Coastin" for Cobia along Florida's Peninsula
This entry was posted on May 26, 2017 by marea.
Every year as early signs of spring appear, anglers across the Gulf and Eastern seaboard of Florida dust off their select lead slinging outfits for a chance to fool a prized specimen on artificial lures. Premium hand tied buck-tail jigs, synthetic hair jigs, large swim baits, and stick baits are just a few options in the spectrum of offerings that savvy Cobia hunters have at their fingertips.
The reality is that Cobia frequent near the coastal waters of Florida year round driving coastal fishermen bat-crazy most of the time. Land-based anglers ranging from surf fishermen on the beach or piers, to a hardcore tournament team cruising the coast from high performance center consoles can cash in on these highly sought after brown backed predators. It’s a common misconception that the opportunity to land a trophy Cobia is only limited to the deeper wrecks within the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Mid-March historically marks the beginning of mating season for Cobia as they literally invade the coastal inlets and bays to release the future crop of trophy Ling. With the Florida State Record landed near Destin, FL tipping the scales at just over 130 lbs., fish ranging from 30-50lbs are quite common and are more than willing to test your tackle and lure presentation. In the past, Cobia hunters across the state have classically favored the use of live baits such as pogies,eels, mullet, and croakers although a new breed will stalk with a preference of artificial offerings.
Marea Gear’s MiraMira Mullet stick bait in the smoked mullet color. A fast sinking artificial may be the deciding factor in getting a bite from a sluggish fish. By opting to use an artificial with a few ounces of weight can help push more water on the retrieve and aid in getting the “thump” so badly desired. Large bucktail or synthetic jigs with boxing glove style or squid shaped heads are also a favorite amongst seasoned cobia junkies. It's a good idea to carry a few different sizes and or colors in your tackle bag to be fully prepared for any condition. A 3oz jig rigged with brighter colors work effectively when the wind is picking up and seas turn a bit sporty. On calmer days when visibility is optimal, a brown and black jig with light accents may outperform anything else.
Every day on the water brings new conditions and with the listed baits, you can pretty much count on one of them to be on-point if the fish are ready to feed. Be sure to pay close attention to the water temperature, water clarity, presence of bait & structure. Spring also brings the arrival of many other forms of life, so keep an eye out for anything that may provide an eco-system for migrating Cobia such as Manta Rays or large turtles. Cobia prefer to “pack up” and regularly travel in schools to rummage on whatever forage is available, which is probably the reason why many free-divers & spear fishermen report sightings near aggressive bull sharks.
When it comes to tackle, don’t bother bringing your $29.99, Wal-Mart special spinning combo to a hefty Cobia fight. It’s like bring a knife to a gun fight and be prepared to lose! These fish are extremely tough and can literally beat down your boat, breaking fiberglass in the process. Nothing less than a high quality 7’6- 8’0, 15-50lb spinning or conventional rod, such as United Composites USA made blanks will do the job. Daiwa’s new Saltist 8000 series spinning reels have the guts and grit to power down any of these bruisers from destroying your boat.
So up next, it’s time to spool up. 40-65 lb Gamma Torque braided line will tackle any size Ling lurking below and be certain your main line consists of no less than 300 yards of braid. Once spooling up with braid, make sure sufficient tension is applied and that the line is laid evenly across the spool. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times I hear that people are having trouble casting their braid and getting wind knots or worse. Nearly 100% of the time, this can be attributed to how the reel was spooled and whether enough tension was applied. Loosely placed braided line, will tend to dig into itself and get buried underneath the line layers. Now granted, not all braids are created equal, so make sure to pay close attention the to the number of carriers the line consists of and materials comprising the line.
For the business end and my leader, I prefer a 3-4ft section of 40-60lb Gamma fluorocarbon as it ties very easily and is nearly invisible in any level of the water column. A solid line to line connection such as a blood knot or spider hitch w/ Yucatan knot will join your monofilament or fluorocarbon section of leader to your main line consisting of no less than 300 yards of braid. Always fish the lightest leader your environment and conditions allow. If you’re fishing open water and pitching to cruising fish, don’t be afraid to even scale down to 40lb with blue bird clear days. At times, it could make the difference between coming home with dinner and simply burning a ton of fuel. On the flip side, if shallow water wrecks or ledges are your focus areas for targeting big cobia, step up the line diameter to 60 and even 80lb. It will keep you in the battle and connected to your brown bruiser below.
Jig Retrieval Techniques
The tactic will vary with each artificial offering. For example, when using a bucktail or custom jig on migrating manta rays or turtles, chose bright colors and let the jig hit the bottom. You'll know you've reach bottom by paying close attention to the rod tip. It will almost seem as though the jig took a "breath" and the line will slack up. For best results with jigs, a long full stroke the length of the rod- nearly 7-8ft followed by a few short quick pumps will entice any patrolling Cobia to strike. I have had fish that I was certain followed a jig all the way up from 50+ feet of water and then eat 5 ft from the boat.
Pay Attention 100% of the time
Most of the time you will get the bite on the fall and this is where paying attention to your slack line pays off. If you notice slack in your line after a short rod pump and reel, chances are pretty damn good that a fish grabbed it and is swimming towards you or the surface. Either way, it gives the angler the momentary illusion that nothing is happening when in reality EVERYTHING is right and you are tight!
Color Selection Matters
When it comes to sight fishing with stick baits or large plugs, darker color plugs are preferred such as Marea's MiraMira Mullet series or Rapala's sub surface SubWalk Series. Best used to drive surface cruising fish crazy, simply make sure you cast well past the fish you are looking to get the strike from and give the lure time to sink naturally.
Many anglers often make the mistake of casting right at the fish and spook what could've been dinner for the week. Sight fishing takes quite a bit of patience, a calculated approach, and precision casting. Too far and the school could easily spook. Too short of a cast and you will quickly need to reel to recover from a bad cast and re-launch the offering into the strike zone. A 20-25ft cast, past the target has always been a pretty good sweet spot. Most fish will not be alarmed at this distance and provide the angler with an excellent shot at getting tight.
Realistic eel imitations can also be deadly effective, particularly when the fish are focus on this forage. The swimming eel by Storm baits is one of the best imitations I have come across and works extremely well when other baits won't. Fishing this bait much like the buck tail jig will draw vicious strikes from hungry Cobia, so be prepared for the battle of a lifetime!