Cobia, Chesapeake style

George Poveromo, who resides in Parkland, Fla., is a nationally-recognized sportfishing authority who serves as Editor-At Large for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, and the producer and host of his own television series on ESPN2: George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing.

If a vote were held for the most popular saltwater game fish around Virginia Beach, my money would be on the cobia.

Here's a prolific, rapidly-growing species that is not only a tough adversary to deal with when you hook one, but also to land. They're delicious to eat and readily accessible to those fishing aboard both small and large boats.

In these parts, some call it "cobia fever." And from mid-summer to fall, Virginia Beach anglers go mad for this fish. I know. I fished here for cobia last August.

The Chesapeake mad man

Captain Jorj Head (757-262-9004) is a teacher by profession, and fishing guide when he's not in the classroom. He does it all, from chasing striped bass to big red drum, but his specialty is catching cobia. And when it comes to catching numbers of trophy-size cobia, many claim he's in a league of his own.

One thing is for sure, when he steps foot on a boat, like he did aboard my Mako 284 MARC VI, he's dead serious about catching fish, and intensely focused.

Cobia triple play

We set forth aboard my boat, cleared Rudee Inlet and headed for the lower reaches of Chesapeake Bay.

Our plan was to first inspect several navigation buoys, which cobia tend to hold on. This would be a stick-and-move drill; I'd ease my bow up to the buoy, while Jorj dropped down a live eel.

Just in case he hooked up, and there was a second fish, I was standing by with a 20-pound class Penn spinning outfit, rigged with a bucktail.

If one buoy didn't produce, we'd run to the next in line.

Unlike many cobia anglers who prefer "bucktailing" these buoys, Jorj likes the fact that cobia are more apt to swallow a live bait, nearly eliminating the odds of a hook pulling free. As I said, he's dead serious about this game!

Our buoy runs uncovered a few cobia, but none would eat; after a few casts, they'd just swim out of sight.

Looking for cruising fish was another option we exercised, primarily in between the change of tides, when there was little current. We adhered to pretty much the same tactic as when hitting the buoys: pitch a live eel to a cruising fish, with a bucktail reserved for a companion fish.

This was a neat game. I cruised slowly along the edges and even in the shipping channels, glancing off to the sides of the boat for cobia swimming just underneath the surface. Jorj stood atop my bow and scanned the surface, spinning tackle in hand and a hooked, live eel slithering in a five gallon bucket of water.

We saw numerous fish, but they weren't eating. However, Jorj did convert one "looker" to an "eater." And just a few minutes later, we landed a beautiful Chesapeake Bay cobia.

Chunking was the most productive technique on our outing. Very similar to chunking for striped bass in the northeast, Jorj took us to relatively shallow bars, not far from a deep slough or channel, and anchored. The exact bar was dependent on the tide, but the objective was the same: Soak four live baits and a chum pot on the bottom, so that the scent flows off the bar and into the troughs and channels, attracting cobia that use these deeper passages as navigational highways.

Our live well was filled with spot, croaker, bluefish and eels.

Study the electronics

To visualize our playing field, I booted up the Navionics Platinum electronic fishing chart on one of my Lowrance HDS10 units, to where all the buoys and navigation passages from Virginia Beach into the lower Chesapeake were displayed — and there were many!

My other HDS10 unit had the bottom dialed in, just to see what might be lurking deep around these buoys, as well as along and in the shipping channels.

I was most intrigued by looking at the "bars" that Jorj wanted to fish on the electronic fishing chart. For the uninitiated to this fishery, all that's necessary to find a potentially productive spot is to look at the depths on the chart and find a shallow bar.

Then, note just how close a trough or deep water exists to that bar. Next, figure out the tide, so that the current flows from the bar toward the deeper water. On my machine, I watched the relatively muddy bottom rise from a channel, up onto the bar.

Tackle locker

Our chunking tackle consisted of Penn Torque 200 and 300 reels, paired with Penn Torque Jigging Rods (model TJ5010C66, a 6-foot, 6-inch long rod rated for fishing lines between 50- and 100-pound test). The reels were filled with 50-pound test Sufix Performance Braid, with a 150-foot long "top shot" of 30-pound test Sufix Superior monofilament (the top shot was joined to the braid with a Bristol Knot).

Spooling nearly with all braid provides tremendous line capacity, greatly reducing the risk of a fish spooling you while at anchor, versus a reel spooled with all monofilament line. That's because braided line has a very small diameter compared to a monofilament of the same breaking strength.

For example, 50-pound test braid has a diameter that is close to an 8-pound test monofilament. The monofilament top shot offers just enough stretch to compensate for the lack of stretch in braided line. This "cushion" helps keep hooks from pulling, during any sudden surges by a fish.

Leaders were 3 to 4 feet of 80-pound test monofilament, connected to the main line with a swivel. The hooks, 8/0 and 9/0 live-bait style, were snelled to our leaders.

We fished four outfits. The two closest to the transom were weighted with eight-ounces of lead, to keep them straight down. The two farthest outfits each carried a six-ounce weight. Of course, we'd adjust the size of the weights based on the stage of the tide and velocity of the current, to keep the baits on bottom.

To "sweeten" the waters and telegraph scent down the bar and into the channels, a large weighted chum pot — filled with a frozen block of fresh, ground menhaden mixed with a cup of menhaden oil — was lowered to just right off the bottom, to where it danced with the waves and emitted particles. We also set a surface chum bag out, just a few feet off our transom.

It was now a waiting game. Jorj and I would watch the rod tips, and the ensuing tell-tale "bumps" of the live baits struggling on their hooks.

We'd repeatedly check the baits, to make sure they were still frisky and not abused by scrap fish. We dealt with cut-offs from sharks and small bluefish mauling our baits. Then, when least expected, a rod tip would bend deeply. The initial run would quickly reveal whether it was a shark or cobia!

Jorj and I scored several cobia on the chunk. And while we had stout tackle, some of these fish fought extremely well, especially when the current was running hard.

Although Jorj and I did not connect with one of those 80-pound plus monster cobia that frequent the system, we did enjoy a lot of action with quality-size fish. And although Jorj was just dying to stick one with a gaff, I convinced him to tag our fish and set them free in the name of science. The look on his face as those fish swam away was priceless!

I thoroughly enjoyed having my boat with me in Virginia Beach and, of course, fishing with Jorj Head. And the cobia fishery here is really world-class.

It's a game that always keeps you hopping, whether it's hitting the buoys, looking for cruising fish or chunking. Best of all, you don't have all that far to run to cash in. That's why anglers go insane when these fish come to visit.

For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit www.georgepoveromo.com.