There is a reason spearos are drawn to the sea. There is something deeply ingrained in our psyche and DNA to hunt wild game and experience the thrill of the chase. The passion for hunting, above or below the surface, dates back thousands of years and spans our history as human beings.
I have been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of different types of hunting and fishing in my 35 years on this planet. So far, open water spearfishing for cobia around bull sharks is a thrill and challenge like no other. It provides us adventure junkies the intense fix we crave.
As with any type of hunting, being at the right place at the right time with the right equipment matters. When all three components come together as planned, success is never far away.
There is a comradeship with fellow spearos that will only develop through time spent in a challenging environment. There is the anticipation of seeing something new and knowing you are about to experience an adventure few ever will. There is the acceptance, recognition, and fulfillment that accompany shooting a trophy in such a hostile environment. There is the intense physical and mental challenges of freediving, and finally there is the element of danger and excitement associated with swimming alongside unpredictable sharks. Combine these elements and you have a recipe that keeps extreme spearos craving for more. Spearfishing cobia off Palm Beach County raises the bar to a whole new level!
My close group of spearos and I stumbled upon this fishery a number of years ago while shooting wahoo in our clear waters. We quickly realized that bull sharks were attracted to the same flashers that enticed other pelagics—and with bull sharks came cobia. The two very different species have a symbolic relationship that is hard to explain. While we had some success shooting cobia in shallower water, to our surprise we noticed big numbers of these prize fighters swimming side by side with bull sharks out in deeper water.
As with any type of hunting, being at the right place at the right time with the right equipment matters. When all three components come together as planned, success is never far away. With that being said, it didn’t take us long to get dialed in and we soon learned to hunt these fish safely and efficiently.
First, being in the water early in the morning helps. As the hours tick by, boat traffic increases, thus causing sharks to remain deeper where they are more reluctant to approach the flashers. However, the opposite can happen too late in the day, like right before dark when sharks become overly aggressive!
As far as location, we’re fortunate to have a deep ledge right here off Palm Beach that drops from 110 to 140 feet. This is where we do most of our open water spearfishing. Those of us who hunt here realize we are very lucky to have this deep ledge combined with clear water and fast current. It is important to note that if the visibility is not ideal then we do not attempt this type of fishing because it is simply too dangerous. Clear water is a must and 80 feet or more of visibility is required so we can track the sharks and each other.
In our region there are also a number of deep wrecks that hold bull sharks and cobia, but I discourage anyone from hunting around these structures. In contrast to open water around the ledge, wreck sharks tend to be much more aggressive and territorial. I believe they feel the wreck is their home, and from my experiences they do not like intruders.
The weapon system you use is also of major concern. When targeting cobia we utilize Blacktip Spearguns in the same configuration that we have discovered works great for wahoo. The faster and more efficiently you can land cobia means the lesser chance there is of a bull snatching your prize, which may result in a shark feeding frenzy. The setup I like best is a bigger gun set to a breakaway rig, then a slip-tip, and finally a bungee floatline tied to a larger float. The bungee and slip-tip are key. When you score a perfect hit with a slip-tip, you don’t have to worry about the fish ripping off. In addition, with the bungee floatline you can really slam the brakes on a fish in order to keep it from heading deep into shark territory.
When shooting cobia, I’m always focused on getting a real good shot. Once I’ve planted the spear I’ll grab the bungee and head straight for the surface. This is where long fins designed for freediving really help. If the fish attempts to go deep as I’m ascending, I put as much pressure on it as I can, but I never overtax myself as my top priority is reaching the surface. Once I’m breathed up, I start pulling with all my strength. The bungee really does its job at this stage, as cobia generally start to come up pretty quick. You should have a fellow spearo next to you the entire time, ready to fire off a backup shot if necessary. Out of the countless cobia I have shot over the last five years I’ve only lost one with this rig.
The flasher is also a key component. Sharks are inquisitive by nature and can’t ignore the allure of the flasher—and you can bet your right arm cobia will follow them within freedive range. It’s certainly a unique way to spearfish, but it works!
An important factor is flasher depth. I like to have the bottom of the flasher at about 50 feet. At that point it is deep enough for sharks to see it, but not too deep that you push yourself to the limits diving down to shoot cruising cobes. Fifty feet is also the perfect depth to keep the sharks attention so they don’t get too close to you on the surface. As far as the flasher is concerned, anything mirror-like will work. It also helps to have a rattler and trolling skirts. The inviting sound combined with the action of the skirts, along with the reflection of the shiny material, is simply too much for sharks to ignore.
There are a couple vital safety aspects that must be discussed. To do this right you need to have at least three guys in the water, and preferably four. The reason I say this is because the more guys in the water, the larger signature you are to the sharks and the more they respect your presence. Also, when you dive on cobia it is always good to have two guys dive down together, letting the lead guy take the shot and the second guy serve as backup. If everything looks right, the second guy can take a shot at a second fish, but use discretion. The remaining guy(s) should be on the surface with loaded guns, ready for backup shots and to spot the ascending divers. This is where a very experienced crew comes into play. This type of underwater hunting and spearfishing is a true team sport, and spearos must look out for each other in order to get fish in quickly and safely. When executed properly it’s a beautiful thing, but remember that things can get ugly and dangerous fast!
Boat position is also very important. The guy behind the wheel should be close enough to provide safety from other vessels and also to pluck divers from the water if things get crazy, but not too close that he interferes with the divers. There are often a lot of rod and reel fishermen working the same area, so fly the diver down flag high and always position the boat between your divers and any oncoming traffic.
It’s also worth mentioning that the boat driver should keep a gaff handy. The safest way to land speared cobia is to have the captain hand the gaff to the spearo in the water. The spearo then gaffs the fish and hands the gaff back to the captain.
Even though I’ve learned a lot in the last few years, spearfishing cobia in open water is still in its infancy. Every time out is a learning experience and anyone attempting this should keep that in mind. However, that’s what makes open water spearfishing so much fun. Nothing will get your heart racing like the sight of an eight foot bull shark approaching the flasher with a squadron of cobia hot on its tail. This is high energy, high impact spearfishing at its finest. Be safe and shoot straight!
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