• Capt. Sergio Atanes

Cobia Fishing Tampa Bay Style June 2020

By Capt. Sergio Atanes

OTHER NAMES: Ling, Crab Eater, Lemonfish

SIZE: Common from 10 to 25-pounds in Tampa Bay.

FOOD VALUE: Excellent, smoked or fresh.

GAME QUALITIES: A strong but unpredictable fighter. Usually clicks off long, fast runs, and can fight deep with great stamina; however, many individuals put on lackluster fights if not pressured too hard— saving their best efforts for after they are boated!

Lifetime Partners: Cobia will mate up at an early age and stay together, when only one cobia is spotted that means its partner has already been caught.

The first thing that comes to mind when someone says cobia fishing in Tampa Bay is buoy tending. I have another method I’ve used over the years that works as good if not better than chasing them all over the bay.

First let’s start with the bait; greenback sardines, blue crabs and pinfish are the baits of choice. I find an area of grass flats close to a channel or drop off. I prefer the water depth around 3 to 4 feet. I then start by chumming for the bait with a mixture of tropical fish food, anise oil and some salt water mixed to a cream of wheat texture. The secret to chumming is not to feed the bait but attracting them to the boat. I use an 10 foot 3/8 mesh bait HUMPBACK net with only 10-pounds of lead made by Tampa Fishing Outfitters. This light bait net works great if you don’t exceed 8-foot of water it’s also a life saver on your back.

A live well is a must to have on any boat, and if you don’t have one, they can be purchased at most retail tackle outlet stores. A good live well needs to be at least 25-gallons or bigger with a 700 or 1100 gallon an hour pump. Ok, now we caught our baits, but what are we to do next? That is simple: start cutting the baits (greenback sardine) in half and make a large pile on the cutting board. Start by tossing pieces in the water around the boat and wait for rays to start showing up. Southern rays or brown rays are attracted to you chumming and with them come the cobias. Remember, cobia like structure and are lazy to feed, but as the rays move in on the scent of the chum with them come the cobia. Rays stir the bottom up with their wings in order to feed and this brings up all the small shrimps and crabs and pieces of chum to the surface of the flats.

The cobia will be just under the rays or next to them picking the pieces of bait the rays leave behind. Toss a live pinfish, small blue crab or greenback at them and hold on. A word of caution: leave the bail open on the reel until the cobia get at least 20 feet from the boat before you set the hook, or they will head for the nearest structure your boat. I have several broken rods at home to remind me. I make it a habit to keep one rod with an artificial bait, many times I have had a cobia sneak up on me from nowhere and you have very little time to get the right size live bait so my old stand by the Savage TPE crab works every time. Of course, Mother Nature has a way of playing games and we have to go to plan B or C.

Plan B.

Buoy tending: the ritual of running from one buoy (channel markers-range markers) to another looking for cobia hanging around them during the slack tide periods. The term early bird gets the worm applies in this case, the first anglers to the buoys have the best shot at catching them. I prefer to use a large float with a 4 to 6 inch pinfish or threadfin sardine suspended about 3 foot under the float, start your drift up current of the buoy and let the bait pass the marker don’t give up on the first pass cobia sometime are cautious fish and take more than one drift to get them to strike.

SPOT-LOCK FISHING: Another vital element to some cobia angler is the use of Minn Kota I-Pilot trolling motor with SPOT LOCK, which eliminates the drift. With my I-Pilot I can Spot-Lock close to the buoy within casting distance and work my live bait on both sides of the buoy. It saves time, and cobia never spook.

Plan C.

Luck: being on the right spot at the right time when one just happens to be cruising by looking for a mate or structurer. Such as my good buddy Bryan McNatt was tarpon fishing off Bean Point when out of nowhere this large cobia came by asking to be caught.

