Spring and ling go together like biscuits and gravy and along the Gulf Coast you just about can't have one without the other.
Every spring, cobia, also known as ling or lemon fish, migrate along the Northwest Florida shallows on their way to the Louisiana delta to spawn. And local anglers take advantage of the annual cobia run for some of the best sight and spot casting around.
"When we have a cold winter, we tend to have a better season," Tim Broom of Half Hitch Tackle told the more than 80 folks gathered at Legendary Marine Tuesday night for the Gulf Coast Sportsman Seminar Series.
With the water temperature still in the high 50s, the season is looking to get a late start, as the prime water temperature for the cobia to ease up on the beach is about 62 to 63 degrees.
But in the meantime, Broom shared with those gathered at the seminar, the ins and outs of cobia fishing.
Cobia can be found in 10- to 60-feet of water when they are migrating, sometimes even further off the beach.
"What you are looking for are differences in the water," Broom said.
He suggests going west in the morning so the sun will be at your back and then at midday you can fish back east.
"When fishing to the west you need to be going fast enough so you can overtake the fish," Broom said, suggesting about 3 to 4 miles per hour. "When going east much slower."
Broom said most people like to look for cobia along the sandbar; however he said he likes to fish a little bit deeper.
"In the shallows there is more pressure on the fish," he said. "I start where the water color changes, that's where I like to fish. And when someone is fishing on a given line give them a little space. I also like to have three guys on the boat when cobia fishing, and if at all possible you want to get the fish on the inside."
When casting, you want to cast close enough for the cobia to see the bait, but not too close to scare him off.
Broom says he likes to have about four rods ready to go, with various kinds of baits and lures to snag the elusive ling.
Tools of the trade
To better spot the cobia in the water, a good pair of polarized sunglasses is a must, Broom said.
"Amber lenses on sunglasses, plus a light colored hat is best" to cut the glare on the water, he said. "It's those little things that make a big difference."
As for the rod, a 7- to 9-foot medium to heavy rod and reel setup is good.
Broom says he normally likes to use braid, but for cobia he fishes more with mono.
"I like 30-pound mono with about an 8-pound drag," he said. "A cobia makes a different run than most fish. When he's hooked he makes one long run, then three little zips.
He suggests using a reel that can hold at least 200 yards of 30-pound mono or 300 yards of 30- to 65-pound braid.
And before you ever spot a cobia, take a couple of practice casts.
"You're going to screw up if you don't," said Todd Royall of Legendary Marine.
Lures and bait
There are several different types of lures and baits used to catch cobia.
A favorite in the area for years has been a cobia jig, known as a Ding-A-Ling, developed by the late Capt. Frank Helton, a pioneer cobia fisherman.
"Frank was the man. He's the one that got cobia fishing started in the area," Broom said.
The cobia jig is designed to imitate a squid or a minnow.
"But when you buy a jig, you need to sharpen the hooks," he said.
Other artificials on the market that work well are the Savage eel and the Tube lure.
"The Savage is almost the replacement of a live eel. It's soft enough that the fish dont seem to get it out of their mouth," he said.
But of course live eels are the first bait of choice for most anglers.
"They work really good fish like them, but they are the most aggravating to use," he said.
When fishing with eel, make sure to bring along paper towels to handle the slimy critter.
Other good live baits include ruby lips, pig fish, pinfish and mullet.
"Mullet is my thing to throw at big fish," Broom said.
He suggests using a 7-ought circle hook with a 60-pound test fluorocarbon leader when using a mullet. The leader should be about 15 to 24 inches long.
Once you hook the cobia and get him to the boat, you are going to want to gaff him right behind the head in the shoulders.
King mackerel fishing will be the topic for the next Gulf Coast Sportsman Seminar Series at 6 p.m., April 1 at Legendary Marine at the south side of the Mid-Bay Bridge.