Pensacola Fishing Forum banner
1 - 1 of 1 Posts

33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Cobia have certainly earned the reputation for being finicky at times, but they are not always picky eaters. Most often, the question is not what a cobia will eat, but what it won't. Biologists have found a wide variety of fish, crabs, squid and other organisms inside cobia, proving beyond doubt this is not a discerning fellow. Any predator that dines on loathsome hardhead catfish, possessor of those cruel and barbed poisonous spines, surely must have a cast-iron stomach.

At times cobia will eat anything they can wrap their big white lips around, up to a 4-pound bluefish and a 3-pound little tunny, instances I have personally witnessed.

Other days, Mr. C won't touch anything. All fish cease to feed when the tide stops, or for other reasons. They do so for the most part unobserved. Cobia, however, have this amazing habit of parading around the boat, sometimes for hours, regardless of whether they are hungry or not. This can drive anglers mad with frustration. Huge and sometimes trophy fish circling the boat in a taunting fashion, refusing to eat. It doesn't seem fair. What other fish would behave like that, other than mahi-mahi?

For this reason, cobia have earned the reputation as a finicky customer, more so than almost any other marine fish. When watching the same fish reject an offering 20, 30, even 50 casts in a row, then one begins to appreciate the tremendous disdain these fish occasionally have for baits of any kind. Where's a hardhead catfish when you really need one? Oh, the shame and desperation.

It's an amazing thing to watch. These fish will openly taunt a boatload of frantic anglers, armed with the latest in high-tech offshore weaponry. Driving them into a frenzy. The anglers I mean, running around the boat with their flailing rods, tripping over tackleboxes left carelessly open. It's one of the funnier sights to be found offshore.

On each cast, the cobia cruises by in a sedate fashion, not even a flicker of interest. You would think this fish would leave, but no, he circles back for another pass. In this manner many cobia have been free-gaffed by desperate people into the boat, without convenience of hook and line. It's a brutal tactic used by desperate crews; gaffs have been lost, arms dislocated, cobia crippled and lost forever to sharks. Angry fish have thudded on deck in a frenzy, there perhaps to smash everything within reach of that broad and powerful tail.

On the days when these fish behave in a more normal fashion, gulping certain baits when the notion takes them, then one gradually becomes privy to the natural baits that will tempt cobia. Veteran anglers know that when a cobia wants something, it will move very quickly and without hesitation. Very much like a shark.

Tiny live baits like mud minnows work fine and have won some big cobia tournaments. But big baits such as bluefish will tempt ling as well.

The list is long of baits used with success on cobia, baits caught offshore. I have personally taken cobia with live bluefish, blue runner, tomtate grunts (called ruby redlips), red and vermillion snapper, and the aforementioned bonitos swimming under balloons. As with most predatory fish, live baits work far better for those cobia that might be described as only marginally hungry.

One day we spotted cobia from the deck of the Defiant, on another of those fascinating but sometimes-dreadful three-day commercial snapper trips I made back in the '70s. It was a decent pod of eight good cobia, from 30 to 60 pounds each, and they refused everything we threw at them. This was 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, and I seriously doubt these fish had seen another boat for a long time. Fishing pressure in that area was extremely light by today's standards. Often we never encountered another fishing vessel in our three days of offshore wanderings.

Initially we had no luck with these eight cobia. So, I eased up to the bow and teased a fat blue runner from the structure, using light tackle. Instantly, the cobia school was transformed -- wheeling in unison and charging after the runner, which performed an amazing series of evasive maneuvers, even jumping to escape -- the first time we'd ever seen a member of the jack family jump from the water. I horsed the runner in with the 20-pound tackle just before the little fish could be eaten. Close behind it were huge brown shapes and greedy white lips, making sucking boils the size of a 5-gallon bucket. The little runner was crazy with fear, but he was a nimble fish and seemed to lead a charmed life.

The thankful runner was hoisted aboard, but then transferred to an 8/0 hook on a stout rod, and tossed back. The school of cobia went berserk, and a 55-pounder sucked the hapless runner down whole. The fight with that particular cobia was rather anticlimatic; not nearly as exciting as watching eight cobia lather the water white in their earlier frenzy. ­­It is the transformation of those reluctant fish into crazed predators that remains in the mind, a dramatic lesson in the magic of live bait.

Biologists have found a wide variety of fish, crabs, squid and other organisms inside cobia, proving beyond doubt this is not a discerning fellow.

