The zonker strip muddler

Tie on a Muddler Minnow and just go fishing ... Pat

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I'm a dryfly man. There's a Black Stonefly dry on my line when I hit the water on the first morning of April and a Light Cahill dry as the sun sets on the last evening in September. So for me to be talking about a muddler is almost sacrilege, but that's how good this one is.

The zonker strip muddler meets the three essentials that are required to produce a good streamer. With its long tapered outline it has form, with its exposed body it has flash and with the superb motion of the rabbit fur it has action.

It was shown to me four years ago by a friend and he'd gotten it from a fly fisherman he was talking to in our local fishing store. I therefore give thanks, and the credit, to the unknown fly fisherman. I know of only two flies that come close to it in design and they are Dennis' Kiwi Muddler and Martin Joergensen's Nutria Muddler (in fact the zonker strip may well be a local modification of Joergensen's pattern). I have also been informed of another similar pattern used on the West coast called the Gander.

The first time I saw the zonker strip in action it hooked a nine-inch and two ten-inch brookies. Later that year it hooked close to sixty brookies one day on the Noreast Brook in Newfoundland (I wasn't counting but my guide was). Another year, with a different guide, we watched an estimated seven pound brookie in crystal clear water come within one inch of it (we both nearly fell off the rock that we were perched on). In October of that same year, on the River Philip with two of my friends, it was the only fly to hook a salmon. Right now I'd have to say that if I had a choice of only two flies (in various colours) to take to a river then this would be one of them. Mind you, I'm a fickle fly fisherman and I'm always on the hunt for new flies to tie and try, many an old favourite has rusted away in the corner of my flybox. However, this one has four years of proven success so it would be pretty hard to let it go. It's a fly that can be used all season and for all species of trout.

One other thing. I'm not a bass fisherman, my summers are occasionally spent lazily trolling flies for mackerel with my kids, but I do know a couple of fellers that hit the bass lakes during the dog days and they have nothing but praise for the zonker muddler.

Colours can be varied. Last year (2001) I tied a few with a yellow body and brown zonker wing (the Dark Edson Tiger colours) and it's been a real winner, especially with the gold cone up front. The White Muddler hooked a large salmon the first time it was used and a couple of other versions, the Grizzly King and a Black Ghost, have been successful on the trout.

Fishing techniques:

Swim it in rivers the same way as you would a normal muddler, down and across, and in slow or still waters wiggle the end of your rod while working the retrieve. It can also be cast upstream and allowed to drift down like a wounded minnow. It's also a high floater when it's unweighted and dry, but I think it does its best work as a streamer. Like many old-timers, if I'm going to fish it wet I stomp it in the mud. The theory behind this (and we all know about fishermen's theories), is that it removes any air bubbles and adds the scent of the river to the fly*. And be prepared for the kind of savage hit that makes the heart pound and leaves you wondering if your waders have sprung a leak.

*In his book Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods, Dave Whitlock states..."I am convinced that odour is a close second to sight in determining trout-food choice...when I fish subsurface imitations of aquatic trout food forms I'll rub the fly with the bottom of a rock or a piece of vegetation taken from the stream."

Tying tips:

1. Do not use crosscut zonker strips and try to avoid material with dark grey underfur. It's nice if you can find full-bodied strips that have dark tips to the guard hair or darker ends on the underfur. Of course you could always add a touch of darker colour (maybe brown or olive) by tying in a pinch of rabbit fur over the top (I'd tie it in after I'd run the rib through). If you do come across some good material I'd suggest you buy more than one package.

2. The fur is a lot easier to handle if you dampen it before placing it on top of the body (wet your thumb and forefinger and draw them along the fur).

3. If the strip overhangs the end of the hook too far the little fellers will likely snap at it and you'll get a lot of hits but no fish. Plus they'll rip the fur right off the skin. On the other hand a nine-incher will take it with a smash.

4. You might need some weight to get it down a bit. A gold, silver, or black cone head is ideal for this, or you can wrap the hook shank with some weighty material.

5. To prevent rust from the tinsel rib leaching into the body material I'd suggest laying down a couple of layers of thread and then coating it with head cement prior to tying in the tinsel rib.

6. When using a tag, as in the White Muddler, coat the tag with head cement. This will prevent the tag from unravelling. Do likewise with a floss body at the rear end of the hook.

7. A fine/micro chennile, rather than floss or wool, creates a really good body-base for the zonker strip.

8. After soaking and re-trimming the head, slide a split drinking straw sleeve over the fly and allow to dry. This will make the deer-hair collar slope backwards.

Tying instructions:

1. Bend down the hook barb.

2. I like to have a clean shank for spinning deer hair so I start the thread about a quarter of the way from the eye. This will be the 'start point'.

