March 23, 2022
Remember when manta rays coming up the beach meant we would soon all have a freezer full of cobia? I do. Back then, the manta rays far outnumbered the boats pursuing them. Times have certainly changed when it comes to pursuing cobia. At least until the stock rebuilds, I'm afraid the days of easy limits of legal cobia on the beach, under the manta rays, are mostly a thing of the past.
Captain Steve Szczepanik of Luckybird Charters in St. Augustine has advanced another method of finding cobia, one which I started trying many years ago off Northeast Florida. In this part of Florida, we have an abundance of pogies on the beach starting in April, and I found the easiest way to catch cobia was to punch a half dozen wrecks into my old Loran C within 15 miles of the beach. I would then make a pass over each wreck, tossing out handfuls of live pogies, hoping a cobia would be the first thing to pop up from the wreck and gobble one of my trolled pogies. It was effective much of the time, but I didn't have an answer for the dozens of giant AJ's and cudas that would crash the party, or the cobia that would chase a free-swimming pogy over the horizon.
Capt. Steve and his buddy Capt. Robert Holmquist rely heavily on their electric trolling motors for much of their fishing—cobia fishing included. Steve fishes a series of small, mostly out of the way wrecks within 20 miles of St. Augustine.
“It's pretty simple system that I almost discovered by accident,” said Steve. “We had caught so many fish trolling that day, that I just felt like we needed to change things up. I moved up current from the wreck we were fishing and spot-locked my trolling motor. Just for giggles, I dropped a chum bag with a 5-pound block of glass minnows and let it sink back toward the wreck. I tossed in a couple of cut up fresh pogies and boom! Here came two cobia after I'd been trolling over the top all day.”
Steve went on: “Our customers love it when fish react to the chum, and they can throw spinners at them. Even though cobia continue to be the main reason you'll rarely see me slow-trolling anymore, we've raised just about everything that swims in our chum. There's nothing more exciting to a customer than casting a live pogy to a sailfish swimming around the boat, trying to figure out what smells so good. Sight casting red snapper has become a common occurrence. The sheer number of big red snapper on our area wrecks is mind boggling. They are no longer the least bit hesitant to come to the surface when we chum. Sharks are becoming a problem, so be careful not to chum too heavily.”
Chumming for cobia on the wrecks is not as easy as it sounds. Glass minnows and ground chum must be kept frozen until deployed in a mesh bag hung off the transom. Chopping up pogies can ruin your fishing as fast as it starts. The trick is to chum enough to bring up the cobia without alerting every bull or tiger shark in the area code. Basically, Steve usually cuts up a pogy, and drops a piece at a time until each piece has had time to reach the bottom. Remember, you're serving appetizers, the main course will have a hook in it.
Steve and Robert have been so successful with their cobia chumming they have been contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help with their ongoing cobia tagging survey. Together they have tagged over 50 cobia in the last 3 years. Juveniles (under 37 inches) get spaghetti tags, while several healthy adults are now carrying satellite tags giving biologists priceless information to help us better manage what seems to be an overfished population. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2021