Perched on the gunwale and holding his boat’s T-top, Craig Odom scanned the water from just beyond the transom of his lightly rocking center-console craft to several hundred yards behind the small red balloon that marked his most-distant baitfish’s location.
Taking advantage of the few feet of extra elevation, Odom scoured the chum-filled water, hoping to catch an early glimpse of a fish working its way through the oily surface slick.
It was an extremely calm early morning off Yaupon Beach. The sun that had risen minutes earlier was beginning to change into a brilliant yellow ball as it traversed the June sky above the tranquil Atlantic Ocean.
While his record had been abysmal for most of the early spring, the weatherman finally had been correct. The morning had the makings of a beautiful day.
A slight breeze created a gentle whisper from the northeast. For a perfect morning, the wind needed to have been from the south or southwest. But if living with 95 percent of perfection was required to be on the water this morning, the errant wind direction was tolerable.
Hopefully, the fish wouldn’t care.
Odom and friends had risen early, caught baitfish before daylight, motored to and anchored at a favorite location. They’d started a chum line as soon as pre-dawn light brightened the sky.
After 30 minutes another boat headed down the beach toward Odom’s boat.
“I sure hope everyone else realizes we’re anchored and fishing and gives us as much room as that guy did,” Odom said. “As big as the ocean is, it seems like sometimes when we anchor, it’s like painting a target on ourselves. Fishermen, even some we know and who recognize us, just seem to be drawn to a boat that’s anchored and fishing. When we catch a fish, it gets even worse.
“I knew we’d be taking a chance setting up this close to Yaupon (Reef). I thought with this wind, we’d be inshore of the reef, and most folks wouldn’t want to come in any closer to the beach and would leave us alone. I also thought we could catch a couple of cobia and maybe a king and be gone before the crowd got too thick. I’ve had some really good luck on this little piece of bottom, and this wind is slowly moving our chum line back to the reef.”
About that time the green balloon, marking Odom’s second baitfish location, darted across the water to the left. The balloon’s sudden movement couldn’t have been caused by such a light wind.
“I believe we might have a visitor in the baits,” Odom said.
With attention focused on each balloon, the anglers’ intensity ratcheted up a few notches. Suddenly a swirl appeared just behind the blue balloon as a terrified pogy tried to escape a predator.
When the struggling baitfish tightened the leader, it pulled upward in the water and had created the surface commotion. A couple of feet behind the swirl, a dark shape materialized below the water’s surface.
Moving almost nonchalantly, the fish turned toward the frantic menhaden and closed the distance. The balloon dragged on the water as the pogy made a desperate, unsuccessful last lunge to put some distance between itself and its stalker.
The chase unfolded silently as no one on the boat spoke until the balloon disappeared and the reel’s clicker announced something was moving away with the pogie.
After about 15 seconds, Odom picked up the rod and engaged its gears. Each reel had been preset to the drag he wanted for fighting cobia then was disengaged so a fish could mouth a bait and not feel resistance.
“I believe this guy has had this bait long enough to get it back in his mouth,” Odom said as he pushed the drag lever forward. “Let’s see if he has or not. Besides, I didn’t get a good enough look to see what it was, and I want to see it. Get ready to clear lines and chase it if we have to.”
Pointing the rod tip in the direction the line was going, he wound until the line was tight. As the line rod’s line straightened, Odom raised the tip and almost wiggled the line (rather than jerked) to set the hook.
Odom later said with the small treble hooks used with a live pogy, all that was needed was a little resistance to pull the hook points into the fish. Too much pressure could cause the trebles to gash a fish and pull free later in the fight.
Apparently the bite of the small treble with the light hookset was enough to get the fish’s attention. Suddenly it decided it didn’t want to hang around the boat and headed offshore.
The 20-pound-test monofilament line zinged off the squealing reel like ice melting in a hot frying pan.
After pulling 150 yards of line from the reel, the fish suddenly stopped its wild sprint and turned to circle the boat at a slower pace.
“I believe we’ve got a cobia,” Odom said. “They have a tendency to run out then circle a boat. Give him time to make most of a circle, and he’ll probably be on the surface where we can see him.”
Sure enough, the fish hadn’t completed a full circle when it materialized, with its dorsal fin and tail intermittently protruding from the water.
Odom said many anglers, after seeing a tail and dorsal fin of a cobia, guess they’ve hooked a shark. However, a cobia’s body is darker, it has a wide head, plus its dorsal fin has spines that fold down.
After its first run, the cobia decided to pull stubbornly all the way to the boat. Opening the fish box before the gaff was used, Odom’s crew stuck the brown bomber, then heaved the big fish into the box and slammed the lid shut. Odom stood on the door for a few minutes, just in case.
Then Odom re-baited his hooks in one of two manners and put them back into the water.
The rigs had stranded wire, approximately 6-feet long, with a pair of No. 4 Eagle Claw 774 Series treble hooks about 4-inches apart at one end with a swivel at the other. The rig was tied with Figure-8 knots. By tying the balloons around the line at different lengths above the swivels, the baits could be fished at different depths. A 1-ounce egg sinker was added just above the swivel on the deepest bait.
Odom uses four rigs. Baitfish on two rigs had the front hook side-to-side, in the top of the baitfish’s head above the eyes. The trailing hook was inserted just forward of its anal opening. For the other two rigs, he inserted the front hook side-to-side near the rear of the dorsal fin. The trailing hook was inserted roughly at the middle bottom of its body.
Using a slightly-larger balloon to help grab the wind, Odom let out enough line for the first bait rig to float about 40 yards behind the boat. The next bait rig used a slightly-smaller balloon with 30 yards of line released from the reel. The third baitfish swam below an even smaller balloon 20 yards from the stern. The final baitfish rig had a really small balloon only 20 to 25 feet behind the motor.
By varying the distances behind the boat and deploying baitfish at different depths, Odom’s balloon spread offered four baitfish options for curious cobia to examine.
Odom said his hook placements exaggerated the baitfishes’ struggles, producing movements that attract cobia. Two baitfish swam directly away from the resistance, while the other two struggled at an angle.
The differences worked.
Odom and his friends caught several cobia and had another one that pulled the hooks. Similar to the weather that day, it wasn’t a perfect performance, but one the anglers happily tolerated.