Geoff Maynard returns to Florida for a brawl with some natives...
Remember that scene from the movie Independence Day? Will Smith has just out-flown the flying saucer and post-crash, is stubbornly dragging what we suppose is the alien pilot back to civilisation, wrapped up in a collapsed parachute, all the while cursing and muttering under his breath. Full of self-satisfied smugness from a job well done. I know what that feels like now; but without the alien, if you get my drift.
John tries to avoid a hook-up - but fails gloriously!
My right arm is aching, my knuckles are bruised and my back hurts. Looking around the boat, I’m not the only one who is battle scarred. Pete is holding his wrist rather gingerly; he’s hoping it’s not broken – from his stance it looks like he has another visit to the chiropractor due. Even Gordy, twenty years our junior and fit as a fiddle, is looking rather shattered and bemused; there’s a blood smear on his face. The three Brits are dazed. Only our hosts, the Tripletail Brothers, Frank and John Martin, are wearing triumphant smiles. Only they knew what to expect when we got into this.
Peter piles on the pressure as a
40lb cobia dives under the boat
You see, we have just been in a fight. Not exactly a barroom brawl with broken bottles flying over the bar and people exiting through closed windows, but a right ding-dong punch-up nevertheless. I have a cut on my leg and another on my hand and narrowly missed a concussion when Frank was swinging that blackjack earlier. Not really a blackjack. A metal rounders bat about fifteen inches long. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Frank when he’s swinging that. Or at any other time really.
We won by the way. In case you were wondering.
The other gang in this street fight comprised of the Cobias. They rule this part of the world usually, swaggering through life doing whatever they want, whenever they want. Until we taught them a lesson they are not likely to forget in a hurry… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
These fish fight like street kids. They are rough,
tough and take no prisoners
When we were zander fishing in Spain earlier this year a fishing holiday in Florida was suggested by someone. Who’s up for it? Gordy Howes and Paul Garner. But then Paul had to pull out so Pete Martinelli took his place. Okay. Great. Good company and top-flight anglers. And me.
Two countries divided by a common language said old Winnie Churchill. It’s a wonder really how the USA and the UK ever manage to communicate sometimes. When John had told me on the phone from Florida that they were ‘catching cobia off the beach’ I subsequently relayed that info to Pete, who as a result brought his surfcasting rods. What John actually meant was, they were catching cobia whilst boat fishing, eight miles off the beach. That’s a long cast even for Pete so the surf rods stayed in the rod-box. Well I didn’t know! How many of you have even heard of a cobia? Not many I’m sure, so excuse me if I give you the benefit of my vast and extensive knowledge. I fished for them for one whole day. In our modern world I guess that makes me an expert.
Remora. Note the sucker.
Cobia grow to about 150 lbs and to over 6ft in length but a mere 40lber will give you one hell of a fight. They are members of the remora family and can behave in a similar manner but they lack the sucker of the remora. Cobia usually swim alone but can group together at breeding times or when swimming alongside or underneath larger creatures like rays and turtles in the hope of getting an easy meal. In the water they look like brown sharks. In the boat they thrash about like mad and unless dispatched quickly can do a lot of damage. Centre consuls have been ripped off boats by thrashing cobia!
This was the shuttle launch the previous day.
One of the true wonders of our modern world.
It was a little surreal. It was the day after the Shuttle launch and we were still all fired up over that spectacle. The Frayed Knot leapt across the waves with hardly a jar despite the predicted 2 to 3 ft seas. We turned south out of Port Canaveral following the line where the turquoise water turned blue as the bottom fell away. Over a vast shoal of small baitfish, Menhaden or Pogies, Frank threw a cast net. One throw supplied more bait than we could use in the day – then we were off again, the roar of the twin Yamaha engines making conversation nonsensical.
“Look at those Jacks” called John from his vantage point in the tower. Frank shut down the motors and we peered through our Polaroids into the reflected glare. Following John’s directions we soon saw the shadows of a large school of powerful fish heading straight at us, veering as they saw the boat. My hand reached for a rod and I saw Gordy do the same but before we could lift them out of the holders we were off again, zooming across the waves. The three Brits looked blankly at each other.
Don't argue with Capt. Frank!
We slowed again to watch a huge flotilla of cow rays come past the boat, a hundred of them, close enough to touch, then we were away again at high speed - then stopping to observe a group of large barracuda hanging out by a shipping buoy. I dared to ask if we could throw a bait to one but was told we had ‘no wire’. So that was that. Then we spotted a tripletail under a floating bed of weed but nobody reached for a rod. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever wet a line at this rate. And we were off again.
