Florida's Neglected Peacock Bass Fishing

News & Tips: Florida's Neglected Peacock Bass Fishing...

FloridasNeglectedPeacockBass3I like it when my guide fishes with me on a booked trip. That's particularly true when I'm the only client, as was the case on a recent outing. The more baits in the water, the quicker we'll find a productive spot or a pattern that will produce fish.

So when my guide Frank Carbone's surface lure sputtered across the weed-covered point and disappeared in a spray of water, I was thrilled for him. We'd obviously found out where at least one large fish was holed up.

Unfortunately, the hooks didn't connect.

"Toss your bait in there," he barked. "Throw it right to that clump of weeds where I got my strike."

I was all too happy to oblige. Flipping my offering towards where the fish had nailed his bait and missed, I watched as the monofilament line shot sideways, then jammed the hook home. A heavy fish lunged away through the water, splashing spray practically back to the boat. But just as quickly, the unseen fish burrowed into the weeds and snapped the 20 pound line like a strand of silk.

"Wow. That fish had to easily go 6 pounds," my guide said. "What a brute."

What was the fish that had snapped my line like a piece of thread? Not a largemouth, as you might expect.

In fact, it was a belligerent peacock bass. But if you think this exciting action occurred in some distant exotic location like Venezuela or Brazil, think again.

Guide Frank Carbone lands a handsome Florida peacock bass.

Carbone and I were in south Florida. We had launched his sleek bass boat next to the Miami Airport on Blue Lagoon Lake on a sunny winter day. From there we had simply used the electric motor to ease over to a patch of weedy cover across from the ramp.

As the day wore on, we fired up the outboard and tried other spots in that lake. We also cruised up the many of the canals winding through south Florida, trying various types of structure such as bridge abutments, docks, weed beds, sunken trees and the like. We even fished boat docks in front of the Miami Airport Hilton Hotel where snazzy-dressed guests milled around outside.

Virtually everywhere we went, we latched onto peacocks. Some were just a pound or two, while others weighed twice that much and put a heavy strain on the light rods we were using.

By midafternoon we had tussled with dozens of these exotic, hard-fighting bass. We caught the beautifully colored fish on lures, on live bait, and I even latched onto a few on flies.

The background of how the peacock bass was successfully introduced into south Florida is an interesting story, and one that relatively few people seem to know about except those living in the Sunshine State. And that's a shame. After all, Miami's a lot easier to get to than the jungles of South America. And with the political situation in Venezuela, many anglers are reluctant to travel there, where some of the best peacock fishing takes place.

The history of peacock bass in Florida dates back over half a century. Biologists tried planting these fish in Florida in ponds in the 1960s, but the fish soon died. In 1973 Texas tried stocking the fish in power plant lakes, but they died when the plants were closed for repairs and the water temperatures dropped too low.

Florida fishery biologist Paul Shafland was still convinced the gamefish might be able to make it in the southern part of that state. "Peacocks need water that does not drop below 60 degrees," he said.

One spot he was aware of where that need could be met was in the canals of urban Broward and Dade counties. Protected from cold fronts by trees and houses, they also cut into the Biscayne Aquifer, providing further warming. Making the setup even more appealing was the fact that a small exotic fish — the tilapia — was overrunning the canals. There was a biological need for a large finned predator to control it.

And one fish stood out that could solve that problem: the peacock bass.

Starting in October 1984, 20,000 peacock fingerlings from Brazil, Peru and Guyana were deposited in the 1,200 mile canal system. The rest is history. The peacocks thrived and are now successfully reproducing. And they offer spectacular angling for both locals and visiting lure, fly and bait fishermen.

Both butterfly and speckled peacocks live in the canals. Butterflies are the most prolific, but the speckled grow larger, according to Shafland, and offer better chances for a trophy.

Variety of lures that will fool peacocks.

So far, peacocks topping ten pounds have been caught in the canals, with 1 to 2 pounds an average fish. The catch rate is an impressive one fish per hour, compared to largemouths in the canal, which are caught at the rate of one per four hours of effort.

Some of the best spots to try include the C-103 canals near Homestead, and those around Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and the Tamiami Trail. The lakes near the Miami Airport that are part of the Tamiami (C-4) canal system are also good, as is the Snake Creek Canal, which parallels the Dade and Broward County border. The Black Creek (C-1) Canal in southern Dade County and the Bel Aire Canal (C-100 Series) are also top spots to go after peacock bass in south Florida.

Productive lures include lipless crankbaits, shallow-diving minnow plugs, soft plastic jerkbaits, prop baits, topwater plugs, worms and tube lures. Fly fishermen connect on peacocks with minnow imitations such as the Clouser Minnow, Zonker and Marabou Muddler. If you're going after big fish, even tarpon flies will work. When peacocks are feeding on top, thin pencil type poppers will draw lots of frothy strikes for the long-rodder.

If you don't mind fishing with bait, nothing can top a lively shiner. As a rule, search the same type of cover you'd fish for largemouths and you'll score on peacock bass. But be ready for a brawl of a fight. A similar-sized peacock will out-battle any largemouth you've ever battled.

You can obtain a map showing the canals where the peacocks are found by contacting the South Florida Water Management District at their website, www.sfwmd.gov.

For guided fishing, contact Frank Carbone, 954-325-1115 or check out his website at www.hawghunterguideservice.com. He also offers Everglades and south Florida largemouth trips and adventures to Brazil if you want to catch your peacocks in a more exotic location.