Cobia on the flyFrom the November 18, 2009 Issue
Captain Bryon Chamberlin holds an
average size Tampa Bay cobia.
As the waters cool in the Tampa Bay region, savvy anglers know it’s time to start looking for cobia in area waters. These feisty game fish can grow to over 100 pounds, and 50- to 60-pound fish are common during the fall. While most anglers target cobia in the Gulf, they range widely throughout local bays as well. A few years ago, I was introduced to a fantastic cobia fishery in upper Tampa Bay by Captain Bryon Chamberlin, of Land Of Lakes.
On my first adventure with Chamberlin we launched near Apollo Beach and motored towards the massive Big Bend power plant. That morning, the plant’s two generators were emitting plumes of steam from the twin stacks which were silhouetted against a brilliant orange sky. To add to the drama, the warm water discharge created plumes of steam that rose like apparitions from the chilly waters of Tampa Bay. Besides creating an otherworldly scene, we knew the outflows also would attract a host of bay dwelling fish including rays, Jack cravelle, snook and cobia. Today, we would be looking for the large and graceful eagle rays that favor the rare temperate waters and the cobia that ride their wings, like fighters flying in formation.
Experience had taught Chamberlin that cobia would often be accompanying the rays, and he had developed a very experienced eye for spotting the often faint disturbances on the water’s surface. I hardly had time to strip line from my nine weight fly rod before the wing tips of a large ray broke the surface 100 feet away. Chamberlin dropped the trolling motor and quietly closed within casting distance as I waited, fly in hand, to make a presentation. When the ray was 50 feet away, I lifted the rod as three large cobia came into view. I made a roll cast, one false cast and shot the cast, landing the fly just ahead of and between the wing tips. I stripped the fly, so the ray would intercept it and moved it along the ray’s back. A fish of 50 to 60 pounds attacked the black and purple bunny with a vengeance that surprised me, breaking my 16-pound tippet before I could react. I barely had time to recover and tie on a new fly before Chamberlin was moving towards another disturbance on the water. This one didn’t have a cobia in attendance, but in the next half hour, I had shots and refusals from four fish. Chamberlin suggested a different pattern and reached for the fly box as I started to cut the fly off. For some reason, I waited a split second. Suddenly, a large brown shape morphed near the boat. Making a roll cast, I placed the fly 2 feet in front of this apparition and watched as a large cobia inhaled the offering. This time I made a hard strip strike and relaxed my grip on the line as the fish bolted for the horizon. The cobia fought hard, making frequent head shaking appearances at the surface followed by long runs into the backing. Thirty minutes later, Chamberlin lifted the 40-pound plus fish for a few photos before we revived it and released it.
Unlike most fish, cobia are easier to find and fool during the slack portion of the tides. 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 tide starts to slow, the rays come back up to the surface and bring the cobia with them. Bright sunny days with light winds make for optimal conditions and should yield many shots as the rays bask in the warm sun.
We fished until noon, having numerous shots at cruising fish. We landed another 15-pound cobia, had numerous refusals and missed a few strikes before heading back to the ramp. This was one of the most exciting fly trips I had made in a long time. It’s not often that I get a chance to throw a fly at fish that tops 50 pounds.
Bryon Chamberlin fishes Tampa Bay and the Gulf for tarpon, redfish, snook, cobia and a host of other species. Chamberlin can be reached for charters at 813-361-8801, or check out his Web site at www.barbedsteel.com. This is one fishery you don’t want to miss!