Cobia catch best of year, one of biggest in memory

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The best single Big Bend fish of the year wouldn't have been caught if Ken Knopf had followed his rule of avoiding holiday crowds on the water and at boat ramps.

"I usually don't go near the water on Memorial Day," he explained, "but it's been so windy lately and the forecast called for a shift in wind direction. I thought that might give us a calmer window during the day."

So, along with his wife, Debby, the Gainesville dentist headed to Cedar Key long before daylight. They beat the crowd, launching at 5 a.m., and eased out onto the grass flats to catch a few pinfish for bait. Then the Knopfs made the boat ride down to Crystal River.

Anchored uptide from one of the outer river channel markers, they set out chum and cast the lively baits. Debby had the first bite - a legal, 34-inch cobia. Then Ken hooked a big fish that ran around an unseen obstacle on the bottom near the base of the marker. Still, the seesaw battle went on for 5-minutes before the 80-pound test Power Pro wore through.

The marker produced no further bites, so Ken and Debby tried another. Although it produced no looks from big fish, it did yield one of the day's key ingredients. With a sabiki rig, the Knopfs hauled in several 6-to-7-inch threadfin herring that joined the remaining pinfish in the bait well.

While at this spot, they had watched two other boats fish their original marker briefly, and then leave it. Even so, Ken and Debby had confidence in that one, and they went back. Again, they anchored and flipped out baits.

In short order, a lively herring proved irresistible to something near the marker and Ken set the hook on another very heavy-feeling fish. Just 10 minutes later, a huge cobia was at boatside, but anyone that has ever had a very large ling to the boat knows that finishing the deal is not easy. Knopf is an experienced cobia fisherman, and he knew what he was in for.

"I gaffed the fish at the pectoral fin," he recounted, "but I couldn't lift it over the rail. The fish was going wild, thrashing and twisting ... and the foam grip on my Aftco gaff had slipped down to the end of the aluminum shaft."

He managed to maneuver the giant around to the Boston Whaler's stern, and Debby pulled the walk-through door open. Then, Ken grabbed the writhing behemoth under the gills and hauled it through the opening. While unhooking the fish, Ken and Debby saw a second hook - the one they had lost earlier in the day. The landmark ling had given the wrong angler a second chance and had, this time, lost the battle.

Later at Robinson's Seafood just outside Cedar Key, the heavy-bodied gargantuan would measure 56 inches to the tail fork, 32 inches in girth and weigh 89 pounds. The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club is one of the oldest in Florida, dating to 1968. This fish beat the club's all-time cobia record by nearly 20 pounds.

Knopf summed the epic catch up succinctly: "It was one of those days when everything worked right."

Two hundred boats with serious cobia fishers aboard will search for a fish like Ken and Debby Knopf's when the 23rd Cobia Big Fish Tournament commences June 9 at Crystal River and Homosassa. Entrants in the two-day contest can leave out of either river each morning, but must come in to Homosassa to weigh their catches at McRae's Marina. The much-anticipated

and lucrative event presented by the Homosassa Game Fish Club is limited to the first 200 boats; and early this week over a hundred had already paid entry fees.

On Saturday, May 19th, the Fightin' Gator Touchdown Club held its annual Fishin' Tournament at Suwannee. Despite rough conditions, Clyde Lewis managed to boat a fine 3.95-pound trout to sew up "Sea Trout Champion" status in the club for the year. Steve Maynard boated a Spanish mackerel that exactly matched the weight of Lewis' trout - and that was large enough to claim the "Mackerel Champion" title.

Ron Sanchez's thick 7.33-pounder was the redfish winner, and Tom Pridgen weighed the tourney's best freshwater fish - a 3.35-pound largemouth bass. Jimmy Johns pulled a 9.39-pound grouper from the high seas, but Sam Wesley took the most impressive single fish to the weigh scales - a whopping 44-pound kingfish. Fifty teams participated in the 21st annual event.

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