The repetitious pounding of the hull against the waves lulled me into a daydream. Boom boom boom boom boom… then madness… everyone was screaming ‘Ray, ray, ray’ and the mayhem started. John was up in the tower calling for a rod. Frank had one ready with a large skirted lure tipped with a whole squid. He reached up with it, all the while screaming at the rest of us to ‘get a rod’ and to ‘get a bait on’. John took the rod from him and cast to 2 o’clock. I followed the cast with my eyes to see what all the commotion was about. The lure landed with a splash about six foot to the right of a vast dark diamond shape, jet black against the royal blue water. It was a huge manta-ray, as big as our game-fishing boat. What a staggering sight. But what came next was even more so. Out from under the huge ray came four, five, then six big brown shapes, all targeting the squid-tipped lure. Cobia!
Gordy with the biggest fish of the day
John whipped the bait away from them, not letting any get close to the hook – and I realised what he was doing; he was luring the cobia away from beneath the ray and back towards our boat. The fish had no fear of us, nor the boat, though we were in plain view. Panic-thrown baits started to land in the water all over the place, everyone trying to get a bait to a fish before they could drift away again, the manta ray was by now 100 foot distant and travelling at speed. I miscast the first time then forgot to open the bale arm the second and generally acted like a Wally before eventually managing to get a bait out there and… YES! I was straight into a powerful fighting fish that was determined to strip every inch of line off my reel. All around me others were also fighting fish and a cacophony of voices told me that there were multiple fish hooked. After several minutes of heaving to and fro Frank appeared beside me with a landing net. In one fluid motion he leaned over the side, my fish was boarded and the hook removed. My first cobia! This fish was getting on for a yard long, looked to be at least 25lbs and was an adrenaline-fuelled triumph – I was rummaging for my camera when Frank tossed the fish over the side with a casual ‘undersized’ muttered to me. Ugh!
Have we got enough line on here?
I got over myself and looked around the boat. There were about three ‘keeper’ fish of 36 inches or more and the rest were spirited back into the ocean. The fish we kept were swiftly dispatched, courtesy of Frank and his club, and slid into the icebox. It was over. We looked around, shell-shocked. And started laughing and high-five-ing.
Then we did it again. And again. And again. At last we made sense of ignoring those fish earlier, the jacks and the tripletail etc. We were targeting cobia. John and Frank knew the cobia were in the area and were focussed on them, and them only. There is something very weird about powering across the ocean looking for giant manta rays, aiming to catch the fish that swim underneath them. And this day the gods of the ocean blessed us. We found one after another manta rays, all with packs of cobia swimming beneath them. We Brits learned from our expert hosts to take our time and to select the fish we wanted, so by-passing the smaller ones. John called it ‘spoon-feeding’ them - and there were similarities. By the end of the day we had learned. We were picking out the 40 to 60lb fish and ignoring the smaller ones. The crew’s panic of the first ray gave way to calm steady professionalism. Except me of course. I was still screaming like a kid.
They can look like brown sharks in the water
Our final sighting proved to be a pair of manta rays, one much larger than the other, with a veritable shoal of cobia swimming beneath them. With the other four guys all hooked up and fighting fish on the front of the boat, I was on my own in the back. I spotted a decent fish come under the boat and lowered a bait to it. The hook did its job and I was in for the one of the best fights of the day with the rod butt attempting to disembowel me whilst the tip dipped into the ocean. Through gritted teeth I managed to pump the fish to the surface only to realise that I was still on my own. The multiple hook-up at the front of the boat had resulted in crossed lines and prolonged fights; nobody could help me. Frank had the gaff ready for these big fish but the net was still available. Hmm. Netting a 40lb cobia whilst holding the rod on a plunging boat is not an easy thing to do. On about the third attempt I managed it – I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the fish.
Take the shot, then get me to the chiro, quick!
We finished the day with about two dozen fish boated but only ten fish were kept, as per the law, 2 per angler. It was probably the best day afloat on the ocean I have ever had – and I’ve had a few. Thanks once again to Florida and the Space Coast Tripletail Brothers!
So now it’s the end of the movie and I’m up on the screen there with Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith - and this time the cigars are coming out.
PS: Cobia taste great too! Mmmmmm…..
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