Chasing Big Browns: Cobia Fishing Tips | Great Days Outdoors

Fishing for cobia requires hours of watching and cruising the beaches. Here are some cobia fishing tips to help anglers get their catch.


The Gulf Coast sun is bright, the spring air is getting warm, and the tourists on the beach stare at the parade of big boats moving slowly out past the second bar. What the tourists probably don’t know is that the boat crews are doing some serious watching and waiting.  Of course, it’s cobia time along Alabama beaches, and nothing else matters very much to the anglers and crews of the boat except spotting some of the big dark fish that migrate to our emerald waters every April from their winter haunts far down the Florida coast.

Although many cobia chasers own or charter a big, expensive boat, the average small boat owner can have just as much success as the big boys, and at much less expense—both in boat and fuel.  Consider how small boat anglers can get in on the cobia craziness in April.

John Brooks works at Top Gun Tackle in Orange Beach and he has fished for cobia along the Alabama beaches for years. He was kind enough to share his experience and opinions on small boat cobia fishing.

Tactics for Small Boat Anglers

“We usually go out of Perdido Pass and head east toward Pensacola and even Destin,” Brooks says. “We usually stay about 200 to 250 yards off the beach on the way east, and we may drop out farther—a mile or more—on our way back. We may troll some large Rapalas or other billed lures as we slowly motor, but we’re primarily sight-fishing.”


The biggest key to successful cobia fishing in April is simply seeing the fish so you can cast to them. This can be a problem for smaller boat anglers, especially those who don’t have towers on their boats. “Even without a tower, get on the highest point of the boat and watch from there,” Brooks advises. “The more eyes on the boat, the more likely it is that someone will see a cobia.”

“Small boat anglers will often have their best luck spotting cobia in April in shallow water.”

Nine times out of ten, the cobia will be moving slowly on the surface. They will be dark shapes moving from east to west, and they will usually be in groups of five or less. Single fish are quite common. Small boat anglers will often have their best luck spotting cobia in April in shallow water. The dark fish are much easier to spot against the white sand in clear water.

Brooks tells us that locating April cobia is pretty much random along the beaches, but a couple of specific areas that often hold fish are near Pensacola Pass and just off the beach in front of the largest condo with green glass. For some reason, many cobia have been seen and caught in these areas.

Cobia fishing tips.

Bait and Tackle

Gearing up for a cobia trip shouldn’t set a small boat angler back too much. Much of the tackle is probably on hand. Brooks recommends anglers use a 7’ 6” rod—either spinning or baitcasting will work. Sometimes, long distance casts must be made, so a reel that holds at least a couple of hundred yards of 20- to 30-lb mono or braid is good. A three-to-four-foot leader of forty – sixty-pound fluorocarbon is a good idea. Cobia can roll up the line when hooked, and they can wear through plain mono line. Also, anglers are urged to use good, high-end swivels when making leaders. Cobia are very strong fish, and they will find a weak point in the gear and use it to escape.

Lures for cobia are simple. Get some big four to six-ounce brightly colored jigs, attach a plastic grub tail and you’re in business. John Brooks recommends the six-inch GULP eel as the trailer. A very good thing about this large jig combination is that small boat anglers can make long casts in front of the swimming cobia when needed.


Live bait is equally simple. Live eels are the first choice of cobia chasers. The big brown fish can’t refuse a live eel. The problem is that live eels can be very hard to find in the Orange Beach area. Some local bait shops try to keep eels, but they sell out very fast during cobia season. Large pinfish and even live hardhead catfish are good live bait choices for April cobia.

Of course, small boat anglers who want to catch cobia need to use very high-quality hooks when using live bait. This is not the time to save a few pennies on cheap hooks.

Tips for Spotting Cobia

Now, this is probably the most important element of the April cobia game for small boat anglers. We can’t catch cobia if we can’t see them is true a majority of the time. Anything we can do to improve our “seeing” will likely improve our “catching.”

“Height makes a huge difference,” says John Brooks. “That’s why we put towers on our boats.” Even if our small boats don’t have towers, we can at least spend our looking time standing. In smooth water conditions, standing up on the seat can help.

“Bright days with minimal cloud covers are best,” Brooks adds. “Chop on the surface makes it harder to see, but when the glare is bad, try to look with the glare and not into it.”

The best thing any small boat angler can do to improve seeing while cobia fishing is to use a pair of quality sunglasses. These can be pricey, but they are worth the money when it comes to cobia fishing.

“We recommend and sell Costa del Mar series 880 glasses,” Brooks says. “These glasses really help anglers looking for cobia. These glasses start at around $189, and we do have them here at Top Gun.”

Finally, when the big, dark fish are spotted, most of the time they will be in casting range.  Small boat anglers should try to put the jig or live bait in front of the moving fish and give it plenty of time to see and take the bait. Most big cobia are lost when the angler has fought them all the way to the boat. Cobia have a bad habit of reviving when at boatside where they make a last, fierce run for freedom. If the small boat angler is not ready for this, often the hooks pull, the line breaks, or the fish just slips off the hook.

Small boat anglers who do everything just right and who have a little luck will discover this axiom: Even though cobia swim slowly when minding their own business, they get very strong and very fast when hooked.

Important Contact Information:

Top Gun Tackle

PO Box 1250

25405 Perdido Beach Blvd

Orange Beach, AL 36561



Costa del Mar Sunglasses

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