The coastal in-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most exciting and productive sport fishing areas found anywhere in the world. Throughout much of the estuaries, salt marshes, beaches and mangroves of the Gulf the most common angling targets include species well-known in shallow waters like Red Drum, Flounder and Spotted Seatrout. But the Gulf also boasts a spectacular diversity of less regular in-shore fish for anglers to try catching. One of the most common daydream fish fantasies for skinny water addicts is the thrilling experience of being hooked on to a Cobia. Despite often being found further offshore in the pelagic zone, Cobia are powerful predators which make regular enough visits to in-shore waters to make them highly sought after by coastal anglers.
Cobia are known by a staggering variety of names. Ling, Lemonfish, Black Bonito and Crabeater are perhaps the most common. Solitary and primarily a pelagic species found in deep offshore waters, these fish make annual migrations for spawning and for following warm ocean currents in search of food. Often during these migrations they come close to shore, and make long runs just beyond beach breakers, allowing kayak anglers, pier fishermen and shallow water vessels opportunities to hook onto these massive monsters. And it is not uncommon for these solitary apex predators to spend time in estuaries and mangroves when not spawning. Growing up to 2 meters in length and sometimes weighing upwards of a hundred pounds, Cobia are often mistaken for sharks by anglers, as they have similar body shapes and dark skin coloration.
Despite their size and superficial resemblance to sharks, Cobia are mostly closely related to Remora Suckerfish, well known for their talent of latching onto larger predators like sharks and rays in order to feed off the dinner scraps they leave behind. And like their smaller, sucker mouthed cousins, Cobia also tend to follow large sharks, manta rays and turtles looking for crumbs and morsels left in the wake of their meals. Perhaps it is this tendency to stalk behind larger, more powerful predators that make Cobia seem almost curious at times, as large boats full of enthusiastic fishermen rarely seem to spook them. Anglers should cast to just behind any rays they see with a variety of lures, as cobia so often follow them. Never shy predators, Cobia primarily eat squid, fish and crustaceans. Crabs make a great choice when using live baits in coastal waters though, as Cobia like crabs so much “Crabeater” is one of their most common nicknames.
Another reason Cobia are so loved by sport fishermen are they are some of the best tasting fish in the ocean. Known for their white colored, large flake filets, firm texture and mild flavor, Cobia can be prepared in a variety of ways: Fillets can be poached, braised, grilled, pan sautéed or smoked. Solitary in nature and with no wild fishery in place, commercially caught Cobia commands high prices, so despite their abundance and great taste, Cobia are rarely found on restaurant menus. This fact only adds to the infatuation many anglers have with catching Cobia, as they can provide family and friends with a gourmet meal they would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Despite their abundance and the fact they are regular visitors to in-shore environments along the coast, anglers new to Cobia would do well to hire an experienced guide or charter, as they have the experience to know tips and tricks for local waters you wouldn’t be able to find online or in a book. A great deal of their service will be in helping you to find out the best Cobia haunts in your area. If you are fishing skinny water and you see a large, torpedo shaped shadow that you think might be a shark, be sure to give it a cast, as it just might be a cobia. Just be sure to be ready to hold on!