Cobia: Back To Basics Part I
  |  First Published: August 2011

Normally we start encountering cobia in the bay and around the inshore reefs from about September/October onwards, but sometimes as early as August. They are fantastic fish to chase and there are a variety of methods to catch them. In the following two part article I will be covering the basics about how you can get amongst them in Northern Bay and north Moreton waters.

Cobia are very adaptable to their environment and can be found roaming around reefs, coffee rock shoals and around man-made structures, like wrecks and navigational beacons in bay and inshore waters of 40m or less.

They mostly travel in pods and can be described as curious and determined, and will aggressively follow and strike a lure or bait repeatedly until hooked.

These characteristics allow anglers to target them using several methods. I have caught them on skirted trolling lures, trolled deep diving minnows and bottom bounced paternoster rigs. They can also be used for deepwater jigging using bucktail jigs or metals and of course the employment of live baits from either an anchored or drifting boat.


My light outfit is a 7ft heavy class spin rod with 50-65lb braid and a 10ft 50lb fluorocarbon leader. You can then choose either the artificial bucktail (usually brightly coloured) or a livebait.

Bucktails around the Shallows

When fishing with bucktails in places like Western Rocks you can sometimes catch cobia by cast and retrieve, especially when cobia have come up your berley trail when you are at anchor. We like to use a fairly fast jigging motion that keeps the bucktail jig visible under the surface so you can monitor the response from the fish.

Simply cast out, let the jig sink momentarily and then give the rod tip a short, sharp upward stroke, repeating this as you reel. Once you’ve got the cobia’s attention – it’ll be game on.

If they follow and don’t strike, you may opt to ‘tip’ (spice) the jig hook with a tuna belly strip for extra scent. We have had a lot of success with 2oz lead head jigs with synthetic hair.

Deep Water Jigs

If you’re fishing bucktails around structure (where the fish may not be visible) particularly deep structure, then you’ll want to let the lure sink down a little more. Keep an eye on the sounder as you may be able to see the fish on the screen and target that specific depth.

Sometimes it’s productive to get the lure all the way to the bottom and bounce it on the sea bed. Feel free to experiment with retrieves to see what the fish are responding to, however yo-yoing the lure up and down often works well.

Live baits

With live baits, we opt for locally caught baitfish, which are often yellowtail scad, slimey mackerel or yellowtail pike and anything trevally style. The simplest approach is to rig a hook through the nose of the live bait using a 7/0 (or larger) live bait style hook.

When livebaiting for cobia try a number of balloon and sinker arrangements depending on the location that you are fishing.

Western Rocks

At Western Rocks and other shallow, coffee rock shoals, you can get away with lighter line for the cobia as there is less structure for them to wrap you around. However the lighter the line the longer the fight.

If you are into sportfishing then 10kg is as low as you need to go to catch a ‘Masters’ fish, particularly as the cobia at Western Rocks generally run between 15-40kg. Such an outfit might be a spin rod or double handed baitcaster.

Using an overhead heavy tackle outfit such as you might use for bottom bashing works well if you choose a heavier line class, however regular readers will know that I have a penchant for tackle designed specifically for a set purpose.

The outfit that I recommend for this job is a 20lb stand-up Stroker type rod with a reel full of 50lb mono or braid. I like the shorter rods for shallower water applications and particularly when live baiting for the type of fish that will take your bait in the top half of the water column or in shallow water.

The rod that I like most is a Jarvis Walker Pro Series 2030 Stroker. This rod is lighter than what most tackle shops would recommend but I have proven to myself, and many of my friends, that these rods land cobia just as quickly as stiffer rods. Try it for yourself and see. I will also say that mono is probably just as good as braid in this situation.

If I’m not fishing for competition points, then I’ll load up a reel such as the Fin Nor Biscayne FBT50 with at least 50lb line and at the business end will be a heavy wind on leader with a trace of around 100-120lb (130lb mono left over from spooling up a heavy tackle game rig used to work well for us many moons ago – and it’s probably just as good these days).

For hooks you can use two snelled 9/0 circle hooks about 15cm apart. In mackerel country, to increase the ratio of landing these sharp toothed critters, the hooks will be snelled on with nylon coated wire cable of around 150lb breaking strain.

Above the bait I’ll have a ball sinker with enough weight to control the bait. If I’m using wire then the trace might be for example 1m long and attached to the mono type leader via a snap swivel. I’ll often run my sinker on the line above the snap swivel.

Ideally I’ll have baits set at three depths: one near to the surface (maybe unweighted); the second at mid depth; and the third closer to the boat and closer to the bottom with a heavier weight.

If the run drops off, or if the wind is favourable then I’ll use a balloon on the mid depth line to get it away from the boat and to keep it separated from the other lines. Kites also work well in this application.

Cobia are eating machines. They’ll even eat grinners and whiptails. Having said that though, the best livies are the aforementioned yellowtail, slimy and pike as well as any live crabs that you may have been able to procure. Don’t worry about bait size, cobia have a cavernous gob.

Danbouys and Anchor Ropes

Western Rocks can get very crowded on weekends and public holidays so when you anchor, set yourself up with a danbuoy type float. That way you can drop your anchor rope with the marker buoy and follow the fish as quickly as possible. Once you have successfully put the fish in the boat. You can then come back and pick up your float and anchor later.

I have seen fish lost to anchor ropes, including anchor ropes from other boats, so try to keep a reasonable distance apart.

Next month I will share berleying techniques for cobia, tips for casting live baits to the stragglers, how to gaff them effectively and finally how best to dress the fish for the table.


Two outfits for live baiting for cobia

The bigger outfit is the author's heavy cobia tackle: The Fin Nor FBT 50 spooled with 50lb sinking braid on a 20lb Jarvis Walker Stroker stick rod. The most impressive part of the reel is the style of the one piece frame.

The other outfit is the on the Sabiki Bait rod, which is of two piece design (it separates at the foregrip). Your multi-hook bait jig is stored inside the rod blank, ensuring flailing hooks don't catch up on your other outfits. The reel is an old Penn with just enough braid on it (about 300m of 20-30lb) to do the job of bait catching. Every time I strip line off one of my baitcasters I simply wind the line straight onto this bait rod reel - gradually it fills.

You can also take the rod out of the way when the bait jigging is done and store it in the cabin without the hooks catching on your bunk cloth, bedding, clothes etc. You can see where the line would enter to the inside of the rod blank just ahead of the reel.

The Jarvis Walker rod holders are adjustable and clamp onto the angled uprights of the boat's targa bar.

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