Woven nymphs sink like rocks, catch fish and look really cool.
When the Polish national team began competing in the World Fly Fishing Championship in the late 1980s, a favorite fly of its anglers was the woven nymph.
The Poles won the team title in 1989 and one of the competitors, Wladyslaw Trzebunia, won the individual title. Poland has been a contender in the world championships ever since, and Trzebunia is now a coach for the U.S. national team and well-known fly designer. He has become famous in recent years for inventing a worm pattern made of a strip of latex condom. But for most of his career, he and his fellow Polish anglers have been identified with woven flies.
He does not, however, claim to have invented them.
“We are not the first to produce woven nymphs,” Trzebunia told me by phone from his home in Zakopane, Poland. “I bought some American woven nymphs, and believe me it was a very old fly.”
A woven fly is made by weaving two heavy threads together – one dark, one light – with a technique known as the shuttle weave. It produces a fly that mimics natural insects by having a dark back and a pale belly. The fly has a naturally segmented look, and its body is slightly flattened, like most natural nymphs – but unlike most trout flies, which are basically tubular.
Woven flies are very durable, and thanks to their lead underbodies, they sink quickly, a key consideration for the Polish team and for anybody who really wants to catch fish.
“Tied and fished brilliantly, as the Poles do, they are devastating,” wrote Charles Gaines in Forbes magazine in 1991, recounting Poland’s sudden dominance at the world championships. “The Polish nymph is woven of various natural and synthetic fibers to create a durable, spookily lifelike imitation of mostly caddis nymphs.”
Gaines goes on to tell how U.S. team captain Walter Ungermann fished a stretch of river on New Zealand hard for three hours but caught only two small trout, then “stood there in his waders and saw a New Order replace the Old” as Polish anglers fished the same stretch and caught 37 trout. He ended up buying 500 woven flies from the Polish team.
The shuttle weave is a little tricky to learn. It took me several weeks and a few YouTube videos to figure out how it’s done, and a fair amount of practice before I got the hang of it. I’ve finally got it down, more or less, and I’ve been tying and fishing nothing but woven nymphs ever since.
Once your fingers get used to the process, woven nymphs are fun to make. They are slim, neat and elegant – organized and symmetrical in the way real insects are. I’ve caught trout on them this fall in the Catskills and the Hudson Valley.
Is the woven nymph “the hottest nymph in the world,” as Forbes winkingly declared in its headline? It’s hard to say. But this winter, I plan to drop one in every hole that might hold a trout.