Tillins’ Cobra is a favourite New Zealand trout lure especially for trolling on lakes
Tillins have manufactured Cobras in Tasmania, Australia, since the 1950s. Tillin’s make three different types of trout lure” the Cobra (5cm), the King Cobra (6cm), and the slightly larger Cobra (8cm). The later larger lure is mostly fished as a trolling lure behind a boat. The big 8cm Cobra is also used by anglers up-river as a salmon lure. Salmon have even been taken on pink Cobras!
The Cobra is made from high impact plastic. The aqua foil wings, which give the lure that very enticing stop-start swimming action, are clear plastic. My favourite colours are the Traffic Light (no.63) and the Gold and Black spots (no.5). Though many anglers, of course, have their own ideas. The bronze coloured number 9 has also been used to good effect on Opening Day in the Kaiapoi River, near Christchurch.
The Tillins Cobras are the only aqua foil lures of their kind that are made complete with eyes. Many anglers believe that eyes are a very important feature on any fishing lure because the eyes help to trigger a strike from a hungry predatory trout!
Another tactic sometimes employed both by spin anglers and when trolling Cobras is to replace the hook with a brightly coloured fly! When lake trolling for trout I strongly recommend you use a single hook.
Here is a short video about aqua foil trout lures including the Tillin’s Cobra.
Tillins’ Deadly Cobras by Dick Marquand
When Editor Allan Burgess contacted me recently regarding the possibility of field testing Tillins’ Cobra and King Cobra lures for Southern Fishing and Boating, I jumped at the opportunity. I am a big fan of Cobra lures, having used them successfully on a variety of freshwater and marine fish for a period of over twenty years.
My introduction to Tillins deadly range of lures came in 1970 at Lake Tarawera where outstanding catches of rainbow trout were being made on the five and eight centimetre green and yellow Cobras in the No. 92 model. When used on deep trolling gear, these ranked well ahead of all the other lures that I had tested.
I found similar success when trolling Cobras on Lake Wakatipu during the mid-1970s. I fished these lures on light spinning gear and when rigged a metre or so behind a keeled lead weight and trolled over known aquatic weed beds, success was guaranteed. My experiments showed yellow and white No. 102 model to be particularly deadly on Lake Wakatipu’s brownies. The good news spread quickly, and it was not long before this model became a favourite lure of the recreational anglers and the fishing guides on this lake.
Fishing the silver flexi-hose No. 97 model Cobra on light spinning gear in some of South Westland’s tidal estuaries has on many occasions provided me with excellent sport. When the tide is low, I concentrate my efforts on the sea-run brownies and as the tide advances, I turn my attention towards kahawai. As readers will no doubt be aware, kahawai are masters at throwing lures during their explosive gill shaking leaps. I solve this problem by threading the line through the belly of the Cobra and tying it directly to a single hook. This leaves the lure able to run freely up the line when the kahawai jumps. This modification to the usual method of rigging results in far fewer lost fish.
Over the years, I have also experienced exciting sport using Tillins’ Cobra lures in Fiordland’s’ coastal waters. Most of this fishing is undertaken from a boat, using a light spinning outfit and casting the lures inshore to where rocks protrude from a sandy seabed. The action produced by a Cobra being retrieved in a bouncing manner along the bottom proves too much for most fish and has resulted in a variety of species including tarakihi, blue cod, gurnard, scarlet wrasse, spotties, jock stewarts, barracouta, opal fish, witch and on one occasion, a small warehou.
Again, I prefer the eight-centimetre silver flexi-hose No. 97 model, however, I am not prepared to say that other colours and patterns would not work as successfully.
During the past decade or so, other Tasmanian based companies have cashed in on the success of the unique Tillins’ Cobra lure by manufacturing copies. The firm that immediately comes to mind is Wigston’s Lures, whose Tasmanian Devils have flooded onto the New Zealand market in recent years. Other lure manufacturers such as Johnson’s Super Lures and Lofty’s Lures have also recently entered the scene with Cobra type look-a-likes.
While preparing this article, I contacted Mr Allan Best, an owner of Tillins Pty Ltd, the Tasmanian manufacturers of the Cobra, in order to get some history on these fascinating lures. I received the following reply from Allan.
