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."

Visit our online archives to read the rest of this story, which first appeared in the May 2008 issue of Mississippi Sportsman magazine. Subscribe to have every information-packed issue delivered right to your doorstep each month.