The tournaments are over and thousands of dollars have been dished out, but just how good or bad was the cobia season along the Gulf Coast this spring?
Destin, which boast a couple of month-long cobia tournaments, and several other weekend to four-day tournaments, has many captains and anglers in the hunt for the elusive ling each spring.
“It was little tough to find them this year,” said Capt. John Tenore of the Dawn Patrol.
Tenore, who has been cobia fishing local waters since 1987, said he believed the cobia run goes in cycles.
“The season started early this year,” he said due to the warm winter and warm water temperatures.
Cobia usually shows up along the coast when the water temperature hits the mid-60s.
“The fish were probably coming through when nobody was fishing yet … they could have passed by in February,” he said, noting they may have been about two or three miles out.
Usually during the cobia run along the Gulf Coast the cobia are caught within a mile of the beach.
Tenore said he fished about 30 days this year, saw 36 fish and caught 32.
“We saw five on a turtle, a triple free swimming and two on a manta ray,” he said, noting the rest were singles.
The Dawn Patrol won the small boat division in the Destin Cobia Tournament at HarborWalk this year with a 72.3 pounder. However, the largest brought to the docks was a 98.7-pound cobia aboard the Long Weekend.
“Last year we caught a 75 pounder,” Tenore said. “This year a 75 pounder was small … the size was phenomenal.”
Capt. Rusty Gilbert of the Mary Lou was also one of the lucky ones to land a big cobia and get in on the big money with an 88.4 pounder.
“It was better this year than the last couple of years,” said Gilbert, who’s been cobia fishing in the area for more than 30 years. “There wasn’t a big number of fish, but there was more than it has been since the oil spill.”
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill took place in April of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, discharging 4.9 million barrels of oil.
“I think the oil spill killed a couple of generation of fish,” Gilbert said. “But actually this year I saw more small fish than I’ve seen since the oil spill.”
Gilbert and the crew aboard the Mary Lou fished about 35 days and saw about 50 fish. He said if you counted all the small ones they saw, the number would be close to 80 or 100.
But when it was said and done they caught 33.
“Out of those probably about eight or 10 of them were over 50 pounds,” he said. “I think they are steadily trying to come back.”
Tommy Swanson, who has served as a first mate on many boats over the years and fished for many cobia, agrees that the BP oil spill may have attributed to the down years of cobia.
“The BP oil spill had a lot to do with it,” Swanson said. “There was a lot of oil right here in Destin that nobody talked about.”
This year he said he fished 20 days, caught four and probably saw six cobia.
“Usually on a good day, you see 10 and catch maybe five or six … that’s a good day,” Swanson said.
This year when they fished the Flathead Classic at Boshamps in Destin he said they caught one fish the first day and didn’t see a fish the next three days.
Capt. Chris Schofield of the No Alibi said it’s hard to tell what is going on with the cobia.
“We don’t have any data on these fish right now," he said. "… Are they going up the east coast to the Carolina’s and Virginia and not coming this way … are they going offshore and not hitting the beach like they used to?”
“We need to get a little research on these fish,” Schofield said. “Me personally, it was the worst season I’ve ever had, but it was the less I ever fished.”
Schofield, who’s been cobia fishing for the past 15 years, said he fished 10 days this season, saw seven and caught five.
And even with that small number of fish they managed to win in a Calcutta at the Destin Cobia Tournament at HarborWalk with a 63.3 pounder.
“We never saw a pair, they were all singles and we didn’t see one on a turtle or ray. It just wasn’t a great season,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said the grade of fish caught were good, just not the number of them.
“I don’t think we need to write them off just yet, just need more research,” he said.