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Nature coast

The FWC is about to classify cobia as a "restricted species.''

By MIKE SCARANTINO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2001


Cobia are bull-dogged determined to get away from us if we aren't careful.

It seems the species might slip away if we don't exhibit the same bull-dogged determination. As of Thursday, cobia will be classified as a "restricted species." New bag limits have been set for recreational and commercial anglers.

Everyone has to become diligent in his or her efforts to catch and release more fish.

Whether you pursue this amazingly strong and seemingly stupid fish for fun or profit, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is tightening its management belt.

Bag limits for recreational anglers have been changed to one fish per day per person, or six per day per vessel, whichever is less.

For commercial anglers, the new bag limit is two fish per day per person, or six per vessel. This sleek and powerful fish can get as big as 135 pounds, though in Florida the record is 103 pounds, 12 ounces.

Typical cobia caught in our near-shore waters often will weigh 20 to 40 pounds and present a real challenge for anglers using light tackle. Depending on water clarity and depth, 12 to 20-pound tackle makes for exciting action.

To harvest a cobia, the fish must measure 33 inches. Measure from the tip of the nose to the inside fork of the tail.

It is advised that anglers landing a green fish -- or one that isn't exhausted from battle -- exercise caution when it's brought to the deck.

Green fish commonly hate the sight of the hull when being brought along side, and they hate the inside of the boat. Even fish that appear whipped when brought inside tend to get their second wind, thrashing wildly.

A rag placed over the head and eyes of the fish will, many times, calm them long enough to get a proper measurement.

If the fish is to be released, do so quickly. All fish deplete their oxygen levels dramatically during battle. The faster they get back into the water, the better their chances of recovery.

During those tense moments when a green fish is on deck, many anglers have been injured and tackle has been broken. Cobia have a row of seven to nine pointed pencil-like free spines forward of their dorsal fin that easily can puncture a leg or hand.

If you are certain that the fish measures up and you will be keeping it, get it into a fish box in one quick and smooth motion.

Those using a gaff when landing fish will have to exercise good judgment. Nothing is more wasteful than a short fish that has been gaffed incorrectly. The same applies for those fishing with spears.

Cobia are a coastal pelagic species closely related to the oceanic dolphin fishes, though they do prefer the near-shore habitats from the mid-Atlantic region throughout the Gulf Coast. Found in temperate and sub-tropical seas throughout the world, cobia are a migratory species.

Mote Marine Laboratory found that some tagged fish have traveled over 2,000 miles in less than a year. One such fish was caught and tagged May 29, 1991. It was recaptured April 2, 1992 -- 2,039 miles away.

Throughout their migratory patterns, as with most species, the cobia will follow food, water temperature and members of the opposite sex.

Along the Atlantic coast of Florida, they spend their winters in the harbors and around wrecks and reefs in the keys. In late March and April, they begin the long trek northward, reaching Fernandina Inlet by late May and June.

On the Gulf Coast, they spend February and March wintering in the Panhandle region.

Their migratory pattern finds them moving south during April, with the largest population peaking in July and August. Their preferred water temperature range is 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Known as "crab-eaters" in many parts of Florida, the cobia's diet includes such common elements as crabs, shrimp, small fish and squid.

There are times when cobia will attack just about any bait tossed their way. Other times, they seemingly will ignore the finest array of offerings.

Jigs are a favored bait by anglers using artificials.

Lead the fish when sight-fishing for them.

Dawn finds cobia around pilings, channel markers, reefs and rock piles along the Nature Coast. They can be caught in a variety of depths.

When a pair of fish is sighted and one is hooked, immediately get a second line in the water. Often, anglers enjoy multiple hook-ups in this situation. If a small school is sighted, work the outer edges so you don't spook the fish.

As with other species that have been listed as restricted, with careful actions on the part of those who chase them, they can be delisted from that status.

It's time for all anglers to exhibit their best behavior.

If you have a question or comment, call Capt. Mike Scarantino at (352) 683-4868.

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