Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle
Capt. Alex Crawford
March 8, 2006
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
CRAB CRUNCHERS ARE COMING
Cobia are beginning their annual spring migration across the Panhandle coast. In spring when the inshore water temperature reaches the high sixties, large cobia move out of their winter digs in South Florida, moving along the west coast towards Louisiana. Many take up summer residence on offshore reefs and wrecks of the Forgotten Coast. Many others continue their migration along the sugar white beaches of Mexico Beach, Panama City Beach, Destin, Pensacola and Orange Beach, Alabama.
One of the most challenging and fun approaches to taking spring-run cobes is hunting the beaches in clear water. This sport has evolved to an extremely high level around Panama and Destin. Letís take a brief, basic course on Cobia Hunting 101.
The first step is to find the migrating fish. This is not as simple as it sounds because the fish move in small pods along the beaches from the first surf line where the water color changes from light green to deeper blue. The fish may be offshore from the beach in 25 to 40 feet of water. So your search may be roughly a half mile from the beach. Water moving out of the passes will push the fish farther offshore. Some cobia hunters will sometimes troll dead baits like cigar minnows in an effort to have the fish find them, rather than vice-versa. But trolling is boring and sight casting is the real rush.
Cobia pros will begin the day idling west down the beaches with the east-rising morning sun at their back to improve their visibility to find fish. Many pros have very sophisticated boats that have been customized just for cobia hunting. The primary objective is to get high above the water to improve sight lines.
Going west in the morning puts your boat on the same bearing as the fish. So, you will want to run at a fast idle of better than 6 knots to travel faster than the migrating fish. Put the crew as high up on the boat as is safe and give them the observation mission. You may run west for 10 miles until the sun is up in the sky and come about after lunch and return east to the dock or ramp. Your return trip should generally be at a different depth and distance from the beach. When you encounter fish coming right at you, stuff happens fast, be prepared. And remember that a green cobia on the cockpit deck is looking to hurt you or break something you love.
The largest spinning outfits are best to make long casts with bait or artificial jigs. The reels of choice are 30 pound class with flawless drag systems, mounted on stout glass or composite sticks. You have a legitimate shot at a triple digit fish during the spring migration, so have the gear to do the job. Big spinners like Penns and Shimanos should have the capability to spool at least 300 yards of good mono or an appropriate amount of synthetic line, like Power Pro. Sixty pound fluoro leaders and double x hooks as small as 4/0 work fine. Circle hooks are gaining in popularity.
Artificial jigs take their share of spring fish. Many anglers like 4 ounce pastel-colored cobia jigs in pink, chartreuse, orange and green. Practice making casts prior to your trip. Consider wind, current and the position of the boat relative to your target.
Live bait choices start with eels, followed by pinfish, pigfish, cigar minnows and hardtail jacks. In early spring live bait catching may be unsuccessful. Try a small blue crab or saltwater catfish with the dorsal and pectoral spines carefully trimmed. Make your cast about 8 feet in front of a cruising fish. If your presentation spooks the fish, they will normally move offshore toward deeper, safe water. If you get no take, your second cast should be offshore unless you can see the fish. Have several outfits at the ready with an organized plan for the crew. Gaffing short fish is a no-no, so use a cobia net for landing. (available at Half Hitch Tackle stores in Port St. Joe, Panama City and Destin. (www.halfhitch.com). Eels and cobia jigs are available in their stores. These fine folks are fishermen and understand your needs.
This sport has become so popular due to the chance for big fish, many boats will be cruising along hunting in close quarters, especially on weekends. It is important that we all use common sense to respect our fellow anglers. Never run on plane around other boats, never move in on another boats fish and stay clear of a boat with a fish on. Just simply, do unto others. Spooking another anglerís fish is really bad fishing etiquette.
In Florida, cobia are a migratory coastal pelagic species. Guides that target cobes are required to possess necessary federal permits. Recreational anglers have a bag of one cobia per person per day with a minimum size limit of 33 inches at the fork of the tail.
If you become a proficient cobia chaser, consider competing in any of the spring tournaments along the Panhandle from Mexico Beach to Destin. These tourneys have evolved into ultra-competitive events where it takes trophy fish to get in the money.
But on a pleasant spring day, hunting cobia while idling along the beach is a sure cure for spring fever.
Till next tide, solid hookups and tight lines,
Captain Alex Crawford
Proud Member Florida Outdoor Writers Association
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