Fishermen may have started looking for cobia migrating into Mississippi waters in March and fished for them when April’s winds would allow.
“But it’s May when we really get to work them over,” said Capt. Robert “Earl” McDaniel of the Whipasnapa. “That is when they settle down. The spawn is wrapping up, which ends the shallow fishing on the bars. They start moving to deeper cover, like reefs, wrecks, oil rigs and even boat channel markers.
“Really, any kind of cover will hold cobia. You see a big tortoise swimming at or near the surface, you better go look around it for one of the big brown fish swimming with it. Same with a log or a board, or a mat of grass — check them out.”
McDaniel, whose brother, Randy, had the state-record cobia — 106 pounds, 13 ounces — caught on his boat in Gorenflo’s Cobia Tournament in 1996, always has this fish on his mind. His charter menu includes inshore and offshore trips, and his specialty may be big, sow red snapper, but his true love is cobia, and if the opportunity exists, he’s looking.
“I do love chasing those brown fish, but I know it’s hard to make a living at it,” he said. “Most of my customers want to catch a lot of fish, get a lot of action. Cobia fishing does not provide that, except for the rare day when everything is just right.
“But what it does lend itself to is being an opportunity that can be tagged onto another trip, like snapper in the summer. In May, we can stop and look for cobia after fishing for specks, reds or gray (mangrove) snapper. I have moved a lot of my fishing down around Chandeleur Island, and that area has year-round cobia fishing opportunities from shallow spawning to oil rigs, and we pass close to other structure, too, all possibly holding fish. May is perfect for that because some fish will still be shallow but others deep.”
McDaniel uses two methods for cobia: chumming and sight-fishing.
“While they are spawning shallow, I like to set up a chum drift by anchoring and putting out a long chum slick over an area I think is holding cobia,” he said. “I also like to pull up to rigs, buoys and other cover and look for fish. If we see them, we cast live bait like eels, or hardhead catfish, or white trout and usually they’ll take it.”
Roy Turner of Biloxi has another trick.
“I take a wooden baseball bat and if I don’t see a cobia on a piling or a rig, I will take the bat and whop the structure a few whacks, then rev the motors in neutral,” he said. “Cobia are the most curious fish in the Gulf and they will come up and take a look. Then you toss them the bait. It works.”