Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Venture Outdoors Hooks Area Residents with Expansive Fly-fishing Curriculum

Mar 31, 2016 10:25AM ● By Erica Cebzanov
Photos by Jake Very (Venture Outdoors)

This spring and summer, Venture Outdoors (VO), a nonprofit organization connecting people with nature in southwestern Pennsylvania, will offer a number of fly-fishing courses, mostly along the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park.

The ‘fly’ in fly fishing refers to the weightless imitation insect, fish or crawfish used as a lure. While spin and bait fishing use a weighted lure to sink a line, fly fishing relies on a back-and-forth casting motion to force a weighted line through the air. “It maybe goes back as far as 200 years B.C.; there are some writings about the use of the tied fly to catch fish in Macedonia,” said Dale Kotowski, who, along with his wife Cyndi, has spent 14 years teaching the method as a VO trip leader. “In terms of the more modern writings on it, there was a book written in the 1400s by a nun named Dame Juliana Berners...of the dozen or so flies in her book, we still use eight of those patterns.”

The Youghiogheny’s brook, brown and rainbow trout prefer cool, oxygen-rich water and freshly hatched insects, making spring ideal for fly fishing. During an April 9 introductory course, beginners will spend part of the day inside an Ohiopyle stone house learning equipment basics before practicing casting techniques in a nearby grassy area. Throughout the course’s second half, they will test their skills in the water.

“One of the things about our curriculum that separates it from others is that we spend an extensive amount of time on the instructional side of it, but also on the on-the-water skills,” said Kotowski. VO will lend equipment sets—which normally cost approximately $130—to beginners, but students need to bring hip boots or waders.

Students wishing to further their knowledge may take additional courses. “Those classes are interesting and informative even for experienced fishermen,” Kotowski said. “Someone who just took the introductory class this year will still enjoy those classes—they won’t be in over their heads.”

A Match the Hatch course focuses on the appropriate times to use specific flies during an insect hatch. Students in a dry-fly workshop will learn to select and utilize floatable flies, which force the trout to rise from the water. Meanwhile, Wet Flies & Streamers for Trout combines time-honored and groundbreaking techniques in teaching students how to use sinkable wet flies and steamers, which mimic large aquatic life.

Kotowski added that he is excited about teaching a new class focused on the traditional Japanese method of tenkara fly fishing. He and Cyndi are also developing customized VO outings, in which individuals and groups may arrange fly-fishing programs to meet their specific needs.

“About two years ago, we started offering some classes that we’ve fondly called Hump Day Getaways,” said Kotowski. “They’re on Wednesday afternoons, and they’re aimed at people who maybe want to sneak away from work a little early, and also for folks who are retired. On many of these, we fish into the night.” Students on a May 18 getaway excursion will wade in Moraine State Park’s Lake Arthur in search of striped bass.

In addition to his work as a VO instructor, Kotowski focuses on cold-water conservation as Trout Unlimited’s Chestnut Ridge Chapter president, where he has been instrumental in organizing the upcoming Youghiogheny River Symposium on June 24. The event will bring together conservationists and field experts at the Penn State Fayette campus.

Regular fly-fishing course tuition is $86 with VO members receiving a discount. The programs are ideal for ages 7 and up. A Pennsylvania fishing license is required for those 16 and older. For more information, visit and