What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “bass”? “Smallmouth”? “Largemouth”? Maybe even “stripers”? Whatever area of the country you live in, you’re probably going to have a different answer. There’s a fish that’s rarely mentioned, though, and that’s the peacock bass. Why? Because for most anglers, they’re nothing more than a pipe dream – completely out of reach.
We hear the stories and see the YouTube videos of giant peacock bass fishing in the Amazon and think, “maybe someday.” The reality is that these fish are closer than they may seem, and an incredible fishery, albeit very localized, exists right here in the continental U.S.
If I’ve got your attention, you might be thinking, ‘Okay, but where do I start?’ That's what we’re here for, and we’ve put together this in-depth guide in hopes of helping you get your first peacock bass.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Peacock Bass 101: Understanding the Fish
- 2 How to Catch Peacock Bass
- 3 A Couple of Other Things to Keep in Mind
- 4 Final Thoughts
Related: Can You Eat Peacock Bass?
Peacock Bass 101: Understanding the Fish
Fishing isn’t about casting a line and hoping for the best. Maybe in its simplest form, it is, but to be successful, it’s important to truly understand the fish you’re going after.
Range and Location
Peacock bass are native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, two of the largest river systems in South America, as well as rivers in the Guianas region in northeastern South America, between Brazil and Venezuela.
Peacock bass have always been a viable food source throughout their native range, and because of that, many South American countries were quick to start farming them. Anyone familiar with fish farms knows that they’re not perfect, and fish can escape. The result of those escaped fish has led to populations of peacock bass throughout areas of South America where they are not native.
The popularity of these aggressive, strong fighting fish has also led to them being introduced into other bodies of water around the world, most notably in North America and Asia.
In 1984, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission introduced both butterfly and speckled peacock bass into the southern state’s warm waters, not as a sport fish but instead to combat invasive species like oscars that gorge on young bass and other native fish species, often resulting in devastating population declines. While the speckled peacock struggled to establish any sort of healthy population, the butterfly peacock thrived and gave Florida the incredible sport fishery it has today.
Habitat, Spawning, and Feeding
Beautiful sandy beaches are often what comes to mind when we think of Florida, but below that sand is limestone, and peacock bass love limestone. Not only does the limestone make an ideal spawning area, but it also warms up quickly in the hot Florida sun, and as far as peacock bass are concerned, the warmer the better.
Found in the canals, ponds, and small lakes throughout south Florida, peacock bass are similar to largemouth bass in that they love any kind of structure and cover. Sunken trees, brush piles, patches of grass – anywhere you find largemouth, you’ll find peacock, and it’s common to catch the two back to back.
While peacock bass are opportunistic feeders and are known to sometimes feed on crustaceans and other freshwater critters, their primary food source is other fish, more specifically, invasive oscars and spotted tilapia.
It’s surprising to some that peacock bass aren’t actually bass but are referred to as such because of their similar habits, traits, and body shapes. While the body shape may be similar to that of a largemouth, their coloring is far from it, and the bright beautiful hues are more indicative of their tropical roots.
In clear water, the butterfly peacock really show off their vibrant colors. Their golden green sides are accented with reddish-orange fins and three vertical, black bars that will start to fade as the fish gets older. Males tend to be more colorful than the females and if they are aggressively feeding, those tropical colors will get even brighter. They also feature a hump on the top of their head, making them easy to distinguish from the females.
More on identifying types of bass
How to Catch Peacock Bass
Before we start diving into the various techniques used to catch peacock bass, let's take a quick look at the gear you’re going to need.
If you fish for any type of bass across the country, then there's a good chance you have what you need to get started chasing peacocks. We’ve all heard the stories of how aggressive and powerful these fish can be, so it’s easy to assume that we would need specialized gear, but that's not the case. Sure, if you’re chasing giant speckled peacock in the Amazon, you’re going to want something that will hold up while horsing these strong fish out of heavy cover, but for Florida peacocks, your usual bass gear is going to be enough.
While you can get away with a single rod and reel combo, we recommend having a couple with you to cover the different techniques we’re going to be talking about below.
For most scenarios in Florida, a medium spinning combo is going to suffice. Pair a 6'6 or 7-foot rod with a 2000 to 3000 series reel and you’ll have a combo that can handle the hard fighting fish while still being able to present live bait with ease. Here's what we recommend:
The reel should be spooled with 15-20 pound braid and a 20 pound fluorocarbon leader. While the need for a fluorocarbon leader can be up for debate as these fish are not line shy, it’s recommended for its abrasion resistance. Remember, there are times when you’re going to be pulling these fish out of some nasty cover.
We also recommend having a medium-heavy casting combo. These combos are much better suited for controlling and handling those bigger lures you’ll be tossing, and they’re capable of retrieving them at the high speeds that peacocks often desire. A high-speed casting reel spooled with 50 pound braid and a 20 pound fluorocarbon leader provides smooth casting, quick retrieve speed, and the power to haul fish out of cover. You may think this is overkill when chasing fish that average 4 or 5 pounds, but once you hook into one, you’ll understand why.
Put away those bass worms; you’re not going to need them. Peacock bass are minnow feeders, and those worms that help haul in big largemouth all year long aren't going to cut it with these guys. With that being said, let’s take a look at what will.
