It's getting close to the time of the year when Charleston- area anglers hook up their boats and head south in search of cobia. The waters of the Broad River, between Beaufort and Hilton Head, are one of the country's best fishing spots to find concentrations of cobia.
Anglers fishing off Charleston find occasional cobia at the buoys and reefs, but if you're not the first one on the water your chances of catching one of these bruisers is pretty slim. Still, it doesn't hurt to check the buoys as you head offshore.
But a short commute will certainly increase your odds. The cobia run on the Broad River, along with nearby Port Royal Sound, usually peaks in late April or early May and continues into June, which explains the armada of boats. The primary fishery is the Broad River up to the Highway 170 bridge, but cobia also are caught near the Combahee Light at the mouth of the Ashepoo River and also in the Beaufort River.
There are two basic styles of fishing for cobia in the Broad River and adjacent areas. You can fish with bait from an anchored boat. There are a couple of well-known areas for fishing at anchor -- the Parris Island Rip and the Turtle. These areas are not hard to find. All you have to do is look for the fleet of anchored boats and politely find yourself a spot, making certain you give the adjacent boats plenty of room.
Or, you can cruise the water looking for pushes on top. When the water is extremely clear, they're not difficult to spot, looking like a cross between a big brown catfish or a shark. If you are into fly fishing, this is the way to go. But you can also flip out a live bait.
Baits that work for cobia include threadfin herring, menhaden, blue crabs and squid. But the favorite live bait is a live eel, which can be purchased at Beaufort area tackle shops. Cobia can't resist them. Eels are extremely squirmy, so most people keep them chilled until they put them on the hook. Fishermen will often carry a bucket of sand to dip their hands in before trying to grab them and put them on a hook. Some people prefer to hook the eel through the nose; others hook the eel near the tail.
Cobia tackle should be stout. Use at least 20- to 30-pound test line and a stout rod. If you're into fly fishing, 10 weight rods are appropriate.
I've caught cobia that have come almost immediately to the boat, but don't be tempted. A 50-pound cobia that's brought in too quickly can destroy the interior of a boat. Play the fish out until it is thoroughly tired.
Current regulations limit anglers to two cobia per day and they must measure at least 33 inches fork length. The South Carolina record weighed 92 pounds, 10 ounces and was caught by Robby Maroudas of Hilton Head Island in 2009. The world record is a 135-pound, 9-ounce catch made in 1985 off Australia.