Tanner Helickson holds up a big cobia he caught fishing with Capt. John Irwin last week off the Charleston coast. Provided photo/Capt. John Irwin

Capt. John Irwin has caught his share of cobia, both from Charleston waters as well as from the famous Broad River fishery in Beaufort County. But he's never been as happy to see someone in another boat land a cobia as he was during a recent charter.

Irwin and clients Nolan and Tanner Helickson were enjoying a productive day off the Charleston coast on May 3.

"We were hooking stuff left and right. We had a couple of (large reels) spooled by, I think, kingfish that we were hooking on jigs. We kept striking out but we finally started catching fish. We were on a pretty decent bite. We had landed three cobia and lost a couple more," said Irwin of Flyright Charters (( 

Irwin cast out a bottom bait and was baiting another rig when a fish hit the first rod. He leaned the second rod against the gunnel, the bait dangling near the water, as his clients began to fight the fish.

"When we caught the fish, there were two other fish with it and we were ready with a pitch bait," Irwin said. But the fish ignored the offering and swam underneath the boat. The next thing Irwin knew was the sound of a rod and reel clattering over the side of the boat.

"I thought to myself, 'Well, this is a free charter. I won't make any money today,'" Irwin said as he realized a fish had escaped with an $800 rod and reel.

Irwin and his charter weren't the only anglers fishing the area. They watched as Steve Sanders and Howie Brown battled a cobia nearby, and Irwin said one of his customers said "They've got a big mess over there."

Irwin looked, and then did a double-take. The mess was yellow PowerPro braided fishing line. Sanders and Brown not only landed a cobia, they also caught Irwin's rod and reel.

They came over and jokingly told Irwin, "I'll sell it to you real cheap" before returning the rod and reel.

Irwin said he thinks the Charleston cobia bite is just beginning.

"I always feel like it really pops off and gets going in May," he said. "We've had some fish show up early."

Irwin said he tries to be prepared for any opportunity when fishing for cobia. He usually has four rods, each rigged with different types of artificials or set up to use with live bait. His live bait usually is menhaden but he also likes to fish with eels that he catches in mud minnow traps. He uses Carolina-rigs with sinker slides and Owner 8/0 SSW j-hooks with a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader. Eels are especially good for big cobia.

Artificials include bucktails which work well for fishing the bottom, but he also likes to have a light lure that will stay at the top of the water column for sight-casting to cobia on the surface, lures such as a Hogy Flounder, big Z-Man plastics or D.O.A. Swimming Mullets.

The cobia season is closed from May 1-31 from Jeremy Inlet on Edisto Island southward. In the rest of the state, the limit is one per person, three per boat and fish must measure at least 36 inches fork length.

B.A.S.S. revises schedule

B.A.S.S. has announced a new schedule for the remainder of 2020 that includes a visit by the Bassmaster Elite pros to the Palmetto State.

The Bassmaster Elite Series will resume in June and include an October trip to the Santee Cooper lakes. The tournament schedule is: June 10-13, Lake Eufaula, Alabama; July 14-17 Cayuga Lake, New York; July 23-26, St. Lawrence River, New York; July 30-Aug. 2, Lake Champlain, New York; Aug. 20-23, Lake St. Clair, Michigan; Oct. 8-11, Santee Cooper, South Carolina; Oct. 16-19, Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee; Nov. 5-8, Lake Fork, Texas.

Only one event in the Elite Series, on the St. John's River in Florida, was fished before the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Summerville pro Patrick Walters finished 10th in that event.

A Bassmaster Open Eastern Division tournament will be fished Sept. 23-25 on Lake Hartwell.