Passion for Casting
Charlie Reading devotes his life to
sharing his knowledge and love of fly fishing
by Bob McEowen
Lally of Naperville, Ill., takes a seat while Charlie Reading discusses
fly rods at length at his fly shop near Bennett Spring State Park.
answers the phone and almost instantly launches into a "here's your
problem" explanation to the caller.
The man on the
phone is visiting Bennett Spring State Park for a few days of trout fishing
but is having difficulty casting with a fly rod he bought the day before.
Although the rod was purchased from a competitor, Charlie invites the
caller to his fly fishing shop for help with the problem.
Bill Leach arrives at Reading's Fly Shop with the new rod in hand and
his wife in tow.
one look at the man's equipment and begins what will prove to be an hour-long
monologue that is part instruction and part tirade. He recounts thehistory
of rod development, critiques the products of various tackle manufacturers
and extols the virtues of fly casting as opposed to merely catching fish.
continues as other customers come into the store and are drawn in. "I
get pretty charged up with this stuff," Charlie admits. "If I've got people
listening and I've got a message I get wound up."
For 22 years Charlie
has dispensed advice and opinions while selling rods, reels, line and
other tackle to the thousands of fly fishermen who flock to Bennett Spring
State Park each year. For the past 15 years he's held court at his own
shop located about a mile down Highway 64 from the park, one of the top
trout fishing destinations in Missouri. While there are other stores in
and around the park, few merchants delve so deeply into the intricacies
of the sport or are so eager to share their views.
demonstrates a rod to Bill Leach of Cuba, Mo.
Leach, an intermediate
fly fisherman from Cuba, Mo., clearly appreciates the attention he receives.
He listens in rapt attention while his wife stands by glassy-eyed, lost
in the minutiae. Eventually,
the two head to the front lawn where Charlie offers a casting lesson and
brings out a few rods for Leach to try.
"That's not unusual,"
Charlie says later. "A lot of times I'll spend two or three hours with
somebody and they won't buy anything."
This time he made
a sale a $300 rod. While sales keep the shop doors open, it is
sharing his knowledge and views with customers that drives Charlie. He
seems most happy when customers challenge his opinions.
"What I'm more
proud of than anything else I do is truthfully evaluating what I'm selling,"
he says. "I'm blatantly honest about how I feel and I'm willing to take
the time to share that with people and expect, I actually want my customers
to say, 'Prove it.'"
can be intimidating but those who know him look past the zealous and sometimes
brash exterior and recognize him for the expert he is.
a rod while attending the annual Fly Fishing Conclave at Bennett Spring
State Park. Charlie made the welcoming address at the event.
"He's very passionate
about his work but very informative and very instructive and very helpful,"
says Rick Johnston, who owns the Circle J Campground and Restaurant where
Charlie joins the conversation over coffee each morning.
"And very opinionated,"
Johnston adds. "But, you know, my daddy told me it ain't bragging if you
can back it up. Charlie can back it up."
for fly fishing began as a child. The son of a military man, he was born
overseas but his family settled on a farm near Lebanon. When not doing
chores, Charlie fished."I
was absolutely fanatical about fishing," he says. While Charlie learned
to fishwith spinning tackle, once he experienced casting a weightless
nymph or dry fly on a bamboo fly rod there was no turning back.
"There is nothing
like fly fishing," says Charlie, 47. "It's incredibly rich in literature.
It encourages and satisfies and promotes the artistic person tying
your own flies, making your own rods, doing things like that it
gets you actively involved in the outdoors. It's a sport where you solve
problems and mysteries. It's a lot more than fishing."
from the College of the Ozarks with a degree in biology and chemistry
Charlie returned to Bennett Spring and took a job at the area's sole fly
shop. There he earned a reputation for his knowledge of fishing and equipment.
As a sideline
Charlie built fly rods. By the time he opened his own shop in 1985 he
was known for rods with feathers beautifully inlayed along the shaft and
handles made with contrasting exotic woods. He even made a rod which Trout
Unlimited presented to the first President Bush.
acclaim grew so did his opportunities. Often at the invitation of rod
customers, he traveled to far-away lands to pursue exotic game fish.
in warm water, cold water, cool water, salt water, fresh water, all forms
of fly fishing. From tarpon in the Florida Keys to Central America where
I've fished for bonefish, 'cudas, stuff like that," says Charlie who also
works as a travel agent, booking fishing trips through his shop.
Charlie builds few rods these days he built a reputation for customized
rods that featured inlayed feathers and handles with contrasting exotic
"I've fished for
black bass in New Guinea. I've been to Christmas Island in the central
Pacific 10 times. I've fished in New Zealand six times for trout, rainbows
and browns. I love it. That's my favorite place to fish."
added to his knowledge of the sport and made him all the more valuable
to his customers back home. Ironically,
Charlie says he almost never fishes his home waters. Instead, the local
spring branch and surrounding park provide a foundation for what he hopes
will be a fly fishing shop with national reach.
great about this area is that it brings people from all over the United
States. If I can make a lasting impression then when they get ready to
buy some tackle they'll pick up the phone and buy from me," he says.
"When they get
ready to spend their money I want to leave them with a message, 'Did anyone
else take the time to give you this information before they started selling
you something?'" Charlie asks, his voice rising as he plays out an imagined
To encourage this
loyalty Charlie is expanding his business. He's adding onto his showroom
and is constructing a 100-foot-long casting pond in the front yard. He's
also increasing his emphasis on classes and a guide service.
Ivan Lally casting pointers on the lawn in front of Reading's Fly
Charlie, of course,
will continue to hold court on all matters relating to fly fishing.
During the March
through October trout fishing season Charlie is at the shop seven days
a week, from early in the morning until late at night. With a variety
of the highest quality fly fishing equipment including tackle for
waters far beyond Missouri and perhaps the largest selection of
fly fishing books in the nation Reading's Fly Shop is a must-stop for
Still, it is Charlie
they come to see.
more technical than the average person needs but if you're serious about
fly fishing he's the guy to talk to," says Ivan Lally, a fisherman from
Naperville, Ill., who calls on Charlie during annual fishing pilgrimages
to Bennett Spring State Park. "He's the best that I've ever come across."
of Charlie's zeal and his extensive knowledge make for a shopping experience
not commonly found today. Even he recognizes it can be a bit overwhelming.
"I know at times
I get too intense," Charlie says. "I am very competitive in the fly fishing
business. I absolutely go right after it with my teeth showing. "I love
what I do in here and I'm driven by it."
Shop is located east of Bennett Spring State Park on Highway 64 about
10 miles west of Lebanon. You can call Charlie at (417) 588-4334.