Many of us accordingly try to go offshore today with some sort of live bait. Lugging around a livewell full of bait used to be prohibitive, but the new go-fast offshore boats have expansive livewells. In the old days we made three-day trips offshore without livewells, and were forced to catch our baits in blue water. We had only one trick for lugging live bait 50 miles offshore: the Killer Mud Minnow.

Since big cobia will take a tiny live bait, we found out that sly tournament fishermen had been quietly keeping a coffee can with a few large killifish (called bull or mud minnows) in the boat. These marsh minnows require little oxygen and no clean water, and they're quite strong. Toss one in front of a snobby cobia, and watch what happens!

A 50-pound cobia will chase a 3-inch mud minnow with relentless determination, not because it is tasty or filling, but because the minnow wiggles so hard. By comparison, a live croaker or sand trout is bogus and sad, doing a poor job of sending out those wonderful distress signals. The frantic minnow simply galvanizes cobia who, like many other predators, detect those vibrations with their lateral line. It turns them on like an electric shock.

Tiny live baits like work just fine and have won some of the bigger tournaments. But some surprisingly big baits will tempt cobia. I've had friends standing around on a platform, 10 miles off Sabine Pass, Texas, right on the Louisiana border, who saw something interesting. They were catching speckled trout and the usual bluefish on baitcasting tackle with 20-pound line. One guy hooked another bluefish, a typical 3-pounder, and brought it to the surface. Behind it loomed a huge and dreadful shape. It was a cobia that easily exceeded a hundred pounds. His head seemed 18 inches across. This cobia moved fast, darted over and inhaled a live, fighting, 3-pound bluefish -- just scarfed him down! There was no hope of turning the cobia, or having any effect with 20-pound line, standing over pilings that were covered with big barnacles. The cobia simply swam back down, easily cutting the line. Pete Churton never had a chance and realized it early on, so losing the fish didn't hurt nearly as badly as it would have after a long battle.

Another favorite bait for cobia is the blue crab. Cobia are not called "crab eaters" or "crab crunchers" for nothing. In North Carolina, where cobia move into the bays in May and June, and stay for the summer, crabs are a natural favorite for local anglers. The cobia want the crabs so badly, they've wrecked many a wire crab trap in primary bays like Pamlico Sound. We can only surmise that a hungry cobia, faced with a chicken wire trap filled with juicy, live crabs, may go beserk trying to reach them. The crabs get a savage shaking like Hooper in his crumbling shark cage in that far-fetched movie Jaws. The Carolina crab traps are trashed in a similar fashion, and commercial crabbers resent these indiscretions.

North Carolina anglers capitalize on this fondness for crabs by using them for bait. They'll run two rubber bands across the crab in an "X" pattern, and then just lay the hook under the rubber band. That way, the hook doesn't bury into crab meat or shell when the hook is set, which might mean a lost fish. The hook should be entirely free to bury itself in cobia lip.

Rubber bands aren't commonly found on boats, but one can try hooking the crab through the rubbery first joint on one of the two paddle fins. This technique usually works fine. Occasional mishaps occur when the hook shifts around, as the cobia thoughtfully grinds the crab into mulch. The hook may then wind up buried in a different part of the crab, perhaps inside one of the shell's horns, preventing a good hookset. Soft-shell crabs are hard to find, but certainly work even better for cobia. Supposedly, they put out a different scent that cobia are crazy for. (Somebody should bottle the stuff).

Another sworn favorite bait is the eel. Not the "silver eel" known to king fishermen, which is really a ribbonfish. A real eel is prime bait for serious tournament fishermen. The roundish, brown creatures that I saw in Gray's Tackle in Pensacola were highly prized American eels, shipped down from Philadelphia. The writhing, squirming things were worth $3 each, which sounds a little steep. But when you consider that, when plopped in front of an oncoming cobia, the eel is almost 100 percent toast (eaten) within seconds, then the price seems affordable. The reason for that is simple: cobia are crazy over eels, slurping them down like thick spaghetti. We don't know why, we only know that they work, and quite well.

The eels were likely first used around Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina, and their popularity was such that they are now shipped live down to Cobia Alley in Florida's Panhandle, which includes Pensacola. Bigger American eels are shipped to Europe, where people have an inexplicable taste for them.

