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My Kind of FBI
By Joe Hyde, Douglas County, KS

If memory serves, 1999 was the year the Federal Bureau of Investigation moved its Kansas City Office from the old U.S. Courthouse at 811 Grand downtown into a spiffy, brand new building at the west fringe of downtown, a handsome building that sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River.

As a GSA Service Contract Inspector, one of my tasks is to monitor our moving contractor during large square foot federal agency moves. The FBI move was definitely a large one; it involved well over a hundred people, not to mention the transfer and protection of extremely sensitive investigative files, communications gear, weapons and ammo and Lord knows what else.

At the old courthouse ("origin" in federal moves parlance) the FBI occupied the entire 3rd Floor. Over the years so many new Special Agents, equipment and expanded files had been shoehorned into the space that I and my fellow GSA Inspectors, called the 3rd Floor "the submarine." The place was packed so full of stuff, agents could hardly move down the corridors without dinging an elbow or banging a shin. When Moving Day arrived the agents were in such great haste to relocate into their spacious new building that for three days running they practically shouldered aside our professional crew and commandeered the move. Coming to work dressed in jogging suits and other casual attire, the agents rolled equipment off the freight elevator into moving trucks so fast they looked like a track team wearing service automatics.

As the move began winding down, during lunch break one day three agents came out on the loading dock, sat on some chairs near where I was standing and began visiting. I didn't mean to eavesdrop but the words "trout" and "fly fishing" kept snagging my attention. So I sidled over closer to where I could participate in their conversation if the opportunity arose. They didn't mind and soon all four of us were talking fishing. Now this was more like it!

I was particularly interested in their conversation because in 1999 I wasn't yet a fly fisher. One agent, a gray-haired grandfatherly-looking guy nicknamed "Sully" who was getting real close to retirement, he had been a fly fisher for many years. The other two agents were much younger men but they both had some experience fishing, I could tell from their comments. You know you're getting old when FBI agents look like high school kids. So this thing turned into a deal where you've got a pilgrim (me) and two Jedi knights (the young agents) sitting at the feet of Yoda while he expounds.

A time or two the following day I had a chance to talk fishing some more with Sully, just he and I out on the freight dock. In his deadpan style, he told a fishing story that cracks me up every time I think about it. Surely he is retired now, and I hope his agency doesn't object because I'd like to relate Sully's favorite fishing trip to FAOL readers. I'll recall the trip's background and tell his story as best I can.

Back in the 1980s or thereabouts, somebody someplace got the brilliant idea that Branson, Missouri could become the next Nashville - another country music Mecca where the very best older and the very best new country stars could perform and record their music, and thousands of paying fans would come listen and enjoy. Once this entertainment vision grew legs it wasn't long before all sorts of big-scale projects began sprouting up in and around Branson, a town which prior to this activity had been a sleepy Ozark berg so small that everybody pretty much knew everybody else.

Now suddenly and at a bewildering pace, Branson was seeing dozens of multi-million dollar concert theatres, theme parks and such pop up everywhere you looked. The town was changing dramatically, irreversibly, and for the most part this was welcomed by lifelong Branson residents because these various developments would create all sorts of new job opportunities. It was all very exciting.

However, the scale of startup construction and particularly the magnitude of money pouring into town was a source of concern for Branson's civic leaders. Jobs and prosperity were fine; what they did not want and were in no mood to tolerate was having Branson become a giant repository for illegally obtained wealth, or to have it be corrupted by incoming criminal enterprises. With so many millions a-swirl the town's leaders and many citizens perceived a potential for serious criminal entry.

An inquiry was therefore sent to the Justice Department: Could the FBI please come to Branson and very discretely bird dog the development environment to make sure that the chirping sounds emanating from all those weedy draws were quail and not rats?

In the Kansas City FBI Office shortly after, the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) called an all-hands meeting. Sitting in a conference room filled with FBI agents was Sully, who at that moment was in the dark like everyone else as to why the SAC had called this meeting. The reason was soon explained.

"What I remember most was the SAC's voice; he was almost apologetic. I think he felt he was asking us to do something none of us wanted to do."

The SAC took a breath and asked the gathering if anyone would be willing to volunteer for a month-long general investigative assignment in Branson, Missouri.

"When he said 'Branson' I just about had a heart attack," Sully told me. "Branson is surrounded by outstanding trout fishing water, and I knew this better than anyone in that room because I'd gone down there so many times.

"But I couldn't just jump up and volunteer. If I did, one of the other guys might realize why I wanted the assignment and then they might volunteer, too."

Sully cautiously looked around the conference room. The other agents were quietly examining their fingernails, adjusting their ties, clearing their throats. The SAC was looking glum. From the silent response it was clear to Sully - and the SAC - that these mostly younger agents strongly preferred working the Kansas City Metro Area where criminal and investigative action offers a target-rich environment. Whereas way down at sleepy little small-town Branson...whatta they got?

"I waited as long as I could, and it was tough," Sully related. "The thing is, I couldn't wait too long because if nobody volunteered the SAC was gonna assign somebody. One of the other guys would get picked and that would be that. I kept watching the others, and let what I figured was a decent amount of time pass. Still nobody made a move, so I tried to look sad and then real slow I raised my arm and said, 'Aw, hell, I'll go'.

"Man, I went down to Branson and tore those trout UP," Sully went on, his eyes starting to glaze over thinking back on it. "I'd get up real early every morning and fish the White River before dawn. That river is full of trout. I fished every morning for a few hours. Then I'd run back into town and do my thing checking stuff out. In the evenings after work I'd run back out to the river and fish for a few more hours. On days off, well, I was already down there so those days I got to fish all day long. And the whole time, every day, I was catching some really good trout; rainbows and browns.

"I was down at Branson for a month. A whole month. And I'm on assignment, right; all my meals and motel room are covered? The FBI paid for the best fishing trip I ever had. It was just a fantastic trip."

"Wow, that is just too cool," I said. "Hey, if you don't mind me asking, did..."

"No," Sully answered, anticipating my question. "There was nothing illegal going on down there. Everything was on the up and up. That was good, too."

Shortly after this conversation took place I went on a family vacation to McCall, Idaho. During our stay there I bought a 2-piece, 3-wt. 7 -ft. fly rod at McCall Fly Shop. It was my first serious, correctly balanced "real" fly rig. After returning to Kansas, I took it to a nearby lake and immediately was into bluegills and little crappie using some tiny nymphs I'd bought in Idaho.

A few weeks later I brought that cased rod and reel to work one day, intending to drive over to the new FBI Building and show it to Sully, and thank him and his two buddies for helping me get into fly-fishing. But the FBI move was completed now, making me just another civilian visitor they'd have to thoroughly screen prior to my entry. I doubted the security guard would allow something as weird as a fly rod through the detector station.

Then I got to thinking: maybe it's best not to take my rig inside even if I could. Because then they'd call Sully away from his job and he'd start drooling on someone's fly rod, after which the SAC might get onto him and never again let himself get finessed into sending Sully on a trout-rich mission. That wouldn't do anybody any good. That would be a crime. ~ Joe

About Joe:

From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's 'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.

Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor sports, writing and music have never earned him any money, but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the 'day job.'

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