Without a doubt, this is the most exciting way to catch peacock bass. You’ve probably seen videos of peacocks chasing down fast-moving top waters and the heart stopping strikes that result. It’s that excitement that makes first time peacock anglers want to jump straight into fishing top-water baits, and who can blame them?
While top water is no doubt the most exciting way to catch peacocks, it’s not always the most effective, as they do 5% or less of their feeding on the surface. For this reason you’re going to want to use lures that have a lot of action or are very noisy. You’re not targeting fish that are actively feeding on the surface, but instead, you’re calling out to those fish, trying to get their attention.
This is the very reason that prop-baits are so popular. Clear or stained water, the noise of a prop-bait ripped across the surface is nearly impossible for a peacock bass to ignore. Plenty of manufactures big and small offer prop-baits – some designed specifically for peacock bass – but a good place to start is Rapala’s Skitter Prop in silver. The floating power of the balsa wood and the sputtering action of the stainless prop make it tough to resist.
Perhaps even more effective for topwater peacocks are spook-style baits. We say more effective because their often smaller stature appeals to a wider range of fish as opposed to the prop bait that is better suited for bigger peacocks. The best known and most popular of the ‘walk the dog’ style spook baits is the Heddon Zara Spook. Having been around since 1939, it’s no surprise that this is a go-to surface lure for peacock bass anglers all over south Florida.
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Top water fishing is exciting for any fish you’re chasing, but the reality is that most feeding occurs below the surface, and peacock bass are no different. If you want to catch lots of fish, big or small, on lures, jerkbaits are going to help you accomplish that.
Just like with a top water lure, when you’re fishing a jerkbait, you’re trying to provoke a peacock bass into hitting, but don’t think of it the same way as you might if you were fishing for smallmouth or largemouth. Working the lure with steady fast jerks – and no pauses – is what's going to trigger the attack. Unlike with other bass where the pause gives them time to have a look and strike, a pause in the action here will often cause a peacock bass to turn away. They love the chase.
Any of your favorite jerkbaits are going to work on peacocks, but it's hard to do better than a Rapala X-Rap. The incredibly aggressive action imitates a struggling baitfish desperately trying to escape whatever may be chasing it. While any X-Rap is going to work, we recommend the saltwater version as it’s made with big, strong fish in mind and comes equipped with heavier wired, ultra-sharp hooks that will hold the strongest peacock.
Hair jigs are considered by many to be the original artificial lure for peacock bass in Florida. They work, and they work well, which is exactly why they have stood the test of time and are still a popular lure after decades of peacock bass fishing.
Using a hair jig for peacock bass is going to look a lot different than the slow and easy bottom bouncing you’re probably used to when using them for other bass. Just like with the other lures we’ve already mentioned, a hair jig needs to be worked hard and fast. Cast them out and work them back with hard, fast jerks, enticing peacocks to come out of cover and chase it down.
There are plenty of hair jigs available on the market today that will catch peacock bass just as well as they catch other bass. The difference here is that the hooks need to be super strong, as the sheer power of a peacock can easily straighten a normal hook out. This narrows your choices dramatically, as not many manufacturers can provide that hook strength needed. This is why a lot of peacock anglers have turned to tying their own hair jigs as they would tie their own flies, giving them the freedom of selecting their own materials. We recommend the Peacock Bass Jig from Haggerty Lures:
Peacock bass are notorious hunters and stalkers, and because they are, there is no better way to catch them than by using live bait. Sure, you don’t get the heart pounding excitement you would when fishing lures, but fishing live bait can still be fun, and if you want to catch lots of fish, this is the way to do it.
Golden shiners are by far the most popular live bait. It’s what locals and guides alike will be using on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean other baitfish like shad and small minnows won’t work too.
Fishing with live bait fish is about as simple as it gets, and the go-to method is under a small bobber. A weightless hook two to four feet under the bobber, depending on the depth of water you’re fishing, will ensure that the bait can swim around naturally and the peacock will gravitate to it better when it's squirming around in distress.
One of the biggest concerns among anglers when fishing live bait is that the fish tend to swallow it before the hook gets set, resulting in a deeply hooked fish that has less of a chance to survive after being released. For this reason, we strongly recommend using a circle hook. Circle hooks have become increasingly more popular for live bait fishing, as fish don’t ‘swallow’ them, instead the unique shape results in the hook embedding itself in the fish's mouth before they have a chance. We recommend the Gamakatsu Circle Hook:
A Couple of Other Things to Keep in Mind
Peacock Bass in Florida Are Easily Accessible
Living in the canals, lakes, and ponds around south Florida means that peacock bass are very easily accessible. Fancy boats and specialized equipment aren’t needed, and the area offers plenty of public accessible shore fishing opportunities.
Don’t be Afraid to Downsize
It’s easy to assume that bigger is better when it comes to peacock bass. After all, they’re aggressive, voracious predators. But like any other sportfish, peacock bass can “shut down,” be it from fishing pressure or environmental influences. Don’t be afraid to take the lures or bait we have talked about and scale them down. Show the fish something they’re not as used to seeing.
A lot of us think of peacock bass as a destination fish – a fish we have to travel across the world to be able to sink our hooks into. But with the amazing fishery that exists in Florida, peacock bass are more accessible than many of us think.
Do you chase peacock bass? Do you plan on giving them a shot? Either way, we hope this article helped you understand more about this amazing fish and how to catch them. Leave us a comment and let us know!