Being the only member of its genus and family, the cobia has few relatives but a lot of attention. Anglers from all over the United States seek out cobias. Whether it’s for the fight or the delicious cobia steaks, it is quite a battle to get a cobia into the boat. Cobias are one of the more aggressive saltwater fish, and some even say it is the biggest fighting fish out there. Found from Nova Scotia to northern Argentina, Cobias (often called lings) are a great gamefish to target and such an exciting battle.
How to Identify Cobia
Often mistaken for sharks, cobias have dark coloring and the same head shape like a shark when you look from above. Young cobias often look like remoras who are their closest relatives. A good size Cobia will be about four feet long and weigh fifty to sixty pounds; however, cobias have been known to grow up to six feet long and weigh over a hundred pounds.
Coloring on cobias doesn’t change a whole lot. They start brown and end up brown. An adult cobia will be dark brown on top with the brown becoming lighter as you towards the belly. The bottom of the cobia will be silver or white. Young cobias are dark brown on top and have two distinct body length bands that tend to disappear the older they get. These young cobias will resemble remora. Cobias feed by sight and are not picky. They will swallow most anything. Cobias don’t have conventional teeth, so they swallow their food whole.
When to Find Cobia
Cobias are generally migratory fish. They move based on the water temperature, so waiting for them to move into your area can be difficult. Some areas are fortunate enough to have cobias year-round because the water is the perfect temperature, 68°F-88°F. As mentioned before, other regions have to wait.
In the winter, Cobia inhabits the southern Florida waters. During the spring, Cobia moves north. As the water gets warmer in the northeast, Cobias move that way during the summer. Cobias live near the Florida panhandle and up the northeast coast toward North Carolina and further. When fall starts to sit in, the cobias begin to migrate south as cold weather rolls in.
When you go for a day fishing trip to find the cobias, be sure to plan accordingly. Cobias are sight fished; daylight hours are the best to find them. Dawn and dusk are ample times to find cobias. The lower the sun is on the horizon, the harder it will be to sight fish. Because cobias hunt by sight, fishing for them at night is not very effective. If it is cloudy, sight fishing may be difficult as the water will glare.
Where to Find Cobia
Once you find when the cobias will be in your area, you can narrow your search by specific locations. For most of the cobias’ life, they live close to the shore. During spring and fall, they stroll the beaches. In the winter, they like to be near power plants where the water is a little warmer. Cobias are structure-oriented, so during the summer, look near structure: Cobias frequent bridges, buoys, markers, reefs, seagrass beds, and inshore structure like wrecks. In the Gulf of Mexico, Cobias enjoy being around oil rigs. Cobias will be between 30 ft (or less) and 300 ft deep and will feed on the surface to the bottom.
How to Catch Cobia
Cobias aren’t a tricky fish to catch. You can catch cobias through sight fishing, chumming, bottom fishing, and structure fishing.
Cobias are easily caught when sight fishing. When you are sight fishing cobias, be sure to do it between 10 am and 3 pm for the best light from the sun. You don’t want a glare on the water from the sun. When sight fishing for cobia, be sure to cast out in front to get ahead of them. The long cast should be about three to six feet in front of them. Don’t hit them in the head with the lure as it will spook them, and once a cobia is frightened, it becomes tight-lipped. As the cobia approaches the jig, you’ll start to see the cobia tail down because the jig is sinking. Keep the line tight as the jig sinks. The cobia will attack it on a fall. You’ll feel a thump, then set the hook. The fight is on.
Another way to fish the jig when sight fishing is to let the lure sink slightly and then jig the bait twice and let it drop. A sort of “bump, bump, drop.” The cobia should attack the drop. Let the cobia take the lure, and when you feel a pull, set the hook. Let the fight begin.
You can also catch a cobia through chumming. Strategically place the chum line. The right place for the chum line is just a little farther offshore than other boats. This placement will target cobias that are too deep for sight fishing and attract the cobias toward the boat. If you are looking for chum ideas, try shrimp heads. The shrimp heads will attract the cobias without tracking a lot of sharks. Not only is this an effective way of fishing, but it will also save fuel.
If you simply are not able to catch a cobia, sight fishing or chumming the water. Try this trick for picky cobias. Take a live baitfish and puncture the heart cavity. This puncture will slowly make the bait bleed out. Cast it out in front of a cobia. The baitfish should begin to fish away. The blood and struggling fish will draw the cobia near, and eventually, the cobia will strike. If you are in the grass flats, allow the cobia to run until it is tired.
Once the cobia is near the boat, you will need to decide if you want to net the fish or gaff the fish. If you plan to return the cobia to the water after removing tackle, you should net the fish. If you plan to keep the cobia, then gaffing the fish is acceptable. Be sure to check local regulations for keeper size lengths and creel limits. Our favorite landing net is the Frabill Conservation MG Landing Net. It measures at 26” by 30” with a telescopic handle. The tangle-free knotless netting is lightweight and doesn’t injure the fish.
