The late Dan Byford created the Zonker in the mid 70’s. His unique design incorporating a rabbit fur strip secured along the top of a Mylar tube body was a departure from the typical hair wing streamers of the day. Dan’s design has endured the test of time proving itself not only on trout but other species too. Durable and mobile, the Zonker’s action is tough to beat. Today, many streamers blend in Zonker style wings, particularly those intended to represent bottom dwelling sculpin.
The original Zonker featured a rabbit strip wing trimmed along the grain of the skin, from front to rear, roughly 1/8” wide. Today, Zonker strips are available in a range of widths from ¼” wide magnum down to 1/16” micro. Determining Zonker strip width is a factor of the overall size of the fly and the profile you wish to suggest. In addition to rabbit; fox, mink and squirrel Zonker strips are available from some of the more progressive material suppliers. Squirrel and mink Zonker strips are excellent choices for small minnow imitations. Variegated fur strips are also an option. The mottled look of a variegated strip does an excellent job mimicking the barred markings common to many forage fish.
The original Zonker consisted of a lead tape underbody folded over the hook shank and trimmed to a triangular shape. Mylar tubing was slid over the trimmed lead underbody tied in at the head pulled tight and then secured at the bend of the hook. Some tyers still remain true to this original design but in many circles dubbing, braid or crystal chenille have replaced traditional Mylar bodies. Body choice depends on the overall shape and look you are trying to achieve. I favor dubbed or braided bodies for most of my Zonkers.
Some begin by securing the Zonker’s signature wing in place at the rear of the shank and folding it back out of the way until the body is complete. The balance of the fur strip is then pulled tight over the body and secured in place. I prefer to tie my wing in after the body is complete, a style preferred by many tyers.
After the body is formed tie in the wing. Trimming the fur strip to a point to eases tie in and reduces bulk. Secure the wing so the grain of the hair flows back along the body. Avoid pre-cutting the wing to length. A long fur strip allows you to pull tight on the hide so it tucks flush along the body. Trim the wing once the fly is complete, no more than a shank length to avoid fouling.
There are a number of methods used to secure the wing. Some tyers use two bobbins. The first bobbin is attached during the initial tying steps and let hang until it is needed to secure the wing. Others leave a length of tying thread from the initial basic wrap to secure the wing in place at the rear of the hook.
Applying a solid whip finish can be a challenge when securing the wing at the rear of the body. A long reach whip finish tool helps with larger flies. With a bit of practice a standard whip finish tool easily secures the fur strip at the rear of the fly. The same process rod builders use to finish guides can also be used to tie off the wing. Secure a loop of thread, wire or monofilament in place a few wraps prior to finishing the tie off. Once the wing is secure cut the thread. Pass the tag end through the thread, wire or monofilament loop. Pull the loop back through the securing thread wraps to complete the whip fish. Trim the remaining thread. Bright thread is often used to secure the wing at the rear of the hook to serve as a focused hot spot for attacking fish.
One of the draw backs to securing the wing fore and aft is the gap that forms between the fur strip and the body when the hide gets wet or chewed after a few fish. A thin coat of superglue between the fur strip and body helps anchor the wing in place.
Securing the wing along the shank using a wire rib, Matuka style, is my favorite winging option as the hide remains tight along the body. Prior to securing the wing moisten and stand the fur to ease weaving the wire through the fur. This step reduces trapping any fur while binding the hide tight to the body. Winding the first wrap perpendicular to the fur strip provides a firm tie down. Angle each successive wrap forward to the head of the fly until the wing is locked and secure. Experiment with each winging technique. Choose one you are comfortable with and compliments the overall look of the Zonker you are trying to achieve.
Zonker wings can also secured along the underside of the shank. This winging technique causes the fly to ride inverted, hook masked within the fur strip. At your discretion, stab the wing onto the hook prior to or after the body is complete. Pull the wing tight over the body and tie it down at the head of the fly. The inverted wing can be glued along the body or ribbed Matuka style for added durability.
Gills and eyes have become essential Zonker components. Eyes are a key predatory trigger. I incorporate them into all of my baitfish patterns, including Zonkers. Adhesive eyes either tape or molded, are my favorites. Once tacked in place with superglue coat the thread head and eyes with UV resin. Moistening and stroking the fur back helps keep the hair out of the UV resin. Gills can be created using a variety of materials including hackle, marabou, yarn, floss, Crystal Flash, Flashabou or a simple thread band.
Although the basic Zonker concept is over 30 years old it is a proven design that elicits vicious strikes from a variety of fish in lakes, rivers, streams even saltwater. The seductive swagger of the fur strip wing is simply too good to pass up. Coupled with the contrast of the dark wing, bright body and the distinct lateral line created by the hide the Zonker represents many baitfish, regardless of size or color. Tied in a dark configuration, without eyes or gills, a Zonker also makes a convincing leech.
Cover the hook shank with tying thread. Return the tying thread to a point approximately two hook eye widths back from the hook eye. Secure the ribbing along the near side of the hook down the shank to the bend.
Using a dubbing loop, dub a scruffy body to roughly ¾’s of the way up the hook shank.
Form the gills by placing 2-3 wraps of red dubbing directly in front of the body. Do not crowd the head area. There should be at least two hook eye widths of shank clear between the gills and the hook eye.s.
Tie in the pine squirrel Zonker strip directly in front of the gills. Trim the fur from hide at the tie in point. Cut the trimmed hide to a point to ease the tie in and reduce bulk. Moisten the fur slightly and stroke it upwards so it stands vertical. Pull the fur strip tight so it lays flush along the dubbed body. Wind and weave the silver wire forward through the Zonker strip to secure it in place. Make sure the initial securing wrap of wire is perpendicular across the fur strip. The remaining wraps should be wound forward on an angle to the front of the shank. Tie off the remaining wire. Using a pulling and twisting motion break off the excess wire.
Build up a smooth oversized thread head to form a foundation for the eyes. Whip finish and remove the tying thread. Color the top half of the thread head with a permanent maker to match the color of the fur strip.
Apply the molded eyes to each side of the head. Secure the eyes in place with a UV resin such as Loon’s UV Clear Fly Finish-Thin. A thin formulation works best to secure and cover the eyes. Build the UV resin up in small layers as opposed to one thick application. Use the appropriate curing light to activate and harden the resin. Be careful not to block the hook eye with resin.