Welcome to our “How to Catch Florida Cobia – A Complete Guide.” Learn how to catch these big fish on rod and reel and other essential gear. Find out about bait, lures and gear. This is one of Florida’s most POWERFUL Fish!
[Page Updated – 26 July 2021. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]
HOW TO CATCH COBIA—Guide
- Size: 7/10 stars
- Fight: 7/10 stars
- Difficulty to Catch: 5/10 stars
- Taste: 7/10 stars
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- Cobia FACTS
- WHY catch them?
- WHERE are they found?
- What do they EAT?
- HOW to catch Cobia fish?
- WHEN is best time to fish?
- GEAR? (our best recommendations)
- LAWS in Your State
- How to COOK them?
PRO TIP – Cobia are also called Ling, Black Salmon, Black Kingfish, Lemonfish, Black Bonito, Striped Cat, and ‘Man in a Brown Suit’.
Cobia Fish Facts
Species: Rachycentron canadum
Similar Species: Ling don’t closely resemble any other fish I can compare them with except saltwater catfish. Maybe. It’s also somewhat close to the remora in the Echeneidae family, but is much thicker looking, and is a stronger-built fish.
IUCN Redlist Status: LC – Least Concern. There are lots of them and the population is spread across the globe. See map below.
Appearance: Dark, long, thick, powerful fish with a strong tail and long and strong fins on the dorsal and ventral. Wide head and mouth resemble big catfish. It reaches around 79 inches (2 meters) in length and typically grows to 43 inches (110 cm).
These big fish are long, compressed vertically, and a thin fish with a wide head that is somewhat flat on top – resembling a catfish. Color is brown, sometimes dark brown turning to white belly. There is a dark lateral stripe running from the eye to the tail. The lower jaw extends out further than the upper jaw. Young fish have more than one lateral line.
Length: Usually less than or about 3 feet long. Maximum length is about 78-inches (nearly 2 meters)
Weight: Average weight is about 30 lbs. That’s a nice sized fish! The maximum weight for a record fish is around 172 lbs. Fish 50 lbs. and greater are not all that rare and can be seen from Florida to Virginia. Ling fish grow quickly, so they are ideal for fish farming.
The biggest one ever caught on rod and reel (hook/line) was a massive 141 lbs. and took nearly 60 minutes to land. No, this didn’t happen off the coast of Florida. This was in the country of Oman in the Hallaniyat Islands. Like other big fish, Ling at that size is not great to eat!
Florida Record Cobia: The record for biggest fish in Florida was close to the world record at 130 lbs. .06 oz. and caught in Dustin, FL. by Peter McCollester.
Range/Distribution: Distribution ranges across the globe to the north and south of the equator where the water is constantly warm.
Habitat: Rachycentron canadum exists between 0 and 50 meters ( feet) of depth in saltwater. This isa pelagic species and is found over shallow coral reef and especially along coasts with submerged rocks.
They are also found near shore with inlets and bays, possibly because the tide effects can be fierce, with strong gushing water. Ling of all sizes can often be found around bridge pilings, buoys, rocks, and other submerged structure. I remember fishing a strong tide near a bridge in St. Petersburg and having big Ling bend my hooks one after another.
Diet: They prey on squid, crabs, elasmobranchs and teleosts primarily. Using live crabs and small fish for bait is recommended. Drop your baits at different depths to find these fish.
Young: Young Eggs are planktonic. Depending on location, the spawning season can last from April to September. During the spawning season it forms large aggregations and spawns once every 9-12 days or 15-20 times in a season, generally in open water (Rodger and Zharen 2012).
Predators: As young, Ling may be eaten by any number of larger fish and other predators.
Why Catch them?
They are Strong!
It’s a fun fish to catch because they put up a heck of a fight. They are bigger fish, with big ones averaging around 30 lbs., but anglers are frequently catching them in the 50+ lb. range.
Are Cobia Good to Eat?
Some people focus on catching them for the dinner table because they are excellent eating. Bonefish Grill in the northeast of the USA regularly has this fish on the menu. They used to have a website that told where you could find it. Sometimes the site works, sometimes not. It’s at OpenBlue.com.
Where To Find them worldwide?
Cobia fish are widespread, all over Florida – but also all over every warm area north and south of the equator. Even in Thailand, I’ve seen them in large outdoor fish ponds. The map below shows their distribution throughout the world. Image courtesy of IUCNRedlist.org.
What Do they Eat?
They eat a variety of fish, squid, and crustaceans. Crabs. You may be fishing for something else, and get a hookup with a very strong cobia that bends your hook. It has happened to me often. Usually when I throw on a pinfish or other live bait fish of decent size (5-6 inches or bigger) is when it happens. I’m rarely fishing specifically for Ling, they just happen to be around and take my bait and sometimes my hook and some line. These are powerful fish that are ravenous eaters.
They will eat entire squid, crabs, pinfish, or any other fish smaller than a big squid. Presentation is almost always on the bottom, but anglers should vary the depth of presentation to find them, then target that spot. Keep in mind that they will often stay very close to other animals like turtles or stingrays, manta rays. They are often in small schools. They occasionally come into water as shallow as 15 feet or so and close to shore. You can find them around bridges and other structure, even submerged wrecks.
- Spanish sardines
- blue runners
- goggle eyes
- live shrimp (big)
How to Catch them—Techniques
Fishing for cobia fish offshore usually means finding a wreck, a reef, or some other big structure.
One of the best baits you can use is something resembling an eel. Other than eel-like lures, bucktail jigs, shrimp, crabs, and shrimp in plastic can also catch them.
