May brings a treat for saltwater fishermen. Many inshore and nearshore anglers pine for the fight of an offshore fish but don’t have the proper boat or time needed to venture that far out, but this month, a highly sought-after fish is within reach. It’s cobia time, and anglers from the Grand Strand to the Lowcountry can do battle with this fish, which some anglers call Mr. Brown Suit.
Capt. Buddy Bizzell of Edisto Palmetto Charters looks forward to May every year. He makes plans for his cobia fishing months in advance using logbooks he has compiled over more than a decade. St. Helena Sound is one of his top target areas, and his goal is to beat the state record, which he has come close to doing several times on his many trips over the past few years.
Bizzell (803-603-2781) said he gets some funny looks when he is cobia fishing because he likes to bring along a very atypical piece of fishing equipment: the biggest inflatable turtle he can find.
“Cobia follow big turtles around inshore, so I leave the boat dock with a big, inflatable turtle strapped to the top of my boat,” he said. “Once I anchor down, I tie the turtle off to an anchor cleat and let it float behind the boat. Any cobia cruising around will look up and see the turtle’s outline and think they’ve found a real loggerhead.”
Once the cobia find Bizzell’s decoy, he said it doesn’t take long for them to notice his baits. He likes to put two live-bait or cut-bait rigs on the bottom, along with two other rigs on or just below the surface.
“I give them plenty of options, and I don’t let the bait sit too long. I like to check my baits every 15-minutes or so — especially the cut bait— and refresh often.
Capt. Ned Campbell of Murrells Inlet Outpost (843-651-6602) said anglers in the upper part of South Carolina’s coast have been cobia fishing in earnest for the past several years and don’t have to go far.
“People catch them at the jetties and in the inlet every year, but we catch them more commonly right off the beach. Big schools of menhaden travel parallel to the shore, and if you follow those schools, you’ll find cobia this time of year,” he said.
Finding the menhaden isn’t difficult. Campbell will head just off the beach, then cruise four miles down the beach, turn around and cruise four miles back up.
“You’ll see them easily. They are just below the surface and look like big dark mounds,” he said.
It doesn’t take long to find a big school this way, and when he does, he said a handful of cobia are usually hanging around just under these schools.
Campbell said when it comes to bait, cobia aren’t particularly picky. A live-bait rig with a live eel, menhaden or other baitfish is always a good bet, but they will also hit artificial lures. A variety of spoons, large crankbaits and topwater plugs will all work.
“The bigger Gulp soft plastics are good, Savage Gear Sandeels are good, and one of the newest lures we carry that are great for cobia is the Guidessecret Striper Slider plug,” he said.
“Once we find those schools of baitfish, we cast our bait or lures either right into the thick of them or on the outside edges,” he said. “There’s really no right or wrong, and while sometimes the fish will pick the lure up immediately, other times you can put the lure right in front of their face over and over without getting a bite, then all of a sudden, they’ll attack the lure. But hooking these fish is far from the end of the battle.”
Campbell encourages anglers to try wearing these fish out a bit before bringing them in the boat.
“A lot of anglers relax once they get a gaff in these fish, but that’s when the real battle starts for some of these fish. They will roll like a catfish right off that gaff, and once you do get them in the boat, they get a renewed sense of fight,” Campbell said, adding that anglers should be ready to immediately put the fish in a big, locking ice chest as soon as they bring it on board.