Captain Butch Moser has been fishing the inland lakes and canals of western Palm Beach County since the early 1980s. Prior to that, he fished saltwater off the same coast for 20 years. The basis for his shift from "salt to fresh" was the decline in numbers and frequency of marine game fish; this was in stark contrast to the rapidly expanding peacock biomass inland, which was powered by a state stocking program.
Butch certainly got in on the ground floor of a now explosively popular fishery and has been "at it" for a long time. Therefore, he has evolved into one of Florida's top peacock guides.
Butch feels that there is simply no more effective system for peacocks than the live bait method. Though he uses artificial lures frequently, the productivity of his live bait trips is inevitably far better. He mentioned to me that, "it would be obvious if your dinner plate was topped off with a rubber steak instead of the real thing. Peacocks and fish in general often sense the difference between real and fake food as well."
The basic tools for peacocks a la Moser is a beamy stable 25-foot Carolina Skiff, 90-horsepower Yamaha engine, and a huge 35-gallon livewell with a commercial grade aerator. His basic second tier tools are a cast net, depth recorder, temperature gauge, and six ultralight spinning outfits.
Yet his one daily necessity that must be caught and not bought are his live baitfish. Butch used to rely on shiners (golden hickory shad). The size of these baits often averaged 5 to 6 inches; these made wonderful baits for trophy peacocks. But shiners slowly but surely diminished in the habitat where he fished. Butch theorized that spraying as well as pesticide and urban chemical runoff might have caused the decline in the numbers of shiners.
Now Butch relies on the more numerous and stable stocks of threadfin shad. These shiny baits — almost looking like tarpon "mini-me's" — generally run in length from 2 to 3 inches with 4 inches considered a trophy peacock-sized bait.
Butch's first step of every trip is to cast-net live bait for the day, a process that ideally begins around daybreak. He first scans the water for dimpling on the surface that reveals the presence of the surfacing shad schools. If the water surface is chopped up by the wind, Butch relies on his depth recorder to spot the baitfish in water sometimes as deep as 16 feet.
Butch's cast-netting guidelines for threadfin shad involves a heavy, wide-bagged net that sinks quickly so that the bait schools can't swim out from under the net plume as it sinks through the water column. Since his livewell holds about 800 shad effectively, Butch ideally shoots for about four "strikes" of 200 baitfish, since one or two large strikes of 400 shad would crush the individual baits under the deadweight impact of lifting the full net from water to livewell.
In all his years as a peacock guide, Butch has come to rely on ultralight spinning as his tackle of choice. He feels that it's a great match for tiny live baits that can swim so naturally in a tackle setup where the line and hook are barely visible to peacocks or any other freshwater gamesters. He finds also that his customers can achieve long casts with little effort all day long — the secret to this is using a rod and reel that is light enough to be briefly held aloft by thumb and forefinger. While ultralight allows the peacocks to give their best fight, it also has enough tiny "beef" to eventually vanquish gamefish that rarely top 5 pounds.
Butch fishes his spinners three ways. The first is to fish his baits "free" and tied straight to the hook. This first method works well when the fish are alongside structure, when they are striking bait on the top, and when they are bedding alongside their nests in the spring and fall. The second method is using a tiny float 3 feet above the bait and a tiny split shot above the hook to keep the bait from looping the line. He likes this tactic for anglers that can detect a strike more effectively by sight instead of line handling — all they do is wait for the float to be pulled under. He also uses the float-rigged spinner as a "self-managing" system. He feels he can put the rod in the holder and let the float bait roam around the canal under his watchful eye as he fishes a "free" bait outfit in hand. The third method involves using two split shots on top of his hooks to get the bait deep during very hot or cold weather and also in those spots that feature deep water, such as canal intersections. Butch also advises belly-hooking his live baits to get them down to the peacocks when the aforementioned weather conditions prevail or when the depth demands it.