When I was a 19-year old college student in Montana, I got addicted to Louis L’amour western novels. They were potato chips for the soul. I became fond of the Sackett brothers, mesmerized by a Texas Ranger named Chick Bowdrie, and enthralled by Kilkenny and the way he protected Nita Riordan. But one of my all-time favorite Louis L’amour characters was the kid at the crossing, a rugged western character who called himself Flint. In this post, I apply a principle from the life of Flint to my life as a fly fisher.
Flint didn’t do any fly fishing. Regrettably, none of L’amour’s characters did. But the novels are set in the post-Civil War West. A few characters caught trout with their bare hands or with a worm on a hook. But there were no fly fishers in the bunch. Still, I learned something from Flint that has helped me find new waters to fly fish.
Early in the novel which bears his name, Flint recalls his early days in New York City as James T. Kettleman. What he did to become a wealthy financier and speculator is something I’ve learned to do to become a better fly fisher. I’ve learned to listen.
Flint’s first job in New York City was driving a hansom cab—a horse-drawn carriage, which was the forerunner of a modern taxi cab. He discovered that business leaders often discussed their affairs as though the driver was deaf. One day, Flint overheard a discussion between two businessmen about a building they planned to put up and the way they intended to acquire the property for it. The next morning, Flint moved quickly and bought an option on an adjacent lot. He sold this lot two weeks later for a substantial profit.
Then, Flint spent a year working as a messenger for a brokerage house. He kept his mouth shut and his ears and eyes open. Using the information he gained, he made good investments and watched his net worth grow. Later, Flint developed an information service of office boys, messengers, waiters, and cleaning women. They listened for him and then reported back to them. The information helped him make a fortune.
The Flint Technique
I’ve applied this technique to finding new water to fly fish. Over the years, I’ve overheard many conversations in fly shops or a local café when I’ve pretended not to be listening. Usually, I just listen. Occasionally, I’ll ask a question. Sometimes, people volunteer information because they think the person who asked for it will not follow through and try their secret run. But I do. And find new water.
I have dozens of scraps of notes in a drawer near my fly tying bench. I’ve written names of streams and maps of stretches of river which might be productive. I don’t fish all of them. But I fish some of them, even years after I’ve scribbled the information on a business card or the back of a copy of fish and game regulations.
In the mid-1980s, I heard a couple guys talking about fishing Tower Creek and the Yellowstone upriver from Tower Fall in Yellowstone National Park. I filed away that information. A year later, I used it and hiked up from Tower Fall. I discovered some magnificent water there that I’ve fly fished over the years. I’ve landed dozens and dozens of cutthroats over the years as a result of listening closely to a single conversation.
Listen and Find New Waters
So do yourself a favor.
Listen closely when your fellow fly fishers start bragging or telling stories about a great day on the water. They might just mention a stretch of water that will be worth trying. And if you need any guidance on the art of gaining information from careful listening, pick up a copy of Louis L’Amour’s novel, Flint. But remember. Reading these novels is like eating potato chips. You can rarely stop at one.