The fishery for peacock bass in metro Miami continues to flourish. Here's what it's like on a "do-it-yourself" trip for these battlers. (April 2009)
"There they are right there! Nice shot. Now wait until he turns on it. Now! Ouch!"
Jeff Pierce shows off one of the peacock bass the pair of traveling anglers managed to boat in Miami. Photo by Rob Doherty.
Those are the sounds of sight-fishing for peacock bass, with the final one the result of my excited partner's fly rod smacking me upside the head.
Jeff Pierce is an artist with a fly rod, but a too-quick hookset proved to be a concern! It took several more minutes, but in the end, Pierce got the timing down. His fly rod bent and the reel's drag sang as the male peacock alternately broke the surface and made mad dashes for deeper water. Finally, Jeff netted and boated the fish, while I was thinking to myself that I had to get a fly rod for the next trip. But this took place on the last day of our fishing trip, so I am getting ahead of myself.
Miami is not a place you usually find two good old boys from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, floating in their BassCat boat. It was the chance to catch these exotic peacock bass that prompted us to pull the boat all the way down here.
The canals in Broward and Miami-Dade counties hold butterfly peacock bass. The canals were stocked with 25,000 of the fish in 1984 as an experiment to control spotted tilapia, oscars, red Midas and other exotic cichlids that had become established in these waters. The experiment worked, providing the side benefit of a very good fishery for the peacocks.
The butterfly peacock bass is the smallest of the three types of cichlids in its family, all of which are actually pavons and native to South America.
Butterfly peacock bass will spawn several times in a year through the warmer months of May through August. The current Florida record for the butterfly peacock bass was caught in Kendall Lakes, in Dade County and stands at 9 and 8 hundredths pounds. The fish was caught by Jerry Gomez and has held the record slot since March 11, 1993.
In the past, I had fished here, but this was the first expedition bringing a boat to fish on my own. The first day, we launched at Antonio Maceo Park on 7th Street in Miami. The park is on the edge of Blue Lagoon, the lake just south of the Miami International Airport. Unfortunately, right off the bat the wind was killing us. A 20-mile-per-hour blow had the water stirred up, and made the sight-fishing we came for out of the question.
Firing up the outboard, we made a long run to the Snapper Creek Canal (C-2) that runs through the Sweetwater and Kendall areas. We located fish there, but with the wind, we were unable to see the strike to make the proper hookset. Again, we zeroed. That pretty much ended our first day's pursuit.
On Wednesday with the GPS in the truck set on a fresh address to head to, we went directly to the Snapper Creek boat launch near the intersection of Snapper Creek Drive North and Southwest 99th Street.
We went to a side canal and Jeff quickly caught the first peacock of our trip. It was only a 6-inch female, but it was a peacock bass and we had scored.
I hooked up next, casting a Sebile Flat Shad, but it wasn't a peacock bass I caught. It was another of the exotic species found in the canals -- a jaguar guapote. That bad boy has some teeth and I was glad I didn't try to lip it!
There were Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boats on the canal skimming hydrilla, so the water started getting stained in the area we had wanted to fish. Consulting the map book I had of satellite images captured from GoogleEarth, we moved to another canal.
This time we hit the mother lode of peacocks. We scored again and again on these feisty fish. If I had to compare the fight and tenacity, it was like a cross between a 12-pound bream and a 20-pound redfish. The words "give up" should never show up in the same sentence with these fish. I'll just say they are awesome fighters.
We ended day two having caught about 20 peacock bass ranging from a one-half to 3 pounds each.
On our final day of angling, we returned to the canal that had paid off for us on the previous day. Jeff was itching to use a special fly rod he had brought.
"This thing has caught steelhead and seabass in California, brown trout in Oregon, largemouth bass in Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana," he pointed out, "and I have to catch some peacocks with this thing."
Indeed, Jeff scored on a smaller female on a bed. When you remove a female peacock bass from the bed, the male, who is always near by in deeper water, moves up to protect the eggs in the bed.
After releasing the female, we returned and Jeff caught the larger male with the fly rod, too. But not before providing the opening anecdote of this story by hitting me with the streamer.
We finished that last day with 15 peacock bass, all caught on either a fly rod with a minnow-mimicking streamer; a 1/4-ounce jighead sporting a chartreuse silver flake 2-inch minnow trailer; a Sebile Flat Shad, lipless vibrating bait; or an H&H smoke-colored split-tail grub.
One thing we did learn about these fish is the more you sweat the better they bite. These pavon are active feeders as the water warms up, so there is no sense in getting up too early. The bite seemed to turn on for us about 9 a.m. and carried on until 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. Our fishing times were in the hottest parts of the day. Make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen when heading out for peacock bass.
In the end, our escape to South Florida proved worthwhile for both Jeff and me. For my fishing partner, it was the chance to catch a peacock bass on his traveling fly rod. For me, the thrill came from putting him on his first peacock. Best of all, it only ended up costing me a knot on the head and the swelling was already going down!