The eels are difficult to handle, very difficult, tying themselves in knots, wrapping around the hook, and so on. Best way to handle them is to chill them down first. Don't throw them into ice water, however. It's best to lay newspaper over a sack of ice in a chest, and let the eels perch on top. They will gradually chill out, and will behave better when you grab them. Once they hit ocean water, normally about 70 degrees or higher, they revive quickly enough. Especially when they notice a huge cobia lunging at them.

Other fine baits exist of course, too many to mention here. Quick rundown: A pound or two of fresh or frozen squid is certainly good insurance for cobia, and that means the smallish, white Gulf squid. Big purple squid from the Pacific are no bueno by comparison, very stinky and something that cobia in American waters are not used to seeing. Or smelling, for that matter.

On the ratings scale, frozen ribbonfish and mullet will work, but not as well. Try using them for chum.

Go prepared. Bring along the cast net, light tackle, small ᄐ-ounce jigs and Sabiki Rigs for catching live bait. Catch bottomfish if you have to with small hooks and big weights. And carry along ideally at least one box of frozen yellow-tailed cigar minnows as backup. Beware the imports. If you can't find some real cigar minnows from the Florida Panhandle, look for menhaden.

Cover the bases, as they say in baseball

>>>>>>> part 2 <<<<<<<<

This trophy hit a bucktail jig -- the most effective artificial for enticing cobia.

Mention cobia and artificial baits, and the first question asked should be, "OK, how many jigs, what color and size? Serious cobia anglers know their jigs. It doesn't matter if they fish off Australia or Anastasia Island in Florida -- serious anglers carry a variety of jigs for this fish.
The simple jig consists of a lead head with a tail made of bucktail, Mylar, nylon, chicken feather or tinsel, and sometimes a combination thereof. Tipped with a strip of natural bait such as squid, a tiny crab or menhaden, this, in my jaded opinion, is the ultimate cobia bait.

The jig combines action and scent, yet can be cast with extreme accuracy. It can also plumb the depths, hooking cobia 100 feet below, even in a fairly strong current. It really can't be beat for versatility.

Different localities have their favorite jigs, of course. Anglers around Pensacola, Fla., have their favorite "killer baits," while Panama City anglers just down the highway a hundred miles or so have their own favorites. At the Panama City beach pier, where hardcore cobia snipers hold court each April when the surf temperature climbs to 70 degrees, a dazzling array of brightly colored 2- and 3-ounce jigs, many with glass eyes or squid-shaped heads, hang from every spinning rod. The jigs are tipped with different natural baits. Crab, white squid and menhaden strips are popular. Some of these jigs were masterful creations for those who appreciate The Art of the Jig, and they cost about $5 each. Few of these fine jigs are lost over open sand bottom except in honorable combat with passing cobia.

Except when a school of marauding jack crevalle invade the quiet surf, tangling lines and running under the pier and through the pilings, cutting and slashing like a pack of wild Indians. Or Native Americans, anyway, on their way home from that big party held down on the Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn), when Custer's famous good luck finally deserted him. So it is with cobia pier anglers on a bad day, when fearless jacks descend in countless hordes. It is here that fancy longhair jigs designed for cobia are decimated wholesale.

Smaller boats can roam within 15 miles of the coast, which is where most cobia are taken.

The open surf is comparably safe for expensive cobia jigs, once away from the piers -- and infinitely safer when compared against such hazardous duty as grouper jigging or hooking deep amberjacks found around offshore wrecks and platforms. The cobia angler who ventures offshore can expect heavy losses at times when probing the depths. When there, it is best to use a less-expensive jig, either ordered in bulk, or by making your own and experimenting with favorite colors. The $5 jigs I saw on the Florida pier represented the finest, most colorful jigs I've run into -- a cobia fisherman's true delight.

Favorite color combinations for hardcore cobia anglers are pink and white, black/orange/yellow, chartreuse and orange, and white with a touch of chartreuse. Favorite tail material is bucktail; it has a natural feel and "breathes" underwater. Favorite sizes are from 3 to 4 /2 ounces. These are serious, heavy jigs meant for long casts. Casting from a crowded beach pier with such heavy-caliber lead can be a dicey proposition for bystanders.

One should avoid standing behind a crowd of these anglers when a cobia finally appears just within casting range. Though they're careful, these people have likely been waiting hours for such a chance. They're eager to get off a good cast; some may have been waiting for days. Stand in the wrong place and you just might get an ear yanked off by a jig . . . or pierced, anyway. Earrings are fine for some, but the Van Gogh look is definitely out. The jig may be a little dangerous in these crowded pier confines, but they do catch fish -- lots of them.

