Cobia Craziness

Every year, the Vixen crew joins the legion of boats cruising the waters off the beaches of Alabama and Florida in search of westward-migrating cobia. Boats cruise along the beaches, preferably with the anglers standing at the highest possible point, until a cobia is spotted. Then in a moment of chaos, the crew slings jigs, live eels, live baitfish, and pretty much anything not nailed down in hopes of getting the fish to eat.

While I enjoy sight-fishing for cobia, I will confess that my eyes are not that well attuned. While I imagine that I’m slightly better than Ray Charles at spotting cobia, I’m probably not as good as Stevie Wonder. Thankfully, Capt. Eric is far better.

Last year the bad weather made this type of fishing tough. When the weather finally broke, we took advantage of the opportunity to give the cobia a shot. The sun was out off of Orange Beach, the skies were cloudless, the wind had laid down, and the water was clear. While there were lots of turtles and hundreds of rays, the problem was there were not many cobia.

The few that showed themselves tended to be skittish and of the few nice-sized ones that were landed, most were caught farther to the west, near Destin. However, we did manage to find a couple of hungry ones to make the effort worth our while. But we did get a couple.


Back in Mississippi, a different approach is used when the cobia reach our waters in their annual migration. Anglers here typically sight fish around the rigs or anchor up on a bar and set up a chum slick off one of our barrier islands. This approach has its own set of issues, including keeping the crew awake and sober while fighting off hordes of sharks attracted to the chum.

***  [Published in the Sun Herald]  ***

It won’t be long before Coast anglers will be gearing up to fish Gorenflo’s local one-day cobia shootout. Sight fishing along the beach can be boring. But luckily we avoided the episode experienced by a good friend of mine, Ken Cook, while fishing this tournament last year.

Now Ken has fished with us aboard Vixen and I can attest to the fact that he’s a great angler. I’m sure the same is true for the rest of his crew. But offshore, sometimes things…well, they just happen.

By midafternoon, Ken’s team had covered over 250 miles fishing the rigs on his boat, Stretched Out, without a lot of luck. So, they decided to give chumming on the bar a shot. After an hour with only a couple of sharks to show for their efforts, they were running out of time before they would have to head back for the weigh-in.

Desperate to raise a cobia, Ken decided to put out some fresh chum and got his buddy, we’ll call him Bubba, to help. It was at this time that Ken looked down and saw a fifty-pound cobia staring him in the face.

“Lemon fish,” he yelled just as one of the reels went off. His third angler buddy quickly snatched up the rod but they soon realized he was hooked up with another shark. So while he proceeded to fight the shark and Ken and Bubba were finishing with the chum, another reel went off.

Thinking that this might actually be the cobia they had just spotted, Bubba dove for the second rod, the one with an orange balloon float. But as he did so, he got tangled up in the chum bucket and dropped the rod overboard.

Ken was still dealing with the chum, they were still fighting the shark, and now Ken was puzzling how he might retrieve his expensive gear, when he heard a “sploosh.” Instinctively, Bubba had leaped overboard, hoping to save Ken’s rod. But as he hit the water, the horrible realization that they were still fighting a shark sunk in.

Deciding to abandon his quest for the rod, Bubba quickly reappeared beside the boat, expressing a keen interest in getting back in it and away from the shark. A few seconds later, Bubba was shaking off the water, Ken was trying to catch his breath, and their third buddy was still fighting the shark when the orange balloon popped up.

For an instant they stared in amazement when Bubba grabbed another rod, cast the jig, and managed to hook the line. As soon as he began reeling, the tip of the lost rod popped up. Bubba grabbed it, only to realize the cobia was still hooked up. By this time, they had cut off the shark and dealt with the chum, and after a short fight, they had a fat cobia gaffed and in the box. Whew!

Whenever this sort of crazy episode happens offshore, the one thing you can count on is having your buddies give you endless grief. But the truth is, it happens to every single one of us. I can tell you for a fact, it’s happened to me and my crew.

At least these guys can say, “While we were out there giving it our best shot, where were you?”

Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.

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