Saturday, May 16, 2020

Peacock Palooza

I'd caught some peacock bass in my limited time in Florida. Never many and never big, but they are spectacularly pretty and hard fighting fish so it was easy to be happy with what I got. Hailing from south America, the butterfly peacock bass, the species most abundant in South Florida, and every other peacock bass species (yes, there are more than one), is actually a cichlid. They get a bit bigger on average than the other predatory cichlids in Florida (Nile and blue tilapia get quite large but aren't apt to slam a fast stripped streamer very often) and were introduced with the intent of controlling those other species. Ah yes, the old introduce a non-native species to control a non-native species. It didn't work with cane toads and cane beetles in Australia and it hasn't really worked with peacock bass and the plethora of invasives it was hoped that they'd control in Florida. But they are there to stay now, and they are wicked fun on the fly rod, or any light tackle for that matter. I was pretty excited to get to fish for them in a known productive area again. Noah and I, on our way towards the Everglades and the Tamiami Trail, payed a visit to a spot my friend Sonny showed us three years ago. This was a quasi-legal cluster of ponds loaded with peacocks. We weren't after new species here at all... we were just here to see if we couldn't improve our personal bests and catch more peacocks in a day than we had before. Given our limited experience and success in this fishery, such improvement wasn't difficult to live up to. But I hadn't the slightest inkling this would be probably the best half day of freshwater fishing of the trip.

We walked into the quite nice, clean looking neighborhood prepared to fish a bunch of different ponds, on a circuit that would loop us back around to where we started eventually. I was going to fish small minimally weighted baitfish patterns with broad profiles... this is was seemed to work best three years prior. It proved it's worth quickly with a couple of small peacocks, but it would take me some time to hone my technique. Peacock bass will eat and spit out a fly so quickly, you almost had to be in the act of strip setting when the fish eats. So a quick retrieve is ideal. It also gets them fired up when you try to get the fly away from them. They don't seem to like losing a race.

The first few fish we caught were little ones, but it didn't take long for us to start catching higher caliber fish. Though they still weren't big peacocks, even for this smaller species that never really obtains the sort of hulking size some of it's cousins do, these fish still pulled like hell.

As we hopped from pond to pond on our loop and continued to figure things out it started to become clear that we were going to catch an awful lot of peacock bass this day. Noah quickly outpaced my count with shad darts, but I eventually got my retrieve and hook set honed well enough to start making up the difference again. Each pond with good structure produced at least a few fish.

The peacocks were the predominant capture, other species found our offerings as well. Notable was this big colorful Mayan cichlid:

We spent almost as much time on our second to last and last stops as we did on the entire rest of the loop, because those two ponds were especially loaded. The first had a length of shoreline with a bunch of bedding fish and some sporadic blitzes breaking out in the open water. By this time, Noah had lost his shad darts and was struggling to find something quite as productive. He eventually found his stride again but I was just on my most consistent string of fish yet using a small white craft hair baitfish. I figured out that some of the bedded peacocks wanted it raced, like most of the fish not on beds wanted it, but others would slam it if I just plopped it over their bed and let it sink. When I stripped the fly past the largest of the peacocks I'd seen all day a few times it spooked each time. But when I let the fly fall dead, he absolutely crushed it. Though it was a more thinned out fish it was a really good one, far and away my personal best, and a spectacular specimen.

We were far from done though, and I continued to use the patterns I had deciphered to dupe more aggressive males. Their colors, their exaggerated forehead lumps, and their at times blazing red eyes made them very striking looking creatures.

When all was said and done, we'd caught an excessive amount of peacock bass. There were times in my early years when this post would have been even more photo heavy than it already is because I'd have taken photos of every fish that wasn't very small... the reality is, though what you see here is an excess of photos of peacock bass, it doesn't really shine light on the number we actually caught. It was crazy. We caught so many fish. By the end, my thumb was raw and I was bleeding in a few spots. This was the first time I'd gotten bass thumb from a cichlid species and I was proud of it. 

After three soul crushing days of failing to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, I so badly needed this. It set me up for the days to come, days we'd be spending in one of my favorite places on the planet... the Everglades. 

Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.
And stay safe and healthy.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon. 


  1. That looks super fun, and your thumb is the fisherman's best evidence of a super fishy day. What a blast!

  2. Wow :o gotta say I'm jealous, always wanted to catch some Peacocks! Congrats man.

    1. Now I just need to figure out the cheapest way to get to the Amazon.

  3. The Peacock is a beautiful fish. Do they fight like a Largemouth? Looking forward to the Everglads.
    Tie, fish, write conserve and photo on...

    1. They's drag a largemouth around all day if tied tail to tail.