“The facts outlined in your fax are correct. Tillins I believe was established sometime in the 1950s by the late Ted Tillin, and we purchased the business from Mrs Tillin in 1970 after the death of Ted Tillin. I had known Ted for several years prior as we sold his products in the retail outlet I was involved in at the time. I cannot say whether Ted designed the Cobra originally. I believe several claim that honour; all I can say is Tillins were the only ones to produce Cobras commercially in those days, and have been doing so now for 35 to 40 years.
Later, and it would have been about 1980-81, Wigstons, a client of ours then and still is today, who have an electrical retail store in New Norfolk with a sporting goods section, began to manufacture the Tasmanian Devil. Interestingly”, this increased the demand for “our own” lures as the Cobra type lure became even more widely known. Our factory is situated on the banks of the Tamar River thirty kilometres north of Launceston and we are fortunate to have our own jetty at the back door of the factory.
When I took over in 1970, Ted Tillin had a sole distribution agreement in New Zealand with R. I. Bain and Co. which we maintained until John Vaughan and Co. purchased this firm. This agreement still stands today with John Vaughan and Co. as we have found it a pleasure to be involved with both companies, with John Vaughan and Co. once again receiving an award for being the best supplier in New Zealand. Click to see the Tillins Cobra range at Vaughan Sports
Allan finished by proudly saying that Tillins’ Cobras and King Cobras were very labour-intensive, being produced from high-quality raw materials. Each Tillins’ Cobra and King Cobra is made from plastic that has been moulded around an internal weighted core. The dished shape of the lure and its clear plastic side fins are what gives the lure a tantalising action inducing fish to strike. A brass wire passes through the body of the lure with a swivel on the front and a single or treble hook at the rear. This can be easily removed if the angler prefers to ﬁsh the Cobra or King Cobra on a running line.
It is the pair of sparkling red or green faceted “jewel eyes” on the head of the Tillins Cobras that identifies the original Cobras and King Cobras from other copies. From experience, I have found that “jewel eyes” significantly increase the strike rate of a lure by many predatory marine fish as well as by trout and salmon. I agree wholeheartedly with the manufacturers that “the eyes have it!”
Tillins’ lures include three different size Cobras and one King Cobra. The four centimetre, five centimetre and eight-centimetre Cobras come in a wide variety of colours and patterns.
Each fishing area in New Zealand seems to acquire its favourite colours amongst the angling fraternity. I have generally found trout to prefer the green, yellow and red colours with the brighter ﬂuorescent colours being particularly suited to discoloured waters. The patterns on the Cobras are either scaled, dotted, spotted, striped or ribbed with spines. The two larger Cobras are ideal for casting and trolling while the four-centimetre lure is best suited for casting on light gear into small rivers, streams and creeks.
Tillins’ deep running King Cobra has a six-centimetre body that displays wider plastic side fins. As with the Cobras, it comes in a wide variety of patterns and colours which are readily accepted by both ﬁsh and anglers.
The Cobras have two distinct types of action which are dependent upon the speed that the lures are being drawn through the water. At a slow speed, the lure gains a wobble as it moves from side to side. As the lure speed is increased, it will be seen to spin or revolve completely around. From experience, I have found that both these actions will induce trout and other fish species to strike the lure and ultimately be hooked. In the case of the King Cobra, the lure can be adjusted to the desired action by bending the clear ‘plastic side fins.
When trolled or retrieved at a faster speed, the revolving motion can cause the problem of line twist. This can be avoided by placing a keeled lead trolling weight about a metre or so in front of the lure. Such a set up also allows the angler to get the Cobra to run deeper, a distinct advantage when ﬁshing from a moving boat.
When the lure is operating correctly, a rhythmic pulse is obvious; it can be felt and it can be seen by watching the action of the rod tip. A lack of visible action generally means that the Cobra or King Cobra has been fouled with weed and such an indication saves anglers wasting productive ﬁshing time.
When Pat Williams of John Vaughan and Co. Ltd asked me what colours I preferred to test, I told him that yellows, greens and reds appeared to be the most successful colours for Lake Dunstan.
Next morning, I eagerly opened the parcel delivered by the Ansett Courier. I found it to contain a number of eight-centimetre Cobras, some marked No. 5, which have a gold upper surface with black dots and a red spine stripe, and others marked No. 98, which have a gold flexi-hose top and belly. Both displayed red “jewel eyes” and were a good choice to test on Lake Dunstan.
