It is with eager anticipation that local anglers look forward to the month of May, for it is the heart of cobia season. One of the largest apex predators (only sharks and tarpon get bigger) in our local inshore waters, cobia offer big game angling for the smallest of boats. Currently (in May 2015) the state record is at 92 pounds, 10 ounces, a whopper fish by any standards, but I have seen several fish over a 100 pounds, one last year on a reef that swam right up to the boat. A little 65-pound fish grabbed the bait I dropped in front of him, much to my despair. It was one of the few times I got upset over hooking a 65-pound cobia!
The most popular way of cobia fishing is to anchor over choice pieces of bottom and deploy the chum bag. Menhaden are often used as chum and bait, either live or dead will work. Other favorite baits are live eels, whiting, shad chunks or even a half or whole crab. Lines are generally fished on the bottom, but top-water baits often score. Another way of catching cobia is to run the buoys in the sounds and pitch bait at the buoy. Cobia love structure. They are known to follow large tiger sharks, manta rays and turtles. I have even caught them under floating rafts of marsh grass.
Several years ago while fishing for sailfish in Florida I spied a huge leatherback turtle cruising the rip we had set our kites on. Sure enough, there was a squadron of cobia underneath and with the quick pitch of bait, we had one on. Seconds later, a large sail snatched one of the kite baits and we had a double header: the cobia going one way and the sailfish going the other!
Cobia often drive anglers crazy by turning their nose up at every thing you throw at them. Talk to anyone that has experience with cobia fishing and they usually have numerous stories about days of being surrounded by fish that refused to eat. Last year, I had one trip where I counted over 60 cobia swimming on the surface around the boat and we threw everything in the bait well and the tackle box to no avail. We finally hooked up on a large live shrimp we had caught while throwing the net on menhaden that morning.
These big brown battlers are available now in local waters and you can catch them inshore. The fight is a usually powerful line-stripping run, occasionally accented by a jump now and then. One thing is sure, once you’ve tangled with the “big brown,” you will probably be hooked! Get out now and go fishing on Hilton Head Island!
Written by Captain Miles Altman of Bayrunner Fishing Charters, who has more than 42 years experience fishing the waters surrounding Hilton Head Island. Don’t miss the new “Finatic” boat, which can accommodate up to 12 passengers and features a special three-hour shark/dolphin eco-tour trip. Contact Miles at (843) 290-6955 to book an unforgettable inshore or offshore charter fishing trip, departing from Shelter Cove Marina.