By David Graham: 12-7-2022
A lot of anglers operate on a restrictive budget. Bucket list species become
'dream fish' out of reach. A shot at the coveted peacock bass might not cost much at all though for those willing to trade in the pristine wilderness of Amazonia for South Florida's sky scrapers and booming business hubs.
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In the 1980's, Florida's wildlife commission saw the peacock bass as a potential means to control the spread of other unusual exotic fish species. There was also the economic opportunity the species represented in attracting anglers from around the country. The peacock cichlid was slapped with the BASS label for extra marketability..
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The FWC has experimented with the viability of numerous strains of peacock bass, but what we see today are 'butterfly' peacock bass - specifically from Brazil and Peru.
Where Can I Find Them?
Today - peacock bass are extremely prevalent throughout Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. On the west side of the state, peacock bass are also found in the 'Golden Gate' communities canals in Naples. Still, the biggest numbers and largest specimens are found around the Miami area.
If you are planning to make such a trip - I suggest targeting the canals and ponds around Kendall, Kendale Lakes, and Cutler Bay areas. The canals and ponds in this area are particularly clear water with near 100% visibility making it especially easy to target peacock bass visually. Peacock bass will be found well up into the Palm Beach area as well.
Target shaded areas provided by bridges, culvert pipes, or anything else that provides an area for peacock bass to use for cover, concealment, and ambush points. Canal ends, lily pads, and canal intersections are all good areas to focus your efforts. I have found most peacock bass will be holding close to shore.
Most canals in Miami-Dade were bore out through limestone and rock - giving the contour of many ponds and canals an abrupt rocky ledge... the swimming pool like clear/blue water is characteristic of water passed through limestone. The peacock bass will hold tightly to these edges, or bed up on the shallow flat surfaces of these margins.
When Should I Go?
Peacock bass are especially active and visible in April-May during their spawn. Avoid targeting these fish in dead winter during cooler months. Peacock bass are not tolerable of cold conditions... even cold by Florida's standards. Peacock bass are unbelievably aggressive in the protection of their nests... indiscriminately charging any moving object unwelcomed in their territory. In the case of peacock bass, the larger specimens are actually male. They will vigorously defend their territory from potential nest raiders or rival males - and they wont hesitate to 'remove' any presented bait or lures!
Peacock bass seem to be most active during daylight hours. Their activity during broad daylight is convenient for any travelling anglers - as you wont have to wake up during early hours to chase a narrow morning bite window.
How Do I Catch Them?
Florida's peacock bass are extremely aggressive predators. Coaxing a peacock bass into biting either for a meal or in the protection of beds/fry is not overly difficult. Pitching a small golden shiner, cichlid, or tilapia about 3 inches in length is as close to a sure fire guaranteed bite as you can get. Live baits like this can be free-lined, sight pitched, trolled, or suspended under a float.
Topwatwater frogs, prop lures, poppers, or a walk-the-dog style pattern will all bring peacock bass to the surface for an especially explosive topwater bite. Fish grass edges, through pads, or parallel to canal shorelines with these patterns. Erratic moving baits like small x-raps, or noisy rattling hard plastics will trigger aggressive 'kill bites' as well.
Consider the use of a flourocarbon leader to 40lbs. Peacocks have a very course 'sandpaper' like mouth that will quickly sheer through lighter lines. A clear color flouro leader will also help keep fish focused on the presented lure or bait in the high visibility waters they're typically in.
Medium to light tackle should be sufficient to handle these fish - which can grow to 10 pounds. I have found peacock bass to be disproportionally more powerful to something like a largemouth bass. They have very powerful shoulders and the terrain and structure you're fishing around should dictate the strength of the line class and rod you're using.
Unlike virtually all other 'exotic' species of non-native fish in Florida - peacock bass are managed and regulated. It is legal to keep up to two fish per day, only one of which may be 17 inches or longer in total length. Speckled peacock bass are illegal to catch, kill, or be in possession of, however, they have not been seen in Florida waters for over a decade.