American fly tyer Dan Byford created the original Zonker in the 1970s. It quickly gained worldwide recognition as a big fish fly that, while easily tied, did a very good job of imitating most smaller baitfish. In his original pattern, Byford used a lead or tin sheet that was folded and glued over the hook shank and then cut to shape to make the underbody. In the Phantom Zonker, this pattern gains new life with a body molded from hot, clear glue. If viewed by a fish in direct light, the shine and flashing of the Mylar body mixes with the animation of the pulsating fur strip, resulting in a first-class baitfish attractor pattern. But, when viewed by a fish in a backlit situation (that is, in silhouette) this pattern really comes to life, with light penetrating through the transparent melt glue/Mylar body and guard hairs of the fur strip.
The flexibility of the Zonker as a baitfish imitation is only limited by your own imagination. There is a huge amount of rabbit fur strip materials on the market in just about every color imaginable, not to mention fox, squirrel, mink, etc. Along with the vast array of tubing materials available, the possibilities are endless for matching the hatch.
I first saw this hot glue body technique in 1993 by the innovative Danish fly tyer Dennis Jensen, who developed it for saltwater sea trout fishing in Denmark. He constructed his flies using a homemade mould constructed from plastic padding. He inserted the hook in the mould and then injected hot glue into it and waited a few seconds for it to dry before removing it. The result was a perfect and identical minnow body every time. Dennis also made very clever and subtle body color changes to his flies by wrapping the hook shank first with tying thread in either fluorescent orange, green, or blue—orange when he was imitating sticklebacks, green for other small fish and eels, and blue when fishing in deep water. The technique shown here requires no mould. It does take a little practice to master and may require a bit more time, but still produces the same effect.
A great advantage of the Zonker is that, unlike bucktail and feather-wing streamers, it is an extremely robust pattern. If tied correctly, the fly normally outlives the hook, although the eyes (if used) and Mylar tubing are somewhat vulnerable to the small, sharp teeth of trout. This can be improved by coating the eyes and Mylar body with UV resin if you desire extra durability.
Whichever way you fish it, remember that getting the most action out of the Murdich takes both hands. Your line hand is responsible for making it dart and swoon with erratic strips and pauses, while your rod hand is responsible for making the tail tremble (use your twitchy forearm muscles to quiver the rod tip).
My version of Dennis’s original, in this particular color scheme, has become one of my most productive patterns for sea trout, especially during the colder months. Sea trout, unlike their brown trout brothers, are seldom selective, particularly during winter.
I fish the Phantom Zonker in quiet and calm conditions, off a clear, intermediate line with a slow and steady retrieve (such as the figure of eight retrieve). Despite the gentle retrieve, the takes are normally fast and brutal. During rough and stormy conditions, I like to use a floating line and fish the Phantom high in the waves with a short, fast, jerky retrieve, then finish with a slow and even lift of the rod. With this retrieve, the fish typically follows the fly a good distance, bulging a wake just beneath the surface, then closes in and attacks on the final lift.