Tackle: Around the flats 15-pound breaded line with 30-pound fluorocarbon leader attached to 3/0 circle hook works great, 7-foot medium light rod with Helios 30 Okuma reel. When fishing buoys or structure I go to 40-pound breaded line with 50-pound fluorocarbon leader at least 4 foot long a 7 foot medium heavy action rod with a Azores 6000 Okuma reel.

Greg Wade with a Bishop Harbor cobia.

Chris Camps with a nice cobia.

Cobia on the way to the grill.

Blue Thunder Float

Savage Gear TPE Crab (Great Artificial Bait)

Good fishing and tight lines.

Capt. Sergio Atanes is host of Florida West Coast Fishing Report on Facebook and YouTube. He is also host to Aventuras De Pesca USA on national TV and Radio.

Emil: HYPERLINK "mailto:atanes@msn.com" atanes@msn.com Phone: 813-973-7132 reelfishing.com

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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

By Capt. Sergio Atanes

Being a guide is a rewarding experience, watching the smile on a young child

catching his first fish or the look on their parent’s face struggling to land the one

big fish of the day. It’s all in a day’s work for us guides.

Being the captain of the vessel, the young kids and their parents are expecting

us to lead them to treasure (the fish), but we must first ourselves know where

to go and what to do. Here is where a little work gives a big payoff.

You can’t fish the same grounds day after day, because sooner or later you are

going to deplete the stock from that area, so invest a little time learning your

area. I call it spending some T & M (time on the water and money for gas)

exploring new areas. Here are some ideas to make you a better angler.

Find old charts of Tampa Bay at yard sales and you will quickly find they have a

wealth of information. Did you know that Tampa Bay had over 23 wrecks

between the Skyway Bridge and downtown Tampa? The old charts can lead you

somewhat close to them, and if you are lucky enough to find one you hit the

jackpot. I found 6 of them over the years, some were lost as silt settled over

them and they slowly sank into the ground.

Ledges in Tampa Bay you say yes, I do and some real nice ones at that. During

spring and start of summer they produce some real nice grouper, grunts and

seabass. When winter sets in, the same ledges hold large sheepshead and

resident gag grouper, tripletail for some unknown reason and even some big


There are several fish havens around the St. Pete pier that are no longer on

modern charts, but the old charts still show them and with a little T & M you

might just find them. They are one of my favorite spots for catching sharks

during the summer months and even some nice grouper.

When looking for good hunting grounds in Tampa Bay, I would suggest the use

of deep running plugs. There are several good brands on the market that can

dive from 15 to 25 ft according to your speed. Pick a spot from your chart and

troll an area of hard bottom, and using your tracking on your GPS, run a north to

south pattern. When you get a strike, mark the spot with a buoy or an anti-

freeze bottle filled with expanding foam, and with a heavy enough weight to

hold it in place, go back and drift the area with live pinfish, sardines or cut bait.

When you get the first strike, it’s time to anchor and start catching. Oh, did I

forget to mention you just found a new spot to fish.

Ballast Point rings a bell. Many years ago, most sea-going ships could not enter

what is now known as Hillsborough Bay without dropping their ballast

overboard. I will admit the fishing is not as good as when I fished it years ago,

but certain times of the year large trout and sheepshead call Ballast Point rocks

their home.

Tackle (grouper-trolling)

Okuma 7 ft. Cedros Heavy spinning rod.

Okuma Azores 8000 spinning reel.

Fins 50-pound test braided line.

50-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Tackle (sheepshead, redfish, tripletail)

Okuma 7 ft. Ricky Red spinning rod.

Okuma Helios 30 spinning reel.

Fins Windtamer 15-pound test braided line.

Tight lines!

Capt. Sergio Atanes is host of Florida West Coast Fishing Report on Facebook

and YouTube. He is also host to Aventuras De Pesca USA on national TV and


Emil atanes@msn.com 813-973-7132 reelfishing.com

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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

Homosassa Gags March 2020

By Capt. Sergio Atanes

Homosassa is one of the oldest residential communities to be found along Florida’s west coast. Once a major sugar growing and refining town, it now supports some of the finest redfish, tarpon, and grouper fishing in the state. With this in mind, I was determined to test the ability of Capt. Howie Green, a well-known local guide and personal friend.

