NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A significant percentage of the cobia that spend the summer months off the Louisiana coast migrate here from southern Florida and northern Mexico. They swim across the open Gulf, and are ubiquitous at rigs, platforms and sargassum lines.
They are, thus, an offshore fish.
But try telling that to Tommy Pellegrin. The long-time Cocodrie offshore skipper has been catching all he wants of one of his favorite fish in waters normally reserved for speckled-trout anglers.
"The fish are shallow. They're close -- anywhere from 30-foot-deep water on out," he said. "The closest I've caught one, I was 4.3 miles from the beach, according to my GPS."
The venerable cobia, more commonly known as lemonfish in South Louisiana, move in toward the shorelines every year at this time to bask in the warm waters and feast on baitfish leaving the marshes. But the action this autumn has been especially strong, Pellegrin said.
"Right now, it's as good as it gets," he said.
He's catching the fish by simply running out to the wellheads just off the beaches and scanning the surface. He's not having to bounce around much before he finds the fish.
"It's about 50/50 sight-casting and jigging," he said. "Some of the wells have fish on the surface, and some, you have to jig deep, and a wall of fish will come up. You'll get a stack of them."
Pellegrin said most of the fish come up in threes and fours, but he's seen schools as big as eight fish on recent trips.
The technique couldn't be more simple.
"If you pull up to a well and you don't see the cobia on it, you drop the jig to the bottom and then jig it fast, coming up," he said. "If you don't hook one, they'll follow it up. Then you can tease them with the jig properly."
Cobia are famously curious, and will investigate just about anything in the water. They'll often hang out next to a boat with its motors running without ever getting spooked.
Pellegrin has been feeding them High Life Tackle Tarpon Tails on 2-ounce jigheads. Hottest colors, he said, have been candy corn and straight chartreuse. The lures are about 8 inches long, he said.
"Everything we've caught the last few days has been on the jigs," Pellegrin said. "We put some live pogies on, and they want the jigs instead."
The fish are plentiful and aggressive, but they're not big, Pellegrin said. Most are in the 20- to 25-pound range.
"They've got a few big ones mixed in -- 35- to 50-pounders -- but not a tremendous amount," he said.
Water clarity is important for catching the fish, which use sight to feed, and Pellegrin said the Gulf has been beautiful. This weekend's front dirtied it up, but Pellegrin found perfect conditions just three days after the front.
"(Wednesday), it was beautiful. I mean, really, really nice," he said. "It was slick-as-a-mirror calm."
Cobia are loved by coastal anglers for their tenacious fighting ability, but also for their gastronomic qualities. They have a distinctive taste that some say is lemony, thus the colloquial name.
The fish are excellent grilled, but Pellegrin's favorite way to prepare them is an old standby. He likes to cut the fillets into 1-inch cubes, roll them in mustard batter and corn meal, and then deep fry them.
"You fry them for two minutes -- no more," he said. "You want it to still have a little pink in the middle."
Sometimes, though, he doesn't even do THAT much to the fish.
"I really like them not cooked at all," he said. "If you go to a sushi bar and order whitefish, you'll get cobia. It's very good like that."
Pellegrin said the hot cobia run off the coast of Terrebonne Parish will last at least another month.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com