Cobia on the loose
  |  First Published: November 2003

I WAS driving along the main street of Yeppoon recently when I glanced over and saw at leased 20 tinnies at Stevenson's Rocks. Then, looking back to Bluff Rocks there was another bunch of tinnies. It could only mean one thing: doggies at our doorstep! Hopefully we’re in for a bumper season this year.

At this time of year we’re blessed with an abundance of species, and doggies happen to come in closer than most. Where else can you put your boat in less than 100m from the local council chambers and catch mackerel at two or three reliable spots within another couple of hundred metres? Spotted and Spanish mackerel can also come in this close here, but usually they are out a little wider. When the ribbonies were on a month ago these two spots produced more than their share of future mackerel baits.

Around this time of year cobia (black king) start to build in numbers in close to the islands of the Keppels. Outer Rock can be as good a spot as you will find anywhere. In previous years from October to January we’ve landed some exceptional cobes when fishing for Spanish mackerel. Trolling, jigging or floating a pillie out the back, and even fishing close to the bottom for reefies, can yield cobia. This year, more than in other years, the cobia in the Keppels have had guts full of small reef crabs. The fish feed at varied depths depending on their prime source of food at that particular time or spot. They can search the bottom for crabs and suchlike or smash a gar or a pilchard on the surface.

We have caught cobia at Barren Island trolling and not often down deep. At Outer Rock the results have come on Flashas and Taipans, and while fishing the rubble patches out the back of the main islands nothing worked as well as some of those small reef crabs. The hardest part of scoring a cobia on small live crabs is getting the crabs in the first place and then getting them to the cobia through everything else that eats crabs. We often chase cobia when blooding a new fisherman, once they land a fish generally upwards of 12kg that can take more than 15 minutes of hard fought action, they are hooked as well as any cobia.

Cobia are right up there with the best fighters. They can come to the boat green and just when you think “How easy is this?” they turn around and strip the gears of mediocre reels. Your fishing gear needs to be at least half decent to catch cobia. If you’re not certain how good your gear is, after you land one middleweight beast you’ll know for sure. Cobia group with other cobia roughly the same size, and it’s uncommon for the fish to be more than a kilo or two different from others landed in that session.

When I lived down south we followed the whale sharks as they passed by out from the Gold Coast. When we got close enough to flick a gang-hooked gar we’d let one rip so that it drifted down the side of the whale shark. If there were any cobia travelling with the whale shark the gar would be hit in seconds. We haven’t seen any whale sharks here, so we looked for other things the cobia could be interested in. Heading out past North Keppel a huge manta broke the water about 50m from the end of the island. Turning back to check it out we spotted something schooling below the ray – and our instincts paid dividends when we got straight into a couple of very acceptable cobia. For a while now we’ve stuck with big critters like eagle rays and manta rays and left the whales alone. Back then we didn’t realise the possible consequences of annoying large migratory species.

One time I was with Thommo, one of my regular deckies, when he spotted what he thought was trevally under the boat. Not being shy, he threw a big Taipan into the mob. Seconds later he was hooked into a very big fella and, following closely, I did the same. Finally under the boat we discovered they were big cobia. We kept one hooked cobia in the water to bring the others towards the boat, and we ended up with four cobia and a coral trout which all came out to see what the fuss was about.

Cobia taste pretty good if they are bled on landing then iced down. When you cut up the fillets, skin them and cut out the bloodline and don't make the pieces too big. Cobia is a top BBQ fish and all you need is a bit of lemon after cooking for a great meal. The common mistake is to overcook fish. As soon as you can pass a skewer through without any drag it is ready to eat.


Barra season is closed now that breeding period is in full swing, but you can still catch these fish in some excellent dams that deliver barra all year. One of these is Lake Awoonga, just over an hour’s drive south from Yeppoon (not far from Gladstone). The quality of the barramundi weighed in at the Lake Awoonga Fishing Comp showed this is going to be a place that will be up there with the best impoundments anywhere, including Tinaroo. They started scoring decent barra at the end of August and it improves daily. At the comp even the junior fish was 11.4kg and the seniors went up to 20+kg, and the average barra in Awoonga ranges from 750mm to over 1mr. It’s still in the early years so there will be some great years ahead.

You have to get a tag from the rangers based at the dam if you want to take the barra home. The tag gives you the right to be in possession of barramundi in the closed season. Barramundi I’ve tasted from Awoonga seem to taste better than those from other impoundments I’ve fished; possibly due to the water clarity or the food they’re eating.

In Awoonga there’s an abundance of other fish and the redclaw are getting thicker all the time. In the Christmas school holidays you could do a lot worse than taking the family to Awoonga for the day, or longer. Camping grounds are at the top of the hill above Lake Awoonga.

1) Cobia are hard fighters, so make sure your tackle is up to the job.

2) Pilly and wife with a barra caught in the city centre of Rockhampton on the Fitzroy.

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