Capt. Richard Rutland can no longer express disappointment about the fishing at a certain Exxon-Mobil petroleum platform just south of Dauphin Island.
“I’ve never caught a fish off this rig, but I stop here every time,” Rutland said as he eased up to the rig to look for cobia lurking in the shadows of the rig structure.
“There’s a fish,” he said, grabbing a fresh menhaden out of the livewell. The cobia, also known as ling and lemonfish, was inside the rig structure, forcing Rutland to make a pinpoint cast just to the edge of a series of brace pipes. The menhaden splashed down and in a flash, the cobia attacked.
Rutland hesitated to make sure the bait had been inhaled, and then he loaded up the rod to let the modified circle hook do its work. When the rod bowed, he yelled, “Reverse, put the motor in reverse.”
With the tension of the rod and the boat in reverse, Rutland was able to keep the cobia from swimming back into the rig and its many sharp, line-cutting edges.
After a morning of catching undersized fish off the ships anchored outside the mouth of Mobile Bay, there was no doubt this fish would easily surpass the size limit of 33 inches fork length, measured from the fork of the tail to the tip of its snout. The daily creel limit for cobia is two fish per person.
After a few minutes, the 25-pound cobia was flopping on the deck of Rutland’s bay boat, and the day would only get better.
Normally, most anglers think of cobia fishing as a spring endeavor when the fish are migrating along the upper Gulf Coast after spending the colder months in south Florida. The fish then hang around our area during the summer months to fatten up on the plentiful baitfish and crustaceans in Alabama waters. The cobia don’t head back south until the fall, and Rutland discovered a way to catch them a few years ago.
“I guess it was about four years ago, a friend of mine just happened to catch one on a shallow reef in Mississippi Sound,” said Rutland, who specializes in inshore species like speckled trout and redfish. “I assumed cobia was kind of an offshore fish, so I decided to go look around one day. I started looking around channel marker buoys and rigs. I ended up catching three keepers the first time I tried it. It was in September.
“September and early October are my times to catch cobia near the shore.”
Our next stop was at one of those channel marker buoys or “cans” if you wish. We spotted another keeper, and it didn’t hesitate to take the bait. This fish settled down fairly quickly after being hooked, and I reeled it slowly to the boat after a short fight.
“You gonna gaff him?” I asked.
“He looks pretty green to me,” said Rutland, hesitating to throw a 35-pound cobia onto the front of his boat for it to thrash around. He decided to forgo his reticence and quickly yanked the fish in the boat as we kept our distance until the thrashing was over.