Catching Cobia 101

Cobia are a prized catch for many coastal anglers wanting a great fight and an even greater dinner. This aggressive fish readily strikes both live and artificial baits, and is accessible to many anglers, as they occur close to shore for the majority of their lifetime. They grow to well over 100 pounds, and are one of the best-fighting fish out there. It’s no wonder then, why so many anglers dream of catching a big cobia on every trip! Here, we’ve presented a general 101 on everything you need to know about catching cobia.

Cobia caught in Florida in deep water.

When to Find Cobia

Cobia can be found year-round in some areas, but are generally migratory. The fish migrate to find a preferred water temperature, and can be found overwintering in south Florida. In the spring, the fish move north to their summer grounds – the Panhandle on the west coast, and from northeast Florida up to North Carolina or higher on the east coast. In the fall, the cycle starts over when the fish begin to migrate down as cool weather sets in. Best place to fish for cobia are beaches in the spring and fall, near power plants in the winter, and at bridges, buoys and markers in the summer.

Where to Catch Cobia

The cobia is a migratory species that overwinters in south Florida, and travels north for the summers, so where you will find them geographically will vary depending on the season. Wherever they are located however, the habitats they occur in is generally the same, found along nearshore beaches, reefs, seagrass beds, and inshore structures.

Watch water temps, and when they approach 70 degrees start fishing the beaches with Fishfinder rigs. In the winter they're inshore, often hanging around markers, near big bridges, and even buoys suspended where the tidal flow is visible on the surface of the water.

Tackle for Cobia

When fishing for cobia, you want to use heavy tackle. Cobia can make strong runs, pulling you into structures which can break off your line, or just generally break a line too weak to handle a big fish.

These can be very big, and are always powerful fish. Start with 50-lb. fluorocarbon leader at least 6 foot long. If you do not get strikes, size your leaders down to 40 lb. If big fish eating baits on 50-lb. leader keep breaking you off, be ready to go up to 60-lb. fluorocarbon leader.

Spinning Tackle for Cobia

When fishing seagrass flats or along the beaches where you can let the fish run, spinning tackle is the recommended setup because of its ease of use and advanced drag systems. Spinning tackle is perfect for casting heavy buck-tail jigs or weighted plastic eels in these areas, because the spinning reel is very easy to use to manipulate the lures to look realistic. The heaviness of the lures will also help you get a farther cast, since spinning setups do not typically cast as far as conventional.

Spinning rod for cobia.

Conventional Tackle for Cobia

While conventional tackle is a bit more difficult to learn, once you have the hang of it, you may never go back to spinning gear. Conventional tackle is recommended when targeting cobia over reefs or other structures that the fish may pull you into (Cobia are extremely strong, and should not be underestimated). Conventional tackle gives you more leverage to turn the fish as it makes that run for the structure. It also allows for farther and more accurate casts, an important aspect of live-bait fishing, and casting far on the days that the fish are spooky.

Fly-rods for Cobia

The size of the fly-rod you choose should depend on your experience, but will range in general from a 10-to-13 weight rod, matched with the appropriately sized reel. The most important thing to remember is that you want to use the largest rod possible. Using a large rod will allow you to use heavier line, thus giving you a farther cast to reach the fish. That heavier line will also be required to land the fish, as an 80-to-100 pound tippet is recommended for catching cobia.

Cobia fly rod.

Baits for Cobia

The natural diet of cobia includes primarily crabs (often constitutes the majority of their stomach contents), eels, other fish, and shrimp. All of those mentioned prey items are excellent live baits for cobia. More specifically, small juvenile blue crabs are a favorite for cobia anglers on the crab side. When using fish, cobia love to dine on eels, pinfish, mullet, menhaden, and any other bait that will be in the area. The truth is, whatever bait you catch in the area will be what the cobia will be feeding on.

Whenever you can, fish with natural baits; live and dead. We can't say it enough - The best three baits are – in this order: crabs (live crabs are better, but quartered pieces work perfectly on the beach), pinfish (live ones) and cut baits; cut mullet, halves of threadfin, chunks of ladyfish and pretty much anything else will do. Fish a free-lined baitfish, a cut bait on the bottom and a crab or eel on the top. They are called crab-eaters for a reason, though. Crabs compose 70% of their natural diets.

Crab bait tips for cobia.

Lures for Cobia

There are many lures out there that work great for catching cobia because cobia are aggressive predators, and they will readily strike at artificial baits. Perhaps the best bait out there is a plastic swimming eel, which can be used in every situation where you will be catching cobia – on the reefs, along the beaches, or along the inshore structures. Other effective lures include large, colorful bucktail jigs, and small plastic crabs, fish, and shrimp.

Eel bait.

The absolute best artificial baits are properly rigged plastic eels. Ranging from small ones nearly the size of the traditional worms used for largemouth bass to eight and ten-inch monsters, a well-rigged eel swims very naturally, and they're candy at times to lunker cobia. Put the bait in front of the fish and they will often grab them. Do not hit them on the head, but cast so the lure swims past the fish.

Berkley shrimp for cobia fishing.

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