From Wrightsville Beach to the Grand Strand, the nearshore waters are filling up with menhaden schools fueling the first strong push of cobia and what better time than just three weeks away from the June 20th federal closure and the heightened regulations in NC State waters. And these are not just any cobia either. Charter captains and recreational anglers are heaving monster-sized cobia over the gunwales just about every day now when the weather remains feasible. 

Capt. Jot Owens of Jot It Down Fishing Charters is leading the charge in NC and having a fantastic cobia season just off Wrightsville Beach’s white sandy beaches. 

“Last week, we saw over 30 fish in three days of fishing,” said Owens. (910-233-4139) “And we have caught 10 with the biggest at 74 pounds.” 

Out of those 30 fish, Owens could only see three that looked inferior to the 37-in minimum length that is part of the new cobia regulations to go into effect on June 20th in NC State waters. 

Down south across the border, Capt. Tom Cushman of Calmwater Fishing Charters has recently-observed a rapid rise in the cobia presence along North Myrtle Beach’s nearshore region. Just this weekend during a break in Tropical Storm Bonnie’s clouds, Cushman boated several citation-sized fish not too far from the NC/SC State line.  

“Up until now, they have been missing in action around here, but they are here now,” said Cushman. (843-997-5850) “We caught two big ones today up under the menhaden pods. The biggest one was over 60 inches long.” 

During a short window between May and June, the NC and SC beaches get a nearshore visit of migrating cobia. Unfortunately, the arrival window is not always predictable as the way they are caught. The best way to catch them is around the menhaden pods just off the beachfront. 

Since plenty of clear water is available along Wrightsville Beach, Capt. Owens is seeing plenty of fish swimming around the menhaden pods. 

“We are casting live baits to free swimming fish circling the bait balls and drifting baits around the inlets,” said Owens. 

But the rest of the coastline is not always blessed with clear water to see the fish. And quite often, the fish are hovering below the schools of bait or just off the edges of the bait pods. Off the Little River coastline, Cushman is contending with dirty water right now, and waiting to see a fish isn't the best course of action. Instead, he is running up to a pod of baitfish and trying his luck with baits covering the entire water column. 

“I am free lining baits, floating balloons, and weighting one down on the bottom. After 20 minutes, I will pick up and move on to the next school,” said Cushman. 

Another technique that is proving effective for Cushman engages the fish quickly. He will toss out a handful of live baits away from the tight schools, and if cobia are lurking beneath, they will crush baits.

“I caught a 55 pounder yesterday after a big fish grey-hounded a few baits I dumped out,” said Cushman. 

Cobia are very aggressive when it comes to filling their bellies. As they surround the school of bait, any free swimmers away from the main school have no chance and will always end up as lunch when a big cobia is around. Tossing out a few free swimmers is always a good way to tempt one of these pigs into showing themselves. 

While these big fish are hovering all over the nearshore waters right now, they will only be available in state waters for a few more weeks and will be illegal to catch outside of the three-mile limit in Federal waters after June 20th.