Light Tackle Ling
Capt. Bryan Pahmeier
It was early April and the weather on Florida’s Space Coast had blessed us with light seas and bright sunny skies, perfect conditions for the beginning of the spring cobia run. I was standing on the deck of Capt. Pat Murphy’s bay boat Lucky Strike II as we moved along looking for rays, debris & free-swimming fish. We were 3-4 miles off the beach when in the distance we spotted a turtle and as we closed to investigate we realized it was 2 turtles with single cobia circling them. Capt. Murphy carefully eased up, giving me the best angle for a cast and several minutes later I was tied into my first cobia on the long rod. After a feisty battled we landed a nice 22lb.
As we re-rigged and had a drink I questioned one of the east coasts best guides about how he targets these fish:
Fooled with a fly: Captain Bryan poses here with a Canveral Cobia caught on fly.
How do you target cobia & what conditions do you look for?
“Targeting cobia in the early spring I will typically fish underwater structure such as inshore reefs and wrecks in 50-60' of water. At this time I opt to deep jig these areas in efforts to raise the fish from the structure. Most of these will hold a good abundance of baitfish and will generally have a few fish holding on them.” Pat explained, “As the surface water temperature raises to 68 I will employ a different tactic as the fish will be more visible and free swimmers can be sightcast too. Large manta rays are a good host for
cobia and usually have a good number of fish in tow. The ideal conditions are light west winds with seas of less than 2 feet, if the swell period is 3 times the wave height conditions are favorable. Turtles and just about any other floating debris will also attract these fish .”
What time of year is best & why?
“Early spring is the best time to target cobia in this area as the fish are migrating to the north, and
Cobia, or Ling travel up the East Coast of Florida in their annual migration, giving light-tackle anglers a chance to get in on the action within sight of the beach. Capt. Tom Van Horn poses here with a Cobe from this spring's run.
are feeding along the way. Usually after the cold fronts in February the water temps start to rise. After the temperature has risen above 74 degrees the migratory fish have all but left the area, except for a few resident fish that will make their homes here for the summer. As the temperature declines in the fall these same fish will return through the area on their way back south in search of warmer water and following the fall migration of baitfish.”
What’s your typical cobia set up?
“A medium heavy spinning outfit in the 20 lb class is ample equipment to land most of the fish in our area. A good reel with line capacity of 200 yards of 20lb test mono with a 3ft section of 40lb leader will get the job done. I opt not to use braid on these fish, as the strikes can be most explosive and with the sudden shock placed the knot most tend to fail under the no stretch conditions. With clients on board my job is to put fish in the boat not experiment as most anglers don't fish everyday.” Capt. Murphy said “ A 1 1/2oz. bucktail jig tipped with a live eel can hardly be refused by any cobia, when fishing groups of fish the competitive factor will usually cause the fish to become more aggressive and lure choices are not that critical. Brightly colored lures in white, pink and chartreuse will attract these curious fish and entice them into striking. Large hand picked shrimp; crabs and live eels work and are usually available at the marina. Live baits such as pinfish, mullet, porgies and small catfish are also eagerly devoured by hungry cobia. On the larger baitfish I like to cut the fins off to cause erratic action from the bait.”
The main difference I noted that day was that I usually slow troll while I looking for rays and free swimmers at a speed of 2-3mph, while Pat had us moving along at 13-15mph. To do this safely he had a line tied to the bow cleat that I held onto for stability. He plans on adding a front casting platform with a belly bar in the future - something I am also considering adding to my flats boat for use during this time of year.
Baitfish patterns like this "Eat Me" fly can fool these sporty fighters.
Our tackle selection varied also. I like to use much lighter tackle, opting for a 7 1/2ft medium action rod and unlike Pat, I personally like 10-15lb braided line instead of mono. I have not had the problem of breaking fish off unless I had my drag too tight (a common mistake of many anglers when using no-stretch braided lines). I also use 3ft. of 40lb. fluorocarbon leader attached to the main line. I have had great success using soft plastics like the DOA shrimp and Baitbuster (www.doalures.com). I agree that bright colors work best and have found an outstanding color combination to be Chartreuse/Red Glitter (DOA color #332). Plastic eels & bass worms on jig heads also make great lures.
The day Capt. Pat and I fished we targeted the fish on fly using bright colored baitfish patterns. 9 to 10 weight rods with intermediate sinking lines are best for most of the Cobia you’ll be casting to in this region. But Pat is quick to point out that that he has had great results with floating lines having clients land fish over 20lbs on poppers. It varies from day to day, so it’s best to have both ready to go. We continued that day by landing another 17lber less than an hour later, and topped the day off with a fat 36lb fish. A great way to spend my 35 th birthday.
Cobia are fast becoming loved by light tackle & fly anglers around the state. Watching the weather and being out there on the right day is key to having one of those outstanding days where the rays and fish are everywhere. Once experienced, it will be something you look forward to year after year.
Staff writer Bryan Pahmeier is an inshore fishing guide located in Titusville, Florida. He owns and operates Get1 Charters
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