Outdoors column: Cobia catch makes trip for first-time ocean anglers

Some pelagics, like Spanish mackerel and king mackerel, quickly stream northward up the coast in schools in the springtime, following and voraciously feeding on schools of baitfish along the way before spreading out for the summer.

Cobia are different.

Sure, cobia are following bait and water temperatures near 70 degrees on their northward trek, but they are more slow-moving and solitary, curious, perhaps even moody compared to the fast-moving mackerel.

From early May through early June each spring, cobia arrive in local waters, meandering anywhere schools of bait such as menhaden and mullet are found.

It’s difficult to specifically target cobia, but when a single fish or small group, or pod, shows up seemingly out of nowhere, and are spotted by anglers, the angler’s heart rate quickens dramatically.

There will be numerous encounters with the lumbering brown bruisers in the coming month, many of them while anglers are fishing for other species such as mackerel on near-shore artificial reefs.

Captain Jason Burton of Fly Girl Charters out of Murrells Inlet had such an encounter Tuesday morning while fishing for Spanish mackerel on Paradise Reef, located 3 miles east of the inlet.

Burton had a crew of five visitors from Pennsylvania aboard for a half-day charter, a group that had never fished in the ocean before.

“I had just pulled up to the first piece of structure and I was demonstrating how to vertical jig (for Spanish),” said Burton. “I handed the first jig rod to one of the guys and he immediately caught a 15-16 inch Spanish. When he pulled the Spanish up (near the boat), the cobia took a swipe at it.”

Burton was prepared for just this moment. He grabbed a rod he had rigged up specifically in case a cobia appeared, a Shimano 6000 spinning reel with 50-pound braid and 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 hook.

He had netted a few pogeys (menhaden) earlier in the morning and quickly put one on the hook. Meanwhile, the angler, who had managed to keep the cobia from eating the Spanish, pulled the Spanish out of the water at the same time Burton flipped the pogey to the cobia.

To borrow a phrase from local Captain Jay Sconyers – bam! The cobia was hooked up.

“When you see (a cobia), it is pure chaos,” said Burton. “You’ve got five seconds, you’ve got to be ready. Anytime you are fishing the near-shore reefs between now mid-June have a special rod set up just for them.”

With the cobia hooked up, a lengthy fight ensued. All three men in the crew took turns serving as the angler, and the battle lasted 75 minutes before Burton gaffed the cobia and dragged it aboard.

The official weight of the cobia was 49.8 pounds, although the fish certainly weighed over 50 pounds when first caught.

Let’s recap. The visitors from Pennsylvania had never been fishing in the ocean and on their first cast, or jig, they hooked a keeper Spanish mackerel, which was chased by a 50-pound cobia, which was subsequently hooked. After a fight of 75 minutes the cobia was gaffed and brought aboard.

What an introduction to ocean fishing.

As Burton says, “if you go targeting cobia, you’re probably going to have a bad trip.” Again, the key for catching cobia is to be prepared when they show up. Have that cobia rod ready and some live baits in the live well, or even a live eel on ice as a not-so-secret weapon.

Little River River Sweep

The 3rd annual event will be staged Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., based out of Johnny Causey Boat Landing in North Myrtle Beach.

Attendees will help clean up litter and debris from the waterways surrounding the Little River area including the barrier islands and parts of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Crazy Sister Offshore Challenge

The tournament originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday out of Murrells Inlet has been postponed due to rough sea associated with the cold front.

The event has yet to be rescheduled according to Seth Williams of the marina, who said it will like be moved to September.