3. Tie in the ribbing material to about three-quarters of the way down the shank (the only reason I don't take the rib all the way to the rear is to allow that extra bit of wiggle from the zonker strip). Continue the thread, past the ribbing material, to the end of the shank.

4. Tie in the body material and run the thread forward to the start point. Wind the body material forward to the start point and tie off. Remove the excess body material.

5. Lay the zonker strip on top of the body material so that the end of the skin is about level with the bend of the hook. At the start point, throw two or three loops over the fur (not through it) and wiggle the strip around so that it is centered on top of the body. Tighten the loops and throw on a few more loops to secure the strip. Cut off the excess zonker strip.

6. Run the ribbing material through the zonker strip the way you would tie a matuka style fly, and without trapping the fur (three turns should be enough). The matuka method has an advantage over just tying in behind the collar because it avoids having the wing material wrap around the hook, and the body colour is always visible to the fish. Tie in and cut off the excess rib.

7. Build up the thread at this point to give a gill opening impression (which is why I use red thread) and apply some cement. You could also use brown thread and create the gill opening with red wool or equivalent material.

8. Spin a muddler collar and head and tie off. Trim the head, flat on the bottom and sloping on the top and sides. Thin out the collar if you're going to fish the fly wet. If you're really fussy about forming a neat head you might want to soak the fly for a bit and then go back and re-trim the head.
All of the following flies have been successful. The Edson Dark Tiger (with and without the gold cone) has been consistently productive throughout the entire season.


The Zonker Strip Muddler basic pattern :
Hook : #6 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Body : Silver or gold mylar
Rib : Strong silver or gold tinsel.
Wing : Natural or white rabbit zonker strip.
Collar : Natural deer hair
Head : Spun deer hair, trimmed to shape.

dark edson tiger
The Dark Edson Tiger Zonker Strip Muddler (great for both browns and brookies):
Hook : #6 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Body : Yellow wool or equivalent
Rib : Strong gold tinsel.
Wing : Light Brown or Ginger zonker strip.
Collar : Natural deer hair
Head : Yellow deer hair, trimmed to shape (gold cone optional).

The White Zonker Strip Muddler :
Hook : #2 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Tag : Red or pink Uni-floss or similar
Body : White wool or equivalent
Rib : Strong silver tinsel.
Wing : White zonker strip.
Collar : Natural deer hair
Head : White deer hair, trimmed to shape.

grey ghost
The Grey Ghost Zonker Strip Muddler :
This seems to be a favourite with my buddy, Muddler.
Hook : #6 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Body : Golden-yellow floss, or Uni-floss Pumpkin, or Gold tinsel
Rib : Strong silver tinsel.
Wing : Light grey zonker strip.
Collar : White deer hair
Head : White deer hair, trimmed to shape (silver cone optional).

grizzly king
The Grizzly King Zonker Strip Muddler (hooked some nice brookies in the spring) :
Hook : #6 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Tag : Red
Body : Green floss or equivalent
Rib : Strong silver tinsel.
Wing : Light chinchilla zonker strip.
Collar : Natural deer hair
Head : Natural deer hair, trimmed to shape.

Black ghost
The Black Ghost Zonker Strip Muddler (hooked two very nice browns the first time it was used) :
Hook : #6 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Tag : Yellow
Body : Black floss or equivalent
Rib : Strong silver tinsel.
Wing : White or cream zonker strip.
Collar : Yellow deer hair
Head : Black deer hair, trimmed to shape.

Dave Alexander
The Dave Alexander Zonker Strip Muddler :
I started fishing a strip fur muddler a couple of years ago with great sucess. I have enticed brown trout and salmon on it-Dave Alexander
Hook : #2 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Body : Cream dubbing
Rib : Strong gold tinsel.
Wing : Black zonker strip.
Collar : Black deer hair
Head : Black deer hair, trimmed to shape.

Peter Hill
The Peter Hill Zonker Strip Muddler :
I have been out twice this week fishing from the shore at Denas Pond at Little Narrows and the zonker strip has proved very good on rainbows. The Grand Union Canal (London) was fun but thank goodness to be in NS near trout water-Peter Hill
Hook : #6 to a #10 x 4 (Mustad 79580)
Thread : Red
Tag : Red barbules (optional)
Body : Pearl mylar
Rib : Strong silver tinsel.
Wing : Red or orange zonker strip.
Collar : Natural or olive deer hair
Head : Natural or olive deer hair, trimmed to shape.

Some of these patterns are based on existing designs :
The Muddler Minnow was originated by Mr. Don Gapen.
The White Muddler by Mr. Dan Bailey.
The Dark Edson Tiger by Mr. William Edson in 1929.
The Gray Ghost by Mrs. Carrie Stevens in 1924.
The Grizzly King by Mr. Gardner Percy.
The Black Ghost by Mr. Herbert Welch in 1927.

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Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997