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Fly Fishing for Cobia In Florida

The perfect warmup for spring tarpon season.

Cobia are a sight-fishing specialty this time of year, along Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic Beaches.

Spring-run cobia travel inshore where even small skiffs can reach them on calm days. The fish are quick to snap up flies, and a big one will tax a 10-weight as well as any tarpon of comparable size. Where best to tackle these great fish on fly? Here are four scenarios.

Sandbars

Cobia are famous for running beaches, but in Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and other big bays, migrating cobia often travel over sandbars and edges of grassflats. And their paths may be well-worn: Pay attention to where they travel at different stages of the tide, and you can zero in on a pattern to find cruising fish. Anchoring along those paths—just as you would for tarpon—is usually the best approach. Or, troll-motor the edges of these bars and flats. In Tampa Bay, we have the most success around the 6-foot sandy bottom contour. Once a fish is spotted, you can’t go wrong with a black-and-purple bunny strip fly.

Piggy-back Riders

Cobia often travel in company with big rays, stacked up beneath them like bombs on a fighter jet (or on top, in the case of bottom-hugging stingrays). When I’m scouting a flat or sandbar, if there aren’t any rays moving though, there probably aren’t going to be any cobia, either. I’ve also seen cobia follow manatees, turtles, tarpon and sharks, especially big bulls. Cobia riding shotgun on a bull shark are usually aggressive and rarely refuse the fly.

Structure

Bridge pilings and large channel markers are great places to find cobia holding or searching for a snack. The best structure has heavy current and is adjacent to deeper water. I run to my favorite markers, cut the motor and drift by to see if anyone is home. If I spot a fish, I put down the trolling motor and move back towards the spot. Structure-hugging cobia seem to prefer a baitfish pattern, such as an EP baitfish fly or Deceiver-style fly. Present the fly so it swims naturally by, sweeping it near the fish’s face, with the current. Make steady, short strips or hops, accelerating as the fish follows.

At the Sauna

If winter cold lingers, cobia seek refuge in the warm outfalls from power plant cooling systems. These spots are great on a weak tide with bright sun and light wind. You’ll likely find an abundance of rays swimming slowly just beneath the surface. Bank on the larger spotted eagle rays—they’re the ones usually carrying cobia, both sliding along, basking in the sun and warm water. Place a large bunny strip fly over the back of the ray and strip the fly so it falls naturally off the ray’s back, and into the cobia’s field of view. – FS

Written by Nick Angelo

First Published Florida Sportsman Mar. 2012