Fishing for them Inshore
Though not often found inshore, during the early spring months they may come in to 15-30 feet of water close to shore. You should try varying your bait depth to see if you can find them as they tend to stay in the thermals at a certain depth and where there is bait floating by occasionally. From shore you either use lures or live bait that has some energy to it. Ling fish love chasing baits and they’ll bump it to see if it’s something edible or not. Don’t let them bump it if you can see them trailing your lure – pull quicker then slow it down, then pull quicker again. Keep it just out of reach to entice a strike.
Most of the the ones I’ve caught have been from shore as I’ve dropped a bait down from some structure and it was picked up (destroyed is a better word). You’ll come to know a strike from this fish when you catch a few of them – they hammer the bait hard and immediately run and put up a strong fight.
Target Ling inshore also by fishing grass flats, buoys, wrecks onshore, rocks, or reef, and even sandy bottom by the beach when the water is 68°F or warmer.
If you can reach the floating buoys boats use for navigating shallow waters before hitting deep water, you can often find them there.
When Is the Best Time to Catch this Fish?
Ling travel down the east Coast to Florida as the waters warm up in Spring. Spring is a great time to catch most fish as females are ready to drop young and everybody is hungry and full of energy as the water warms their cold blood. Cobia fish are active more when the water reaches about 68°F. As the waters get warm during summer and at the end of summer, they migrate south and into deeper water to find cooler spots.
Gear—Big, Tough Tackle Necessary
Use strong gear if you’re going to target catching this species. Strong line (60+ lb. leader), strong hooks, strong braided line – 50 lbs. or stronger.)
A 7-foot long medium-heavy to heavy action rod is essential for a fish this big because the variation in size is so considerable. There is a big difference between a 20 lb. fish and a 60 lb. fish. The bigger fish will destroy your light or medium-action rod.
A strong UGLY STIK will do the job. Get one Here. (this rod is for spinning reels)
Here is a STRONG ROD for your baitcasting reel setup.
Best Reel for your Rod?
Baitcasting / Trolling Reels
Here’s a great PENN BAITCASTING REEL for catching cobia and other medium to large fish (under 70 lbs).
Best PENN SPINNING REEL for this fish? A strong spinning reel is required, with Penn reels, choose a 6000 series or higher.
Fifty-pound test braided line is great for Ling and just about anything else under 50 lbs. you’ll find in Florida’s waters. Sure, there are exceptions, but you can’t really go wrong using it as your all-around line when fishing with bigger live bait and medium-sized lures.
We recommend the following line for them.
STRONG LINE is perfect for your main line and tie it to a 60 lb. monofilament leader.
The best hooks for Cobia fish are size 5/0 to 9/0 circle hooks. Get the strong ones (Owner, Gamakatsu, Mustad, to minimize hook bends. Some excellent Mustad Hooks are here. Recommendation – simply the best.
Best Live Bait Cobia Rig
- Strong Swivel – one strong 2 loop swivel.
- Line – 50 lb. braided is fine for your main line. This will be heavy enough for most big fish.
- Leader – a very thin wire leader is advised. I use wire leaders often because I’ve had far too many break-offs with mono and to be honest I’m tired of it and started using wire leaders whenever possible. Other people insist on using 60 lb. mono line for their leader. Useabout 4 feet of it.
- Hook – 8/0 or 9/0 hooks from Mustad, Owner, Gamakatsu.
Bait for your hooks is live or dead but sizeable. Don’t put on the smallest pinfish you have, get some bigger ones. I think live bait is better because you won’t get catfish, sharks, and other undesirables messing with your bait!
Best Artificial Lure?
Many people swear by these 7-inch EEL LURES with a jig-head but I never seem to have them when I to try them. You can also use plastic bass worms (7-inches).
Others use TUBE LURES like this. One hook in the center, and a treble hook at the end of the tail, also resembles a big worm or eel.
I love YOZURI MINNOWS LIKE THESE in a larger (5-inch+) size, as well as poppers if the cobia fish are near the surface (rarely). Gotcha lures is all colors work well, but so do bucktails and other minnow-like jigs.
These Lures work like magic with Cobia.
Laws in Florida
Florida fishing limits are split by Florida State waters and Federal waters. It is your responsibility to check the latest laws on the Official Florida Game and Fish Commission here before you fish.
Legal Gear for Harvesting Cobia
Fishing with spears, gigs, hook and line, seine, and cast net is permissible.
East Coast Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 12-inches to tail fork.
- Daily Bag Limit: 10 per angler per day.
- Season: Open all year.
Federal Waters Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 12-inches to tail fork.
- Daily Bag Limit: Federal waters: 15 per angler per day.
- Season: Open all year.
NOTE – a full list of rules for fishing for Cobia can be found at the Florida Rules website here.
Get the Fishing App
Cobia laws can change at any time so it’s a good idea to be ready for anything. Nothing quite like the law rolling up to you in their little speedboat asking to see your fishing license, driver’s license, catch, and rigs. Information on our site is up-to-date the day we publish it, but that can change tomorrow. If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.
Cobia fish are farmed for food in different parts of the world. Wild-caught fish can have a high concentration of mercury so they are not a fish you should be eating a lot of unless you eat the farmed fish.
How to Cook them?
Cobia is a decent fish to eat in small quantities. Most people fry bite-sized pieces, but I suggest you broil the fish after skinned in butter and wrap it in foil. Use an all-around fish seasoning with some lemon and see if you enjoy the taste without frying. Frying destroys most of the taste of fish and it’s always my last resort unless doing a fish wrap or fish taco.
PRO TIP – Adult Cobia are known to have worms and parasites especially in the gonads. Please cook and eat only smaller fish just bigger than the legal limit around 12″.
Cobia Guide Resources
- OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP); University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and here.
- IUCN Redlist – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
Image credits: Photographs are from creative commons sources not requiring attribution, or from government websites used editorially or with permission.
More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)