Cobia are one of the most exciting gamefish to catch here in the Lowcountry, and our local waters are one of the best areas in the world to catch these prodigious pelagics. Cobia will start moving into the Lowcountry in late April to feed and spawn and will stay well into the summer. There are many ways to catch cobia, including either fishing the bottom with live or cut bait or sight casting. With some heavy duty tackle, this can even be done on the fly.
Scientists found the cobia in Beaufort County waters to be genetically unique, returning here each year to reproduce and not breeding with larger fish offshore, making them a unique and special fish for anglers here in the Lowcountry. Former director of the Waddell Mariculture Center, Al Stokes, said that cobia have been overfished by 250 percent nationwide. Catch and release policies are in place to reinforce conservation and protect this beloved species.
In 2016, SCDNR issued new regulations for cobia in order to help revitalize their population with the month of May being a closed season for Jeremy Inlet at Edisto Island. In federal and all other state waters, it is closed when the annual catch limit is met (1 per person, per day and no more than 3 per boat, per day, with a 33-inch fork length size limit).
How to spot one
Cobia have dark brown or gray backs and sides with two sharply defined silver bands and a light underside. They are built with a shark-like body and a large, broad head and on average weigh around 80 pounds.
Book a fishing charter
The easiest way to catch cobia is with an experienced local captain. Popular local charters include Tallboy Fishing, Bayrunner Fishing, Cool Cat Sportfishing, HHI Deep Sea Fishing, Native Son Adventures, Stray Cat Charters, Live Oac Outdoor Adventure, Papa Bear Charters, Out of the Blue Fishing, Bulldog Fishing and Hilton Head Fishing Adventures. Prices depend on the number of fishermen, time on the water and the boat used. Expect to pay around $100 per hour, per angler.
Great places to get ’em
If going out to fish for your own cobia isn’t an option, you may be able to find them at the following locations. Call ahead to make sure.
Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte
Sea Grass Grille
Benny Hudson’s Seafood
Piggly Wiggly HHI
Sea Eagle Market
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen
Pan-seared cobia with thyme butter
Cobia fillets, skin removed
1 stick of butter, softened
Salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh thyme, chopped
Directions  Add the chopped thyme into the softened butter. Put the mixture in the fridge to firm and chill. Preheat a sauté pan to a medium high heat. Season the fish with salt & pepper.  Add olive oil to the pan and wait for the smoking point. Add the fish, and sear on each side for approximately 5-7 minutes or until golden brown and the fish is fully cooked and flaky.  Top with thyme butter and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with lemon slices and lightly steamed vegetables, such as oven-roasted asparagus (recipe below).
1 bunch asparagus spears, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Directions  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the asparagus in a mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the spears, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the asparagus on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake until tender, 12-15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve.