Pennsylvania Trout Stream

Podcast Ep. 124: Exploring the Water Column and Fly Fishing at Penn State with Austin Dando

In this episode we Wadeoutthere with Austin Dando from Central Pennsylvania.  Austin grew up learning to fly fish on camping trips in the Pennsylvania wilderness with his father and in the backyard casting to a soccer ball. 

He went to college at Penn State, where he attended fly fishing classes and was the president of the fly fishing club.  After having fished storied waters out west and back east, he now guides those same waters he cherished as a student.  His home waters. 

Podcast episode appears at the end of this short article.

We discuss:

  • Austin’s fly fishing experience at Penn State
  • Exploring the water column from top to bottom
  • Considerations for breaking water apart and fishing intentionally
  • Some of Austin’s favorite flies that are simple and fast to tie
  • The concept of contact with tight line fishing
  • What to look for on the hookset


Once you go under the surface everything becomes somewhat of a mystery. – Austin Dando

Most of us learn to read water based on what’s visible from above.  On the surface we can see riffles and seams and eddies.  We can see boulders and rocks that protrude above the currents.  And we can see the bends and twists of the landscape.  These observations give us clues to what is below, if we translate and interpret their meanings.  

But the world we approach when we fish for trout is vastly more dynamic (and beautiful) than what we can see on the surface.  There’s a whole other mysterious world that trout call home, and the more we can imagine and understand it, the more fish we will catch.  

Dissecting the water not just laterally, but also vertically, helps us analyze and understand the full area of a trout’s habitat.  Reading water should be a combination of that lateral and vertical plane because trout can move up, down and side to side within every dimension of the river.  

Striving to understand the water column in the different water types we fish means asking questions like:

“If I could see underneath, what might I discover?”

“Where are the shelves and buckets, and structures that I can’t see that might affect where trout are feeding?”  

Answering these types of questions involves exploration and imagination.  

Austin’s approach to this exploration is to start at the top and work his way down the water column.  This technique is useful because it allows him to methodically search for feeding fish.  It’s efficient, and it values discovering the trout on their own terms over what worked yesterday or what is “supposed to work.” He’s not guessing, he’s checking. 

Fishing top to bottom also keeps him from snagging up unnecessarily as he is exploring the water early on in the day. 

We can’t transport ourselves beneath the surface and swim alongside these trout, but if we consider our rod, reel, line and flies as tools for not just catching fish but exploring their world, we are more apt to slowly begin unraveling pieces of that mystery below the surface.


Key Takeaways

  • Fly fishing classes at Penn State were started in the 1940’s by George Harvey to help graduates handle the stresses of life.
  • Austin’s monorig set up is 24 ft of 15lb Maxima Chameleon, followed by 2 ft of 10 lb Maxima Chameleon, then either a Gold Stren and Amnesia or sighter section to a tippet ring, tied to tippet and flies. (The Troutbitten “standard” is 20 lb Maxima Chameleon)
  • Tightlining is like walking your dog. You don’t want the flies too far ahead or behind you.
  • There is tons of public land in Pennsylvania.
  • Often generic fly patterns work well in Central PA.
  • Simple to tie flies that work well are a Walt’s Worm, French Fly, and thread flies.
  • A basic Hare’s Ear with dubbing only works well in colors olive, gray, and black. Experiment with beadheads and hot spots.
  • When fishing a dry dropper it helps to prioritize whether to optimize the dry or dropper.  It’s hard to fish both well.
  • Try a top down approach to exploring where fish are feeding in the water column
  • When identifying takes, you see them all but some you can feel.  Visual should be the primary.
  • Look for anything unexpected at all for the takes.  Most people don’t hookset enough.

Learn More

Austin joins an experienced and passionate group of anglers in discussions on the Troutbitten Podcast.  Listen in on the podcast and get Austin’s take at the Troutbitten Podcast Page at

To learn more about the tactics we discussed and fly fishing for trout in PA, or to schedule a guided trip with Austin, visit

If you want more information on some of the topics we discussed try reading these blog posts from Wadeoutthere:

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | A Fly Fishing Mentor
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Targeting the Middle of the Water Column and Alternatives to the Hopper Dropper
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | How to Get the Most From Your Time on the Water

If you enjoy the Wadeoutthere Fly Fishing Podcast, and want to help it grow, please leave a rating and review.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed talking with Austin. Wadeoutthere friends.


Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    Todd Gray, Denton TX
    December 30, 2022 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks for another great podcast. Since I will not likely never fish MT, some are more appealing to me. This one should appeal EVERYONE. Wow – so much to unpack. I listened to it twice. And I also look at tying flies more simplistically. I am a new tyer who struggles! This is making tying fun. Thanks again!

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