pages of accessories, lure kits, the old Zebco De-Liar scale (formerly Langley De-Liar), an advertisement for Stren Line, and finally a plug for Zebco’s television advertising campaign in 1977. All in all, the Zebco 1977 catalog is a visual treat, with reels and rods shown very impressively. If you’d like to see the 36 page Zebco 1977 catalog in its entirety, just click on the first image in the gallery below and use the arrows to scroll through it.

GALLERY – Zebco 1977 Catalog