Cobia fishing is not easy

August 17, 2018

There have been scattered reports of cobia being caught in Delaware waters for a couple of years, but this year the number and size of these fish have increased.

First thing on Monday morning, I received an email from my friend Jeff Waxman. He, Pat Petrera and Steve Redden took Pat’s 31-Bertram, Priceless, out Sunday afternoon and worked about six miles south of Indian River Inlet and about a half-mile off the beach. They saw 25 cobia, and hooked and landed three.  

Now, you might think hooking three out of 25 fish is pretty bad. Let me tell you, it is not when it comes to cobia. I spent many a summer day cobia fishing at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay when I was running my charter service out of Virginia Beach. Cobia will drive you nuts. They will look right at your bait or lure and then just swim off like they don’t have a care in the world.

I finally decided the best technique for catching cobia was chumming. I would anchor up in 20 feet of water along the drop-off from the shoal at the 12-mile Marker on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I used dry cat food mixed with bunker oil for chum and baited with fresh bunker. I didn’t catch a cobia every day, but I caught on most days, and my charters could fish for croaker and sea mullet while waiting for a cobia to decide to eat.

Right after my email from Jeff, I received another from Hook ‘em and Cook ‘em. John Burbage III from Ocean View caught a 79.4-pound cobia Friday two miles off Bethany Beach. John snagged a menhaden out of a school and cranked it back toward his boat, but before the bait reached its destination, the big cobia ate it.

If you plan to go after cobia, I have a warning. Most of the time these fish put up a good fight before coming to the boat, while on occasion they will come in quietly. In either case, I can promise you once you gaff them and put them on the deck, they will go nuts. Having a large fish thrashing around on the deck is a danger to material and personnel.  

You must have a container for the fish open and ready before you bring it aboard. Large coolers work best. Once the fish is inside, at least two big men should sit on top of the cooler to hold the lid closed until the cobia calms down. Trust me, this is not a joke!

Cobia will eat or reject any number of baits and lures. Bright bucktails with a swim shad or twister tail are very popular cobia lures. Live eels, spot and croaker are excellent baits along with live menhaden. Use a big 8/0 or 9/0 circle hook on the baits and let the cobia swim away before coming tight on the line. Thirty-pound class spinning or casting outfits will handle most cobia.

You can try trolling for cobia using large spoons or plugs. The Drone 4-1/2 or Stretch 30 will work just fine.

Look for schools of menhaden, turtles, tidelines or any other structure you can find. Cobia will swim just below the surface with the tip of their dorsal fin above the water. Calm days are best for sight fishing. Troll or chum when the water is roiled. Good luck!

White Marlin Open

Friday was the end of the 2018 White Marlin Open, and once again, I was a guest on the Toast with Capt. Brian Ciskoski and owner Don Martin. Once again, we ran down to the Washington Canyon and trolled between the 50 and 100 Fathom drop.

This time we didn’t get a bite until late morning, when we released our first white marlin of the day. We released two more before early afternoon when the wind dropped out and the sea went flat calm. It has been my experience that marlin don’t feed well on the surface when the water is calm.

We ended the tournament with seven white marlin releases, putting us at No. 30 on the release list. Three other boats ahead of us also had seven releases, but their time of catch was before ours.

As you may have heard, there was a tie for first place in the White Marlin category. The Under Dog caught an 83-pound white marlin Thursday and was set to win over $2 million until the Welder’s Arc came in Friday with another 83-pound white.

The tiebreaker was the fact that the Under Dog gaffed their fish, while the Welder’s Arc did not. The difference in prize money: $2,454,476.

And so it goes.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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