Search Gulf Coast Fisherman's
Targeting Cobia Along the
Ling - BIG Ling!"
This short exclamation from the mouth of Michael Plitt, perched on the bow of my Nautic Star like a blood hound sniffing out the trail of some runaway game, was like an alarm for my adrenal system. It triggered pulsating heart beats that sounded like rapid drumming in my ears, sweaty palms, and a sort of chaotic scramble on deck as we grabbed for live baits and ready-rigged rods in hopes of gaffing the sighted brown monster.
When the described scene comes to life, you know we're in the thick of summer here in the Port of Galveston. Connecting the Houston Ship Channel to the Gulf of Mexico, the shipping lanes that lead through the jetties on up to the Galveston Channel are unique compared to those of many other ports along the Texas Coast. They are quite a bit busier, as they lead to the largest shipping center in the state, and they contain quite a few more buoys. This means more structure for fish to hide in and feed from.
For anglers along the entire Gulf Coast, warm summer waters combined with structure that creates shade and a current barrier for the life below means one thing; ling, and lots of them, some of which may be just a short boat ride away.
Fanning due east from the Galveston Ship Terminal to the end of the jetties starts the Galveston Channel buoy line. At the end of the jetties, the buoy line makes a slight turn in the southeasterly direction.
Bearing 120 de-grees from the end of the south jetty, the Galveston Bay En-trance shipping lanes are composed of double buoys up to 10 miles out, and single buoys to 15 miles, ending with the yellow "E" labeled buoy. This 20 plus mile stretch offers anglers plenty of structure to target cobia and even gives those with a "bay boat" a good shot at a full limit inside or near the jetties.
The Buoy Line Approach
Targeting the Galveston buoys for ling is as simple as turning over a new leaf; you've just got to be willing to take the time to check every channel marker and nearby piece of structure. Persistently grinding out every inch of water between the buoys can pay off big time!
I often begin this process by starting at one of the buoys near the mid-length of the jetties, working my way out. Keep in mind that it is important for the water within the channel to at least be a sandy- green color with visibility no less than two to three feet. Also, strong currents around the buoys will keep the fish well below the surface and often makes them finicky and harder to catch. If water clarity is poor and currents are strong within the jetties, I will begin searching buoys further offshore that are holding better water and have less tidal movement.
When the desired water conditions are found, I will idle up to the buoy, looking for signs of life, such as baitfish or surfacing cobia. These fish will often times be found circling the buoy and can easily be seen within 10-20 yards from the structure with a pair of polarized sunglasses. If fish are not sighted on the surface, I will work all sides of the marker with both a sabiki rig to catch bait sheltering in the shade created by the floating structure, and with a jig, such as a Felmlee eel, in hopes of drawing a ling to the surface.
Circling the buoy, revving your motor, drifting baits, and chumming can also entice a fish to the top, as they tend to be curious and are often seen following your prop wash or eyeing up a chunk of sardine tossed overboard.
Just because a fish is not sighted on top does not mean they are not there. There have been more times than I can count where I've seen the person working the sabiki rod have to reel as fast as they could in order to prevent a large cobia from attacking and damaging the bait rig on its way to the surface.
"It's not just a sight thing," says offshore guru, Patrick Lemire. The writer and rigging expert claims it is important to look around and cover all depths of the water column. "If they're not on the surface, check the bottom and everywhere in between."
Keeping a log of which buoys you've found ling on, whether you caught them or just saw them, is a good thing to get in the habit of doing. Ling travel in schools, and where one is found, there are usually more. I will always work a buoy that has been productive for me in the past or one that has held ling the previous days and even hours. Ling tend to hold a finicky reputation among anglers, and often I may see one, but not catch it until several hours later when I am re-targeting the structure that I found it on previously. "These fish are not going to abandon their ambush point. Sooner or later, the chumming and the bait or jig tossing is going to provoke a bite." says Lemire.
Strategies and Rigging
When a fish is sighted on the surface circling a buoy or brought up from the depths, I generally prefer tossing a free-lined live bait at them, such as a threadfin shad or a bar jack caught on a sabiki rig, however, they will often hit dead bait presentations and artificials.
"They'll eat just about anything," says Patrick Lemire, who says one of the easiest ways to catch the dark brown sportfish is to simply float a chunk of squid on a mono leader behind the boat, leaving the rod in the holder. "The rod holder is your best hook-setter!"
Lemire also suggests that all kinds of jigs, including the shorter, wider butterfly jigs, and castable cedar plugs, can be extremely effective on ling that may not be sighted on the surface.
"Drop the jig down to about three feet so you can see what it looks like with your rod motion. Then, go to work, covering the entire water column. Oftentimes, the fish will come out of nowhere and hit the lure on the fall. Keeping a separate rod rigged ready to cast with a jig at any suddenly seen fish, will make you more successful at catching ling."
Another strategy proven effective on ling that seem to be uninterested in artificials and cruising the surface, is what Lemire calls "stop chumming." This involves throwing a piece of chum in front of a fish, causing it to slow down long enough for you to get a bait in front of its face. "It's like it gets their attention, and then bam, they're on!" he says.
Like musky fishing, "they'll even fall for the figure eight!" claims Lemire of fish that seem unwilling to bite, lazily following a bait back to the boat. "With your rod tip below the surface, drag the bait in a figure eight motion fast. They'll go crazy and strike!"
In rigging for ling, Lemire says it's better to go with a mono leader with live bait and other "do nothing," presentations, but that short (13" from swivel to hook) wire leaders may be good for fast moving lure/jig presentations. "I prefer 100 lb. test power pro with a 20 ft., 80-100 lb. monofilament leader," he says. When it comes to hooks, Lemire says the "circle" gets the job done best, in sizes 6/0 10/0 depending on brand (about the size of a silver dollar).
A couple of things you'll want to have in your boat while targeting nearshore ling are a gaff and a small, handheld bat. It is always important to make sure a fish is legal and thoroughly worn out, before sticking it with the gaff. Gaffing a "green" fish and bringing it aboard can be dangerous and damaging to you and your equipment. Rather than allowing a fish to flop on the deck, it's better to carry the fish directly from the water to the ice chest, when at all possible. If a fish must be brought onto the deck, a few solid pops between the eyes on top of the head with the bat should subdue it.
Make sure to watch the weather and use common sense - you may be near shore, but the water you're fishing is deep and you're still in the Gulf of Mexico!
Ling have a white, meaty steak, perfect for grilling or searing. Slice fillets into manageable sized steaks, and be sure to cut out the narrow blood line.
If grilling, wrap the steaks in foil with plenty of butter, onions, and seasonings, and place over ample hot coals for about ten minutes, or until meat is completely white.
Searing is an option too, and just like tuna steaks, you'll want to put a good amount of butter or oil in the bottom of your skillet. Cook each side just long enough to brown and then dig in!