Vol 6 No. 6 - November 2, 2005
Cobia: on the wings of eagles
sun staff writer
Its November, and as local waters
chill, one of the areas most exciting predators
will be cruising the Gulf and local bays. Cobia are
an elusive, pelagic species of fish that invade offshore
waters as well as local bays and estuaries on both
Florida coasts in the winter and spring.
Anglers along the west coast of Florida can find cobia
swimming along the Gulf coast beaches and inhabiting
offshore wrecks this time of the year. These bruisers
are often confused with sharks, which they resemble
at first glance. Most cobia are caught by anglers
who are bottom fishing on wrecks and reefs, but they
can be targeted during the fall run. One tactic is
to look around inshore and offshore markers, as cobia
are very structure oriented. On offshore ledges and
artificial reefs, a chum bag can be deployed to attract
the fish to the boat. Live bait, jigs, top water plugs
and black bunny flies can all be effective.
David Miller, of Longboat Key, caught this cobia on
light spinning tackle and a top water plug.
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
An exciting fishery exists at the warm water discharges
near several west central coast power plants. Water temperature
is the most dependable marker when looking for concentrations
of cobia near these generating plants. Anglers can start
their search when water temperatures reach 72 degrees
between late October and mid-November. Productive sight
fishing lasts until the water temperatures reach the low
60s in mid to late December.
Its possible to find cobia in excess of 60 pounds
in area waters, so tackle should be stout, and leaders
well tied. In most cases, a 20-pound spinning outfit or
a nine- to ten- weight fly outfit will suffice.
Top water plugs and swimming plugs are the best artificial
lures to use with standard tackle. The top fly is a black
bunny tied 5 to 6 inches long to resemble an eel. A large
grey and white Clouser Deep Minnow tied 4 to 5 inches
long can also be effective. Try a chartreuse and white
pattern when the water is off color.
A floating fly line is best since most of the cobia will
be at or very near the surface. Sink tip lines work best
when the fish are cruising just under the surface. Some
anglers use an intermediate line, but sinking lines are
harder to retrieve for multiple casts when cruising fish
dont stay on a particular track.
Be prepared for cobia at offshore locations. Its
a good idea to have a rod rigged and ready if youre
not targeting them, as they usually arrive undetected.
When fishing the bay, look for spotted eagle rays, manatees
and surface disturbances.
Rays are the most dependable way to find cobia. Watch
for them to breach or jump out of the water, or look for
wakes and wingtips as they cruise just below the surface.
Rays tend to be gregarious, so when you find one, you
will usually find a few. With practice and attention to
the details, its possible to identify the wake from
a ray that has cobia in tow. Look for a secondary, smaller
wake that forms when there is one or more cobia with the
Tides are critical for finding consistent action with
cruising cobia and those that frequent power plants. Its
counter-intuitive to most fishing situations, with the
slack portion of the tides being best. This has to do
with the habits of the eagle rays. When the tide is running
hard, either ebbing or flooding, the rays are on the bottom
feeding. When the rays go down, they take the cobia with
them. As the tide starts to slow, the rays come back up
to the surface and bring their cohorts with them.
Since much of the inshore fishing is done by locating
disturbances on the surface, a bright sunny day with light
winds yield the optimal conditions. Casts are normally
relatively short (20 to 50 feet), but need to be quick
and accurate since the rays (and cobia) can change direction
at any time. Presentation is critical. The fly or plug
must land in front of the cobia as it swims with the ray.
The fish will not leave the ray, and casts that are too
far to either side, or behind, will be ignored. Since
most cobia will be riding in the wake of the eagle ray,
cast right on the head of the ray and let the lure fall
between its wingtips. This will put you in prime position
for the trailing fish.
When a cobia is hooked it should be fought just like a
tarpon. This means knowing the limit of your tackle and
leader, and fighting them hard from the first run. This
technique shortens the fight and breaks their spirit more
quickly. Anglers are cautioned to be very careful when
landing a big cobia. A l "green" one can be
very dangerous. It seems that they save part of the fight
for when they get in the boat. Anglers are encouraged
to release these large and hard fighting fish.
The fall run of cobia has to be experienced to be appreciated.
It takes a practiced eye to spot the fish, and a well
placed fly or lure to entice them, but when the stars
align, the strike and fight of a cobia is one of the most
exciting challenges an angler can experience.
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