Cobia are the real beasts of the sea.

Sharks? Mere baitfish. One of the cobia our party caught last week had seven sharks in its stomach.

Adam Arrington, a teenager on a fishing fling off Harker's Island, North Carolina, found out about having a cobia on the end of a light line the other day. He was aboard Tom Earnhardt's 20-foot Robalo, idling down 50 feet from a sea buoy. The anglers strained through Polaroids to spot the cobia cruising around the sea-crusted red buoy. A pair -- one big, one small -- was easingsedately around the structure.

Poised on the bow with a pigfish on a 7/0 hook, Arrington made his cast ahead of the swimming cobia and tensed for the strikeas he fed line from the reel. Down streaked the big fish as it saw the bait, and soon the line was pouring from the spool. Arrington yanked the barb home.

The cobia steamrolled just under the surface, stripping line from the drag. Eighty yards out, it crashed to the surface. They struggled for a dozen minutes before the cobia weakened. Earnhardt warned that this was the most dangerous moment -- boats have been wrecked and bones broken when cobia were brought thrashing into a small craft.

In one motion Earnhardt struck the gaff home, swung the quarry into the fish box and snapped the lid shut. The boat shook as the big fish shuddered and thrashed. When he calmed a bit, Earnhardt opened the door cautiously and clubbed the fish unconscious.

Thirty-five pounds, the hand scales read.

"An all right cobia," said Earnhardt.

For the next couple months some interesting angling for this unusual fish will be available along the North Carolina coast and a few areas of the Chesapeake Bay. A 93-pounder from the Bluefish Rock in the lower Chespeake has already won George E. Clements of Hampton the lead in Viriginia's saltwater Tournament.

The best cobia fishing is along the North Carolina coast. All the major inlets -- Oregon, Hatteras, Ocracoke and Cape Lookout -- have cobia populations each spring and through most of summer. They are believed to spawn back in the marshes and deep holes in the saltwater sounds. The most productive fishing comes during these early phases when the fish are in loose schools. The fish prefer the deepest water, and a stake or piling in it for structure.

These cobia spawning holes are usually found in protected waters, and it doesn't take a large boat to try for them. A deep-sided 15-footer will do in fair weather.

A menhaden cut diagonally into halves makes two baits that can be fished on a 6/0 to 80 hook with a two-foot shock leader and five to eight ounces of lead. It's best to check with locals or hire a guide to find the best fishing holes; large areas of soundwater can be totally devoid of cobia.

The second type of cobia fishing -- more chancy, but highly stimulating when it works -- is live-bait fishing around thered channel buoys at the inlets. Cut off or slow the motor near the buoys or the cobia may sound. Bluefish, croakers, pigfish, sand-perch and live eels are good baits here, and if you don't see cobia, it's worth drifting a bit near the marker -- the bait may draw them from the depths.

Three out of five strikes we had cut our lines on the buoy chain. Remember they swim counterclockwise, and cast so they'll take the bait going in a direction that lets you wrestle them clear of the chain -- if you're lucky.