Anglers anticipate early cobia run

Tina Harbuck | 315-4466 | @DestinLogTina | tharbuck@thedestinlog.com
Holding up the 74.9-pound cobia, caught aboard the Dawn Patrol with Capt. John Tenore last year, are (from left) Jason Zabelski and Alex Hare. The cobia won in the small boat division of the Destin Cobia Tournament at HarborWalk Marina. [SPECIAL TO THE LOG]

With the water temperatures already up in the high 60s, local anglers are anticipating an early cobia run.

“It’s definitely going to start early … the water is already warm enough,” said Capt. John Tenore of the Dawn Patrol.

Usually when the water temp gets up to 62 to 65 degrees a cobia is caught and for the last couple of days, the water temperature has been 68 at Pensacola and 70 at Panama City.

“We’re all biting at the bit … getting antsy,” Tenore said.

And catching cobia is something Tenore loves to do.

Last year, Tenore, along with Capt. Alex Hare and Jason Zabelski aboard the 22-foot charter boat, hauled in a 74.9-pound cobia to take first place in the Destin Cobia Tournament at HarborWalk Village in the 30-feet and Under Division, as well as third place overall in the Cobia World Championships at Harbor Docks.

“We fished almost every day that was fishable last year,” Tenore said. “We fished all of April and some in March.”

During that time, Tenore said they saw about 65 fish and caught 42.

“That’s a pretty good ratio,” he said.

And Tenore has high expectations for this season as well.

“Even if it’s not good seas, you hope to get lucky and catch a big fish,” he said.

While there are more than a half-dozen cobia tournaments on tap during the next couple of months, the first cobia brought to the scales at HarborWalk Marina starts the Destin Cobia Tournament and marks the start of the season.

Last year, the crew aboard the Instigator with Capt. Cameron Parkhurst brought in the first cobia on March 19, a 43.5-pounder pulled in by Kaye Tucker. They were fishing down east of Destin, near Sandestin.

But from all signs, it looks like the first cobia could be caught earlier.

As a matter of fact, Capt. Chris Wagner of the Full Pull, said “next week somebody will catch it.”

The crew aboard the Full Pull is no stranger to reeling in that first cobia. Out of the last 21 years of the Destin Cobia Tournament at HarborWalk they have hauled in the first fish more than a dozen times. The last being in 2015 when they reeled in a 54.6-pounder on March 16, with first-time cobia angler Harri Hotti of Finland hauling in the fish.

The Full Pull didn’t have the first last year, but they did place in the top three in the Destin Cobia Tournament at HarborWalk Marina with a 77.1-pounder for second place overall. They also took first in the Ladies Division with a 64.7-pounder pulled in by Tracey Block and first for the Most Fish Over 50, with 12 cobia.

The Full Pull crew saw over a 100 fish last year and caught more than 60 and released about half of those.

“Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go next week … it’s just a matter getting a pretty day,” Wagner said.

Although the first ling didn’t hit the docks until the last couple of weeks of March last year, Wagner said he has caught the first cobia “multiple times the first week of March.”

Six years ago they saw a “monster” cobia on Feb. 28, Wagner said.

“It just wouldn’t bite.”

In 2002, they went out on Feb. 28 and saw two cobia, and again neither would take the bait. But on the very next day they caught one.

Cobia fishing is not just for the guys, the ladies get in on the action as well.

Local angler Pam Dana, who fishes with the team aboard the Sure Lure with Capt. Don Dineen, has been in the thick of things the last decade, winning in the Cobia World Championships at Harbor Docks six times, including an 85.4-pounder in the 2012.

“We always hope to be in the running,” Dana said, who won the Ladies Division at Harbor Docks last year with a 79.8-pounder. “I just like being out on the water and the anticipation of seeing a fish. And then the team execution … because everybody has a role.”

“There’s a lot of quiet focused time … then its chaos,” Dana said. “But it’s a fun competitive group.”

Team Sure Lure hopes to be on the water looking for that elusive ling every day weather permits.

And once that first one is caught, the fever hits.

“You’ve got to go with it,” Tenore said. “Because when it’s happening, that’s when you’ve got to be out there … that’s what keeps you motivated.”