THOUGH HE’S LOGGED some incognito years on the shaded two-lane roads of the Pacific Northwest, and rolled many an empty highway undercover in Montana and Wyoming, I can tell that, in the city, Clyde commands the attention he deserves. The turnpikes of Colorado’s Front Range are crowded with blue-collar sorts who appreciate Detroit craftsmanship and Clyde’s particular brand of patina. In suburbia, Clyde turns just as many heads of yoga-pant-wearing soccer moms as he does dive-bar patrons. Marooned for the winter in Denver, Clyde needed one last chance to stretch all 460 cubic inches of big block before the cold really sets in. So, on a crisp November Saturday I rounded up my funemployed fishing guide friend, George, and pointed Clyde south for Pueblo, the oft-forgotten southern bookend to human sprawl at the foot of the Rockies, for a little tailwater fishing.
There’s a thrilling terror to watching Clyde’s speedometer climb on a crowded interstate. Everything up to 60 is smooth, with predictable glide and a waterbed squish in the suspension. At 64, an unnerving rattle develops, perhaps from the piston compression finding the natural frequency of an American-made steel frame. At 75 Clyde finds relative calm, coasting along like a train that may or may not derail. Cresting the Palmer Divide south of Denver, I brush up against 90 just long enough to watch the gas gauge plunge an 8th of a tank.
In Colorado Springs we pick up a third angler, a retired neurosurgeon named Joe Cannon, the father of George’s old roommate. George had called him from South Denver, and our “emergency fishing trip” turned out to be the perfect diversion to fill Joe’s empty schedule. “I haven’t been enjoying this whole retirement thing too much,” he says. At 75, Joe still hikes regularly to his favorite mountain fisheries where he camps solo and catches cutthroat on dries. He’s ecstatic about the opportunity to pile into Clyde’s spacious back seat and go fishing with two kids almost 50 years his junior. “You know Pueblo has the highest murder rate per capita in the state of Colorado,” he says between stories of high-peaks lakes he can’t wait to fish next summer. He calls these lakes his “suck-it-up list”—a reminder to himself to not let it be replaced by the more morbid tally many folks his age keep.
An hour later, after gathering a bit of local beta from Cat O’Grady of The Drift Fly Shop, the three of us are knee deep and running rigs through the cool, cloudy water of the Arkansas. I’m not a huge fan of all the nymph and lead tomfoolery that comes with tailwater fishing. I blame crowds, and I moan about using strike indicators, but really I’m just lazy. I lack the requisite patience to find the correct combination of size 22, split shot, and thingamawhatever to have a stellar day. Funny how some willing fish on a 60-degree Saturday can temper even the firmest of tailwater angst.
We work the deep runs and shallow riffles. George puts on a clinic. I land one of my better rainbows of the season from a plunge pool in a narrow side channel. Joe whips a few fingerlings out of a faint seam in otherwise flat water, then hooks into a hog in the final pool of the day after George coaxes him out for a few more casts. “Thanks for the encouragement fellas,” Joe says. Though it should be us thanking him, for the reminder that at no point in life should anyone say no to an “emergency fishing trip.”
Back in the parking lot, Clyde greets us same as we’d left him, despite the clear signage: “Do not tempt thieves. Do not leave valuables in the car.” Sure, this stretch of the Ark is a typical tailwater, with managed flows, stream improvements, and a fair share of hatchery trout. But why get hung up on details when the bite is on and you have to force yourself to take a break just to reapply sunscreen.
After some lethargic guttural sounds and a few pumps to the gas pedal, Clyde roars to life, appeased with the day’s trouty offering. Just north of Pueblo I pull up next to some bikers, drop the hammer, and make the pass. We all smile. Clyde purrs. Winter will be over soon enough.
photo by Kevin Luby