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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
Huge cobia a surprise on the bay

It's no great surprise to catch a 43-inch (or larger) cobia in Tampa Bay.

But landing one in two feet of water? That's a bit of a rarity.

That's what Cody Lively of Tampa, fishing with Shane and Kevin McCarron last Sunday, did near Rocky Creek on Old Tampa Bay.

"We had a bunch of greenbacks in the well and we headed into the north end of the bay to look for snook, but in the channel just outside the flats we saw this fish cruising along like a shark," said Lively, 17, a recent graduate of Steinbrenner High School.

Rather than pitching a live bait to the fish, however, Lively put a chunk of fresh-cut ladyfish on his hook and tossed it in front of the cruiser.

"It grabbed it almost right away, and in just a few seconds it had pulled 150 yards of drag," he said.

The battle continued for some 20 minutes and eventually took the anglers right up on the flats in knee-deep water. Eventually, the 30-pound-test braid on Lively's Shimano spinning rig wore the fish down and they wrestled it over the side.

The tape told the tale - 43 inches long, a beautiful cobia anywhere, but exceptionally nice from the backwaters of Tampa Bay.

Though Lively's catch was fairly uncommon from so far up inside Old Tampa Bay, finding the "brown bombers" in shallow water elsewhere is not all that rare. In fact, from Hernando Beach northward, they're frequently spotted cruising the shallows, often in the company of giant sting rays or eagle rays. The area of Homosassa Bay is particularly noted for this action, usually beginning around late April and continuing into June.

Until the fishery was pretty well wiped out by guides swarming the area, the hot water outflow at Big Bend power plant north of Apollo Beach was another noted shallow water cobia fishery, with fish frequently cruising there among the manatees and cownose rays throughout much of the winter. Cobia continue to show up occasionally on the flats from Big Bend to the Little Manatee in spring, as well as cruising just outside the bar down much of the South Shore to the Skyway on a now-and-then basis.

When cobia are found in extreme shallows, it's usually best to deliver the bait well ahead of them and allow them to swim up to it before giving it a bit of motion to attract their attention. Landing a heavy bait or lure right on top of them often spooks them, though cobia are far from being as wary as redfish.

The open waters of Tampa Bay also produce plenty of sight fishing opportunities for cobia, but they're usually over deeper water around tripod markers and buoys. The fish often prowl just below the surface, making it possible to sight fish them when the sun is high, and often where there's one, there are two or three of similar size.

Cobia also pass near the beaches of the Suncoast Area each spring, following the baitfish migrations. This can get started as early as mid-March, though April is usually prime time. It continues pretty much in tune with king mackerel season, and any offshore marker or reef is likely to attract the fish.

Live pinfish, scaled sardines, threadfins, crabs or jumbo shrimp are the best offerings, but cobia eat all sorts of live baits as well as taking big jigs, plastic eels, DOA Baitbuster mullet and even topwater plugs.

While Cody Lively caught his fish on medium gear, it's best to go heavy when challenging a cobia around the markers-50-pound test braid or heavier on a big spinning rig allows you to haul most fish clear of the obstructions before they can tangle things and break the line.

Good cobia fishing in the open waters of Tampa Bay usually begins in late March and continues through the summer, with the last fish (except the few still going to the power plants) departing around the end of October.

The size limit on cobia is 33 inches to the fork, the bag limit one per person per day. For more details, visit www.myfwc.com.