Outdoors | Catch of huge cobia off Brazil produces whale of a fish story

Special to the HeraldJanuary 19, 2014 

A 172-pound cobia was speared off the coast of Brazil. The fish is being submitted for an International Underwater Spearfishing Association record. The current record is 145.9 pounds, taken on Feb. 2, 2011, by Valente Baena off the coast of Mexico. PROVIDED PHOTO

Big fish stories come in all shapes and sizes. The mystery pictures of a gigantic 172-pound cobia spread recently on social media, leaving me determined to find out more.

Could such a beast exist? How did something that big come to be captured?

The story begins about 4,300 miles southeast of Bradenton, in Marataizes, Brazil. The city of just more than 34,000 people is about 200 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. It's here where spear fisherman Marcelo Mello Lobato lives. I contacted Lobato, who was aboard the day the giant cobia was captured. Lobato tries to dive once or twice a month, usually on weekends or holidays when the sea conditions allow aboard a 21-foot boat with a newly acquired 2013 150 Yamaha 4Stroke.

On the boat's second journey to sea, Lobato was with Cyrus Bravin and Gabriel Santana. Their destination was 50 miles away, to what Lobato describes as a large iron pipe which fell from a cargo ship to the depth of 26 meters, about 85 feet. The spot is known for producing large cobia, known as "bijupira", which means "tasty fish" to the locals.

The day started well, as the crew secured a 54-pound cobia. To most, this 54-pound cobia would probably be the stuff of legend, but now it is merely an appetizer to the main course.Thirty-m inutes after taking the 54-pound fish, Bravin entered the water once again to see many smaller cobia still around.

Cobia, as curious as they can be, began to migrate toward Bravin. It was then that the large fish appeared. Bravin held about 30 feet below the surface until he got a shot, striking the beast.

The spear that was now stuck in his back did not phase the great bijupira. "It continued to swim near the surface as if nothing had happened," Lobato said. "I swam over to see if we could get another shot."

Then the fish became aware that something was wrong. He swam with all his might to the bottom, where the anglers thought the fish would become entangled in the pipe. After 10 minutes the cobia began to rise slowly from the bottom. When it was about 15 feet from the surface, Lobato hit the cobia once again. The fish bolted a second time for the bottom, but weary, it came to the surface.

Bravin lined up a third shot as the fish rose, this time immobilizing the great bijupira. The 30 minutes of back and forth between anglers and the great cobia came to an end. The anglers secured the enormous fish in the boat, only then relaxing and posing for a few pictures.

When they arrived home, the fish was weighed on two separate scales at a fish company to confirm the weight. The final result was 78 kilograms, or 172 pounds! The fish is being submitted for an International Underwater Spearfishing Association record. The current record is 145.9 pounds, taken on Feb. 2, 2011, by Valente Baena off the coast of Mexico.

The all-tackle hook and line record is 135 pounds, 9 ounces, taken by Peter Goulding off the coast of Australia on July 9, 1985.

Previously, the crew had seen huge cobia, but the largest it captured was 72 pounds. Other divers had captured cobia that weighed more than 100 pounds before. Two weeks after the capture of the great cobia, Lobato speared one at 45 kilos, or 99 pounds. Believe it or not, Lobato says there were bigger fish next to that one but he couldn't get in a shooting position to take one larger than the 99-pounder.

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