Kayaker John Farrall Stackhouse had to cover 1.5 miles to get from the West Ocean City boat ramp to the inlet at Ocean City, Maryland. But Stackhouse, 32, is an experienced kayaker and tournament fisherman. He figured his best chance to catch a big fish, and maybe win the “4th Annual Fish-N-Paddle Saltwater Slam Kayak Tournament” was to head offshore.
So, when he cleared the Ocean City inlet, Stackhouse keep going east — out into the open Atlantic Ocean. He went about two miles before stopping to fish a shoal that ranged from 15 to 30 feet deep.
Right away Stackhouse caught a small Spanish mackerel. But not much else happened until about 1 p.m., when he saw bluefish working a dark baitfish ball on the surface.
Kayak Cobia Fishing
“There was a boat casting toward the bait, so I paddled over to check things out,” says the Sunderland, Maryland angler. “I saw two brown spots on the outer edges of the bait ball, so I picked up a 1-ounce jig with 7-inch plastic tail to make a cast.”
Stackhouse thought the brown spots near the bait were just rays. But then an ocean wave rolled in and lifted his kayak high above the scene and he got a better look at the targets.
“I spotted a white stripe on one of the brown shapes, and I knew it was a cobia,” says Stackhouse. He cast a 1-ounce Z-Man jig with a dark colored 7-inch DieZel MinnowZ soft bait. The lure looks much like an eel, a favorite food of cobia, and Stackhouse hooked one of the cobia deeply.
Trouble was, he was using very light tackle for a very big fish. The cobia was hooked on a Penn Battle II in a small 3000 size, holding less than 200 yards of 20-pound-test braided line.
“I knew I was in trouble, because I only had a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, and I figured the cobia eventually would wear through it and would be gone,” he says. “The guys in the boat casting to the bait pod asked what I had on and I told them it was a cobia. All they said was ‘good luck.’ Then they left. I’m sure they thought I had no chance of landing a cobia with such light tackle from a kayak.”
Landing a Cobia in a Kayak
Stackhouse says he learned how to fight a big fish from a kayak by watching instructional videos, but his confidence waivered during the extended battle. At one point, he heard his rod butt crack. But Stackhouse held on, fighting the biggest fish of his life from his Ocean Kayak Trident 15. The cobia pulled his kayak around, and he bobbed along over big ocean swells surging through Ocean City Inlet.
“I just kept my rod tip pointed toward the front of the kayak, with my head over the center line of the boat,” he explains. “The cobia pulled me around a lot, diving, circling, but no real direction heading offshore or toward any obstructions.”
After several attempts to bring the fish in, Stackhouse worked the very tired and beaten cobia beside his kayak some 30 minutes later. He hit it in the head with a two-pound dead blow hammer, stunning the fish. He hauled the fish aboard, stowing it in a kayak storage hatch.
Then, he started paddling back for the tournament weigh-in. A bit later the fish kicked around inside the kayak hatch and the whole craft started shaking.
“It didn’t last long, but that gave me a little pause, thinking the cobia might come back to life inside my kayak hatch,” Stackhouse says with a chuckle.
Cobia Catch Wins the Tournament
Back at the weigh-in, the fish measured 48 inches long and weighed 46.25 pounds. The cobia won Stackhouse $5,700, taking the event’s top overall weight plus big fish awards. There were 72 kayak anglers in the event with a $7,000-plus purse.
Plenty of other much larger cobia have been caught off Maryland, including the state record fish weighing 94.6-pounds boated in 2016 by Emma Zajdel.
But Stackhouse’s 46.25-pounder is an outstanding achievement, especially on such light tackle. And from a kayak, no less.
“It’s pretty funny, but I was kidding the tournament folks and some other angler buddies before the event saying I was gonna catch a cobia to win it,” stays Stackhouse. “Don’t think many of them thought that was possible.”
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