Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
Gee, I wonder what I should make the fish of the month. Have done flounder, trout and redfish, so what options are left? If you fish at all this month, the answer should be obvious. Cobia! On the Gulf Coast they call them “ling,” while around here they are referred as “brownies.” Looking very much like a combination of a huge catfish and a shark, cobia have become all the rage. It used to be that most local anglers thought of them as simply a by-catch while fishing for king mackerel and such, but as techniques improved, everyone is out there trying to score. Their flesh is delicious. Larger fish up to 100 pounds almost are always females that are here to spawn especially around this time of the year.
Even though cobia are extremely fast growers, there is a ton of controversy over whether too many are being taken all along the East Coast, up to around Virginia. In the Gulf, boats are limited to two fish per boat per day, to me a realistic limit, while here in our federal waters the limit is one per angler with a boat limit of six. Having caught many a brownie, I am pushing hard to adopt the two-fish-per-boat limit because no matter what size the cobia, the meat yield is very high. Thankfully in our state waters, cobia captures are closed during the month of May to allow breeding that hopefully will allow these fish stocks to recover from years of over-fishing.
How to catch them
Cobia are curious fish that often swim right up to the boat and will readily take a live menhaden pitched in front of its nose. Oddly enough, they often hang with big sharks, manta rays, other large rays and sea turtles. I often see up to 20 of them with big tiger sharks or hammerheads. The best technique is to use three rods and stagger live menhaden through the entire water column. Chum bags hung off the transom often attract a brownie, so I always carry a “pitch rod” so at a moment’s notice I can hook a live bait and flip it to the curious visitor. One thing though, and this is solely my rule, my boat limit is one fish per day. That one fish has enough meat to feed the old lady in the shoe’s entire brood. More importantly, I truly believe this will ensure cobia will be plentiful for my kids, and their kids and so on.
With its firm white flesh, it is almost impossible to mess up cobia unless you overcook it. My preferred recipe is to cut filets into even sizes. Using Cajun Panko breading mixed with finely ground saltines and a dash of Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic spice, I first scramble two or three eggs, dredge the fish in the egg batter then cover with Panko-Saltine breading. Using a skillet and just enough oil to cover the bottom, I fry the pieces on medium heat, flipping them once until they are light golden brown. It only takes a very few minutes with less being best. Serve with a remoulade dipping sauce, fresh fruit and an avocado and I guarantee it is so good you’ll swallow your tongue!
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Cobia & Chips
1 1/2 pounds cobia fillets
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into strips
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 quart vegetable oil for frying
 Place potatoes in a bowl of cold water. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in milk and egg until the mixture is smooth. Let stand for 25 minutes.  Heat the oil in a large pot. Fry the potatoes until they are tender. Drain on paper towels.  Dredge cobia in the egg mixture and place in the hot oil. Fry until the fish is golden brown. Drain on paper towels.  Fry the potatoes again for 1-2 minutes for added crispness.  Plate the fried cobia and the fries with a salad, lemon wedge and tartar sauce (recipe below) on the side. Enjoy!
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Stir the mayonnaise, relish, mustard and lemon juice together in a bowl.