Cowtown Kid on the River

Cowtown Kid & the Brazos (9)

“Live your life, and forget your age.” -Normal Vincent Peale

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” -Dale Carnegie

We recently had an opportunity to fish with a fellow Fort Worthian, a gentleman named Rick Irving, who despite his 63 years of age, still gets out to kayak fish more often than me. The soft-spoken real estate broker is known on the local fishing forums as the Cowtown Kid, and I’m not sure if he got that name in sarcastic deference to his grandfatherly looks or from the fact that he’s only been kayak fishing for a few years.

According to Rick, he’s fished all his life, usually bank fishing rivers and creeks, but only got into kayaks after coming across a YouTube video of Mike Whitacre (our own Texas Mike) fishing O.H. Ivie Lake. He was intrigued and proceeded to watch all of Mike’s kayak angling videos; it didn’t take long before he was hooked and got his first kayak. That was four years ago, and Rick is now an avid paddler, sometimes accompanied on his kayak fishing trips by his grown children.

He’s also started fishing kayak tournaments recently, and says he doesn’t mind the fact that he’s usually the oldest angler in the tournaments. He does hope that someday there’ll be a senior’s category in one or two of the tournaments, but until then he doesn’t mind competing against the younger paddlers. He’s excited to be among them and chuckles a little at the fact that he has fishing tackle at home older than some of the anglers he’s competing against.

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(Photo courtesy of Rick Irving)

Dan and I had actually crossed paths with the Cowtown Kid a couple of times on the river, but we’d never fished with him, so we recently planned a trip to the upper Brazos. The plan was to put in at Highway 16 and paddle upriver, towards the tailrace, chasing striped bass. We knew from recent reports they were being caught in that stretch of river and maybe we could find them too.

Besides Rick, Dan and I would also be joined by Josh Walker of Mountain Sports and his father Mike. Then at the last minute, my daughter Sarah (who’s 20-years old now), decided to join us. We hadn’t done much fishing lately, the teenage Sarah having long since decided it wasn’t cool to fish with her old man, but in her pre-teen days, we used to hit TPWD catfish derbies and an occasional trout stocking. When Sarah agreed to come with us, it was a pleasant surprise and I thought this was shaping up to be a good trip.

A few days later we arrived at the river and I saw that Rick had arrived early and had his kayak already unloaded. I knew he fished often, but I was still impressed given the steepness of the boat ramp and weight of his kayak, a Wilderness Ride 115. Maybe that’s why he’s the Kid.

I also noticed the Brazos was flowing higher than expected; the average flow below Morris Shephard Dam is about 125 cfs, but we were greeted by 400 cfs of cold, fast running water. There was also a stiff northern wind which we’d be paddling into on our way to the tailrace. I wasn’t too concerned, though. We were an experienced group, even with Sarah, and Rick didn’t seem bothered by the fast moving water. With Josh and Mike along, we were a big group and there’s safety in numbers. Besides, there would be shallows along the way where we could walk the ‘yaks past the faster flows. It’d be a work out, but we’d be fine once we got to the tailrace. Best of all, it would be an easy paddle back to boat ramp to end our day.

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Josh Walker of Mountain Sports and his father Mike joined us on the river for a day of kayak fishing.

We put in and started paddling upriver, in no particular rush, after all we had all day. Along the way, we fished the eddies and riffles, and even though deep down I knew he was fine, I kept an eye on Rick, probably feeling a little responsible for him. It turns out Rick was a strong paddler and he had no problems getting in and out of his ‘yak or maneuvering it in the swift water. He also proved to be an experienced angler, stopping every now and then to do some fly fishing.

Cowtown Kid & the Brazos (7)Having started throwing flies late in life, Rick said he’d always thought fly fishing would be complicated. Then he took a class and the first thing he discovered was that it wasn’t as hard as he thought. Although he mostly targeted black bass, he also learned that fly fishing meant catching multiple spices during his outings, and he found that fun. These days, he says, catching fish with a fly rod gives him a deeper sense of accomplishment over conventional fishing rigs, and I could see that on this day.

As the day progressed, we continued up river, paddling, fishing, walking, and fishing some more. If the fish weren’t biting in the hole we were in, we pushed on to the next one. Sarah did well, making her way upriver with the group despite the heavy release. I was reminded of some Facebook photos I’d seen of Rick fishing with his grown son and daughter, both only a little older than Sarah. It occurred to me that Rick and I were fortunate to be able to fish with our grown children.

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At 400 cfs, the current on the Brazos River (below Possum Kingdom Lake) can make it a beating to paddle in some stretches. If it’s shallow enough, though, pulling your kayak by its leash is a good option.

We continued and eventually reached our destination only to discover a line of kayakers on one side of the tailrace and a half-dozen rock clingers on the other. This section of the Brazos is known for trout stockings and crowds are pretty common this time of year, so we weren’t surprised. We decided to fish the pool just below the tailrace, and though it was slow, we managed some sand bass and dink striper. At one point, Sarah caught one of the stocker trout and a little later, she caught a sand bass while I watched from nearby. It reminded me of the young Sarah who was really my first fishing buddy, a long, long time ago.

Cowtown Kid & the Brazos (8)I had asked Dan to get some photos of everyone, but while in that pool, I paddled over and started taking snapshots of Rick fly fishing from his kayak. As I watched him casting waves of line to uncooperative fish, I thought back to a photo I’d seen recently of Rick when he was 10-years old. The day was November 22, 1963 and Rick’s mom had taken him and his younger brother to Carswell Air Force Base where President Kennedy was departing Fort Worth for Dallas (even though it was a short drive between the two cities, the president’s handlers felt he needed to make a big entrance in Dallas by flying in).

As the president and Mrs. Kennedy made their way to Air Force One at Carswell, they stopped to greet some onlookers gathered at a rope line on the base. They soon made their way to the Irving boys who each shook hands with the president and then Mrs. Kennedy. Rick remembers that the president’s hand was warm that cold November morning, and it struck him as odd because Kennedy had just driven from downtown Fort Worth in an open limo. Mrs. Kennedy’s hand was gloved, and she wore the iconic pink dress and hat that would forever be associated with JFK’s assassination an hour later.

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10-year old Rick Irving looks on, next to his brother Ken, as President Kennedy and the first lady greet well wishers at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth. An hour later, Kennedy will be shot in Dealey Plaza (Photo courtesy of Rick Irving)

As I snapped pics of Rick Irving fishing the Brazos, I wondered about those boys later that cold November day, what it must have been like to learn of Kennedy’s assassination. The next few days were dark ones for the entire nation, but I can’t imagine what it was like for Rick and his brother. Maybe I don’t want to.

Cowtown Kid & the Brazos (6)We eventually left the tailrace and started the easy paddle back down the river, again stopping to fish where the current would let us. With the exception of Josh, we didn’t manage many fish on the return paddle back to the ramp, but I didn’t really mind.

Later that day, as we arrived at our take out, I stood up from my kayak and found my body was stiff. I think it accurate to say we were all worn from the work of paddling up to the dam and back, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a great day. Not only did I spend the day on the river with the Cowtown Kid, but I also got to fish with Sarah, and who knows when I’ll get to do that again? Life is funny that way.

Rick, on the other hand is always on the river, and so we’ll probably be wetting hooks again sometime soon. After all, we have a lot in common—both of us started kayak fishing late in life; we both enjoy fishing with our kids; and suddenly I have an urge to take up fly fishing. I hear it’s not as complicated as it looks.

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

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