About 18 months ago I was asked by Kilwell to field test a new Toby colour prototype that they had developed. It was code named Emperor as it looked vaguely like a penguin.

Kilwell have been proudly making Toby lures in New Zealand on equipment originally specified by Abu for well over 50 years. Not copies of the Abu design but the real thing manufactured under licence, stamped on bespoke equipment, painted and assembled locally. The Emperor was to be the first new colour to be introduced into the product range for some time.

I’d used a lot of different Toby colours in the salt over the years and the results were on par with most of the other lures in my arsenal. On their day they were deadly but matching colour to conditions seemed to be the key to success. When I first looked at the Emperor tracking through the water I was astounded at how it looked just like small baitfish, behaving erratically as if in distress. Even in murky water it was clearly visible.


My first 1.5 hour session with the prototype lure in the Manukau harbour was in late autumn and resulted in 6 fish being landed. The next two sessions yielded similar results, even though the water clarity was less than ideal. This was a phenomenal result in the Manukau which can be notoriously tricky to fish.

Buoyed by these results I decided to do something completely different and run an experiment using only the Emperor lure for 12 months. I then compared the number of fish landed with my diary data for the previous six years to see if the results were statistically different. Believe me, it is very hard to stick to a single lure for this long, especially if you are not catching anything.

The single lure experiment with the Emperor, as I called it, was an absolute revelation. My success rate increased significantly and the time taken to catch fish halved. If you want to read more then click on:- The single lure experiment

One of the things that I noticed since completing the experiment is that my success rate with the Emperor has continued to improve and now I’m catching three times more fish in the same period of time. Put another way, my time to catch a fish has dropped to roughly a third of what it was historically and I’ve just landed my 500th fish on the lure.  I’m sure this is because I’ve learned to use the lure and now regularly adjust retrieve speeds and casting angles until I find a combination that is successful. However, having said that there is something about it which seems to attract fish.

Why is the Emperor Toby so successful? I think that it has a lot to do with the cadence of the lure when it is being retrieved steadily coupled with the large white area on the convex face of the lure. My theory is that the strong “panic” vibrations from the lure are picked up by the lateral line of the predator and they home in on the lure. When they get close the flash from the white face (it seems to flash alternately with the concave brass face and pulse in the water) is visible and this triggers the attack response. In clear water when the lure is being retrieved the white flash coupled with the red head may also look like gill flashes. In murky water the large UV eye may also help fish locate the lure. In essence the lure looks and behaves the same way as distressed baitfish. For more information on how fish located prey using their lateral line click on:- Lateral line – a fish’s sixth sense


So far I’ve caught kahawai, trevally, snapper, kingfish, yellow eyed mullet and flounder on the Emperor. Not bad for a lure with a body that is only 6 cm long. I’ve summarized below the retrieves that seem to work best:-

  • Kahawai – medium paced retrieve interspersed with the occasional quick burst. Watch the rod tip and when it quivers steadily you’ve got the speed about right. Too fast and it stops quivering. If they are feeding on the surface skate the Emperor across the top like a popper winding as fast as you can.
  • Trevally – slow retrieve. So slow that the rod tip hardly quivers. Focus on the edges of channels, especially when the water over the shallows is murky and the water in the channels is clearer. The trevally hide just inside the dirty water and attack from the gloom. I’ve written about this before:- Why pedatory fish use shade to ambush prey
  • Kingfish – medium to fast paced retrieve. They will also chase an Emperor that is being skated like a popper across the surface.
  • Yellow eyed mullet – slow retrieve as for trevally. If you feel the lure being tapped during the retrieve then it will be small kahawai or yellow-eyed mullet. I’m interested to see what is causing the taps so I will switch to an Emperor with smaller hooks to try and hook whatever is attacking the lure. Yellow eyed mullet can be caught in quite large numbers when they are schooling prior to spawning in late Autumn.


  • Flounder – if you can see them they will attack a slowly retrieved lure, especially if it is close to them.


  • Snapper – I’ve mainly caught them with a medium retrieve when they’ve been hunting baitfish in the surf zone. I suspect that they with take a fluttered Emperor on a slow lift and drop retrieve and will be trialing this over summer.

One of the things that you should to do when fishing with the Emperor is learn to fish the water systematically. If you are fishing from the shore in an area where there is no appreciable current then I’ll cast in a fan shape as indicated below. I may not cast 10 times but the lines 1-2, 5-6 and 9-10 will give reasonable coverage. Casting to point 1 is a short cast. Casting to point 2 is a long cast on the same line.

Casting angles shore

If I’m fishing in a channel then my cast sequence is shown in the image below. Again I may not cast 12 times but I will cover the area as comprehensively as possible. The Emperor Toby seems to work irrespective of the retrieve angle at times which just goes to show that there are no hard and fast rules in fishing.


Casting angles channel

While the componentry on the Emperor Toby is fit for purpose when purchased, one of the things that I do before fishing in the salt is to switch the bronzed treble for a VMC O’Shaugnessy treble 4X Strong Size 6. The main reason for this is kingfish. They do take the Emperor, even the large ones, and it is better to be prepared for when it happens rather than potentially risk losing the shore based fish of a lifetime.  Flatten the barbs to make it easier to remove the hooks.

VWMC trebles

In summary, there is something about the Emperor Toby which fish find hard to resist. It is well worth carrying a couple in your tackle box. My “go to” size is 10 grams for the shallow flats I fish but if the water is deeper and there is appreciable current then switch up to the 15 gram size. Both lures are physically the same size it is just that the 15 gram version is made from thicker brass sheet.

If you are interested in purchasing Emperor lures click on:- Kilwell Emperor lure

Alternatively call Kilwell on +64 (0)7 345 9094, Ext: 819 and ask to speak to Jeff Tuavera.


7 thoughts on “HAIL THE EMPEROR!

  1. black and white are also great for trout and salmon. 80 % of river run salmon i have taken in the last 15 or so years have been on black and white. i use all colours and have about 30 different colour patterns on zed spinners all of which have caught salmon. how ever 80 % have been on black and white. sea birds seem 6to like them as well as sometimes had problems when fishing river mouths with birds hitting as soon as the spinner hits the water.

    1. As a general rule if a swivel is attached to the front of the lure when purchased then it is necessary. Lures that wobble or spin will require swivels.

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