Cobia Fishing in Little River, SC

If you’re looking for a pelagic gamefish within the same range from land as King Mackerel, with the table quality of Grouper, and the strength of a shark, then look no farther than the Cobia. I have caught cobia on several occasions while fishing for King Mackerel, but I have never left the dock and ridden offshore specifically looking for Cobia.

On Saturday, June 10, the ocean was calm enough to allow Shannon Jordan and me to venture offshore in our 22-foot bay boat.
We launched the boat at 7 a.m. after an hour’s ride to Little River, SC and rode out through the jetty into the Atlantic Ocean. We passed the end of the jetty and hooked a right turn to check the South side for bait. Menhaden were visible in tight schools, and Shannon drove the boat to them while I prepared the net. The bait fish were so tightly packed together that their backs were out of the water and touching each other. When we were at the optimal position, Shannon put the engine in reverse, and I threw my 8′ cast net into the middle of the school. I could see fish swimming inside the net and knew that this haul would be all we needed for the day.

With a bait tank full of large menhaden, we stowed the net and looked for jellyfish for a while before riding out to the blue horizon. The menhaden will be key to catching Cobia and the jellyfish would be the bait of choice for another fish that frequent the area called a spade fish. With a tank full of menhaden and not a jellyfish in sight, Shannon and I decided that this day was meant for the Cobia.
We reached our spot about 10 miles offshore and deployed the trolling motor to keep us in position over the reef. Shannon and I prepared the rigs with large circle hooks tied to 6′ leader and hooked live menhaden by the nose before casting them out behind the boat. Two menhaden were on free lines, and one had a cork attached. We dealt with a few small sharks that we lost hooks and bait, too, but we replaced bait and continued fishing. Finally, we saw the first sign of Cobia. A large shark swam by with two cobia swimming behind it. Cobia can often be found swimming with large sharks, rays, and turtles. I reserved one rod for sight casting and had a 2-ounce bucktail with a 7″ worm tail on the hook. I pitched it overhead of the shark and quickly worked it back into the Cobia’s path. One of the Cobia peeled off and ate the bucktail, but the T-top prevented me from giving an adequate hook set and the Cobia was able to shake free. Even though the Cobia escaped, I was amazed to have gotten a strike by sight casting, exactly as I have heard it being done on podcasts.
Shannon and I adjusted our position over the reef as a boat was leaving. They tossed half of a jellyfish to us for use as bait to catch spade fish. Before we could rig a rod to catch spades, we noticed a giant 12-foot Tiger Shark (which Shannon named Bruce) gliding underneath our boat. The size of the shark was staggering, and his dorsal fin seemed so close that it could brush against the keel of our small boat. Accompanying this shark were five Cobia. I darted across the boat and took the sight casting rod in hand, and pitched the bucktail to the side in the direction they were heading. I jerked it back to me until I saw the shark on the other side and let it drop straight down into their path. One Cobia turned up and nabbed it. This time, I set the hook and saw the fish react. It shook its head and thrashed around the shark. I was worried that the large shark would eat the fish, but it seemed that turning around would be too much effort for it. The Cobia swam to the ocean floor multiple times before Shannon had a chance to scoop it up in the net. For our first-time targeting Cobia, catching one made the voyage a success. This Cobia measured 30″ long and had to be released because the minimum size is 36″.
I noticed that one of the free lines was being pulled to the bow of the boat which could lead to tangled line in the trolling motor. I moved the rod to the bow to prevent a trolling motor accident and to give the bait fish more freedom to swim. Shannon hooked a spade fish using a piece of a jelly shouted, “I got one!” She continued fighting the spade fish, and I noticed that the free line that I just moved to the bow was now pulling towards the Stern. I moved the rod to the back of the boat and the line was now crossing the other two.
“It must have a fish on.” I said and as I started reeling, the line tightened up and I heard splashing at the other side of the boat. The lines were so tangled that I couldn’t fight the fish and it got away before I could identify if it was a shark, cobia, or barracuda. Shannon was still battling her spade fish and the 12-foot Tiger Shark swam by and ate it. Shannon said, “Bruce took my supper!” Three Cobia swam up from the shark and tried to eat a menhaden that was hooked and dangling in the water while I tried to untangle the knot. The menhaden hid behind the boat motor, and I said, “We don’t have enough hands on the boat!” There was never steady action. We were either surrounded by schools of fish, or the water was empty. We finally had a break in the action, so I cut all of the lines that were tangled and laid them on the deck to be re-rigged. After baiting the hooks with fresh menhaden and casting them out, Shannon and I took advantage of the quiet to eat some sandwiches and watermelon for lunch.
The ocean was quiet now and we were the only boat remaining of the 10 that once surrounded us. All our bait was back in the water, and we waited. We knew the action would start back all at once and then we heard a vicious splash behind the boat. Shannon and I jumped on our feet, and we could see the white foam where our cork had just been floating. The rod on the T-top bent over and we could hear the drag as line was rapidly being pulled from the reel. I seized the rod and passed it to Shannon. For two minutes, the fish peeled line from the screaming reel, and we never gained an inch of line. I was worried we hooked Bruce, the big Tiger Shark. Shannon passed the rod to me after the first run was over and I started pumping the rod to get it closer. The fish now hung deep below the boat and Shannon reeled in all 4 lines that were in the water to prevent a tangle. The fish wondered from one side to the other, making me move the line around the motor multiple times, then going to the bow where we would finish the fight. The heavy weight and unstoppable pulls convinced me that I had a shark, but we had to see it. The water was clear, and I saw the fish swimming 20 feet deep and thought it was a shark.
The ugly stick rod was arched, and Shannon said, “either the rod or the line is about to break.” The line was so tight that it sounded like picking a guitar as the fish held beneath the boat.
The fish came into sight again, this time on its side where I could see the markings on it. What I thought was a shark could be a giant Cobia!
I quietly said, “Could it be a…” but I didn’t want to call it a Cobia before I was certain.
The battle continued, and eventually, the giant Cobia came to the surface. “Get the net! Get the net! No, Get the gaff!” I shouted when I realized the size of the Cobia. Shannon passed me the gaff, and I stuck the fish and pulled it into the boat. The cobia flopped onto the deck, and we could not contain our excitement. “We’re going home!.” I shouted, and we fileted the fish on the spot. Cobia has a firm white meat and is excellent table fare whether seared, baked, grilled, or fried, and the two filets filled the cooler. The Cobia was measured at 52” and estimated to be between 43 to 45 pounds.
After washing the deck, stowing tackle, and releasing our bait, Shannon and I turned towards land and sped back home. We could not have asked for a better day of fishing and being able to do it together added to the excitement. We enjoyed both methods of Cobia fishing from sight casting artificial bait at Cobia to the surprise of the giant Cobia eating our live bait out behind the boat.
As we rode back to land, we couldn’t help but to marvel at how beautiful the water was. The ocean had a bright green color that continued all the way to the beaches and looked like a picture from Florida.
The hard work was done, and the next task was to find some recipes.

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