To anglers and spectators of local fishing tournaments, the team name Plan B or CK Andros (CK stands for Cobia Killer) has been atop the leaderboard year after year. The team won the Crosthwait so many times, angler and Capt. Steve Brownlee couldn’t remember exactly how many.
“Maybe nine Crosthwait wins?” he guessed.
For Brownlee, much of the tournament success has been the big-point fish, cobia.
While fish like snook, redfish and trout tend to have even catches among the top anglers, big cobia can make the difference between first place and being out of the money. In one Crosthwait, Brownlee remembers his team landing 17 cobia in three hours. The three biggest were 67, 50 and 48 pounds!
Now considered probably the area’s best cobia angler, Brownlee discovered his love for the mysterious fish more than 20 years ago.
“I still remember the first time my dad and I went out to look for cobia,” he said. “We saw one on the green marker near Beer Can Island in Tampa Bay. He hooked it, and we anchored our boat on the island. From there, we dragged it onto the beach. It was bigger than me, 56 pounds!”
At the age of 12, Brownlee hooked a cobia that is burned into his memory 18 years later.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. It was Sunday morning, and we were headed back to the boat ramp in our 16-foot Starcraft to make it in time for church. We already caught two cobia. On the way back, we checked a marker in the middle of Tampa Bay near MacDill.
“My dad and I both saw a huge cobia and started casting at it. It didn’t seem to want to eat. Eventually, my threadfin was dead. I tried casing out on my Diawa bait caster and got a backlash. He swam away from the marker and ate the threadfin right as I got the backlash out. Luckily, the cobia went away from the marker and into the open bay.”
Brownlee continued, “I fought that cobia for an hour and six minutes. The last half hour I tried to give the rod to my dad but he kept telling me, ‘If I take this rod you can’t tell people you caught it.’ I was so tired and my arms hurt, but I caught it. Its head was sticking out one side of the 160-quart cooler and his tail stuck out the other. When we weighed it, it was 93 pounds, still my biggest to this day, and I made it in just in time for church.”
He has a few secrets up his sleeve that he saves for tournament time. What he would tell me is that his preferred bait is a big pinfish followed closely by a large threadfin. Even if you don’t see cobia on a marker, it doesn’t hurt to cast a bait because much of the time they are down deeper and not visible in dirty water.
Most of the markers in Tampa Bay from the Port of Tampa out toward Egmont Key along the shipping channel will hold cobia. The best time for marker fishing is the spring until the fall, when resident fish move toward flats and power plants.
“Hooking them is one thing; catching them is another,” Brownlee said. “We use heavy tackle and 100-pound leader. They love to run back around the marker to break you off. … The best thing to do is cast in front of them, and if they are interested in the bait, reel it away from the marker. …. Put the boat in reverse and get them away from the structure as quickly as possible.”
Brownlee charters out of St. Petersburg with Fish Hawk Charters and can be reached at 813-810-0381 or online at his website, fishhawkfishingcharters.com.