Episode 2 - Targeting Cobia In The Panhandle Region With Capt. Pat Dineen
April is the month for targeting cobia in the Panhandle Region. Prime time cobia fishing usually runs from the first week of April through the third week of April. As we get to the end of the month, the fishing starts to slow down, and by May the majority of fish have already passed through, although you can catch a straggler or two.
In the Panhandle, we strictly sight fish the cobia. They’re migrating this time of the year and moving in a general east to west direction on the color change right along the beach. The fish may be as far off the shore as a mile or so, but the majority of fish will be on the color change.
Ideal conditions are a southeast wind, which pushes the fish in the direction they want to swim, and sunny skies which make it easier to spot the fish. Try to keep the sun at your back and place yourself outside the color change, to eliminate any glare and allow you to see deep into the water column making it easier to spot fish.
The majority of cobia anglers fishing from boats use live bait, although lures do work well. For bait, a live eel is the preferred bait in my region, although you always want to carry a variety of offerings. On some days the fish want a specific food, and that might be an eel, a choffer, a mullet, a shrimp or a live crab. The trick here is to only throw one type of bait at the fish at a time. Don’t throw an eel and a crab, it just confuses the fish. Instead have two rods rigged with live eels, and if the fish denies them, then switch to another bait on both rods. Eventually find what they want.
Most guys throw an eel first because it’s easy to keep on the hook. You can keep them hooked up and ready to go in a bucket with a little water, and they’ll live all day long.
Big jigs are the way to go lurewise. The Dingaling Jig in chartreuse, pink or white is a good option. The pier guys are all jig fishermen because you can cast them a long way with accuracy. The rule on the piers is that the first person to see the fish calls “First Shot,” and they get the first cast at the fish. Once his jig hits the water, it’s open game for everyone else to cast at the fish.
It’s also important to always have the rod in your hand, because a lot of times the fish will go down right after your spot them and the boat gets close, particularly the really large fish. If you have the rod in your hand, you can usually get off a cast to the fish before it goes down. But if it does go down, it will usually pop back up to the west of you and a little offshore of where you saw it last.
Thirty pound braided line is perfect for this type of fishing, with a 60-series size reel and a seven foot rod, although the guys on the piers like the longer rods because they increase your casting distance. A 40 to 60 pound fluorocarbon leader is standard, although I usually keep one rod rigged with 20 pound fluorocarbon leader for that fish that doesn’t want to eat or is really hard to bait up. I like to fish “J” hooks on my eels and circle hooks on all the other baits, usually using a 6/0 or 7/0 hook, something that won’t straighten out on a big fish.
You’ll see a lot of fish on rays and turtles. Cobia certainly seem to like the leatherback turtles more so than loggerheads, and they really like it if the turtle or ray is swimming in the same direction they want to go—east to west. The average cobia in my region is 30 to 40 pounds, but during the last week that average has been closer to
50 pounds with a couple of 80 pounders caught. It seems like the biggest fish are early in the run, and then they get smaller as we get into late April.
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