Targeting Cobia In The Southwest Region With Capt. Ron Hueston

Unlike a lot of areas of the state where you can sight cast cobia free-swimming along the beaches, in the Southwest Region we find our fish either on wrecks or on the grass flats. On the southern end of my region from Ft. Myers Beach all the way down to Lostman’s River, you want to focus on fishing wrecks that are five to 20 miles out from shore. You’ll also find a few fish on the channel markers, more so on the larger markers with multiple poles to them.

When wreck fishing, you can either anchor up and chum liberally or drift over the structure. Both techniques work well, depending on how much confidence you have in where you’re fishing. Before you ever leave the dock, you want to rig at least one spinning rod with a 1 to 2 ounce chartreuse jig. You want to have something to throw at fish on the surface. Cobia are a curious fish and a lot of times when you pull up on a reef or wreck the fish swim right up to the boat, and if you don’t have something ready, they go down before you ever get a cast.

Cobia are garbage cans when it comes to what they eat—they’re a lot like tarpon, they eat just about everything. They LOVE whole squid, which is one of my favorite baits to throw at them. They also like shrimp and crabs, pinfish, sandperch, threadfins and pilchards. Just about any baitfish will attract a cobia. If you like to throw lures, big swimming plugs, large soft plastic eels and jerkbaits and jigs are the top offerings, although they’ll also chase topwater plugs when they’re schooled up and feeding aggressively.

When you pull up, watch your bottom machine for sharks. A lot of time the cobia will swim with the big bull sharks on the wrecks, and you can catch a jack crevalle or other fish and hang it over the side to attract the sharks and then catch the cobia off their backs.

You’ll also find a lot of cobia around the mouth of the passes from Sanibel to Boca Grande as well as around the deeper edges and drop-offs of the grass flats. Places like the East and West Walls of Charlotte Harbor will hold a lot of fish. In these areas, look for schools of fish of all sizes just swimming along or on the backs of turtles, stingrays and spotted eagle rays and manatees. When the cobia are riding the backs of the rays or manatees, they’re usually very aggressive and will eat just about anything you throw in front of them.

Our average cobia runs 15 to 40 pounds in my region, with fish up to 60 pounds common. They’re a strong fish that will run you into the structures, so on the wrecks and around the channels markers you want to use 30 to 50 pound spinning or conventional tackle with a very stout rod. I like braided line because it has a thinner diameter than monofilament, so if there’s a lot of current you don’t get as much drag and can go with less weight. A 50 or 60 pound monofilament or Suffix fluorocarbon leader will help you muscle the fish to the boat, but if you find the fish are being picky and turning down your bait, you may have to drop down to a 40 pound leader to get the bites. Top it off with a 4/0 to 7/0 VMC circle hook, depending on the size of the bait.

For fishing cobia in the inshore waters, you want a 7 foot spinning rod—something that you can cast against the wind and not backlash. A lot of the baits we throw are not aerodynamic and flutter in the air, so they’re really easy to backlash with on the cast using conventional tackle. Match it up with a 4,000 size spinning reel and 20 pound Suffix 832 braided line with a 40 pound fluorocarbon leader and 5/0 circle hook, or a 1-ounce lure.

Cobia are great to eat, but in the last couple of years they’ve gotten a lot of fishing pressure so their numbers are a bit down right now. If you’re not going to eat the fish right away, you should release it, or just keep one for dinner and release the rest to help rebuild the cobia stocks for the future. There’s a lot of little fish out there, so I like to carry a large landing net and if I think the fish is anywhere close to the size limit or under-sized, then I just net it so I can control it and get the hook out and release the fish without doing any harm.

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