My fishing rod, nestled in its PVC holder that was stuck in the sand, twitched, then slowly began a graceful bow toward the surf. I grabbed the rod, set the hook and expected to feel the frenzied pulling of a Pompano, like the one I had already caught that morning. This one didn't feel like a 2-3 pound fish. It felt as if I had hooked onto a snow plow! I swiftly set the drag on the big reel. It immediately began screeching as the fish ran off yard after yard of line, headed toward Venezuela!
I was fishing into the surf on the Gulf of Mexico at Mexico Beach, about twenty minutes north of Apalachicola, Florida. The morning was breathtakingly beautiful, with vanilla clouds suspended between a bluish green sea and a sky so blue that it had to be an original color, not even found on a Sherwin Williams paint chart!
This was the 19th of March, a wonderful day to be fishing. I'd caught a couple of pompano that were in the ice chest, and was about to pour another cup of coffee when the fish struck. Whatever it was, it took only a few minutes to almost all the 30 pound test line off my reel! At a time like this, I did the same thing every fisherman does when he knows that he has hooked onto that one in a million fish; I looked around to see if anyone else was watching.
I had an audience! It's customary for fishermen, when observing someone else with a trophy fish, to come running and offer bits of wisdom about landing the critter, whether you want the advise or not! By now I had fought the fish long enough to let the other fishermen know that I had hung a big one! Basically, the fish was running and I was just trying to hang on.
"Set the drag," one guy yelled as he ran to my aid, as if I needed any help.
"Let him take more line," another one offered.
After about 10 minutes, I was tired but the fish had just gotten his second wind and I still didn't know what I was fighting with. One guy said it was probably a shark, while another guessed it was a cobia. The consensus of the folks standing around watching me was that it indeed was probably a cobia, also known as ling or lemon fish.
After another 15 minutes I brought the fish to shore. It was a cobia and it weighed 37 pounds. To me that was a huge fish, but to the other guys watching me it was average. This fish was large and looked somewhat like a shark with its depressed head and protruding lower jaw. They're very strong and overall they're a dark brown with a prominent horizontal stripe from their tale to their eye. This one had 8 little spikes in front of the dorsal fin.
I was lucky. I'd caught the fish on my medium heavy rod and reel with 30# test line and a 50# test leader, using a #3 circle hook baited with a piece of frozen shrimp. I wasn't especially trying to catch a cobia, but he struck hard enough to embed the hook in his jaw and I kept enough pressure on him to keep him from spitting out that hook.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch my monster fish. This was the last weekend in March and the water temperature was about 68 degrees. The cobias were migrating north from the Florida Keys where they had spent the winter. This is when there are cobia tournaments up and down the Gulf Coast with many in the 50 pound class hauled aboard boats filled with fishermen.
The largest cobia recorded in Florida weighed about 104 pounds, although there have been some caught along the Atlantic coast that weighed 135 pounds. Mine was a baby compared to those, but even a baby cobia is one of the best tasting fish in the sea!
One of the fishermen who watched me catch the cobia, commented that I should throw it back, having caught it on a piece of shrimp instead of a colorful jig, fancy plug or live crabs, eels or some other kind of live bait. I may not have caught him in a politically correct manner, but this fish was mine and I kept him!