Fly Fishing Trips North Fork Meadows Ranch

Colorado guided fly fishing trips
to North Fork Meadows Ranch


A “Guided Fly Fishing Trip” for the memory books I thought on the way home.  My arms ached from catching so many big fish today. (A good thing).  I knew I would be sore tomorrow too.  (Another good thing)

Yes, I had been treated to a one on one fly fishing trip with one of Metro Denver’s premier fly fishing guides.  Tad Howard, Owner of .  As I thought back over the day and the lessons learned, one thing really stood out.  Tad’s attention to my on stream safety.  I have reached the age where my river legs are not as good as they once were.  Tad was right there with a steady arm if I needed it.  I believe this extremely knowledgeable, laid back young man is on his way to becoming a legendary guide.

The place was the North Fork Meadows Ranch on the North Fork of the South Platte.  A semi-tailwater stream.  (Much of the water comes through the Roberts Portal Tunnel from Dillon Reservoir on the Western Slope.)  As with most tail water streams, the bug life is prolific and the majority of the fish are in the 19 to 25 inch class.

The weather was beautiful today.  With air temps in the high 40’s to mid 50’s.  Water flow was a steady 300 CFS and water temperature about 38 degrees mid-morning; warming to 43 or so mid-afternoon.

As I struggled into my new waders, Tad rigged my St Croix Legend Elite 9 foot 5wt fly rod with a 3 nymph set up. I have never seen anyone tie knots and set up so fast.  The top fly was a mini-egg pattern in peach yarn.  The middle one was a killer secret pattern, I promised not to reveal.  The bottom was a variation of an RS2.

The lower section of the ranch features wonderful stream improvements to produce long deep runs with medium rocks in the run center.  And fairly easy wading shallows along the edges.

After I was into my waders and wading shoes, we set off for the first large run upstream from the parking lot.  This run featured medium rocks in the center section for trout to hold on the bottom with small 10 inch type rock bottom on the shallows.  Fairly easy wading but the rocks were slippery.  (Glad I had my spikes on)

Right off Tad, spotted 3 trout holding about 4 feet off the bank in the shallows.  One was a 22 inch or larger fish.  I made a few short casts that drifted inside the feeding lane for these trout.  Casting farther upstream, I finally hit the right spot Tad was telling me to shoot for.  Carefully watching the foamstrip drift indicator, my first cast slid past the small pod of trout and tailed out.

I flipped a couple more “River Tension” casts upstream.  Tad stopped me and showed me how to improve my casting by holding my rod up higher and throwing a true roll cast.  Several more casts spooked the fish and they slid out of sight into the main current.

The next few casts were into the seam along the main current.  About the fourth cast, the drift indicator snapped down and disappeared.  Line started peeling off my Ross Rhythm reel into the depths.  I could feel a very large heavy fish on the other end.

Suddenly on the far side of the main current, this monster 24 inch rainbow leaped 3 feet into the air downstream of me.  Splashing back, the monster headed back to my side of the river with me reeling line like crazy.  Tad was yelling, “Keep your rod tip low to the water! Come with him downstream toward me.”  Of course, my old habit of raising the rod tip high took over.  The result was to be expected, a vicious head snap and the monster was free to roam.

At this point, Tad showed me how to hold the rod low to the water when fighting big fish.  A big fish hooked on a barbless hook will almost always get off when the rod is held high.

Several casts later into the seam along the main current, the drift indicator again went under and I was into another nice Colorado rainbow (Some 19 inches).  The fly of choice in this run was the mini egg.  We worked this run for about an hour.  I hooked seven or eight more fish in the 18 to 20 inch class.


Marshall Estes with 19 inch rainbow taken on peach mini-egg 5/6/06 on North Fork Meadows Ranch

Following Tad’s advice of keeping the rod tip low to the water, I got about half to net.  Every time I raised the rod up in the classic fly fisherman’s pose, I lost a fish.

After an hour working this run, we moved two runs upstream.  This run featured a large pool some 3 to 4 feed deep, formed by a small rock drop structure. There were 3 distinct runs in this pool tailing out to another drop off.  Tad said to start with the closest run-seam and work out.

Only a few casts produced a fish.  Another nice rainbow in the same 19 to 20 inch class.  A couple of cast later, the drift indicator snapped down and I was into another big fish.  This one streaked across current and started head shaking.  I kept the rod tip low and pointed downstream.  Tad was downstream ready to net the fish.  Suddenly, this fish ran toward my side of the river.  I was reeling line like crazy again trying to keep up.  I could see a slight belly form in the line and knew the fish was gone.  Ahaa, but is was fun while it lasted.

Wading out into current’s edge on the first seam, I made some some longer casts into the middle and far runs, catching and releasing some 4 or 5 rainbow in the 18 to 20 inch range.


Heading back to the car for lunch, I worked another run Tad recommended, taking a few more fish.

