Big Bend fishing guide: Red snapper, kings, and cobia

Uncover the secrets to catching trophy Red Snapper, Grouper, King Mackerel, and Cobia in Florida's Big Bend with our ultimate beginner's guide. Plus, don't miss our mouthwatering Cobia recipe at the end!

My husband, Josh, and I embarked on an exciting saltwater fishing adventure in Florida’s Big Bend area. Our trip was filled with memorable catches, including Red Snapper, King Mackerel, and Cobia. Here’s a detailed account of how we caught each species, the techniques we used, and the requirements for keepers. This guide is tailored for beginners who are new to deep-sea fishing.

Red Snapper

We started our fishing expedition targeting Red Snapper, a popular catch due to their vibrant color and delicious taste. We fished in deeper waters, typically 60 to 120 feet deep. For beginners, using live bait such as pilchards, pinfish, or cigar minnows is highly effective. Sturdy tackle is essential; we used medium to heavy rods with 30 to 50-pound test lines and circle hooks in the 4/0 to 6/0 size range.

One of the most effective techniques for catching Red Snapper is bottom fishing. This involves dropping your bait to the ocean floor and waiting for the fish to bite. Chumming, which is dispersing smaller bits of bait to attract fish, also worked well for us. A memorable moment was when Josh hooked a particularly large snapper, providing a thrilling fight before we successfully brought it aboard.

To identify Red Snapper, look for their distinct bright red color, pointed anal fin, and slightly convex head. They have large, canine-like teeth which make them easy to distinguish. Red Snappers usually grow to an average length of 20-24 inches but can reach up to 40 inches.

To keep Red Snapper, the minimum size limit is 16 inches, with a bag limit of two per person per day. Red Snapper season is usually open from June to July, with specific dates set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Always check the current regulations before heading out.

Fun Facts About Red Snapper:

  • Red Snappers can live up to 50 years.
  • They are known to spawn more than 20 times a year, making them a resilient species.
  • These fish are primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southeastern coast of the U.S.

King Mackerel (Kings)

Our next target was King Mackerel, known for their speed and acrobatic fights. We fished near coastal areas and sometimes ventured further offshore. Effective baits for beginners include live baitfish like blue runners or menhaden. Use medium-heavy tackle with 20 to 40-pound test lines. For King Mackerel, we used treble hooks or single hooks in the 2/0 to 4/0 size range.

Slow trolling and casting are excellent techniques for catching King Mackerel. Slow trolling involves moving the boat at a slow pace while dragging live bait behind, making it look like an easy target for predators. Casting involves throwing your bait or lure into the water and retrieving it at varying speeds to provoke a strike. The thrill of watching a King Mackerel strike and the subsequent fight was a highlight of our trip. Josh had the pleasure of catching a particularly impressive king, which made the day even more special.

To identify King Mackerel, look for their long, slender body with a deeply forked tail and a silvery color with an iridescent sheen. They have a lateral line that curves downward sharply below the second dorsal fin. King Mackerel typically grow to an average length of 24-36 inches but can reach up to 72 inches.

The minimum size limit for King Mackerel is 24 inches fork length, with a bag limit of three per person per day in the Gulf of Mexico. The season is open year-round, but it’s always wise to verify the current regulations before fishing.

Fun Facts About King Mackerel:

  • King Mackerel can swim up to 40 mph.
  • They are known for their long migrations along the coast.
  • King Mackerel have sharp teeth, so using a wire leader is recommended to prevent them from biting through your line.


Cobia was another exciting catch on our trip. These fish are known for their strong fight and delicious meat. You can find them near buoys, wrecks, and reefs. For beginners, using live bait such as eels, crabs, or live fish is highly effective. Medium-heavy tackle with 30 to 50-pound test lines works well. We used circle hooks in the 7/0 to 9/0 size range for catching Cobia.

Popular techniques for catching Cobia include sight fishing and chumming. Sight fishing involves spotting the fish near the surface and casting your bait directly to them. Chumming, dispersing small pieces of bait to attract fish, also increases your chances of a catch. We had an exhilarating experience reeling in a large cobia after a long, hard fight.

To identify Cobia, look for their long, torpedo-shaped bodies, dark brown color with a white belly, and a distinct lateral line running from the head to the tail. They have a flattened head and a broad, depressed forehead. Cobia typically grow to an average length of 30-50 inches but can reach up to 78 inches.

The minimum size limit for Cobia is 36 inches fork length, with a bag limit of one per person per day or six per vessel per day, whichever is less, in the Gulf of Mexico. The season is open year-round, but regulations can vary, so always check current guidelines.

Fun Facts About Cobia:

  • Cobia are also known as “black kingfish” or “lemonfish.”
  • They are often found around floating debris and buoys.
  • Cobia are known for their curiosity and will often follow boats, making them easier to spot and catch.

Cooking Cobia: A Delicious Recipe for Beginners

After a thrilling day of fishing in Florida’s Big Bend, there’s nothing more rewarding than enjoying the fruits of your labor. One of our favorite ways to prepare Cobia is with a simple yet delicious butter sauce and serving it over lime cilantro rice. Here’s how you can cook Cobia to perfection, even if you’re new to cooking fish.


  • Freshly caught Cobia fillets
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning salt
  • A pinch of sugar
  • Aluminum foil

For the Lime Cilantro Rice:

  • 1 cup of rice (Jasmine or Basmati)
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped


  1. Prepare the Butter Sauce:
    • In a small bowl, combine the melted butter with Cajun seasoning salt and a pinch of sugar. Mix well to create a flavorful butter sauce.
  2. Prepare the Cobia:
    • Place the Cobia fillets on a sheet of aluminum foil. Make sure the foil is large enough to wrap around the fish completely.
    • Brush the butter sauce generously over the fillets, ensuring they are well-coated.
  3. Cook the Cobia:
    • Preheat your air fryer to 350°F (175°C).
    • Carefully place the aluminum foil-wrapped Cobia fillets in the air fryer basket.
    • Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the fish is white and flaky all the way through. Cooking times may vary depending on the thickness of the fillets, so check periodically to avoid overcooking.
  4. Prepare the Lime Cilantro Rice:
    • In a rice cooker or pressure cooker, combine the rice and chicken broth. Cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Once the rice is cooked, add the lime juice and chopped cilantro. Fluff the rice with a fork to mix the ingredients thoroughly.
  5. Serve and Enjoy:
    • Once the Cobia is cooked to perfection, carefully unwrap the foil and transfer the fillets to a serving plate.
    • Serve the Cobia fillets over a bed of lime cilantro rice.

This simple yet flavorful recipe is perfect for beginners and a great way to enjoy your fresh catch. The combination of the spicy Cajun butter sauce and the refreshing lime cilantro rice will make your meal unforgettable. Happy fishing and bon appétit!


Our saltwater fishing trip in the Big Bend area of Florida was an unforgettable experience, filled with exciting catches and cherished memories. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned angler, following the regulations for each species ensures sustainable fishing and helps preserve these magnificent fish for future generations. We encourage fellow anglers to explore the Big Bend area and create their own fishing adventures while adhering to conservation guidelines.

Fishing can be an incredibly rewarding hobby, offering not just the thrill of the catch but also the joy of spending time in nature with family and friends. So, grab your gear, check the local regulations, and head out to the beautiful waters of Florida’s Big Bend for your own saltwater fishing adventure!