The Nymphing Method that Shocked the Fly-Fishing World

Written by: Richard R. Twarog

Wladyslaw “Vladi” Trzebunia blew everyone’s mind at the 1989 World Fly Fishing Championships.
Photos by Richard R. Twarog

What a sight. The year was 1989. The place was Kuusamo, Finland. The event was the World Fly Fishing Championship. A gaggle of journalists and bystanders were following and watching in wonder and curiosity: Who was this guy dressed in an unconventional vest, wearing garden boots for waders, and casting a mended fly rod? He was tenacious, and very competitive, with a broad, quick smile — friendly to a fault. The mystery angler was Wladyslaw Trzebunia, then a member of the Polish national Fly Fishing Team. “Vladi,” as he is known to his friends, is the man who knocked the fly-fishing world on its butt.

In the mid-1930s, Vladi’s father had discovered that when he pulled his baited hook downstream faster than the current, he caught more fish. Here’s the takeaway: The fish were attracted to the motion.

Back to the 1989 tournament: Using the same basic method his father had taught him as a youngster (with refinements, to be sure), Vladi landed a staggering total of 60 fish. That number was more than all of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th teams combined! Wladyslaw Trzebunia won the individual title–and a dazzling gold medal—and the Polish team took the team title.

Since that 1989 competition, the nymphing that method Vladi pioneered, and the Polish team used, has been imitated, appropriated, and re-named throughout Europe, and the rest of the fly fishing world. Over time, Vladi’s method has been reborn to new fathers of new nationalities.

Vladi caught this beautiful grayling from the San River in his native Poland

Here are some important points about Polish nymphing:

    • The Polish method works best in fast water, perhaps no deeper than the middle of your thighs, about three feet. For example the tail-outs of pools, or just downstream from riffles are great feeding locations for this method even if the water is a little off-color.
    • Use at least a 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight rod. I use an Orvis Recon 10-foot 4-weight.
    • Typically, your leader should be a little more than 2/3 the length of the rod. So, for a 9-foot rod, a 7-foot leader would be about right. I use an 8-foot tippet as a leader on my 10-foot rod. If you want to change from using a floating line to fish dry flies, just keep the same line and change your tapered leader to a straight tippit that will sink much faster and you’re all set. Remember, you’re not casting the nymph(s); you’re just lobbing them upstream.
    • There are no indicators, sighters, yarn, or colored line to use. This is an active, not passive, way to enjoy fishing. You’re triggering a strike, not standing there waiting and watching a bobber float by. You can use either a single weighted fly or a multi-fly rig. With a multi-fly rig, one of the flies (the anchor-fly) must be heavy enough to bring the flies to the river’s bottom quickly. Remember, the flies are not in tandem.

Holding his fly rod parallel to the water’s surface, Vladi pulls the flies through the current.
Photos by Richard R. Twarog
  •  After you lob the fly upstream and feel it touch the bottom, I start pulling the fly downstream a little faster than the current. That’s the key: pulling faster than the current.
  • I usually hold my rod parallel to the water as I pull the fly downstream. Then I raise it a little when the fly is even with me, and let it drift past a few feet and rise toward the surface. Just before I start to pick up my line to lob it upstream again, I set the hook to an imaginary fish. I’ve been amazed how many hook-ups I get because trout and grayling are likely to follow a food item that is quickly moving around in the current and will often eat it as it rises. If I don’t get a strike in two or three upstream lobs, I sidestep downstream about three or four feet.

The unique combination of the fish’s lateral line and vision is designed to specifically to detect the motion of predator or prey, which is why Vladi’s method seems like  the obvious way to nymph.

That’s what Vladi has taught me over the past six years. And not only is it productive, but it’s a lot of fun, too.

Richard R. Twarog is the author of The San Juan River: A Fly Angler’s Journal. Vladi is a licensed guide in Poland and Slovakia and continues to give seminars and teach international competitive teams and individuals. You can reach him via e-mail.

