Snaring Snooping Cobia

Heading to the water with a specific agenda often gets re-routed as new patterns are found. Big, dumb cobia helped make that decision in this story.

Most fish get smarter with age—big smoker kingfish are tougher to catch than juvenile schoolies; jumbo snook are far gamier than the little 2-footers that’ll eat any live sardine that lands their way.

Not so with cobia. These fish are notoriously gullible, as demonstrated by a recent catch on Capt. Jesse Mayer’s Madeira Beach, Florida charter boat. Fishing for grouper and snapper in 70 feet of water, he and his clients were quick to capitalize on a major target of opportunity.

“We definitely were not targeting cobia,” Mayer said. “We caught him while we were bottom fishing. When one of my anglers spotted the fish circling the boat, she yelled ‘Shark!’ but I knew exactly what it was.”

For clarity, targeting cobia is definitely doable. Some idle the grass flats and look for cobes trailing sting rays; others like “can hopping” where you run from channel marker to channel marker in hopes of spotting a big brown log hanging near the navigational aid.

But, the vast majority of cobia I’ve photographed have been fish that simply swam up to a boat anchored for bottom fishing. Apparently, they think there’s food to be had. Maybe they treat boats like giant channel markers. Whatever the case, when a cobia rises, it’s game-on.

Mayer said he grabbed one of his light offshore spinning outfits, lip-rigged a live pinfish and pitched the bait toward the brown bomber. The hungry fish immediately zeroed in on the target and inhaled the pinner.

True to form, the cobia put a serious bend in the rod, but stayed relatively close. The fish typically dig down to try and reach whatever structure they were relating to, as the rough, jagged edges of natural reefs or crusty old wrecks can quickly break even braided line.

After a 25-minute fight, Mayer slung 56 pounds of ticked-off cobia onto the deck. Angler Peter O’Toole (not the actor) learned first-hand how powerful these fish are, and the captain got a little reminder of his own.

“I took a tail smack to the face when I pulled the fish into the boat,” Mayer said.

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