Seven hours, seven long drawn out hours it takes for me to make drive from Tampa to Destin. It’s an annual trip I make to chase the cobia migration. I’ve been doing it ever since I moved away over 20 years ago. When I was much younger I was obsessed with trying to win tournaments and catch records. I wanted to catch a fish so big my friends would tell me stories of it years later. I’d fish the waters from Panama City to Biloxi searching for fish. I would usually take a month off work and fish everyday on the boat if the weather permitted. If the seas were too big, I’d simply spend the day on the pier with the rest of the pier-a-sites. We’d stand long hours on the big rock dock tirelessly scanning the water in hopes of getting a shot at a passing fish. It was there I honed my skills of pinpoint accuracy casting a 3oz jig. The anglers with poor eyes, bad accuracy, or lame jig working ability, usually went home empty handed. The saying, a poor fisherman soon becomes a vegetarian, may have originated by someone fishing on a pier. Although it seems like cut throat fishing, I’ve always enjoyed it. It was easy on the body and I got to spend time with my friends, however nothing was better than hopping on a boat and searching the fish out.
Over the many years the tackle and baits have changed. I grew up fishing with custom built Fenwick 968 or KC 696 rods. Reels were typically the old Mitchell 302s or the Penn 706Z. Line was mono, usually 25 or 30lb test. Baits were some type of fin fish (pinfish, mullet, croaker etc) or a crab. Fast forward to the present and you’ll still see all the old tackle and baits still being used. However now, Van Staals and Zeebaas reels loaded with braid seem to more prevalent. Eels get imported to all the local marinas and tackle stores. They have made many a stubborn fish suddenly develop and appetite that lead to their demise. I like to think of them as cobia crack. Seems legit since each eel goes for about $5.
Now that I’ve gotten older and see more gray in my hair I’ve come to realize what I truly love about the sport. I love the anticipation of what each day brings on the water. I enjoy the time spent with my friends telling stories of our past, sharing our lives. I don’t think I ever get tired of Capt Bill telling me tales of the old south, similar to painting a mental picture that would rival characters in a Fannie Flag novel. Tales of people getting tied to fighting chairs and abandoned, or women who washed away their inhibitions with alcohol. Smuggling stowaways from Cuba or sinking sailboats in the Panama Canal. I love watching someone new to the sport catch their first cobia or even better yet their biggest ever. I love that even after all the fresh fish dinners and faded sunburns I still get to keep the memories of a great time spent with the ones I care about. It is for those reasons I continue to return home each year.