Also included in the parcel were some King Cobras marked No. 63 which displayed a foil red head, yellow midsection, green tail, a black ribbed spine on the upper surface and sparkling emerald green “jewel eyes.” This is another commonly seen and proven successful lure on Lake Dunstan, having the nickname “traffic lights.” I was pleased that all of the lures were equipped with single hooks rather than snag prone trebles. I felt that Pat had made an excellent choice and I looked forward to field testing these Cobras.
When I telephoned Geoff McDonald and asked him if he would assist me to test fish Tillins’ King Cobra lures on Lake Dunstan, I did not need to ask a second time. Geoff is a master angler and a professional fishing guide who has been using Cobra lures since he started his Queenstown based guiding service Fishing Safaris back in 1977.
I too was keen to try these lures, however, I must admit that I felt a little sceptical. I had plenty of faith in the performance of the lures and their ability to catch fish. What concerned me was the timing of the test fishing. Only a couple of days previously, Lake Dunstan had reached its operating level of 194.5 metres above sea level.
The final topping up had been undertaken over a period of several weeks and during this time both brown trout and rainbow trout had been gorging themselves on an abundance of terrestrial invertebrates to such an extent that they were proving very difficult to catch. I felt that my concern about our chances of success was very well founded.
A vehicle towing a small boat was heading away from the launching ramp at the head of the Clutha Arm just as we arrived.
“Any luck?” I asked.
“No, not a thing,” was the reply.
“Did you see a sign of any fish?” I asked.
“No, the lake’s dead today,” replied the disappointed angler, “we have decided to pack it in.”
“Well, what do you reckon Geoff?” I asked.
“I feel quietly confident,” he replied.
The fishing conditions looked ideal, the sky was overcast and a light northerly breeze rippled the surface. My aluminium dinghy was launched without incident and the small Mercury outboard burst into life on the second pull.
“Which model Cobra are you wanting to test today?” asked Geoff.
“These King Cobras Geoff,” I replied as I passed him a red, gold and green foil King Cobra in the No. 63 model.
“This is a traffic light,” said Geoff. “They work really well on Lake Wakatipu.”
“What do you reckon about the single hooks Geoff?” I asked.
“I only fish with single hooked lures Dick,” he replied, “as I reckon they have better penetration and are less likely to be thrown during the fight.”
“We will be fishing amongst snags and sunken bushes like you would not believe Geoff,” I said. “I am sure that treble hooks would considerably increase our chances of losing lures.”
Once out from the shore, we set about assembling our fishing gear. Geoff was using his old favourite, a Butterworth Scorpion spinning rod and a Shakespeare 2701 fixed spool reel loaded with a 2.7kg mono. My gear consisted of a graphite Penn Power Stick PSG-4760 and a 14-year-old Penn Spinfisher 714Z loaded with 2kg Maxima Ultragreen mono.
Our plan of attack was to troll the King Cobras along the edge of the old Clutha River channel to the inflow, where we could drift and cast for trout.
“What I like about these lures is that you know when they are working,” said Geoff.
“If they pick up rubbish on the hook, you can generally tell by the lack of lure action.”
“What speed do you generally troll them, Geoff?” I asked.
“I prefer to troll them at a slow speed as this gives them a wobbling action,” he replied.
“If you troll them too fast, they tend to revolve. I guess it boils down to personal preferences as either way I am sure that they are deadly on the fish.”
The red, gold and green King Cobra with its sparkling emerald green eyes indeed looked very tantalising as I slowly let it run back behind the boat. It was an invitation for a strike from a hungry trout I thought.
The big problem was that the trout certainly would not be hungry, they would be stuffed to the gills with the abundant food supply. Still, the day was perfect and it felt good to have a rod in my hands.
As I felt the familiar strike of a trout, a small brownie exploded from the surface of the lake about 40 metres behind us. After a brief scrap, I eased a plump 1.25kg trout alongside and within reach of the landing net Geoff was holding.
While I was unhooking my ﬁsh, Geoff cast his lure over an area of flooded farmland hoping to tempt a strike from a foraging brownie. However, this was not to be, so the “traffic lights” went back out behind the dinghy and we trolled a short distance to the Clutha River inflow. I stopped the outboard motor so that we could drift fish and as the lures were retrieved Geoff hooked up. A small rainbow of less than a kilo was brought alongside the dinghy, netted and released.
