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Fish up to 90 pounds are making anglers smile

By Bill Sargent

PORT CANAVERAL -- Cobia mania was at a peak outside Port Canaveral last Thursday. The proof was at the docks about mid-afternoon.

Tonya Fiedler of Cocoa Beach was hugging her 46-pound cobia like a Teddy Bear, and she wore a smile that wouldn't stop. The catch was the heaviest of three cobia that Fiedler and her Reel Girls Fishing Team brought to the Sunrise Marina docks aboard the boat Bottom Dollar with Capt. Brock Anderson.

"Can you believe it. It's my first cobia," Fiedler laughed. "It kept diving right back down. What a fight," she exclaimed.

A half hour later, on the opposite side of the same main dock at the marina, the last of five cobia pulled out of the fish box on the charter boat Obsession by Capt. Brent Hancock was a 5-foot long 60-pounder.

Dan Olson, a construction worker on vacation from Mondovi, Wis. said he never knew a fish could be so powerful.

"It was awesome. That's the only way I can describe it," said Olson.

But it was a catch being brought to the nearby party boat docks, aboard Capt. Phil Lillo's boat the Fish Finder, that caused an eruption from the crowd of tourists who stood three deep to watch.

Lillo and his partner, Ace Hardaway, both of Cocoa Beach, dropped a pair of giants on the dock the likes of which are seldom seen around Port Canaveral. The smaller of the two cobia was an 811/4-pounder. The big one weighed 90 pounds.

"We hooked both of them at the same time," said Lillo, a charter veteran of 30 years. "There were six or seven of these in a couple hundred yards, all the same size."

It took Hardaway an hour and 20 minutes to land the 81-pounder on 30-pound spinning gear, while Lillo, with the help of Hardaway's wife, Sandy, got the heavier fish to the boat in an hour on the same type tackle.

Each fish measured 5-feet, 4-inches and it was all the three of them could do to pull each fish over the transom.

The catch was particularly special for Ace Hardaway. It was his 43rd birthday.

Each spring, when water temperatures suddenly rise into the high 60s and lower 70s, these ugly, brown-colored ocean gamesters, which often are mistaken for sharks, migrate past Port Canaveral in enormous numbers. For the last two weeks, the progression has continued to multiply, with more and more of the big fish moving inshore toward the beaches.

On Thursday, most of the fish came in 35 feet to 50 feet of water off the Cocoa Beach Pier, some as close as a mile from the beachfront. In most cases the fish were aggressive and hungry, and they hit 11/2 to 2-ounce jigs.

"This fish gobbled it right down. It was on a feed, and then it ran like a kingfish," said Hancock about the 60-pounder. "I've never seen a cobia run like that. I had to chase it," he added, meaning he had to move the boat toward the fish to keep it from spooling Olson's reel.

The 35-year-old Hancock has been chartering for 19 years.

Each of the giants taken by Lillo and Hardaway hit 11/2-ounce yellow jigs trailing 4-inch natural squids.

"There was no hesitation when they hit," Lillo said. "These big fish are moving because they're going for the food. Their stomachs were empty."

Lillo said the big fish that are being caught at the start of the spring run is not unusual for the Canaveral area.

"The first run of them always is the big fish," Lillo said. "They were at Fort Pierce two weeks ago, and now they're moving this way."

The spring run is part of a migration up the Atlantic coast from south Florida waters where the cobia spend the winter. Many of the fish winter in the southern Florida Keys, around Key West, and as water temperatures begin to warm some fish head north along the Atlantic coast, and others take a western route along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

For reasons that are unknown, most of the larger cobia caught come from the Gulf, evidenced by giants in excess of 100 pounds taken annually out of Destin, Pensacola and other Panhandle ports. In 1999, a 131-pound giant was taken at Destin.

One of the heaviest cobia documented in Atlantic waters was a 125 1/2-pounder caught offshore Jacksonville in May 1998. The all-tackle world record was a 135-pound, 9-ounce cobia taken in Australia in 1985.

One of the heaviest cobia ever caught in Canaveral waters was a 105-pounder that Lillo said was taken on his boat about 15 years ago. Lillo said he has pictures of the giant that he weighed at a commercial fish house.

In June, 1990, Rich Russell of Merritt Island landed an 85-pounder outside Port Canaveral.

In the two weeks since the cobia first showed outside Port Canaveral, most of the keeper fish have been in the 20- to 25-pound range. To be legal, a cobia must measure at least 33 inches in fork length.

In state waters, the recreational limit is one cobia a person, or six cobia per vessel, whichever is less.

Boat = Cobia

P / S You all up north,there on the way.

70 Posts
I have the right state residency; I just fish the wrong ocean. Water here needs another 4 or 5 degrees.

One time I was chest deep in clear gulf water with a buddy of mine casting for Blues, Spanish and whatever else was running in the late spring. A sleek dark shape swam towards us, circled once and then swam away. I thought it was a shark :eek: :eek:, my buddy said Cobia. Good thing for our friendship that the gulf was pretty warm!!! ;)

I wasn’t so sure it wasn’t a shark, we did some “Pompano” fishing with our feet on the dry sand for the rest of the day. When we got back to the tackle shop for some ice on the way home, there were some of the locals there with a huge Cobia that they had caught from a nearby jetty that afternoon. Made me sleep a lot better

I think about that dark shape sometimes even now. Either I was close to getting torn up :( . Or I was close to a big “Cobe” and I should have had one of those hard-to-find eel-looking baits handy.
:confused: :confused:

Any of you guys ever landed a Cobia from the beach? What did he bite on?

98 Posts
Yup! I caught them on calico crabs found right in the surf. They are the color of the beach sand but have all the appearances of a blue crab except for the color. Remove the claws and rear flat flippers. Three inch crab has worked well for me---cast straight out and retrieve just fast enough to keep it from sinking. The take is crushing, I mean like a freight train.
Had a dark shape or two get between me and the beach a few times, very unnerving--always get out quickly.
Good Luck!

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