Fishing, whether recreational, charter, or commercial fishing, has been a way of life for Glen since he was little.
Quick Tips for Catching Cobia
Read all about cobia below: where they live, and how and where they feed. But here are some quick tips for catching this large shark-like fish.
- Save those eels and crabs for larger fish, or fish that simply won't eat other baits.
- If the fish is truly picky, a large shrimp will usually do the trick to get a strike.
- A mullet is a great bait for cobia. To get even the pickiest of cobia to eat, try this trick. Take a fresh, lively mullet and pierce its heart cavity with a knife or other sharp instrument, and then throw it out in front of the cobia. On initially hitting the water, the mullet will take off like the devil was after it, but will soon slow down due to blood loss. The combination of a struggling fish and blood can usually get even the smartest of cobia to eat.
- Don't overlook the value of chumming for cobia. A strategically placed chum line, a little farther offshore than most of the boats looking for cobia, will often attract cobia that are swimming too deep for a sight-fishing fleet to target. These fish are almost always hungry and eager to take a bait as well. And sitting in one place burns less fuel than running around chasing fish all day.
- Always carry an assortment of jigs in different sizes, styles, and colors. It's okay to bring your favorite jig; just make sure you bring a variety just in case Mr. Cobia doesn't have the same sense of style as you do.
Cobia Range, Habitat, and Feeding Habits
In the western Atlantic, the cobia (also called ling) ranges from Nova Scotia in the north to northern Argentina in the south, including the Gulf of Mexico. In the Eastern Atlantic it is found roughly from the equator south, around South Africa, and then throughout the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. Ling prefer water temperatures between 68F and 88F.
Cobia are mostly found nearshore in depths as shallow as 30ft (or less) to about 300ft, though they also venture out to open waters around oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. They are structure-oriented fish and can be found around reefs, floating debris, and weed lines. They also shadow turtles or rays; migrating fish in particular do that.
Cobia are large fish, growing up to over 6 feet in length and attaining a weight of over 100lbs. Most fish are a more modest 4 feet (48 in) and 50–60lbs. Cobia are dark brown on top becoming lighter brown on the sides and silver or white on the bottom. They have two dark bands running the length of the side; the bands are much more distinct in younger, smaller fish, and tend to fade somewhat on larger fish. In the water, cobia are oftentimes mistaken for sharks on first sighting, and the young are sometimes mistaken for remora or sucker fish (to which they are related).
Cobia are primarily sight feeders. They are also indiscriminate and curious, and will swallow just about anything they can fit in their large mouths. Common prey include everything from shrimp and squid to large baitfish. Cobia have a special affinity for eels and crabs. An eel or crab thrown to a fish that has ignored other offerings is almost always going to elicit a strike.
Cobia don't have teeth in the traditional sense, so all food is swallowed whole. Feeding takes place from the surface to the bottom during daylight hours, with the heaviest feeding at dawn and dusk. They may feed at night, but the sight-feeding nature of the fish probably limits this behavior.
Cobia Fishing Tackle and Rigs
A good all-around rig for cobia fishing is a medium-heavy 6- to 7-foot spinning rod paired with a high-quality reel. The reel should be spooled with at least 225 yds of 20–30 lb test. This is a powerful fish so a smooth drag is a must. You will also want good casting abilities with your rig. I prefer this Penn rod-and-reel combo for cobia and king mackerel fishing from a pier or boat.
Terminal tackle will depend on how you are fishing or more precisely where you are fishing. If casting live or dead baits in open water, then use a 6/0-8/0 hook snelled on an 18-inch piece of 50-lb fluorocarbon leader. Attach the leader to the main line with a 60lb swivel and you are ready to go.
If you are fishing for cobia near structure, then a bit heavier leader may save you from break-offs. Snell the hook to a 24- to 36-inch fluorocarbon leader.
When throwing artificial lures, it is a good idea to crimp the lure to the line using a small sleeve. This accomplishes two things. First, you retain 100% of your line strength. Second, some lures gain a bit of action when on a small loop rather than tied directly to the leader. The same leader lengths and strengths you use for natural bait work for artificial baits as well.
Cobia can be caught on a wide variety of lures. Topwater plugs, suspending and diving crankbaits, and imitation eel lures all catch fish. But the favorite cobia lure is the cobia jig. It is a large bucktail jig weighing 4 to 8 oz or more and can be just about any color you can imagine. Pink, red, white, and yellow and combinations of those colors are common patterns that catch a lot of fish.
While some fishermen may disagree, I think the color of the jig has less to do with eliciting a strike than the action of the jib and the mood of the fish. After all, I've seen cobia attempt to swallow a can of beer that fell off the boat. Of course maybe that fish was just thirsty, but somehow I doubt there is a bunch of alcoholic cobia out there in the world.