Cobia fall for spoons, plugs, trolling lures, even flies. But overall, the jig "rules the roost" when it comes to cobia artificials. In the right hands, a jig looks alive. It covers the water column, and virtually all marine gamefish will give it a serious look.

Early on, I learned to dance the jig around cobia just enough to drive them crazy. It requires some dexterity. It's a common rookie mistake to dabble the jig before a cobia. These fish, noticing the lack of action, become disdainful and wary. In the right hands, the jig has a mesmerizing effect. It breathes, changes direction and darts ahead of the cobia's lips until he grows impatient and careless.

Countless cobia are caught around production platforms off Louisiana and Texas. A favorite trick is to plumb the depths with a bucktail jig weighing
from 1.5 to 3 ounces.

On many occasions I have swung aboard a Gulf platform with nothing more than a pocketful of jigs and a rod. On one memorable day, my boat crew left me stranded on a platform for an hour, while they drifted away on a fair current, fighting a hooked 50-pounder. Dozens of cobia circled the platform below me, beckoning. No problem. I had a dozen jigs and a trusty baitcasting rig with 20-pound line. The cobia were hungry to the point of recklessness. It was an ideally calm and glassy day, 13 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The first fish, a 40-pounder, inhaled my jig on the surface and made short work of me, almost yanking me off the platform, which lacked any safety railing on the outside. The rod bent double, the reel gave line until it was cut. Hmm. The next jig lasted only a few seconds more. And the next.

In the distance my crew could hear me screaming on the platform, and they even saw the splashes. But there was nothing that could be done. No help was forthcoming. And after a time, it grew quiet.

When they returned, I was slumped against a steel pipe with no fish, and only a quarter spool of frayed line left on the reel. My jigs, many of them hand-made, were gone, just gone. All of them! They said I looked dazed and had a touch of that "thousand-yard stare," which happens sometimes after too much action. I settled down on the ride back to Port Arthur.


Trolling plugs for cobia? You bet. The first cobia I ever saw was a fish we caught with a trolled plug meant for kingfish. It was a momentous day for me, my first offshore trip in a small craft, an old 24-foot Scottie Craft. Our captain, a salty old Korean War Marine vet named Seaweed, chomped his cigar at the helm, and we trolled past a radar reflector tripod, one of a half dozen in the shipping lane a dozen miles off Sabine Pass on the Texas/Louisiana border.

You don't have to cast to cobia to catch them -- many are caught incidentally by trolling.

A small cobia of 10 pounds followed the plug and took it, and the treble hooks caused considerable damage to the fish. Back in those days, there were no size limits, and the fish was tossed in the cooler without ceremony or pictures. The small fish had grabbed a mullet-colored 7-inch diving plug trolled with 50-pound line, a real mismatch. It was the first of many cobia for me, back in the summer of '69. We celebrated our day spent offshore in the VFW hall that evening. In the cool darkness, the local veterans soothed their nerves. Herb Albert crooned, This Guy's in Love with You from the jukebox, and sitting there nursing a cherry coke with those salty old seadogs, I finally felt part of a real fishing team. No more ho-hum bay fishing for me; this offshore stuff was serious business and held some real promise.

So much for cobia plug memories and nostalgia. In many parts of the world, cobia are still taken with the same deep-diving Rapala plug we used that day. In many cases, cobia are not targeted by trollers, and they're mostly taken by accident. The plugs are more often meant for kingfish or wahoo, even grouper. Yet a wandering cobia will often spot that enticing plug wiggling down the reef, and chase it down. These big plugs are certainly not considered the artificial bait of choice for cobia in the Gulf of Mexico, and I know of very few cobia taken on trolling plugs in this manner. However, my offshore friends do not as a habit pull diving plugs.

