The hard-hitting, predatory cobia has several other names including black kingfish, ling, lemonfish, and black salmon and can be found both inshore and offshore in warm-temperate and tropical waters worldwide and is one of the most prized game fish in the state of Florida.
The cobia is a sleek, dark brown fish with a white underbelly and a flat, broad head with a dark lateral line running from its gills to its tail. It is sometimes mistaken for a small shark or even the remora, and indeed can often be found swimming with sharks as well as large manta rays (the rays disturb the sand, exposing their favoring meal – the crab) and other species.
Commonly found in the 20-40 lbs range, cobia fish can easily top 80-plus lbs, with an IFGA All-Tackle world record of 135 lbs, 9 ounces (Shark Bay, W.A., Australia 1985). The biggest cobia ever caught in Florida weighed 130 lbs, 1 ounce. The state record catch took place in the Panhandle near Destin, a city long known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village”.
Where to Catch Cobia and the Seasons
Distributed throughout the world in warm waters ranging between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the cobia is a migratory species found in varying numbers depending on the season.
They normally travel in small schools and can be found around pilings, channel markers, artificial reefs, buoys, and wrecks. Cobia spawns in the summer and early fall offshore in the Atlantic and in the waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. During the summer months, surf fishing for cobia along the beaches can be worthwhile.
In the winter months, from December to March, they prefer the tropical waters that run from the Caribbean up to the southern Florida Atlantic coast. In early spring they begin their journey northward into Florida’s Gulf coast and into the Panhandle and reaching as far north as Massachusetts along the Atlantic Coast.
How to Fish for Cobia
When it comes to cobia fishing the gear and techniques options are many. For cobia fishing from the pier, or along the beaches, spinning gear is preferred due to their ease of use, in particular when using lures. But whether you decide to go with spinning, baitcasting or trolling tackle, the equipment had better be stout. Use of quality medium-heavy to heavy saltwater rods and reels with at least 30-pound-plus test line and a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader are in order.
Braided line can be an advantage with spinning tackle as the thinner diameter will allow for more line on the reel, significantly decreasing any chance of being spooled. These powerful fish will put up fierce resistance with fast and long runs. Though braid may have its advantage here, keep in mind that it can be unforgiving around structure and abrasion.
Conventional casting tackle is a better bet if you plan on fishing for cobia around reefs or other structures. You will be happy with the power and leverage they will provide in turning a fish that is trying to make a desperate dash for cover.
Lures for cobia can include colorful bucktail jigs, sinking and diving plugs, and small plastics – crabs, shrimp, and fish. Swimming plastic eels are also a great choice due to their versatility in various conditions whether fishing from grass flats, beaches, bridges, and piers, or over a reef.
Sight fishing for Cobia in the summer when the water is warmer is also a great option as they move closer to the surface. Simply get your lure out in front of the fish and reel it with a natural motion across its path.
Natural baits for cobia, both live and dead, primarily consist of crabs (they make up over half of their diet), pinfish, mullet, grunts, eels and just about most other baitfish. Essentially, the best baits for cobia will be whatever is naturally available to them in the area you are fishing.
Cobia Taste Profile and Cooking
Cobia are not caught in the wild in great numbers, and when caught it is usually as the by-product of targeting other fish. Most of the cobia fish for sale today are commercially farm raised as they grow rapidly and reach market size in a short period of time. This versatile and flavorful fish is perfect for almost any recipe and can be grilled, broiled, seared, baked, or even served sushi or sashimi style.
Many comparisons to other more popular and common fish are made when discussing cobia as table fare. There are those who will tell you that it reminds them of grouper, sea bass, mahi-mahi or swordfish in taste and texture.
However, cobia fish taste is a little more full-flavored then those species; though still very tasty with its thick, white, flaky flesh. Though not as buttery in texture as some of the other fish mentioned here, cobia fillets are firm but still tender, lending themselves very well to the grill, or to being pan-seared. Also, if you’ve got a quality fish smoker, cobia is one of the most delicious fish when smoked.
Points to remember while preparing cobia: make sure that any reddish/brown flesh, or bloodlines, are removed along with the skin during filleting.
Filleting cobia to about inch-thick steaks, seasoning them in your favorite recipe and grilling them is pretty straight-forward and easy. Just remember not to overcook them, as they will dry out like any other fish left too long on the grill.