Targeting Cobia In The East Central Region With Capt. Jim Ross

April is usually a little late for the cobia run in my region, but over the last couple of years we’ve had warm winters, which means the cobia action has been late and ran well into the month. This year is setting up to be exactly like last year, so I expect April to be an outstanding time to chase cobia in my region.

For the most part, we target cobia in two ways—sight casting to fish on manta rays, stingrays, turtles or big sharks or blind fishing the wrecks and reefs. Both methods are effective, but most anglers really enjoy the sight casting because you can often pick out the cobia you want to catch.

Cobia piggyback on rays, turtles and sharks because they’re looking for the larger animals to expose shrimp and crabs as they swim over the bottom. To do that, they must hold tight to the animal, often tucking underneath it, making them hard to see, so any time you come across a shark, turtle or ray you want to make a cast or two at them.

The key to effective cobia fishing is preparation, and that starts long before you leave the dock. Before you ever clear an inlet, you want to have several 7’ medium heavy 20-30-pound spinning rods rigged with 50-pound fluorocarbon leader and either a chartreuse jig, swimming plug or topwater plug. Cobia LOVE the color chartreuse, as well as bright orange, black and even all white.

They also eat live and dead baits, with pilchards, threadfins, blue runners and any small baitfish their preferred meals. Live shrimp are also a good option, as is a whole dead squid. If you plan to use live or dead baits, you’ll want to rig up a rod with a 5/0 circle hook, and have at least one bait already hooked and in the livewell or a bucket and ready to cast before you clear the inlet. You never know when you’re going to come across a school of fish, so you always want to be ready.

If you’re sight fishing cobia, you’ll usually find the fish in 20 to 50 feet of water either up on the surface cruising or riding on the back of a larger turtle or ray. Large ocean stingrays typically hug the bottom in 15 to 30 feet of water, and are encountered while running within sight of the beach, while manta rays can be found anywhere from the beach on out to 200 feet of water or more. The same with sharks and turtles, they can be anywhere, but if they’re found in one area the day before, they usually don’t move a lot, so it’s good to do some intel before you go fishing.

Sometimes you’ll find cobia just cruising on the surface or milling about when you pull up to a reef or wreck. When you cast a lure or bait at cobia they’ll either aggressively chase and eat the bait, or they’ll try to nose or nudge the bait to see if it’s real. If they come up and try to nose the bait, you want to pull it away from them just a foot or two—so that it stays in their range of vision, but also so it looks like something that is trying to get away. The fish will usually swim up and try it again, and if so, pull it away again. Usually, after a couple of times of the lure or bait eluding it, the fish will light up and charge it and just lunch it.

In Florida, cobia must be 33 inches long from the tip of the nose to the fork in the tail to be legal for harvest. A lot of fish are borderline, so instead of trying to grab them or take the chance of gaffing an under-sized fish, I bring along a large net, and net all my cobia. It’s a lot easier to control the fish and get a good measurement, and if they’re small or you want to release them, they’re still in good health.

If you prepare to target and catch the fish before you leave the dock and have your rods and rigs ready to cast to any fish you encounter, you’ll catch a lot more cobia. Lastly, if you encounter a big school of fish, just pick one for the table and let the rest go. Have some fun, take some pictures and tell the story of a great day of cobia fishing.

Captain Tips