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Cobia Fishing Tips and Techniques

Updated on September 10, 2014

Cobia

Cobia are often mistaken for sharks when seen from above because of the dark coloring and shape of their heads.
Cobia are often mistaken for sharks when seen from above because of the dark coloring and shape of their heads.

Quick Tips for catching Cobia

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.

Always carry an assortment of jigs in different sizes, styles, and colors. It's okay to have you favorite jig, just make sure you bring a variety just in case the Mr. cobia doesn't have the same sense of style as you do.

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 oftentimes attract cobia that are swimming too deep for the 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.

PENN Spinfisher V Combo
PENN Spinfisher V Combo

A good choice for nearshore/offshore fishing, this Penn rod and reel combo is the perfect choice for cobia and king mackerel fishing from a pier or boat.

 

Cobia Fishing Tackle and Rigs

Tackle

A good all-around rig for cobia fishing is a medium-heavy 6-7 foot spinning rod paired with a high quality reel. The reel should be spooled with at least 225 yds of 20-30lb test. This is a powerful fish so a smooth drag is a must. You will also want good casting abilities with your rig.

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 a 6/0-8/0 hook snelled on an 18 inch piece of 50lb 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 with a small loop rather than tied directly to the leader. The same leader lengths/strengths you use for natural bait works for artificial baits as well.


Best Lures to Catch Cobia

Cobia can be caught on a wide variety of lures. Topwater plugs, suspending and diving crank baits, and eel imitation lures all catch fish. But the favorite cobia lure is the cobia jig. It is a large bucktail jig weighing anywhere from 4-8oz 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 fisherman may disagree, I think the color of the jig has less to do with eliciting a strike than the action of the jib/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 are a bunch of alcoholic cobia out there in the world.

Cobia Jig question

What matters more in a cobia jig-action and accuracy of presentation or color?

See results
Cobia often associate with other large marine life.
Cobia often associate with other large marine life. | Source

How to Find and Catch Cobia

Finding 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 30-70ft deep, relying on spotting the fish swimming at or near the surface in shallow water. Don't overlook somewhat deeper waters even in spring however, 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 structure.

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 of the ling 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 under water reefs ect 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.

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 everyday, and partly due to their natural curiosity. Oftentimes cobia will come up off the structure and swim right up to the boat, and oftentimes 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.

A nice haul of cobia for the dinner plate.
A nice haul of cobia for the dinner plate.

Warning!

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/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 having a nice cobia steak dinner!

How to Catch Cobia

Sight Fishing


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 the cobia either won't see your offering, or if he does see it simply not feel like chasing it and thus won't eat. If you cast too close to it, or right on top of it, you will spook the fish and once spooked cobia can become notoriously lock-jawed.

Bottom fishing/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 always always have a spinning rod with a jig/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. This seems to attract less sharks.

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 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.

Cobia Range, Habitat, and Feeding habits.

Range and Habitat

In the western Atlantic, the cobia ranges from Nova Scotia in the north, to northern Argentina in the south and 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 a structure oriented fish and can be found around reefs, floating debris, weed lines and even turtles/rays! Migrating fish in particular shadow rays and turtles.

Cobia are large fish, growing up to over 6 feet in length and a 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 sides with two dark bands running the length of the fish's side, and silver or white on the bottom. The dark bands are much more distinct in younger, smaller fish, and tend to fade somewhat on larger fish. In the water ling are oftentimes mistaken for sharks on first sighting, and the young are sometimes mistaken for remora or sucker fish.


Feeding Habits

Cobia are primarily sight feeders. They are also indiscriminate and curious, and will swallow just about anything they can fit in their large mouths. Everything from shrimp and squid to large baitfish are common prey items. 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.

Ling (another name for 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. It is probable that some feeding occurs at night but is probably limited due to the sight feeding nature of the fish.

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    • Glen Kowalski profile image
      Author

      Glen Kowalski 6 weeks ago

      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.

    • favoritefinds profile image

      Rusty Barns 6 weeks ago from PA

      I have done plenty of saltwater fishing but have never caught a Cobia. I have seen many of them from the boat. Thanks for the great info.

    • Glen Kowalski profile image
      Author

      Glen Kowalski 3 years ago

      Thank you! You should take up fishing I bet you'd enjoy it!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      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.