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Where and When to Find Cobia
Locating cobia really depends on the time of the year you are fishing. If fishing during the spring migration, most boats focus on waters just off the beach in waters from 30–70 ft deep, relying on spotting the fish swimming at or near the surface in shallow water. But don't overlook somewhat deeper waters even in spring, as some cobia will travel from reef to reef looking for a quick meal as they make their way along the coasts. After the spring run is over, most of the cobia will have moved offshore to wrecks, reefs, oil rigs, and other structures.
When Water Hits 65 Degrees
The key element in sight-fishing for cobia is water temperature. Once the water hits about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the cobia will start to show up. Most will show up once the temperature gets to between 68 and 72 degrees; after that, the run slows down as the fish start to settle into their summer haunts.
In particular, look for temperature breaks (a change in temperature as small as 1/2 degree can hold fish) and areas where the current is somewhat weaker than surrounding areas, like tide lines or rip lines caused by underwater reefs or other obstructions breaking the flow of the current. Always keep an eye out for rays and sea turtles as well, since ling love to follow both types of animals looking for easy meals.
After the Spring
Once the spring run is over and cobia have settled into their summer patterns, they actually become easier to catch than during the springtime. This is partly due to the fact that they aren't being hounded by dozens of boats every day, and partly due to their natural curiosity. Cobia will come up off the structure and swim right up to the boat, and often around the boat.
If you want to add cobia to your catch in the summer, it pays to have a spinning rig set up with either a live bait or jig ready at all times within easy reach to take advantage of this fact. Any time you are bottom fishing, you should have a flat-line out as a matter of course anyway, and this too will produce cobia.
How to Catch Cobia
When a fish is spotted, carefully approach the cobia as quietly as possible, until you get within easy casting distance. Cobia on the move can become boat-shy after being repeatedly bombarded by jigs and baits from dozens of boats, and the farther you can make an accurate cast the better chance you have of getting the fish to bite. Try to get your bait or lure within 3–4 feet of the fish, but not directly on top of it. If you cast too far away, either the cobia won't see your offering, or won't feel like chasing it. If you cast too close to the fish, or right on top of it, you will spook the fish, and once spooked cobia can become notoriously lock-jawed.
Bottom Fishing and Structure Fishing
It is difficult to target cobia while bottom fishing or fishing a structure, unless it swims up to the boat to take a look, which they often do: always have a spinning rod with a jig or bait ready. One way to improve your odds of catching a cobia is to use chum. While any kind of chum will work, I suggest visiting your local shrimp wholesaler and asking for a bucket of shrimp heads. These seem to attract fewer sharks than other kinds of chum.
Fishing the chum line can be done either by site or with free-lined baits. Balloons are also an effective way to target cobia. Tie the balloon to a loop in your line about 5 feet from the bait and drift the bait back with the chum.
If you don't have chum or don't want to bother with it you can always use a slip-lead rig with a big baitfish. If a cobia is around, he will probably eat your bait, if the groupers, snappers, jacks, and 'cudas don't beat him to it. Of course, unless they are out of season, I don't know of too many anglers who would complain about catching a nice grouper or snapper, and sharks and 'cudas can be fun to catch as well, though you will likely get bit off before landing them.
Don't try to free-gaff a "green" cobia. These fish have been known to break bones and do thousands of dollars worth of damage to boats when brought on board too fresh. Even after fighting one on rod and reel, it is best to have the cooler or fish hold open before you ever stick a gaff in the fish. Otherwise, you may find yourself on the way to the emergency room instead of a nice cobia steak dinner!
Glen Kowalski (author) on August 07, 2020:
Yeah a fresh or 'green' cobia is not something you want loose in the cockpit of your boat. Each year there are people injured and thousands of dollars worth of damage done to boats when deckhands are too eager to stick a fish and bring it on the boat. Best to have the cooler lid open and ready for the fish before you even pick up the gaff.
Newman on July 24, 2020:
Nicely done. Good info as I am getting more familiar with Chesapeake Bay species.
I have heard they come alive in a big way if you just bring them on the deck of the boat Moral of the story; fight them in the water to wear them out Great advice!
Glen Kowalski (author) on October 08, 2017:
If you get a bait in front of one he'll eat it. Eels are a good go-to bait as are crabs. Or a big bucktail jig works too-I like Red/White or Purple/Black but really anything can work. Cobia aren't picky-I've watched them eat half a sandwich and attempt to eat a soda can before.
Glen Kowalski (author) on August 31, 2014:
Thank you! You should take up fishing I bet you'd enjoy it!
Mary Craig from New York on August 31, 2014:
I've never head of cobia so I can honestly say I've learned a lot! I enjoy reading your hubs, as I said before not because I'm a fisherman, but because they are educational and so well done.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.