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Fishing For High-Powered Cobia
Fishing in Florida - Though they are second only to tarpon in size, pound for pound cobia yield nothing where power is concerned.

Articles published about inshore and offshore sportfishing Deep sea fishing article writers at

By Fred Everson
Posted Monday, February 10, 2014

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Though they are second only to tarpon in size, pound for pound cobia yield nothing where power is concerned.

Tampa Bay in West Central Florida offers a year-round opportunity to fish for this large powerful member of the ling family, and during winter, cobia will often congregate in the warm water outflows of area power plants.

According to Gary Tanner, who runs a tackle shop on the east side of Tampa Bay, the best winter cobia fishing happens when a sudden drop in water temperature in the fall precludes migration. While cobia are not as temperature sensitive as tarpon, most cobia will head south to warmer waters to spend the winter in more comfortable surroundings.

Sometimes there will be one-half dozen keeper-sized cobia in tow. And even if you can't see a cobia, it doesn't mean he's not there. Sometimes they are hidden beneath the ray.

Should an unusually severe cold front pass across the bay in late fall, a lot of cobia get trapped in the bay. These fish will hang in the warm water outflows of the power plants until things heat up in the spring.

Capt. Jay Cowart related a story to me of coming onto a school of 40 cobia cruising through the outflow in a bunch. And there are days when there are 10 or 15 boats outside the power plant, with all of them hooked up at once. In a normal year without extreme weather, the blitz is off, but there always are fish hanging around in the hot water.

Try Power Plant Fishing
There are several approaches to power plant fishing for cobia. Most fishermen are content to anchor in and around the channel where the warm water is discharged. They will float pinfish, and select shrimp under corks, and perhaps even put out a chum block.

One of the better cobia guides, Capt. Eric Shapiro, prefers to hunt for them. He stands atop his boat's center console and looks for the telltale "V" wake of big fish cruising near the surface. Cobia also like to travel in the company of spotted eagle rays, sometimes trailing them, other times hiding underneath the wings. Shapiro likes to throw artificials at these fish on the surface. Early in the season, cobia are not very wary, but the dumb fish get caught quickly, and you need to cast farther and with greater accuracy as the season progresses.

Capt. Chet Jennings is another local cobia expert who fishes the power plant outflow in Apollo Beach. He prefers to use live bait, fishing jumbo shrimp on RipTide jig heads. He removes the fan from the tail of the shrimp and hooks it here. This rig has proved deadly on cobia in the sandy troughs that run parallel to the beach. Jennings fishes 30-pound Innotex Power Pro microfilament line, on an 8-foot, one-piece Tidemaster spinning rod by St. Croix. This rig casts well, and has plenty of power for the big brown torpedoes.

Cobia will go into water so hot that you think they might start to cook, but these fish are not the ones you catch. The fish that are eating tend to lay up on the edge of the outflow, liking the down current sides of sandbars where they can readily pick off baits being swept across the bottom with the tide. Boat position is all-important here and the anglers who catch most of the fish are picky about where they drop anchor.

Certain depressions hold most of the fish, and to be able to catch winter cobia in murky water, you need to know where the holes are. This means taking advantage of low, clear water conditions whenever they exist by looking around. Many anglers do not spend enough time learning the lay of a flat, and so they often wind up fishing where the fish are not. Anybody can catch cobia he can see. The best guides can catch them in zero visibility because he knows where they will be.

Capt. Jennings' technique for murky water is to cast a 3/8-ounce jig head with a large shrimp hooked through the horn. Others prefer to remove the fan from the shrimp's tail and hook it there. Either will work. The advantage that shrimp have over the traditionally favored pinfish is that shrimp put out more scent. This method has more in common with artificial baits than it does with fishing other live baits. It allows you to cover a lot of water, and it catches fish.

Artificial Baits Work
Artificial baits will catch cobia readily when water clarity permits sight casting. A jig rigged with a plastic tail, or bucktail will get a cobia's attention, and many, many cobia are caught on jigs. A soft, plastic jerkbait also is productive, and the advantage of this bait is that you can fish it a lot slower than you can a jig. You can cast a jerkbait in front of an approaching cobia and keep it in place with short twitches of the rod tip until the fish sees it. Just make sure the worm hook is tough enough to take the strain of pull from 40 pounds of muscle fish. To make the fish hit the bait, you have to make it think the bait is trying to get away.

A sure sign of cobia in the neighborhood is the presence of big, spotted eagle rays, which obligingly let you know where they are by occasionally jumping four feet into the air. It's hard to miss one when that happens, even if you are a couple of hundred yards away. When a big ray shows himself like that, it pays to check him out closely.

Sometimes there will be one-half dozen keeper-sized cobia in tow. And even if you can't see a cobia, it doesn't mean he's not there. Sometimes they are hidden beneath the ray.

Another plastic bait that catches cobia is the crab from lure company, DOA. This is good bait to throw around rays when the cobia are snuggled up tight to them. I soon learned not to throw anything with an exposed hook around a big ray -- most especially any lure with treble hooks. These invariably hook the big rays in the wing and it's kiss your lure goodbye.

Try Chumming
Another technique to try for winter cobia is to lure them into casting range with a chum block. Nothing beats a bag of smashed blue crabs to attract a fish whose name is said to mean "crab-eater." But commercially frozen chum blocks also bring them in. The problem with regular chum is that it will draw sharks and catfish, both of which are at home in the hot water outflows of the power plants. Some anglers rig their cobia bait with wire leaders when black tip sharks are in the vicinity to keep from getting constantly cut off. Besides, 3-foot blacktips are gamefish in their own right and pretty tasty, too.

These power plant cobia also afford an excellent opportunity to hook very big fish with a fly. But be advised that cobia require tarpon weight fly tackle, which means 10-weight or 12-weight rods with plenty of backing. Cobia are stronger than tarpon, pound for pound, and can be incredibly stubborn about taking line and refusing to turn. Even a 20-pound cobia could become tedious on an 8/9-weight rod.

Anglers on Tampa Bay start looking for cobia when the first major cold fronts push through. But the cobia are often stacked up around the power plants long before that happens. Some years they are already in position by Halloween.

Cobia are everything an angler could hope for. They are big, strong, willing, and stubborn and they taste good, too. Small wonder you see boats stacked up around the power plant outflows all winter.


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