One angler who has pulled big plugs for countless miles over the years is the old troller himself, Stan Blum of Fort Pierce, Fla. Stan has, by the look of his house, about a thousand big plugs from all over the world. If anyone has hooked a cobia or two in this manner, it has to be Stan. Fort Pierce is halfway decent cobia country, so I contacted the old trolling master himself. Even went trolling with him. Despite being 81 years old, and with a gravelly voice almost exactly like that of the late actor Burgess Meredith, Stan is still fishing offshore, though now he only makes half-day trips. Here's what he had to say in that raspy voice of his, as we trolled off Fort Pierce in his single-diesel Shamrock boat, watching big spinner sharks blasting through schools of baitfish:

"Sure, I've caught cobia on the big plugs over the years, maybe 200, 250 fish, something like that. Hard to say. We catch them best when they're mixed in with the big kings near the beach, in 30 feet of water or so. They're feeding on schools of threadfin herring. We catch 'em blind trolling, and the cobia usually hit my deeper-running plugs, much more so than the surface runner. My metal King Getter plugs have taken most of them, running 12 to 15 feet down like they do. Those big treble hooks stay in the cobia just fine, long as you sharpen them some."

Trolling plugs more often catch other fish. And yet, Stan has taken perhaps 250 big cobia with the trolling spread, the fish averaging 35 to 40 pounds. When I fished with him one November, Stan was hot on the latest triangle-lipped MirrOlures, with thicker walls, a sturdier bait. He pulled a spread of five different colors that day.

The biggest cobia ever to hit into Stan's spread of plugs made a strong run, freezing the gears on one of his 4/0 Penn reels, which are always filled with 50-pound line. They had to hand-line the fish in, and finally sank two gaffs into it. Back at the dock, it weighed 73 pounds.

Stan feels that his spread might be effective along Florida's Panhandle during their popular spring cobia run. He says that cobia aren't always on the surface, where they can be spotted and cast to. "You pull a spread of diving plugs along that coast off Destin or Pensacola in April, and see what happens. Remember, almost all of my cobia hit the deeper plugs, down deep where they can't be seen," said the old trolling guru.

Someone should try blind-trolling all day along Florida's Panhandle, out in 20 or 30 feet of water during the cobia run in April, just to see what happens.


Pete Churton of Beaumont, Texas, has spoon-fed more big cobia than perhaps anyone. He happens to live near the best port in Texas for cobia, and his years on the water have totaled up a large number of these fish. And he does it almost always with spoons.

Pete uses the 7/8-ounce spoons, rather large and wobbly, usually silver. Cobia seem to favor them just fine.

On a number of occasions Pete, who mainly sight-casts to passing cobia around the buoys and platforms offshore, has hooked and briefly had on two cobia on the same cast. The big spoon dangles and flashes from the lip of a hooked cobia, and others in the school can't resist grabbing on. But it's difficult for a spoon to hold two cobia. Pete's biggest cobia landed with his pet spoons weighed 65 pounds.

These spoon-fed cobia were usually early-season fish, April through June, not yet accustomed to heavy summer fishing pressure.

Pete's tackle is classic Texas gear, a red Ambassadeur 6000 baitcasting reel, matched with a 7-foot rod with enough backbone to "lay into" a big fish.

Pete's biggest cobia, estimated at 90 pounds, was accidentally taken not with a spoon but with a small jig. He lowered it down in 45 feet of water, hoping for a live bait of some sort, perhaps a bluefish. Something huge and ponderous slurped the tiny jig down there in the murk, and two long and painful hours later, Pete had his monster. Pictures were taken and the fish was released, much to Pete's credit. So, there is one extra monster cobia swimming around out there, hopefully a female full of eggs.


Taking cobia on fly tackle isn't difficult, if you can find these fish cruising in open water, away from structure. Cobia perhaps haven't been taken on a Royal Coachman just yet, but they are not finicky around flies. They seem fascinated with small, brightly colored, weightless baits, and the opportunities for fly fishermen are very good here.

Most anglers chasing cobia with a fly rod prefer some some standard and well-proven fly like the Seaducer. But tarpon and even sailfish flies will work. Homemade bushy flies should entice cobia cruising by at short range.

Plastic Baits

Some plastic eels are available for cobia fishermen, a rubbery imitation of the American eel. The jury is still out with this bait; I haven't tried it yet. One plastic that does work is a 16-inch plastic worm that was designed for some very optimistic bass fishermen headed for Florida and perhaps Cuba. Large plastic earthworms of 8 inches and more will certainly catch cobia. They're often rigged with an egg weight in front, with a single large hook set midway back, rigged with a sewing needle. No need to worry about making this bait weedless, a common problem with freshwater fishing.

The huge worms are cast at the base of navigation towers offshore and worked back to the boat. The majority of cobia do not loiter on the surface but remain hidden around structure. This is especially true in choppy water. The big earthworm really does wake them up; I suppose they love it because they think it's an American eel.
1 - 1 of 1 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.