Our preferred gaff hook is the AFTCO Gaff Hook. It is six feet long and has a four-inch hook. The nonslip grips get you closer to the water. If you are gaffing your cobia, be sure to get it immediately into the cooler. There have been numerous injuries and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage done on boats by flopping cobias. Don’t take the chance and get it into a cooler.
Now that you know how to catch cobias let’s look at the best gear, baits, and lures to catch cobias.
Best Gear to Catch Cobia
Cobias are strong fish, and they need reliable gear. When you have space for cobias to run, such as on the grass flats, and beaches, use spinning tackle. Spinning tackle is easy to use and has better drag systems. Spinning tackle is also perfect for heavy lures such as bucktail jigs and weighted plastic eels. Using a spinning set up will allow you to make the lures move more life-like. Finally, you can cast farther with heavier lures using a spinning set up.
Our top two spinning rod and reels are robust, heavy-duty, and durable. Our favorite rod and reel for cobia sight fishing are the Daiwa Saltist Spinning Reel on an Ugly Stik Tiger Elite Spinning Fishing Rod. The Saltist comes from a name we can trust and composed of the highest quality of materials. We suggest the 4500 series on the heavy 7’ rod. This rod is virtually indestructible yet lightweight, making it a perfect match for the cobia.
If you don’t particularly like either of those choices, you can always go with the Penn Spinfisher VI combo. This 7’ rod is durable, and the reel has a 6.2:1 gear ratio. No matter which rod and reel you choose, we suggest using a 65 lb Power Pro braided line. Braid is more durable, stronger, and thinner, which is perfect around the structure. Cobias have big mouths, so use big hooks. We like Owner’s 10/0 J hooks or circle hooks as they are extra sharp and durable.
One of the essential pieces of gear for cobia fishing is sunglasses. Because you sight fish for cobias, you want a pair of sunglasses that will cut down glare, allow you to see into the water, and are polarized. Costa DelMar carries a whole line of fishing sunglasses, but our favorite style is the Tuna Alley. We suggest a copper or amber lens for inshore fishing. Another company that has a great pair of fishing sunglasses is Oakley. Oakley Turbine sunglasses are great for inshore and offshore fishing. They have unique polarization for deep water and shallow water.
Best Lures to Catch Cobia
Cobias aren’t picky and will take artificial baits just as well as real bait. Many anglers use artificial lures of the food that cobias naturally eat. For example, cobias love crabs, fish, and shrimp, so anglers use plastic crabs, fish, and shrimp to catch cobias. Cobias’ first love is eels, and they can’t swim by a properly rigged plastic swimming eel. No matter where this plastic eel is, bottom, surface, under a buoy, the cobia will want it. Our favorite eel lure is the Gulp! Eel. Gulp armors the eel with their saltwater scent that will make the cobias go nuts. Fish this lure through the water like a snake moving through water.
Other effective lures include 2-5 oz jigs. These jigs can have trailers. The jig itself will look like a squid, and the trailer will look like an eel. Standard trailers used are FISHBITES Bag O’ Worms, which will put scent into the water as well. You can also use a mirror lure, hard plastic fish imitator, or a trolling bomber. Whichever lures you use, be sure to have big, durable hooks, so you don’t lose the cobia.
Best Bait to Catch Cobia
Naturally, Cobias eat eels, squids, fish, and crabs, so when using bait, it is best to use what they eat. You can even catch your bait from local waters. If you want to catch your bait using a cast net, we recommend the Bait Buster Professional Grade Cast Net. This net has ⅜ inch square mesh and is made from 10 lb test monofilament.
Some common live bait used for cobia fishing are mullets, eels, pinfish, croaker, and giant shrimp. You want durable baits that stay alive when cobia fishing. The absolute best bait to use when cobia fishing is crabs. 70% of cobias’ diet is crabs. The best crabs to use is live, small juvenile blue crabs. If you’d rather use cut bait, that is an option too. Remember, cobias aren’t picky. Cobias will eat cut mullet, threadfin, and ladyfish.
Whether you use live bait, cut bait, or artificial bait, catching cobias is not very challenging once you find them in your area. The fight of the cobia is one you will remember for a lifetime as they are the biggest fighting fish. Hooking up to a big one can be thrilling and turn you into a noodle as you use almost every muscle to fight them.
Once they are close to the boat and the gaff hook is used, you will be ready to catch the next one. You now have a delectable treat, and Cobia steaks are what’s for dinner. Pan-Seared, Sauteed, or baked, you will enjoy the clean, open, buttery flavor of the wide flakey steak. Paired well with jalapenos, ginger, garlic, and cumin, you will want more.
Wanting more means more fishing. You get dinner and a memory of a fantastic battle. You can’t go wrong when it comes to catching cobia.