“One all, “said Geoff as he cast into the slack water that lay inside the main current. “There’s got to be a fish in here,” he added.
I agreed with Geoff, the area certainly looked “fishy.” The King Cobras cast well and we slowly drifted back over the areas of submerged bush lupin that seemed intent on reaching for our lures. Geoff allowed his lure to sink before slowly retrieving it between the lupins. I was not so brave; as soon as my lure hit the water, I retrieved it at a faster speed to lessen the threat of snagging. We did not have long for a taste of the action.
As my lure wobbled into view, a rainbow trout streaked in from behind the submerged lupins, there was a silver flash and the King Cobra was gone. The light action spinning rod curved down with the Spinfisher screaming as line was torn from the spool at an alarming rate. A big rainbow exploded from the surface in a sheet of spray before taking more line. As the dinghy slowly drifted over the flooded bushes, I realised that I had little hope of landing this trout. Again it exploded from the calm surface of the lake.
“It is a good one Geoff,” I called out in an obviously excited state.
“Did you see how deep its body is?”
“Just stay attached to the bloody thing,” he replied, “we are drifting out into deeper water.” “Perhaps the Gods will smile upon me after all,” I said to myself.
I felt some relief when I saw the last clump of lupin bushes pass just under the boat. I was able to turn the big fish back towards the boat but it spooked and again ran, taking line. I applied all the pressure I dared on the light line and slowly brought the rainbow back.
The next few runs lacked the power displayed earlier in the fight and when I saw the trout turn completely over in the blue water beneath the boat, I knew that it too was feeling the constant strain of the fight. The final leap clear of the water would have been a photographer’s delight had someone had a camera handy.
As I eased the big rainbow alongside, Geoff reached out and did the honours with the landing net. The 2.7kg hen fish was in her prime with a condition factor of 58.5. In the corner of her mouth was the red, gold and green King Cobra that had been her downfall.
Despite another hour of drifting and casting “traffic lights,“ all remained quiet so we elected to slowly troll along the western shoreline of the arm. Geoff hooked up ﬁrst on another nice rainbow hen that weighed 2.05kg, then I landed a smaller but excellent condition brownie. The next brownie, a respectable ﬁsh of about 2.4kg, regained its freedom after a high ﬂying leap that threw the hook. A few minutes later, Geoff reconnected with a beautifully speckled jack brownie that weighed close to 2.5kg.
A cool breeze had sprung up so we finished the afternoon drifting and casting “traffic lights“ over a shallow flooded paddock, without success.
The afternoon had proven to be very hard fishing, however, we had fared well compared with other anglers. We had landed six trout in all, three brownies and three rainbows, all on deadly red, gold and green King Cobras in the No. 63 model. The enticing action of these small lures when trolled and cast had proven to be too tempting for the Lake Dunstan trout, despite the prolific abundance of natural food.
As Geoff had explained, the single hooks had penetrated and held onto six of the seven trout we had hooked. No lures had been lost despite fishing amongst the flooded lupins. These “traffic lights” had definitely earned a place in my tackle box.
Two days later, I had the opportunity to try the 8cm Cobras that Pat Williams had sent me. For this exercise, I enlisted the help of two keen Cromwell anglers, Merv Butler and Peter Lemin. Again the testing ground was to be the upper Clutha Arm of Lake Dunstan.
On this particular day, the sky was overcast and a light northwesterly wind rippled the surface. Conditions appeared to be ideal for fishing, however, a drop in barometric pressure promised a change in the weather. Again I was very aware that generally, Lake Dunstan had been fishing hard, probably because of the abundance of trout food.
Both my assistants chose to use their trout spinning gear. Merv had brought along his well used solid fibreglass rod and Mitchell 411 fixed spool reel loaded with 3.6kg mono, while Peter produced a Silstar 20066SP rod and a Fjord S252 spooled with brand new Maxima Ultragreen 2.7kg mono.
