The Fall Cobia Bite
As fall inches forward, fly and light tackle anglers continue their pursuit of bonefish, baby tarpon, and permit on the flats. Long days in the shallows bring some incredible fishing, as a day with a capable guide quite often leads to more than a few encounters with the intended target species. I appreciate this fishing. Scanning the shallows for the familiar tail of a feeding permit or the push from a school of bonefish is rewarding – you are constantly confirming what you already know to be the case, fortifying your belief that everything, it seems, is exactly as and where it should be.
However, there are a few very distinct fish and fisheries at the end of our island chain, and this article is concerned with the one that is, momentarily, at the forefront of my mind. The offshore fishery, that of filling your boat with a live well full of pilchards, of anchoring over structure and putting a frozen block of ground menhaden in a mesh bag to sway in the current, of unexpected guests making a brief and heart-stopping appearance, is what I remain focused on. I know what to expect on the flats; when I am offshore, it is the unexpected that I anticipate the most.
Of these sudden offshore visitors, perhaps the most welcome is the cobia. Regarded as a game fish as well as a food fish (in my opinion, they are quite simply the best) this curious denizen of the gulf side wrecks and rock piles puts an otherwise calm boat full of anglers on high alert. I was at the center of the chaotic choreography that ensued when a large specimen skated towards us two years ago while fishing with famed Key West light tackle guide Capt. Robert "RT" Trosset. I tried my hand at the fish as he slid calmly toward the stern of the boat without eliciting any interest, and it was only after he shrank down and swam away that Capt. Aaron Snell, after quietly throwing a fly behind the boat and allowing it to sink, began his retrieve and hooked the fish. Despite my rapidly fading sense of entitlement, I was in awe of this fish. What had I done wrong? Why had this fish abandoned all sense of security, approached a 30 foot boat, and all but escaped before he decided to bite a fly? The answer is simple, yet never clear to me until I asked my good friend Captain Rob Nevius if cobia were just in fact dumb. He laughed, and his response was surprising. It explained exactly what it is about these fish that I found so compelling, and why they act the way they do. "It’s simple," he said. "They’re not dumb. They’re brave." This has remained an answer that I have shared with plenty of friends and clients, one of enduring authority and almost increasing validity. I respect the cobia for this reason, simply and completely.
While I now know that the cobia often prefer a fly that swims at them or crosses their path at close to perpendicular and I have lost track of the number I have landed, I remain effected. Every time I see their shark-shaped bodies cruise into a chum slick, I am reduced to a respectful child – it is all I can do not to ask their permission to cast. I believe that if you can catch one of these fish, especially on a fly rod, you have engaged yourself with a unique opponent that is worthy of any respect you choose to give it. And in the world we live in, respect like that deserves to be indulged.
Tight Lines & Straight Shots,
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