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January 19, 2012

Great Sight-Cast Fisheries

Five pulse-pounding sight-cast spots guaranteed to rock your world, plus some reader favorites

Destin
Florida’s Cobia Capital

Pitch baits to big cobia cruising the emerald waters off Panhandle beaches


Around the middle of March, the invasion begins. Florida’s Panhandle has by then geared up to meet the onslaught, and for the next couple of months, an armada of boats large and small — all sporting towers from the high and elaborate to the low and makeshift — will be patrolling off the beaches from dawn till dusk.

It’s cobia season.

While cobes can show here as late as June, the real concentrations occur in the spring, when the clear green waters off the Panhandle become to a sight-fisherman what the Magic Kingdom is to a 4-yearold. It’s hard to find a more exciting time in any fishery anywhere than when big cobia — singles, pairs and groups — cruise the surface off Destin and Florida’s Panhandle.

“Big” is a relative term, notes Capt. Pat Dineen ­(flyliner.com), for many years a fixture as a top inshore and nearshore guide for these waters.

As a testament to how large cobia might run here, Dineen says locals have been disappointed that ­tournament-winning fish in the past few years haven’t topped the century mark (though some have been only a few pounds shy of that). “But it still takes fish in the high 70s or 80-plus to get the ‘good-job nod’ from locals,” he says.

Spotting those fish is the name of the game. Wind can be a factor — the direction at least as much as the velocity. “Best is a brisk southeast wind with good sun. Anything from southeast to south is usually pretty attractive,” Dineen says. Surprisingly, days when the water isn’t a clear emerald green but has some turbidity might produce very well. “Cobia at the surface will contrast nicely when the water’s a bit unclear,” Dineen says. “They often show up lighter against dirtier water.”

“The higher you are off the water, the better,” Dineen says. But there are limits: Some towers on large boats nudge the stratosphere a bit too much. “In my opinion, the best boat is a 30- to 40-footer with a marlin tower right above the hardtop.” On the other hand, he says: “I have a 22 Pathfinder with T-top tower and controls. I might not see as many fish as the big boys, but I catch most of what I see.”

Catching those fish can mean putting anything in the water at times or, when they’re finicky, darn near ­everything. Most cobia veterans carry a smorgasbord of baits in the livewell — eels, mullet, pinfish and more. If a picky cobia won’t go for one, it might clobber the next. — Doug Olander

The Skinny

Location: Destin and Florida’s Panhandle
Prime Time: March through May and into June
Tackle: 25- to 30-pound braid on a 7-foot spinning rod with plenty of backbone

Skippers:

Capt. Don Dineen
Sure Lure Charters, Destin
www.surelurecharters.com

Capt. Jason Hallmark
Mother Lode, Destin
www.charterboatmotherlode.info

Capt. Jeff Moorman
First Light, Panama City
www.firstlightfishingcharters.com