Merv decided to use the No. 5 model Cobra while Peter picked the No. 98. Just to remind readers, each of these two models are almost identical with their gold flexi-hose bodies, red jewel eyes, red flasher tags and single hooks. The only difference between the two is that the No. 5 has two rows of small black spots each side of a narrow red stripe which extends along the curved upper surface of the lure. In all honesty, I expected both the No. 5 and No. 98 models to work with equal efﬁciency on Lake Dunstan’s trout population. These lures had some surprises in store for me.
On this occasion, we decided to spend a short time trolling along the western shoreline, then focus our attention on the Clutha River inflow for a drift and cast session. I was keen to put these Cobras through much of the same pattern of tests that I had subjected the King Cobra “traffic lights” to. We determined the correct trolling speed by watching the action of the lures beside the boat and once this had been achieved, the Cobras were let out to run about 50 to 60 metres behind the boat.
The cool northwesterly appeared to be increasing in force and so I headed the boat downwind, keep-
ing about three or four metres of water beneath us. By watching the action on the rod tips, I came to
the conclusion that these larger Cobras did not have such a violent wobbling action as the King Cobras.
Merv had the first taste of success with a strike on the red striped Cobra and after a brief ﬁght, he eased
a well-conditioned brownie hen of about 1.3kg to within reach of my landing net. As I lifted the struggling fish into the boat, it ﬂicked free several worms from its mouth.
We had no more strikes; the activity from fish was non-existent not only for us but also for the five other boats trolling in our vicinity. When we reached the Clutha River inflow, the Mercury outboard was shut down and I joined the boys casting Cobras on the drift, again without the hint of a strike or a follow. The big Cobras cast well and looked great as they were drawn through the water, but the trout were having no part of them.
Persistence appeared pointless and so we elected to troll back down the western shoreline of the arm to an area that we had fished very successfully some months previously. The norwester had died out and a short period of calm preceded a strong bitterly cold southerly. Generally, southerly days do not tend
to fish so well on Lake Dunstan and I must admit to not being hopeful of a fish-filled day. However,
when we reached the familiar ﬁshing ground, I started to feel more conﬁdent.
Identical lead trolling keels were placed about a metre in front of each Cobra in order to get them to run a little deeper and we recommenced trolling. Almost immediately, Merv hooked up on a small rainbow which was subsequently released. A short time later, a second rainbow took the red striped lure.
It was three nil to the red striped Cobra and Peter had yet to score. Merv, being the sport he is, exchanged lures with Peter and had a try with the plain gold Cobra. The next trout was Peter’s, a
nice Dunstan brownie of about 1.7kg.
Was it a coincidence that all four trout caught so far had taken the red striped Cobra? I think not, for
some reason, the trout were obviously targeting them in preference to the plain gold model. Perhaps
we should have persisted with this experiment, but in the interests of tight lines, we decided to troll
two of the successful lures. As a consequence, our catch rate went up.
The next strike produced a plump 2.0kg rainbow hen which gave Merv’s well used Mitchell 411 a frightening workout. It was the best fish of the day and welcome addition to our icebox.
In all, the red striped gold Cobras accounted for ten rainbow trout and brown trout during the late morning and early afternoon. A further two trout managed to throw the lures while leaping from the surface of the lake. I am sure that had the barometer been on the rise and conditions a little better, this would have reﬂected more favourably on our catch rate. When I asked Peter for his opinion on the red striped Cobras, he made the comment that all we could say for certain was the successful lure pattern had worked well for us on this particular day, however, conditions on other days may well determine the plain gold No. 98 Cobra to be the lure preferred by the trout. I tend to agree with him.
It is however interesting to note that at Cromwell Sports Link, the red striped No. 5 model is amongst the most popular of the 8cm Cobras purchased by anglers. This is obviously for a good reason. I would have to recommend this Cobra to anglers planning to troll lures on Lake Dunstan.
I am proud of my long association with Tillins’ fishing tackle. For me, their Cobra and King Cobra lures have stood the test of time. Without a doubt, they have proven to be no-nonsense lures with the ability to produce trout, even under the most difficult of conditions. One thing that I am really looking forward to
over the next few years is trying other patterns, colours and models of Cobra and King Cobra lures in the developing Lake Dunstan trout fishery. It should be great fun and provide a lot of exciting sport.
A special thanks to Geoff, Merv and Peter for their assistance, and to John Vaughan and Co. Ltd for making available these deadly Tillins Cobra lures.
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