The Zonker is a streamer pattern that’s been around for a long time and it’s popularity seems to ebb and flow with the years. This color combination is commonly called a “Pearl Zonker” but they can be tied in a wide range of colors.
For a hook, I’m going to use a Lightning Strike SN3 in a size 6. I like the proportions the 3X long shank provides.
Start by mashing the barb and then get your hook firmly secured in your tying vise. My vise has grooves in the jaws for holding larger hooks which is especially nice for long streamer hooks like this one.
Zonkers benefit from a bit of weight. I’m going to use .020 lead-free wire. Starting back by the bend, take wraps of wire forward in touching turns. For a size 6, about 15 wraps will do fine. Lead-free wire can be tough to break with just your fingernail but a few good turns will break it off clean and close to the hook shank. Positioning the lead wraps a little forward of mid-shank allows the Zonker to ride nicely in the water.
Load a bobbin with a spool of fairly heavy tying thread, here, UTC 140 in red. You need to take some tight wraps and heavy really helps.
Get your thread started on the hook shank immediately in front of the weight and take open spiral wraps rearward to the back of the weight. You can then snip the tag off close. Continue taking thread wraps forward and back to roughly cover the weight and then end with your thread above the barb.
Good old fashioned mylar tubing, the kind with the cotton core, is a favorite for Zonkers. Here I’m going to use a pearl color in a medium diameter. Measure the cord to form a segment about a hook shank and a half in length. Better to err on the side of longer rather than shorter. Cut the tubing at the desired length and then, with your fingertips or forceps, pull out the cotton core. Slide the tubing over the hook shank allowing some of the frayed mylar to extend a ways behind the hook bend. Pinching tightly with your left hand, take 2 loose wraps of thread right above the barb then pull tight. Squeeze hard with your left hand to keep the tubing from rolling around the hook shank. Take a few more really tight wraps to lock it down. This is where the 140 Denier thread comes in handy. To make sure this tie-down point won’t turn, you can take things a step further with a drop of super glue or here, I’m going to use UV cure resin. A small drop on top of the wraps will soak in almost immediately. Then give the resin a quick blast with a UV torch to cure it. When you’re done, the resin should be dry to the touch and the tubing well secured to the hook shank.
Rabbit fur cut into a Zonker strip is used for the back and tail of the fly. Measure the strip to approximately 1 1/2 hook shanks in length. Cut that segment off square from the rest of the Zonker strip. Leaving enough strip to cover the back of the fly, preen the rabbit fur apart at the rear tie-in point and take several nice tight wraps of tying thread to secure it. A little saliva on your fingertips will really help when it comes to managing the rabbit fur. Once again, make these wraps very tight. Some people will whip finish and cut the thread off at this point but applying another drop or two of UV resin on the thread wraps and then curing it with a torch makes things much more secure and allows you to simply snip the thread off without a whip finish. It works really well. Now pull the fur rearward to make sure both the tail and the back are long enough. A small clothespin or hair clip does wonders when it comes to controlling the fluffy and unruly rabbit fur.
Squeeze and push the mylar tubing out over the front of the eye and snip off everything beyond the eye. This will give you a little more than you need to secure the tubing at the front of the hook.
Here, it’s a good idea to switch to lighter thread like UTC 70 in black so as not to build up too much bulk at the head of the fly. Push the mylar back and get your thread started on the hook shank behind the eye. After taking a few wraps rearward, snip the tag end off close. Push the tubing forward as far as it will go and take wraps to collapse it around the hook shank. Keep wrapping to create a short tight thread collar. Being careful not to cut your tying thread, reach in with your scissors and trim away the excess mylar strands. You can then cover the butt ends up with wraps of tying thread, trying to build a reasonable flat thread base in the process.
Saddle hackle or schlappen is traditionally used for the hackle collar. You want a good bit of web on the feather and the barbs should be about a hook shank in length. With the shiny side of the feather facing you, tie it in by the bare stem and then snip the excess butt end off close. End with your tying thread halfway between the start of the body and the back edge of the eye. Get hold of the hackle and sweep the fibers rearward. Take wraps, continuing to pull the fibers rearward as you go. Three or four turns ought to do it. Secure the hackle with 3 wraps of tying thread and then reach in with your tying scissors and carefully snip off the excess. Preen the fibers rearward and take a few wraps to keep them swept back. Once again, try to maintain a fairly level thread base. End with your tying thread all the way back at the hackle.
With your thumb, separate the top fibers to either side of the hook and pull the Zonker strip forward over the hook eye. Do your best to separate the rabbit fur to create an open tie-in space. I’ve found that a little bit of saliva and a good bit of cussing generally helps with this particular task. With the rabbit fur reasonable tamed, make nice, firm thread wraps to bind the Zonker strip to the top of the hook shank. Try to make these wraps one on top another. With your tying scissors, cut the excess strip off at an angle like so. Covering the butt end of the Zonker strip can be tricky as your thread is going to want to slip down toward the eye but do your best to keep this from happening.
When everything’s covered, stop taking wraps and do a 5 or 6 turn whip finish back by the rear edge of the head. You can then snip or cut your tying thread free.
Although you can use head cement, I’m once again going to use UV cure resin because it rapidly builds a nice shiny head on the fly which is dry to the touch in mere seconds. And that’s a Pearl Zonker; think early season, high water and maybe a sink tip line. Then hang on tight.