I called Howie and suggested we use his 17ft. skiff to do one of his double bagger trips, grouper fishing in the morning and redfish in the afternoon. Capt. Howie agreed, and we found ourselves leaving River Haven Marina on a cold February morning with anticipation of catching grouper. What most anglers do not realize is that grouper tend to migrate closer to shore during the winter months, making them more accessible from a small boat.

As we made our way through the many “no wake” and “Manatee” zones, Capt. Howie explained our goal for the day. First, we would head three to four miles offshore to an area of scattered rock piles no deeper than ten feet. Here we would find grouper. Later we would venture inshore among the mangrove islands and grass flats that adorn the Homosassa coast for redfish and large trout

Once we reached the mouth of the Homosassa River, we made a quick detour to pick up some live pinfish from one of Capt. Howie’s bait traps. Howie’s thoughts are always to be prepared, as some day’s fish prefer live bait and other days the rattle and movement of a fast-retrieved plug is what turns them on.

With a slight northeast breeze, Capt. Howie opened the throttle to the 115hp outboard, and the small skiff responded without hesitation. We traveled in a westerly direction for fifteen minutes, keeping a careful eye on his GPS. As we reached our destination, Capt. Howie brought the skiff to an idle speed and the search was on. Being in only ten feet of crystal-clear water, there was no need for a depth sounder. We just started looking for the dark spots among the sandy bottom and within minutes we could see the large boulders, some almost reaching the surface as saying, “here I am, come and get me.”

On our first try we drifted within casting distance of two large rocks, Capt. Howie with live pinfish and I with my favorite lure F633 YO-Zuri Mag Minnow. On my third cast I picked up the speed on the retrieve and with a hit much like hooking into a fast-moving train, my rod bent double and the line screamed. Before I could adjust the drag, the large gag grouper had worked me over making his run home and leaving me with dreams of what I had lost. Capt. Howie smiled, knowing there was more to come, and two hours later we had boated eight grouper and lost five to the rocks. Now it was time to head toward the mangrove islands visible in the horizon for some redfish action.

Homosassa boasts some of the most beautiful flats along the west coast, a mecca for tarpon in the spring, and redfish and trout all year long. The endless chain of mangrove islands and shoreline create a haven for above average redfish and gator trout. Boundless acres of grass flats with crystal clear water make flats fishing a new experience.

Capt. Howie picked an area with salt and pepper bottom (grass flats with sandy potholes) on the outer edge of St. Martins key. This would give us a double shot at catching fish. Trout would hang around the sandy potholes and redfish along oyster beds that surround the key. Within minutes I hooked a redfish, realizing my carefully placed cast alongside an oyster bar had paid off. Like a bull on the loose, the redfish made his move, kicking into high gear heading for the oyster bar. I was grateful I had chosen my bait caster over my spinning outfit. The twenty- pound Fins Windtamer braided line held on and after what seemed an eternity; the redfish gave in and came along boat side.

As the tide dropped, we worked around the points where the current forced the bait through the cuts made by centuries of erosion. Here the redfish would sit and wait for the current to bring their brunch and once again we struck gold. The redfish were hungry and attacked our gold spoons as if they hadn’t eaten in a week. Score for the day was eight grouper, six red fish, and four trout. Capt. Howie had done job and I got my story.

Capt. Sergio with a shallow water gag.

Capt. Sergio nice redfish caught using a Fishbite Paddle tale jig!

Capt. Sergio Atanes is host of Florida West Coast Fishing Report on Facebook and YouTube. He is also host to Aventuras De Pesca USA on national TV and Radio.

Capt. Sergio Atanes

Phone: 813-973-7132 reelfishing.com

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