Fishing The Cobia Coast

   

Cobia are a species whose predictably unpredictable habits make them elusive. South African anglers probably hit the nail on the head best, tagging them with the local name ‘prodigal son’. They’re just one of those fish that turn up when they turn up and rarely seem to follow strong seasonal or environmental trends. As a result, they can be next to impossible to specifically target, making them a damned difficult fish to tick off the bucket list.

I’ve got extremely accomplished fisho mates who have yet to even see a cobia in the flesh, despite having fished extensively throughout this species’ tropical and sub-tropical range. If you’re one such fisho, I have an answer to your cobia virginity. It’s called north-west Western Australia. In my humble opinion, the stretch of coast from roughly Shark Bay through to Karratha is the cobia capital of the country. For whatever reason, cobes just love this part of the world. Even with good numbers of cobia around right throughout the year though, they can still be fickle in their movements and prevalence, but if you wanted to notch up a cobe, this is the place to head and these are the ways to target them. Reefs, Wrecks and Shoals
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The author with a thumping Exmouth cobia. Even in this cobia filled part of the world, chances at big cobes like this don’t come along all that often.

  Although technically a pelagic species, cobia spend a lot of their time loitering around reef edges, so these always make good starting points on any cobia quest. Jigging the reef edges and bommies with plastics, octo jigs or small metal jigs can be deadly on cobes, although at times this can be real lucky dip fishing with lots of by-catch between the target species. Cobia have a great love of shipwrecks, particularly if those wrecks are situated in the midst of an otherwise barren, sandy seafloor. Unfortunately, so do small trevally and sharks, which can make getting through to the cobes difficult. Still, cyclones and sou-west gales have sent more than a few vessels to the depths along this stretch of coastline over the past few centuries, so it’s worth tracking down some marks and having a crack.
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Dan Peart with a standard north-west WA cobia. Fish like this and much larger are in good supply in this part of the world!

  Cobes also have a particular fondness for crabs, meaning anywhere that is likely to house lots of crabs is also likely to attract lots of cobia. Sand shoals located in relatively deep water (15-60m) are precisely this. Try spending some time sounding around the edges of sand shoals looking for regular, solid marks tight to the seafloor. There’s a very high probability these marks will be big cobia scouting around for a feed of crustacean.

Bashing the Baitballs

The north-west WA coast is great country for baitball action, particularly through the spring and early summer months when bait such as hardyheads, herring and yakkas can amass on the inshore grounds in uncountable multitudes. Just about every predatory species you could name will follow these bait balls at some stage or another, and cobia are a prime suspect.
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Soft plastics are probably the first choice lure type for cobia, both because they are provide great versatility and because cobes just can’t resist them.

  Here’s the thing though. Unlike most other pelagic predators in a baitball feeding situation, cobia generally won’t be seen smashing unfortunate bait off the surface. The cobes are usually found hanging down below the surface melee, picking off a feed from the base and sides of the baitball. So to come up tight to a cobia, there’s a need to avoid the tuna, mackerel, queenfish and so on blasting around on top to get through to the cobes lurking below. Tough life I know… Heavier weighted plastics are perfect in this situation, as they are easy to sink down quickly beneath the bait ball to be jigged vertically, yet versatile enough to be worked on the cast should you spot a cobe up higher in the water column. However you go about it, be prepared to work and watch your lure all the way back to the rod tip, for cobes are renowned for chasing a lure right to the boat before striking.
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On light-ish spin gear, even modest sized cobia like this are an absolute hoot.

 

Mega Fauna

One of the more intriguing habits of this oft perplexing species is their seemingly symbiotic relationship with marine mega fauna such as rays and sharks. Be it for protection, cover for ambushing prey or some other benefit we don’t quite understand, cobia are irresistibly drawn to these outsized sea creatures. Therefore, casting lures or baits toward any large sharks or rays spotted cruising the surface can result in a cobia payoff. North-west WA waters are famous for large aggregations of whale sharks and manta rays which make great mobile cobia FADs. Even large sharks such as tigers, bulls and monster whalers may be tailed by cobia, and a chronic over-population of sharks on this stretch of coast certainly delivers more ready opportunity in this regard…with a much increased risk of having your cobe monstered before you can get it to the boat that is.
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Cobia love to accompany manta rays, so whenever you come across one or more of these docile filter feeders it pays to lob a lure in their vicinity.

  This style of fishing surely is sight casting in its most bizarre but exciting form. Sidling up to a cruising manta, whale shark or so on and lobbing a popper, soft plastic or diving hard-body in its vicinity can see a pack of chocolate-backed bandits bolt out from beneath in a frenzied race to slam the lure. Gets the eyes popping I can tell you! Keep in mind though that careful casting is required so you don’t hook the shark or ray, blowing your chance at a cobe and injuring the oblivious animal. The temptation is to lob your lure right at the shark or ray, but in actual fact, this is the worst thing you can do. Ideally, a cast in front and off to the side puts the lure in best view of any cobes below, and also allows some working space for when the hook-up comes. Once hooked, a cobia will immediately try to scamper back to its host and bust you off, and given that cobes can really dish out some pull, that space can be of precious advantage toward winning the tussle.

Land-Based Too

WA’s cobia coast doesn’t discriminate against those fishos who are land locked either. The Deep water rock ledges along this coastline are without doubt the very best in the country from which to consistently score cobia off the stones. Quobba and Steep Point are just a couple of famous rock spots renowned for big cobes. Rather than go into detail here though, we’ll have my good mate and Kaydo Fishing World land-based game fishing expert, Goshie explain much more about this in a future instalment. So if you’re one of those folks who just can’t seem to hold their nose right to notch up one of Australian saltwater fishing’s more confounding fish, visit north-west Western Australia for your best chance at joining the cobia club.
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A big tail and muscular body shape means cobes sure know how to pull. Unexpected power dives just as the fish nears the landing net

   
Ben Knaggs

About Ben Knaggs

Born and bred in South Australia, Ben’s love of fishing developed from a very early age and evolved to become an obsession which would ultimately shape his life. Actively involved in fishing related journalism from his mid teens, Ben has written articles for most Australian fishing titles and served as editor of Saltwater Fishing magazine for eight years.

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