Persistence pays off with near-record cobia

Capts. J.R. Waits (left) and Fritz von Kolnitz hold up the 88-pound, 6-ounce cobia Waits caught recently off Charleston. Photo by Capt. Fritz von Kolnitz.

The last thing a boat captain wants to hear is "you're going to need a bigger ."

For a pair of Charleston's top fishing guides the completion of that well-known quote from the movie Jaws wasn't a bigger boat; they were thinking that they could use a bigger landing net and a larger cooler during a recent trip.

When captains Fritz von Kolnitz of Adventure Outdoor Charters ( and J.R. Waits of Fish Call Charters ( left Isle of Palms Marina early last week on a busman's holiday, they were hoping to cash in on the cobia run. But they weren't expecting to tangle with a near-record cobia, a cobia that kept flopping out of the large landing net, a cobia whose head and tail extended out both ends of von Kolnitz's 120-quart cooler, a cobia that weighed 88 pounds, 6 ounces, less than five pounds shy of the state record (92-10) caught off Hilton Head in 2009.

With a beautiful day forecast and no charters, the two guides left the marina in von Kolnitz's 24-foot Pathfinder in search of the tasty bruisers. Waits said many fishing experts think the full moon in May is the peak of their spawning and the fish can typically be found no more than 8 to 10 miles off the beach.

"They're available in the summer, just further out," he said.

Von Kolnitz said they passed up smaller menhaden in the waterway for bait because he "knew where the bigger menhaden were." Only the big baits weren't where he had found them a day earlier.

"We did have bait, live blue crabs," von Kolnitz said. "We call it bumping the buoys (favorite cobia hangouts). We worked the buoys on the way out looking for fish but we didn't see anything except a bunch of barracudas. We worked our way all the way out to the C Buoy with nothing to show so we headed out to the Charleston 60 (artificial reef) and sat there for a while, doing a little bottom fishing and throwing a plug on top, trying to get something worked up.

"Then we went back to the buoys and bumped our way back in. Nothing but cudas."

Von Kolnitz said he and Waits were discouraged and decided to head back to Isle of Palms. About a mile into the run, their luck changed. After spotting a couple of cobia, they eventually were able to backtrack using the GPS and find the two fish.

Waits had two rods rigged with live bait, opting for the blue crab over a pinfish. He lobbed it out and "the larger one accelerated and sucked it in."

They were geared for big fish, using heavy spinning rods loaded with 40-pound test monofilament line, but it still took Waits about 20 minutes to get the fish into a position for von Kolnitz to net it.

"I've always found it's a lot better to net a cobia than to gaff them. They freak out when you gaff them. But if you get them in the net, you usually can go straight from the net to the cooler without too much damage to yourself or the boat," said Waits, in deference to the cobia's reputation for being a bull in a china shop when brought into a boat.

"This one was so big, where its center of gravity was, it would come out every time you tried to lift the net. There was more weight outside the net than inside the net."

After trying with the net three times, Von Kolnitz said he decided against using an expensive Boga Grip on the massive and they instead opted for a small lip gaff. He was able to slip the gaff inside the fish's mouth and pin it beside the boat. It took both fishermen to drag it over the side and into the cooler.

Waits said his previous biggest cobia was 48 pounds, while von Kolnitz said his largest cobia was 30 pounds.

Back at the marina, after the fish was weighed, they sent up some of the fillets to the restaurant which fried it immediately for the hungry anglers. They also had plenty of fish to eat the next few nights as well as to share with friends and family.

"I've done a lot of cobia fishing with no luck whatsoever. Just go out and ride around and look and look and look. We went looking for (cobia) and we found them, but there was a lot of luck in that. A lot of things good happened for us to make it work.

"My new mantra is like Jimmy V (Valvano, the noted N.C. State basketball coach who died of cancer), said. 'Don't give up. Don't ever give up.' We probably covered 35 or 40 miles and caught that fish two miles from home."