The enigmatic cobia, known as ling (not to be confused with the red hake) in its southern water homelands, has returned in its summertime hiatus to the Jersey shore. While catches have been made here and there, the first we witnessed in mid-June, reports lend credence to the opinion that the numbers are increasing and should offer prime angling opportunities, and superlative eating, well into September.

The species has no relative on the piscine planet, and although it’s claimed that it does resemble a shark profile, there is no kinship. It is totally in a class of its own.

The cobia is a brownish/copper-colored brute: a big, wide compressed head, thick body and powerful semi-forked tail. The physique is made for the fight, and when you hook one, you’ll know it. Favorite chow includes crabs, eels, sea robins, shrimp and, when available, snapper blues, spot, spike weakfish and croakers. Basically, it’s an opportunistic feeder that inhales what’s available.

Although a few cobia are picked off in bays and inlets every summer, they are encountered primarily around structure such as that afforded by reefs and wrecks.

Then, just as often,they’ll be found cruising in open water, dorsal fin sometimes cleaving the surface, much in the way of a shark. They’ll usually travel in pairs, sometimes in threes and fours.

They are where you find them. They can be encountered in the mid-range waters, near shore waters and, it’s not uncommon to catch them well within sight of the beach.

“Quick! Grab that other rod with the bucktail and toss it back there,” barked Capt. Al Crudele III from Bayhound Charters out of Sea Isle. We were drifting a mile, maybe a bit
less, out of Townsends Inlet, and the flounder were chewing. Denise Theiler’s bait rig had become snagged, and the skipper was working it loose when, he confided later, he saw a fin break the surface a half-dozen yards behind the stern. Denise launched the sea robin-pattern S&S bucktail armed with a Gulp! Eel, and within five seconds, all hell broke loose.

Good thing the rig came loose and was quickly reeled in, as what turned out to be a 38-pound cobia on a local tackle shop scale, circled the boat a half-dozen times in between
dives towards the bottom.

The newly established daily limit is now one cobia, no less than 37-inches per vessel.

That’s correct: per vessel, not per angler.

The current state rod and reel record is 90-lb. 6-oz. caught in 2019 at McCries Shoal. The spear fishing mark stands at 74-lbs. 5oz. and was was nailed off Sea Isle, also in 2019.

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