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Phantom Zonker
Tie one on and you are instantly “in the game.”
By Barry Ord Clarke

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.

Recipe

Hook: Partridge Sprite S2200 Barbless Streamer #6
Under body: Clear hot glue
Over body: Pearl Mylar tubing
Thread: Sheer white 14/0
Wing/tail: Fur zonker strip (White Coypu)
Hackle: Pearl Ice Dub
Eyes (optional): tape eyes

Steps

Step 1: Plug in your hot glue gun as it takes a few minutes to reach temperature. Meanwhile secure your hook in the vise, making sure that the hook shaft is in a relatively horizontal position. It helps to have a true rotary vise.

Step 2: Load your hot glue gun with clear hot glue.

Step 3: When your hot glue gun has reached optimal temperature, run a small amount of clear hot glue along the top of the hook shank as shown. You may find that when you try to remove the melt glue gun you get a long strand of glue that stretches from the hook to the gun. This can be avoided or resolved by wrapping the strand quickly around the hook shank behind the eye of the hook.

Step 4: Once the glue strip has set a little, about 5 seconds, rotate your vice and carefully apply a little more to form the belly of the minnow. Try and make it the same size as the first strip of glue.

Step 5: After a few seconds, you can apply a smaller amount of glue to the front underside to get the correct minnow body shape.

Step 6: Once the glue has set, you must wait a short while, otherwise you will have glue everywhere! You can carefully re-heat the body using a cigarette lighter. Take care not to burn the glue, just hold the flame at a distance and warm up the glue.

Step 7: When the glue is warm, wet your finger. You are then able to shape the body. Wetting your finger stops the glue sticking to you, and also quickens the setting process.

Step 8: You can now shape the body further by trimming the glue with scissors.

Step 9: Repeat until you are happy with the body shape and size. Then take off the sharp cut edges by warming it again with the lighter.

Step 10: Let your finished body dry before continuing.

Step 11: Cut a 5-6 cm length of the Mylar tubing and remove the string core. Mylar tubing comes in a variety of materials, sizes, diameters, weaves and colors. Not all Mylar tubing works for this particular pattern, so it’s advisable to experiment a little beforehand.

Step 12: Attach your tying thread at the rear of the body.

Step 13: Holding the Mylar strip between your finger and thumb, gently roll it forward and back between your fingers. This will open the weave of the Mylar and make it ready for the tail.

Step 14: Carefully slide the Mylar over the body. Take care that your tying thread is hanging horizontally and not being pushed back by the Mylar.

Step 15: Now you can secure the rear of the Mylar with a few wraps of tying thread at the tail base.

Step 16: Select a length of your chosen strip of zonker fur that is a little longer than required. Here I am using Coypu (also known as Nutria). The Coypu is a very large water dwelling rodent that has unique guard hairs. These are thin at the base of the hair and increase in thickness towards the tips. This gives them extra movement when in the water.

Step 17: Before you tie the strip on, prepare the tail end by cutting the hide to an even point. Take care not to cut or damage the fur.

Step 18: Part the fur with the help of a dubbing needle, then moisten both your fingers and your hackle clip. Pull the Coypu fibers forward and secure them with the clip to make tying in the fur strip easier. Tie the fur strip in over the foundation wrappings you used to secure the Mylar sleeve. Don’t make the tail too long; this will cause it to wrap around the hook bend when fished!

Step 19: Once the Zonker strip is in the correct position and secure, give it a couple of whip finishes and remove your tying thread.

Step 20: Remove the clip, and use it to hold the front of the Zonker strip out of the way, towards the rear of the hook.

Step 21: Re-attach your tying thread by making a couple of loose turns around the Mylar sleeve, so as to catch it just in the right position for the head. Take care that the Mylar sleeve around the body is tight, and then pull up on your bobbin so as to tighten the tying thread and secure the Mylar tube in place. Trim off any excess if needed.

Step 22: Pull the Zonker strip tight over the body.

Step 23: While holding the strip in position, separate the fur at the required position and tie in, but only with a couple of tight turns, tight into the glue body.

Step 24: Now pull on the Zonker strip to tighten it into the body and secure with a few tighter wraps of tying thread. Carefully trim away the excess Zonker strip and build a nice foundation for the Ice Dub collar.

Step 25: You will now need a pinch or two of pearl Ice Dub.

Step 26: Make a dubbing loop with your tying thread and place a little Ice Dub sparsely in the loop. Less is more! Spin this up to form a collar.

Step 27: Once spun, wrap the Ice around the head of the fly to form the collar.

Step 28: Once done, use a dubbing brush or comb to release any trapped fibers in the Ice Dubb, so the collar is evenly distributed around the body and wing of the fly.

Step 29: Whip finish and remove your tying thread.

Step 30: Finish by giving the head of the Zonker a drop of varnish. Here you can see the Zonker in direct light: the Mylar and Ice Dub collar flash like the scales of a small baitfish.

And here is how the fly looks back lit. Note the realistic transparent bait fish body.

Barry Ord Clarke
Barry Ord Clarke is British but has lived and worked in Norway for the past 30 years. He regularly demonstrates at fly tying exhibitions throughout Europe and the USA, and is a consultant for Mustad and Veniard Ltd. Barry was voted Fly Tyer Magazine’s Fly Tyer of the Year 2021, and has authored 12 books on fly tying. His new book, Flytying for Beginners, will be published in the USA by Skyhorse Publishing in spring 2022. Learn more about his work at his website or tie alongside Barry at his Youtube channel.