Cobia: A Freight Train With Fins

The whitecaps across the lower Chesapeake Bay off Cape Charles, Va., looked like raw cotton being blown across the open water.

“This is usually the case,” Martin Freed said. “Every time we come down here, no matter how calm it is before we leave, it always seems to be blowing a gale out of the westerly quarter.”

Of course, this is not always the case, but it happens often enough that it seems so.

Small Boat, Big Water
This was our second attempt to get out cobia fishing that particular year. We were living up in Dames Quarter, Md., near Deal Island on Tangier Sound. Since we only had a small 16-foot boat, Bay conditions were the deciding factor as to whether we can get out. Those who have larger vessels are not as dependent on relatively calm weather.

“Guess we should get a bigger boat,” my wife, Ruta Vaskys said with authority.

“You always say that, when we can not get out, but change your mind when it comes down to shelling out the cash,” Freed taunted.

Since we turned around the last time and went home to fish for trout and croakers in the calmer waters of Tangier Sound, we decided to give it a go. After dropping the boat in, we began motoring out toward Plantation Light. There is a relatively shallow bar between the entrance to Cape Charles Harbor and the open Chesapeake Bay. This makes for a relatively calm area fairly close to shore.

To get around the shallow area, you have to head south before heading west near the light. After making the turn, it became obvious that it was a bit too bumpy for our comfort.

“Better head back,” Freed said.

“Since we already went through all the trouble of driving down here, then dropping the boat in, why don’t we at least give it a try back inside the bar,” Vaskys insisted.

Anchors Near Harbor Entrance
We anchored in about 20 feet of water where it was a bit protected from the wind by the jetty at the entrance to the harbor. After rigging up for smaller fish such as spot, croaker, sea mullet, and trout, we dropped down to see what can be found.

We had cut small pieces of menhaden for bait on number 2/0 hooks. It didn’t take long. Within five minutes, Vaskys had a powerful hit and the cobia came flying out of the water before it was gone. It was something we didn’t expect.

The authors’ favorite bait for cobia is fresh menhaden.

We quickly broke out the heavier rods and rigged them with the standard fish finder rig used for cobia. Within an hour we each had our fish.

This taught us a great lesson: cobia are where you find them. Since that time, we have observed an eastern gentleman fishing off the same jetty we were fishing near that day. As we asked him how he’s doing, his rod twitched just a bit. He said that had been happening for a while. Suddenly, his outfit was almost jerked out of his hands!

After a long battle, probably 15 minutes, the guy actually landed one of the largest cobia we had ever seen — about 80 pounds. And this was done on 20-pound-test line!

Cobia Can Be Anywhere
Most cobia anglers launching from the Eastern Shore into the Bay, fish out of Cape Charles or Kiptopeake State Park a few miles to the south. But few know that fish can be found much farther north. We’ve actually taken a few near the Target Ship areas of Tangier Sound. In addition, Onancock used to be known as, “The Cobia Capital Of The World.” So once again, cobia are where you find them.

The authors prefer to fish with 30- to 40-pound-test fishing line.

However, there are a few areas that are quite popular. One is the Cabbage Patch a bit south of Cape Charles and north of Kiptopeake State Park. It can be found on most charts of the lower Bay.

Plantation Flats is also a popular location. This is in the same general area, but a bit more inshore.

Cobia also roam around the Concrete Ships just a short distance from the Kiptopeake ramp. They may also be found around any of the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, or near the rock islands at the entrances to the tunnels.

If it is too rough to venture out into the main part of the Bay, not only is the area around the entrance near Cape Charles Harbor a good bet, but the area inside the Concrete Ships is usually quite calm and could be productive.

Try A Fish Finder Rig
Rigging is quite straightforward. We use a simple fish finder rig. You can either use the sliding plastic rings with a clip for your sinker or simply string your line through the eye of a 4- to 8-ounce sinker and tie to a strong 2/0-4/0 swivel to the end.

We use a 36- to 48-inch leader of 50-pound-test with a 6/0-8/0 lazer sharp hook such as the Mustad Ultrapoint.

This rig is fished on the bottom, but there are times when cobia are suspended in the water column. Some feel that they will always dive to the bottom for bait. However, we have found that fishing with a float can be productive especially with live bait. Hang your bait with a small weight, three to four feet below the bobber. Then let it drift out in the tide off the stern of the boat.

The favorite bait for cobia is fresh menhaden. Frozen also works, but is softer and requires more bait checks. We often use herring that had been caught earlier in the spring.

A live spot is probably the best bait, and a freshly caught dead spot is second best. We often fish with a second smaller rod to try to get a few of these guys. Croakers, roundhead, pinfish, pigfish, and small bluefish also work well.

Cobia are one of the strongest fish, which makes trying to land them, a ton of fun.

At times, cobia will hit like a freight train traveling at the speed of light. On the other hand, sometimes they will just pick at or mouth the bait. Occasionally, the fish seem to just grab the offering by the side and head straight for the surface and break water just to tease you before releasing it. Thus, be ready for anything. If they are in the picking or mouthing mode, wait until you get a substantial hit before striking. You will still miss many fish, but it does increase the odds of a hookup.

One Strong Fish
Cobia are one of the strongest fish you will ever encounter and they do break water upon occasion. However, since you are fishing in open water, relatively light tackle may be used. We prefer a 3/0 to 4/0 reel with 30- to 40-pound-test on a medium-weight rod. We’ve seen some anglers fish with line as light as 12-pound-test on a light-spinning rod. They surely lose many more fish than they land.

Most of the fish that break off have wrapped themselves around the anchor line. So by putting the anchor rope on a buoy and releasing it while fighting a fish, this problem could be minimized.

Cobia fishing from the Eastern Shore of the lower Bay can be exciting and loads of fun. They pull with such force that you probably have never experienced anything like it. Because they are so picky and so many things can go wrong, you will not get one on every trip. But hey! That’s why it’s called “fishin'” instead of “catchin’.”

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One Response to “Cobia: A Freight Train With Fins”

  1. KaYaK Hale

    Hey, thanks for this fishing info. I live right outside Salisbury Md and fish From Tangiers Sound south to Va. Beach both Bay and Ocean. I gave up my boat for a kayak about 10 years ago and have never caught cobia in my kayak. Great Info Carl