Before you start thinking this is going to be a Paul Simon, one through fifty, “Hop on the bus, Gus/ Drop off the key, Lee/ make a new plan, Stan” sort of thing, let me stop you right there. What I can tell you is that this story is about fifty pounds of mean, green, badass, pissed-off cobia. Hence, one reason per pound or maybe five reasons per lump on my coconut… or maybe ten reasons for each tail slap to my shins… but really, it’s all about the gaff, so I should probably get to the story.
The beginning of the day was a fairly typical, summertime charter trip aboard the Relentless. Load the passengers (dad and three teenage boys), couple throws of the net to make bait, and off to the reef.The reef is good to us for the little time we spend there. We ended up with a keeper cobia and a couple giant mangrove snapper.
I decide to head to a shipwreck to look for more cobia, so off we go. I mark the spot and set up a drift. We jig for a couple passes without much luck, but I decide to make another drift before heading to the next wreck. That’s when the proverbial poop hits the fan. The first fish gets hooked on one of the jigs and the fight is on.
The water is gin-clear, so I peer through the surface glare to get a look. That’s when my heart rate goes through the roof. The fish on the line is a moose and there’s several fish following it to the surface. Some expletives may or may not have escaped my brain and made it out of my lips as I readied a couple other rigs with live baits. By the time the swarm hits the surface, there’s only a couple followers left with Fatty McFattington. We manage to hook two more keepers, so now there are three fish on at the same time!
Fortunately, the smaller fish cooperate without tangling with the big fish that is now pulling like a diesel-powered dually truck. The 8′ fiberglass AFTCO gaff with a 3″ hook dispatches the two smaller fish into the fishbox with ease as the big cobia continues to punish the last angler.
Suddenly, the fish makes a pass by the boat, but I didn’t have time to switch to a gaff with a bigger hook. Never one to miss a gaff opportunity, I lean out using the full 8′ of fiberglass, my couple feet of reach and all my tippy-toes can muster.
I know the fish is still green as I sink the hook behind its noggin and I remember thinking “This might leave a mark”.
I don’t really want to admit that a 50-pound cobia got the best of me, but I pretty much took an a** whipping. First of all, a long reach with a large, green cobia is never a good idea and this was a prime example. I stick the fish solid, but now I have to make it back to the upright position (my lean usually ends up with my gut on the cap rail and my feet braced against the fishbox).
As I return to my feet, the cobia gets his head down and a head of steam toward the side of the boat. Either I’m getting older or this fish was Houdini reincarnated, because I didn’t get its head out of the water before it reached the side of the boat. The cobia’s head made it under the chine only to be stopped by the fiberglass gaff handle protruding behind its gills. The stalemate was likely only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.
I’m not sure what AFTCO puts in that fiberglass, but I have seen several other gaffs meet their end in similar situations.
Stalemate over, and clients backing away, I get the fish headed in the right direction. It makes it almost over the rail when it decides to resume the fight. Timed to perfection, the fish kicks its tail on the rub rail like a catapult, causing the fish to pendulum out while causing the handle to careen into my skull. It stayed on the hook, but caused an interruption in my timing as I tried to go straight into the waist-high fish box. I came up about six inches short of the open lid and the fish rebounded off the side of the box. That’s when the gaff hook vacated it’s purchase and fifty pounds of angry, thrashing muscle and spines started the assault on my legs, the baitwell and anything else in its path.
I’ve never been much of a dancer, but Shakira couldn’t have danced her way out of the cockpit any better than I did. The cobia tornado was short lived and soon I was loading the beast into its new icy home.
It was when I went to pick the fish up that I noticed it.
I’ve seen many cobia with scars from old mis-gaffs, I caught one with a spear tip stuck in its side and even saw one with part of a pole spear stuck in its head. I thought it might have been a remora stuck to the fish’s side or one of those scars, but this was a new one for me. There was a 4″ gaff hook stuck in the side of the cobia. It was buried in a great spot, but had somehow been separated from the handle (probably that Houdini dive under the chine). The hook had been there a while too. It had growth all over the exposed part and the part inside the fish was deteriorating.
You know what they say, “One man’s loss is another man’s gain”. Somebody’s poor choice in equipment allowed my client to catch the fish of a lifetime! I guess I shouldn’t even send this article in…. It benefits me more if less people use AFTCO gaffs and products. Do what you want, but I’ll never be one of those people!!