After lunch, we headed to the upper section of the ranch for some sight fishing and a large pool Tad recommended.

Arriving at the pool, we waded carefully out 3 feet from the bank into mid-thigh deep water.  The rocks here were slippery and we kept movement to a minimum.  This pool was formed by another 4 foot plus high drop structure across the entire stream.  Nearest to us were three separate large seam runs with highly aerated water.  Mid stream a large piece of white plastic pipe was laying on the bottom.  Beyond that was the main deep fast run and slower water all the way to the bank.  The main run was deep and fast then tailed out to water about 2 feet deep.  At the back of the pool was another drop structure.

Dropping my first cast just to the inside edge of the main run, I followed the drift indicator with the rod tip.  Just as the drift tailed out, a rainbow took the fly.  And the fight was on.  This time I kept the rod tip low and pointed to the upstream side to keep pressure on the fist.  After a few runs, I guided the fish toward the bank and the waiting net. Tad netted this nice 19 inch female rainbow for me.  A few pictures and the fish was resuscitated and released.

This was the pattern for the next hour as I worked the pool following Tad’s instructions and casting where he suggested.  Every 8 to 10 casts resulted in another hookup.  Several times I forgot and raised the rod up in the classic pose with a resulting loss of the fish.  About an hour and half of fishing and the pool went quiet.

Then Tad suggested some sight fishing upstream at a gin clear feeder stream.  Stepping cautiously over a barbed wire fence, we approached the stream side willows.  Easing through the willows slightly downstream, we waded carefully across to the far side.  Even with quiet wading, I spooked a couple of fish that swam off upstream.

Wading quietly upstream about 10 feet, Tad spotted a small pod of 4 trout holding in faster water across from us.  Even though I shortened up my casts and tried to follow instructions, I managed to spook the pod.

Wading carefully farther upstream, Tad again spotted a larger fish holding in the faster water.  This time I managed to get a few casts to drift properly into the feeding lane.  The 5th or 6th drift the fish took the middle fly in the 3 nymph rig.  A couple of hard runs and Tad netted a nice 17 inch cutbow for me.

We worked this section of stream for a half hour more before moving downstream to another feeder stream.  This stream was more shallow, faster and wider than the previous stream.  Right off Tad pointed out a large bow in the 20 inch class and a slightly smaller one holding on the far side of a large boulder.  Easing up behind the boulder, I flipped a couple of casts toward the larger fish.  Some eight casts later, the fish had had enough of me and drifted off down stream.

We waded along the edge upstream about 150 feet before Tad pointed out several more fish holding toward the far side of the stream.  Working casts carefully out toward the fish, I eventually hooked up with another nice cutbow.  Slightly farther upstream, I was casting toward fish holding close to the trees on the far bank.  Eventually I managed to hook a 19 inch rainbow that I promptly lost.

The day was winding down and I wanted to fish streamers in the big pool downstream.  When we arrived, Tad removed the 3 nymph rig and put on an egg sucking leech pattern in a size 4.  Tad showed me how to cast and work the streamer.  The sixth drift along the near side of the main run, a twenty inch brown slammed the leech at the end of the drift.


Several more drifts and another nice brown about the same size hit the leech.  This was it for the streamer fishing.  Tad put the 3 nymph rig back on and we started fishing our way back to the cars.  I did manage to hook one more fish from in front of a medium boulder in a very fast narrow run.

The temperature was starting to drop and the storm clouds were beginning to roll in by the time we arrived at the parking lot.  We talked over the day’s events some before parting.  On the way home I was still adrenaline pumped and a very happy fisherman.  A truly great day fishing with a great guide and all around nice guy, Tad Howard.  A day with good weather and cooperative fish.  This is what Colorado fly fishing is all about.


  1. A 3 nymph rig is an effective way to catch fish.
  2. A foam drift indicator similar to yarn but using foam strips is as good as my favorite Sierra Pacific orange 1/2 inch ball drift indicators.
  3. Casting — Roll Casts ==> Keep rod tip high rather than a straight river tension cast over the rod held parallel to water.  The true roll cast will be more accurate.
  4. Proper way to hook big fish
  5. Proper way to fight big fish
  6. Proper Way to Hold a big fish for photos
  7. Sight Fishing Techniques
  8. Patterns
    • eggsucking leech
    • peach mini egg 1/8 inch diameter with Mcfly foam milt or egg yarn milt
    • Secret Killer Special
  9. How to spot Trout
  10. Tag Ends of fly knots can be long (about 1/8 inch) and not trimmed close to knot to better hold big fish.  (fish did not seem to mind the tag end)
  11. Sunglasses (Action Optics — Copper lenses with mirror finish)
  12. Tie knots on finger and slip on bend of hook to tie flies together.  (Very quick this way.)

If you are looking for a quality fun guided fly fishing trip, contact Tad Howard at

Tight Lines and Good Fishing,

Marshall, Editor
Fly Fishing Colorado