Most people mistakenly identify the Cobia as a Shark the first time they see its fins protruding from the water. They’re a favorite among charter fishermen in Florida because of their abundance, great taste, and relative ease to catch. In today’s post, I’ll cover everything you need to know about Cobia fishing in Florida. Next time you head out, you’ll know where and how to catch this amazing fish.
What are they?
Cobia have lots of different nicknames:
- The Crab Eater
- Ling or Lemonfish (in Louisiana)
- Black Kingfish
They are a close relative of the Remora (fish with a sucker on the top of its head that’s always attached to sharks).
Where do Cobia hang out and what do they eat?
Cobia feed on Blue Crabs, Stingrays and bait fish such as Pinfish, Eel and Hardhead Catfish. Due to their protein-rich diet, these fish grow very quickly, in some cases reaching over 40 inches in length in less than 2 years.
Cobia inhabit the entire subtropical and tropical span of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans and are particularly abundant in the Caribbean. They’re solitary, except during spawning or when scavenging around large rays or sharks.
They usually hang around buoys, navigational markers, reefs, and wrecks offshore or inshore. Any sort of large structure where baitfish gather will also have Cobia nearby. The easiest and fastest way to get one on your line is often by dropping a line next to your local marina’s markers.
Cobia Fishing in Florida: Locations and Seasonality
Along the Atlantic coast, Cobia spend the winter months near the Keys, and will typically migrate northwards as spring and summer approach. Key West Harbor and wrecks nearby hold large numbers of these fish December through April. In late March, Cobia start moving north toward Daytona Beach and can be found off Jacksonville’s coast by June. As the weather gets warmer, the fish will approach inshore inlets.
On the Gulf coast, Cobia can be caught year-round, with two peak seasons that produce the best results:
- Offshore waters around the Panhandle (early spring)
- Closer to shore all along the coast (summer months)
You can catch Cobia year-round. You can keep up to two fish per angler in both the Gulf and Atlantic’s Federal waters. However, the measurement restrictions differ:
- Gulf: 36 inches from head to tail fork.
- Atlantic: 33 inches from head to tail fork.
In State Atlantic waters, you can keep one fish per person, or six fish per boat, whichever is less. On the Gulf coast in state waters, you can only keep two fish per boat.
The minimum size limit for both locations is 33 inches, head to tail fork. All fish must be landed intact and kept that way before cleaning. Keep an eye on the FWC’s Cobia page for regulation updates.
You can catch Cobia on spinning, casting, and fly rod/reel combos. If you’ve never fished for them before, it’s probably best to start with a 7’ medium weight spinning or casting rod. Heavier casting rods tend to be a bit better for offshore fishing around markers.
Here’s a table of recommended tackle depending on your style of fishing:
|Spinning/casting||7-8’ medium weight||Spin or casting, medium weight||12-20 lb tested mono or braided|
|Surf fishing||9’-11’ medium-heavy||Spin or casting, medium-heavy weight||20-30 lb mono or braided. At least 200 yds|
|Fly fishing||8’-9’, 8-10 weight rod||Medium weight||Floating, front-weight line. At least 200 yds 20 lb floating Dacron backing.|
Cobia are relatively easy to catch on artificial lures, because once you’ve sighted one, a well-placed jig or plug is likely to get a bite. Cast your lure straight in front of the fish and give it lots of action.
Proven lures include Bucktail Jigs in contrasting colors, diving plugs in natural bait fish colors and Texas Rigged plastic eels/worms.
Vertical jigging with worm-tail jigs is great for deeper wrecks. Get the jig down to your desired depth and entice a bite by raising and lowering your rod with long, slow strips.
You will probably get the best results using live bait. Pinfish, Grunts, Blue Runners, and Eels are excellent, but Catfish (spines removed) are your safest bet. When rigging a fish, hook it in front of the dorsal fin using a 4/0-7/0 hook. Blue Crabs and large Shrimp (live) are also good, rigged bottom up.
You don’t necessarily need a boat to go Cobia fishing in Florida. However, it will give you access to the structures Cobia hang around. They will visit a marker or buoy at least twice per day if there are bait fish around. Approach from behind and cast down current, towards the fish.
Attach a float around 5 feet above the bait and cast at sighted Cobia, or just next to your boat when anchored and fishing for something else. Depending on current strength, use 1–2 ounces of lead or none. Noise will not startle this fish too much; it has even been reported to arouse their curiosity.
When surf fishing, or around wrecks, attach more weight and remove the float. Use standard bottom/surf fishing techniques. The wriggling live bait will be enough to motivate any Cobia nearby to strike.
You will rarely get results fly fishing unless you’ve spotted your target. Cast a 2/0-4/0 Deceiver fly at sighted Cobia. Another technique is to cast at an already hooked Cobia. This commotion will arouse other fish nearby and there’s a good chance they will bite.
Cobia Fishing Tips
Landing Cobia When You’ve Hooked One
These fish are surprisingly strong and stubborn. Once you hook into a Cobia, it will most likely run straight toward the nearest marker. Don’t try to stop it on its first run unless you want to lose your fish! Loosen the drag a little and let it run. If the line gets caught on the marker, get close, untangle it and resume your fight. By then, the Cobia will be tired – at least until you bring it into the boat.
In addition to its initial run, Cobia go crazy when boated, moving and kicking uncontrollably until they use up their last ounce of strength. This can result in anglers snagged on hooks, loss of fish or destroyed equipment – so be careful. If you plan on keeping the fish, use a gaff to lift your catch and try placing it into your catch box as quickly as possible.
How to Hook and Land Cobia
If you have never caught Cobia before, this video demonstrates pretty well how the whole process will go:
Recommended Fishing Charters
If you don’t have your own boat, don’t worry. There are literally thousands of charter boats available for hire. Most of the captains have plenty of experience fishing for Cobia and should be able to hook you onto one within a day’s trip. Prices for private charters are normally in the range of $400 for a half day and $500–$800 for a full day trip. You can check them out, compare prices, and book online here.
Eating and Cooking Cobia
Okay, so you caught and brought home your first Cobia – how to turn it into a tasty dinner? Cobia is a great tasting fish and there are tons of recipes for cooking Cobia online. Check them out and bon appetit!
Have you ever gone Cobia fishing in the Florida? What was it like? What’s your favorite way to catch Cobia? Is there a technique/bait we missed? Let us know in the comments below!