"We believe there's a population of cobia that doesn't migrate," said Jim Franks, fisheries biologist at the University of Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs. "We know there are cobia holding in deep water (approximately 150 to 300 feet deep) off the Mississippi-Louisiana coast during the winter months. We've caught them during January and February, and divers have seen them on the deepwater rigs. We don't know if these cobia move inshore and travel with the migrating cobia in the spring and summer, or if they stay offshore their entire lives.
"Only in recent years have we learned about this resident population of cobia. We're attempting to learn more about them: their lifestyle, their ages, their movement patterns and the size of that population."
Franks and his partner, Read Hendon, have been studying and tagging cobia off the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana for 25 years. And, although thousands of cobia have been tagged and released by charter-boat captains and private anglers, none of the tagged fish have been recaptured.
When will cobia show up on the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts?
"The weather and water temperatures determine when the cobia appear here," Franks said. "Sometimes, if the area has a warm spring, we'll see cobia come through Mississippi as early as mid-March."
Franks believes the optimum water temperature for cobia to move into Mississippi is 67 to 70 degrees. He said the cobia stock appears to be in good condition right now. He's hoping for a strong run of cobia this month.
"We know the cobia spawn all along the upper Gulf Coast in deep water in July and early August," Franks explained. "We've never caught any 2- to 3-day-old cobia or seen any cobia larvae near shore, but we have caught them offshore. Some of the cobia we've caught in June and July have been in good spawning condition. Cobia are serial or batch spawners, spawning a few thousand eggs and then spawning again after a day or two - extending their spawning season throughout the summer."
The research being done by Franks and his team is being funded by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources' Sport Fish Restoration program.
Where and how to catch inshore fish in April
The best inshore fishing off Mississippi's Gulf Coast starts this month. White trout, speckled trout, redfish, flounder and ground mullet all will be biting.
"This month we'll be catching a little of everything, with the most plentiful fish the white trout and ground mullet on our four- or eight-hour charters," said Capt. Robert L. Brodie of Team Brodie Charters (www.teambrodiecharters.com) out of Iberville and Biloxi. "Most anglers who come to the Gulf of Mexico want bent rods. All the oyster reefs in the Mississippi Sound should home plenty of white trout and ground mullet this month."
Brodie usually fishes for these species at the beginning of his trips with cut squid, cut croaker, cut mullet and dead shrimp.
"I like a 1/0 Gamakatsu hook and a 1-ounce Bank Sinker," said Brodie. "I tie the sinker to the bottom of the line, tie a loop in my line about 6 inches from the Bank Sinker, and then attach my hook - much like the drop-shot rig bass fishermen use."
You also will catch speckled trout on these same oyster reefs in April fishing with live shrimp about 12 inches below a popping cork.
"To target bigger trout, fish with live croakers around the oyster reefs or over the grass beds on the barrier islands," Brodie reports.
To fish with live croakers in deep water, use a Carolina Rig with a No. 1 or No. 2 hook at the end of an 18- to 24-inch leader line. Tie the other end of the leader to a barrel swivel, and attach your main line to the other end of the barrel swivel. However, before you attach your main line, put a slip lead or a bullet lead up the line with a bright-colored plastic bead below it. For trout weighing 3 to 5 pounds, your live croaker bait should be 3 to 5 inches long.
"You can fish croakers below a popping cork over the grass beds so the trout can see it," explained Brodie. "I like to fish the front side of the barrier islands for pompano, because they like to run in the surf.
"The south sides of all the islands usually have pompano running close to the beach. I prefer to fish the front of the Ship and Horn islands for pompano. I use the same rig that I use for white trout, but I put a chartreuse or a red bead right above the hook. I bait with a small piece of shrimp or a very small live shrimp."
Flounder also will be biting this month. Often, anglers will catch white trout and ground mullet first, fish for speckled trout and flounder later in the morning, and possibly catch a few pompano before the trip ends.