Weighted flies get to the bottom quicker, and Vladi’s famous Vladi Worm (bottom) is a good anchor fly.
Photos by Richard R. Twarog

30 thoughts on “The Nymphing Method that Shocked the Fly-Fishing World”

  1. What is essentially this same technique was also being developed and refined during the 1970’s by one of my old fishing partners out of Aspen – Georges Odier. His book, “Swimming Flies: A Revolutionary Approach to Successful Fly Fishing”, published in 1984 is the first published outline of the technique I am aware of. Georges and Chuck Fothergill were constant fishing companions. Although he doesn’t get credit for doing so, in the 1960’s and 70’s, Chuck fine-tuned a nymphing technique which is essentially what is now called “Euro-nymphing” – See Advanced Nymphing Techniques in “The Masters on the Nymph”, Migel and Wright, 1979.

  2. I continually run-across fly fishing innovations by Fothergill. Sorry he is gone from our active lives. We will have to learn from what he left behind.

    1. Yes, Chuck was a special guy. Back in the “old’n” days the three of us would spend many a pleasant hour fishing the Pan and Roaring Fork and never see another fisherman. We could come and go as we pleased on virtually all of both rivers. Miss ’em both!

    2. I worked with Chuck at Martin-Marietta in the 60s, we fished Deckers and Cheessman Canyon often. When
      layed off in 1964, Chuck eventually opened his successful fly shop in Aspen. Chuck also had an innovative side, he designed a fishing vest with a supportive collar that is still popular. Chuck is remembered fondly by many!

    1. Erik,
      If you send me your e-mail I’ll send you photos of Vladi’s technique for tying on a dropper. Vladi’s Father (then Vladi as a boy) used this method fishing for food during the 1940’s, 50’s, etc, during the German and Russian.

      Richard R. Twarog

      1. Mr. Twarog,

        Please send me also the photos of Vladi’s dropper setup. Very interesting, and many thanks!


      2. Thank you for this story about nymph fishing. I live here in maine and I would like more information.

      3. How about Orvis bringing back the Fothergill vest?

        I had one, surely the most comfortable vest I’ve ever owned — no neck pain at the end of the day. My vest “walked away” a long time ago and despite efforts to find a replacement, no joy. I ever corresponded with his widow, a professional guide herself, but she was not able to assist me.

        Jameson G. Campaigne
        722 Columbus Street
        Ottawa, IL 61350

  3. These same fishing techniques have been used in Northern California for over 100 years and are credited to an American Indian from the Wintu tribe named Ted Towendolly who shared his techniques with Ted Fay of Ted Fay’s fly shop fame in Dunsmuir CA on the upper Sacramento river. The fly Ted T. tied and used most often was called the Black Bomber.

    1. Tim C.,

      It’s quite interesting to me that similar successful fishing techniques developed in different parts of the world. I wonder if there was a way you could share a tying recipe for Ted Towendolly’s Black Bomber and/or a picture of the fly?


      Glenn D.

  4. I find it interesting that Vladi steps downstream a few feet and not upstream. …Doesn’t that run the risk of spooking the fish?

    Can those of you with more knowledge than me comment?

    Thank you!

    1. It is far easier to go “with the flow” and with gravity. And if you do it careful and soft enough the fish do not spook.

    2. I noticed this also and thought it was an error in printing,also assuming you nymph upstream
      Tom C

  5. The first documented style of fishing with heavy nymphs in fast water was in the present Bosnia.
    In the 1900’s the fly fishers fished the fast flowing water with a 6foot rod and heavy nymphs, standing in the current and catching trout. If required, I will find the piece, about fly fishing like this.

  6. I’ve seen videos of Vladi fishing, and his style is very attractive.

    However, as far as I know, no contemporary competitive angler is using this technique; they all seem to be fishing micro thin Euro leaders with sighters.

    Do you think that Vladi’s style is still viable on the world competitive scene?


  7. Richard,
    I have read your article about Vladi’s technique with great interest and intend to try it as soon as our river flows make it possible to fly fish again.
    I am curious about your reminder that multiple flies are not in tandem? By “tandem” do you mean that the dropper to the second fly should not be tied to the bend of the hook of the first fly?
    I would be very interested to see how you attach multiple flies?
    Many thanks

  8. hello,am a businessman dealing with Fly fishing am writing to ask if we can do some fishing flies business with you we have factory of 15 specialized workers ad me am a group leader/ supervisor of that factory, ad we are specialized in tying trout nymph streamers flies,
    saltwater,large,lure such,as pike,bass bugs muskie etc.and will deliver your luggage
    on time, then i will produced quality and quantity goods customer flies. that you will be surprised.we have experience of 20 years
    let me know your feedback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *