Like a giant brown bear waiting to catch leaping salmon swimming upstream, hundreds of Mississippi offshore anglers are lining up this month to take advantage of the thousands of cobia making their annual migration around the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

After bobbing and weaving through the gauntlet known as Destin and Pensacola, the cobia will eventually hit the barrier islands off the Mississippi coast. The first island they get to, Petit Bois, might get a little of their attention, but it is the second island in the chain, Horn, that attracts cobia like Britney Spears draws attention.

During May, cobia, also known as lemonfish, surround Horn Island, where they find the perfect combination of shallow water, deep water and food. The fact that Horn is but a 9- or 10-mile run from the coast makes it perfectly accessible by twin-V, bay or flats boats.

"The cobia start showing up here in large numbers in our shallow coastal waters starting around May," said Capt. Scott Simpson with Impulsive Charters out of Long Beach. "They get hit hard coming up the coast of Florida, then they arrive in Destin and Pensacola and the Mobile Bay area. If they make it through that shotgun, they then have to deal with our people over here sitting on our bars."

Simpson says the thing that separates Horn Island from Petit Bois Island, Ship Island and Cat Island is that there aren't many bars that protrude north and south off the eastern and western ends of the others. While the others may hold a fish or two, it is the contours of the Horn Island bar that are famous.

"The bar is on the south side of the western end of Horn Island," Simpson explained. "It runs from the western tip of the island about 400 yards before it turns southwest and comes to a tip. The thickest part of the bar is, of course, closest to the island, and it gradually tapers down into about 12 or 13 feet of water."

Cobia follow the contours along the southern edge of Horn Island, and as they approach the bar, they follow the curve of the cone-shaped bar back in toward the island. From 4 to 14 feet, they root around on top of the bar and feed on crabs.

For the time that the cobia stay along coastal Mississippi, the Horn Island bar makes it easier to find and catch cobia.

Take Capt. Lenny Maiolatesi, for example. This blue-water guide spends a lot of time working the deep rigs for grouper, and he typically just picks up cobia as a bonus to the grouper. That changes for him and others when cobia stack up on Horn Island.

"These fish like to hang around stuff," Maiolatesi said. "They get around rigs and cans, and they love to follow the shrimp boats. I know some of the guys in the go-fast boats who run around and hop from structure to structure, from shrimp boat to shrimp boat all day long and burn 200 gallons of gas. Sometimes they get dozens of fish, and sometimes they get nothing. Getting on top of that bar at least ensures that they won't have to burn as much gas."

Unlike catching cobia off structure like rigs and cans, Maiolatesi explained that the Horn Island bar itself is the structure, and finding this submerged piece of natural structure is as easy as heading to the western end of Horn Island and opening your eyes.

"You can see the bar by the color change," he said. "The bar comes up from near the channel from the red can, and you can see the waves breaking over it. Sometimes the fish are within a couple hundred yards of the island - sometimes even closer. But you can also catch them out to near the green can in 10 to 20 feet of water."

Knowing exactly where the cobia will be on any given day is a science few have mastered at this point. Instead, catching fish is more of a sit-and-wait game than it is an exercise in angling.

"If you sit there in the water long enough and chum enough, the cobia will eventually run by you," Maiolatesi said. "During May, you'll see up to 25 boats all anchored down with chum in the water. It can get a little crowded, but with all that chum in the water, it attracts fish even if you have to fight the crowd."

And while the water around Horn Island has nowhere near the clarity of that in Destin and Pensacola, Simpson said it could offer as much as 8 feet of visibility on a good day. If he can get that 8-foot visibility and get in a good spot on the bar in 8 to 10 feet, Simpson feels that he can catch cobia with a few basic techniques involving live and artificial baits. However, it all begins with chum.

"By far, the most part of catching these Horn Island cobias is chumming," Simpson said. "Basically, a boat will anchor up at a favored depth - again, I prefer 8 to 10 feet - along the shallow east side of the bar. Once a boat is anchored, they will chum with whatever bycatch they could get off a shrimp boat - croaker, pogie, squid, anything they can put in a chum sack."

While many anglers fill burlap, onion or some other kind of mesh or netted chum sacks with whatever they can get to put a little scent in the water, Simpson has been very successful using a Chum Churn, which is basically a piece of PVC pipe that cuts chum to disperse the scent.

"The Chum Churn has an aluminum rod in the center with tiny broadhead arrows on it," Simpson explained. "When you shake it, it slices up the bait that you have stuffed inside the tube, which then is dispersed through holes in the tube. It also has a rattling sound that attracts the cobia, too."

After getting out a good chum slick, the waiting game could be as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. Cobia are naturally curious fish, and they might show up rather quickly once they hear the splashing of a boat or the activity on the boat.

Other than the initial curious fish, the key to attracting cobia is to get a chum slick that stretches as far as a mile or more. Cobia will catch the scent and follow it up to the source, which anglers ultimately hope are their chum bags.

"One popular method of catching the cobia is to rig a live bait 3 to 4 feet under a cork," Simpson said. "The live bait can be finger mullet, pogie, croaker, white trout and one of the more popular being a catfish."

Besides fishing live bait under a cork, Simpson said another popular rigging technique is to freeline a couple baits behind the boat so that they swim along naturally. Many anglers prefer to rig with a wire leader whether fishing under a cork or free lining, but Simpson said this might be a little overkill.

"I recommend fishing a strong fluorocarbon line like Seaguar or Ande," he said. "I tie a fluorocarbon leader to my 30-pound-test main line with a uni-knot or a blood knot. And for both the cork and freeline rigs, I use a 5/0 to a 7/0 black/pearl Eagle Claw short-shank live bait hook. I also sometimes use an 8/0 circle hook. The great thing about the cork and freeline methods is that you can fish both at the same time and cover two areas."

Anglers also do well fishing dead bait on the bottom. Hunks of white trout, pogie or mullet fished on the bottom with a Carolina rig work great since the cobia on the Horn Island bar are so used to rooting around for crabs on the bottom. Simpson recommended rigging a Carolina rig with a 1- to 2-ounce egg weight and a 4-foot leader.

"You can also fish crabs on the bottom by pinching off their claws and running a circle hook or J-hook along the edge of the crab from the bottom to the top in the back corner around the swimmer fin," Simpson said. "And if you can get out a cork rig, free-line rig and Carolina rig, you've got the top, middle and bottom of the water all covered."

One type of live bait that anglers shouldn't leave the dock without, according to Maiolatesi, is a live eel. The standard length is whatever the bait shops happen to have in stock, but Maiolatesi said it's more what you do with the eel before you put it in the water than it the size.

"A lot of guys have those eel hooked and ready to go," he said, "but they keep it in a pail with a little bit of ice in it to keep it alive all day. When they take that eel out of the ice and throw it into the 70-degree water, that eel goes berserk, and no lemonfish can turn down an eel that just went crazy right in front of its face."

Anglers typically keep these eels rigged up on what is known as a shotgun rig, which Simpson explained is something like a large Penn 750 Slammer spinning reel spooled up with 30-pound-test Ande line.

"This shotgun rig is kept ready to quickly cast into the water at visible cobia," Simpson said. "When you're chumming, you may see cobia come up to your boat that will pass all the lines you have out.

"If that happens to you, grab your shotgun rig and quickly throw an eel past the fish and bring it up in front of him. It's called a shotgun rig because it's always loaded and ready to go. All you do is flip the bail and cast."

While catching cobia around the Horn Island bar is primarily a live-bait affair, Simpson said that there are some chances to catch the fish on artificial lures like Yo-Zuri poppers and walking baits as well as surface cruisers. A painted lead head with a chartreuse, pink or white Sea Striker Got-Cha curl-tail grub is another popular choice.

Artificial lures come in handy when a pod of cobia are spotted 30 to 40 yards off the boat. The key here is to quickly get a bait to these distant fish before they disappear, and a topwater plug or a swimming curl-tail jig will often attract some attention.

The shotgun rig with a live eel and artificial lures are also used to catch trailing cobia that come up to see what the caught fish has that they don't. An angler on the lookout for these tagalongs can often get one of those fish to bite with a quick cast.

"The thing about lemonfish is that they aren't all that hard to catch," Maiolatesi said. "It's more of a finding-them thing. They get curious sometimes and will get lockjaw. You'll see them swimming around the boat, but they won't eat a thing.

"Sometimes in that regard they can get a little annoying. But more often than not, these fish are up and hot. Cobia fishing then becomes more a game of getting your stuff together and having it ready when they appear, or fishing high and low in the water if you can't see them."

What size cobia can you expect to catch at the Horn Island bar? According to Maiolatesi, he has caught them anywhere from 15 to 70 pounds.

"It all just depends on what shows up," he said. "And the only way you're going to know what is going to show up is to be in a boat and have a bait in the water."

Predators like brown bears know that to have success capturing some food, they need to be where it congregates during certain times of year. Ultimate predators like Mississippi sportsmen know that cobia are congregating around Horn Island right now.

Isn't it time you got out there and joined them to capture some of these copious cobia of your own?

Contact Capt. Lenny Maiolatesi at 228-326-3180 or www.fightingchickensportfishing.com and Capt. Scott Simpson at 228-669-6204 or myweb.cableone.net/captscott.