I would imagine that many of you are surprised I haven't talked much about going cobia fishing. The fact is, until this past week I hadn't even tried for them this year. I'll admit I have thought about it, but with the weird spring weather we have had, I decided to stick to Gulf Stream-fishing because the odds of catching something there seemed far more likely than being anchored up in Port Royal Sound all day long, chumming my butt off and waiting for that one bite that may or may not be a cobia.
Usually May is the month for cobia, so why have the numbers been so far off this year? This is when I get in trouble with the naysayers, but what the heck? I'll admit it could be the up and down water temperature we have been having. One week the water temperature is 72 degrees and the next week it is 68. I know that doesn't seem like much, but to a fish, a four-degree change in temperature is like a brick wall to many species. But when it comes to cobia in Port Royal Sound, I have a totally different opinion as to why the numbers of fish being caught have dropped so dramatically, and that is over-fishing -- combined with way too much pressure on the group of cobia that comes into the sound to breed every year.
There, I said it. I know that I will catch hell from a few of you for making such an assumption. But before you crucify me let me tell you a few things I have observed.
I guess the best way to start is by telling you about my cobia fishing trip this past Friday. A friend of mine, Bill Hendrickson, called and said that his son and son-in-law were coming into town and would I go with them and give the cobia a try. Hey, when it comes to fishing, I am game for anything, so I met up with them and off we went.
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From the moment we left the dock, I noticed we weren't going to be the alone out there. It looked like a flotilla of boats was heading toward Port Royal Sound, and each boat was bristling with fishing rods rigged for cobia. If I had to guess just how many boats were in the sound that day, a weekday no less, I would say more than 100. No matter which direction I looked there were little cities of boats. I have always been a loner when it comes to fishing, so I chose a spot where we were pretty much all by ourselves. My original intention was to head offshore, but because we only had a handheld radio on board I decided safety should trump desire.
After getting anchored, I put out our lines, and we sat back waiting for one of the rods to buck. As I sat there, my mind drifted back a few years when I would fish this exact spot and within an hour would catch a dozen or more cobia. It saddened me that things have changed so much, but I knew it was coming. Having lived on Hilton Head Island since there were just a handful of folks, I have gotten quite accustomed to change.
When the right rod bent double, it snapped me out of my trance. After a short battle, up came a shark. At least there was some action for the boys from Tennessee. Two or three sharks later, I noticed the tide had slowed, so I made the decision to go looking for cobia lolly-gagging on the surface, which they often do when the tide goes slack. Using a live bait on a spinning rod, we went looking. We hadn't gone far when there on the surface was a nice cobia just swimming along.
Bill's son, Mike, made the perfect cast, and we were hooked up. That fish darn near wore him out as it made repeated runs, but I was finally able to gaff it, and we had our fish. Looking at that cobia and how much meat it represented, I couldn't believe that the limit of two cobia per person was still in effect. Two per boat seems a lot more reasonable, especially for a body of water the size of Port Royal Sound.
I can't end this column without this footnote. On Saturday afternoon, my wife's nephew, Johnny Bringas, came over and went fishing off my dock on the May River. Using a live mullet as bait, he hadn't been down there for 30 minutes when he called me and told me to come down to the dock. Lying there on the dock was a nice cobia. Oddly enough, two years ago my son, Logan, had put a chum bag off the dock and in 30 minutes landed two keeper-size cobia.
So instead of the Port Royal Sound, I know where I am going the next time I try for cobia. Maybe they have been right under my nose the whole time.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.