Peacock Bass Basics
Peacock Bass (Cichla ocellaris)
Butterfly peacock bass are known to reach large sizes, growing up to a meter long and weighing upwards of thirty pounds. Other subspecies will often be much smaller, only weighing up to ten pounds on average.
Also Known As
The peacock bass is sometimes known by its Brazillian name Pavon or Spanish name Tucunare. Unlike other members of the bass family, there is much that is still to be learned about the peacock bass fish.
While many anglers think of the peacock bass as a monolith, it is a diverse range of South American bass with at least nine subspecies. These subspecies often have a preceding name that they are known by, such as Royals, Jari, Kelberi, Xingu, Tapajos, or Blues.
Most of these species are unknown to the everyday angler due to their remote and obscure ranges and only carry a scientific name.
N/A – the IUCN status for the peacock bass is undetermined as we are referring to several bass species.
Peacock bass are similar in size and shape to the largemouth bass but with some unique differences. The peacock bass has a hinged mouth, with the upper mandible being greater than the lower.
Their head comes to a point but includes a pronounced forehead. During the spawn, male fish will develop a large bump here.
Their eyes are dark red with black pupils. The dorsal fin is joined, has a dark translucence, and will show spots depending on the time of year. Their lower fin sets and the lower half of the tail fin are a red-orange color, which stands out next to their white underbelly.
Peacock bass have brown, green, or yellow sides depending on the subspecies. These sides are decorated with vibrant spots, from which they get their name. While the color, placement, and size of these spots will vary from subspecies to subspecies, generally, they are black with a grey, brown, yellow, or green background against their leading skin tone.
This color scheme is dependent on the season and phase of the spawning cycle. The same peacock bass can transition from vertical stripes, to large spots, through to lateral spots all in the space of one year.
A Note on Spawning
It is generally accepted that peacock bass spawn twice a year, although there is some debate on whether these are two distinct spawning seasons or a single sustained session. Whatever the case, most agree that spring and fall generate the most spawning activity.
Much like largemouth bass, they create beds and guard them religiously. However, unlike most other fish, males and females will pair up for the duration of the process. This aids the fisherman, making them much easier to spot. Further, the males grow a massive lump on their foreheads during the spawn, making them very easy to identify.
How to Catch Peacock Bass
Favorite Feeding Spots
Peacock bass are astonishingly similar to largemouth bass in terms of feeding habits. They are both ambush predators with an affinity for smaller baitfish, making it relatively easy to predict where the hotspots will be.
You can expect to find peacock bass hunting for their next meal under fallen trees, docks, or lily pads. As a general rule, look for still/slow-moving, clear, warm water with areas where peacock bass can ambush their prey, and you will be successful.
Lily pads are great as they afford peacock bass the cover they need to ambush their prey
Peacock bass are found in South America, primarily in the Amazon basin. A small population has managed to establish itself in the sunny waters of southern Florida. Each year, anglers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to South Florida to catch these energetic fighters in a more hospitable place than the untamed jungle.
Peacock bass require very warm water temperatures and will perish in water that is below 62 degrees. This makes their range limited to tropical or near-tropical conditions.
Further, they do not do well in muddy water where they cannot see. As ambush predators without robust lateral line capabilities, they rely heavily on their large eyes to detect prey (like their largemouth cousins). Though they can operate in murky water, they will seek clear water that suits their visual hunting preferences.
For these reasons, the pristine waters of the Amazon and some regions of southern Florida are ideal conditions.
As mentioned, peacock bass are unique in that they have two spawning periods in a single year. This is likely because they only inhabit warm water that is conducive to spawning almost all year round.
These spawning periods occur in spring and fall and are characterized by the fish pairing up and holding on beds that they aggressively defend. Many anglers believe this is the easiest and best time to catch peacock bass.
Summer and winter are considered ‘pre-spawn’ periods, during which peacock bass are more widely spread and likely to be found in deeper water. This makes them more challenging to locate, but fishermen can still find success with the right approach.
The canals of South Florida are prime peacock bass territory
Peacock bass are almost exclusively baitfish predators. Therefore, live bait is the best choice for catching them, with live shiners producing the best results.
Unfortunately, there are times when this is not practical. For example, the fish could be located in an area where it is difficult to present live bait. In these situations, crankbaits and topwater baits are the best alternatives.
No matter what bait is selected, it should ideally imitate a shiner due to the peacock bass’s clear preference for this baitfish.
The shiner is a commonly sold live bait that peacock bass love
There are three main methods that anglers use for catching peacock bass:
This is simply a live minnow hooked through its snout, tied directly to the end of the mainline. No complicated hardware is necessary. This is highly effective because it allows the minnow to survive while introducing the scent of blood to the water.
2. Sight Fishing
This approach is particularly effective during the spawn, when the fish are paired up on their beds and hyper-aggressive. They are easy to spot since there are two of them awkwardly close to each other at all times. Walk the shoreline or cruise in watercraft and cast to any peacock bass you see.
3. Drop shots
Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of casting drop shots to cover or near structures that attract peacock bass. This gives the angler distance from the area that the fish are in, which is essential in clear water. It also allows deeper water to be fished, a requirement during extreme temperatures and when the bass are not spawning.
Top Tips for Catching Peacock Bass
Tip 1: Use Sight Fishing
Peacock bass demand clear water. This makes sight fishing fun and relatively easy to do. Presenting a Clouser minnow with a fly rod is an excellent way to enjoy fierce peacock bass fights and allows for precision casts to bedding areas.
Many Florida guides exclusively use this technique because it is easy and inexpensive. A white Clouser minnow cast into a peacock bass bed is a surefire way to generate a strike during the spawn.
The Clouser minnow is a classic fly for sight fishing
Tip 2: Peacock Shiners
Peacock bass are very picky predators, predominantly feeding on smaller baitfish. Over time they have demonstrated their preference for shiners – a type of minnow found in Floridian waterways. Conveniently for fishermen, shiners are commonly and widely available as live bait throughout the state.
Casting freelined shiners into canals, flats, and other shallow areas is almost guaranteed to induce a strike from a peacock bass.
Free lining shiners is a highly effective method for targeting peacock bass
Tip 3: Bait Shops Are Your Friend
Owners and patrons of local bait shops are a treasure trove of information regarding locations, techniques, and other nuances associated with peacock bass. Stopping by these bait shops will leave an angler outfitted, informed, and satiated with a taste of the local fishing culture.