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Catching peacock bass in Florida

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - | Mar 23, 2023

A peacock bass. PHOTO PROVIDED

Not too many years ago if you wanted to catch an exotic bucket list of freshwater fish like a butterfly peacock bass, you were also dealing with air travel to Brazil, lodging and guide fees. These big bruiser jungle bass can rip the hooks off lesser lures drawing traveling anglers from around the world to remote river and lake locations throughout South America to challenge these beautiful and powerful gamefish.

This started changing in 1984 when scientists introduced them to South Florida to control invasive species like Oscars and tilapias that escaped from aquarium breeding ponds during rain events and from aquarium hobbyists releasing into local waters.

These uniquely colored green, gold, yellow and orange gamefish took off in South Florida’s warm waters and the waters around Miami Airport, the Broward Miami Dade canals, Lakes Osborne and Ida. All became peacock bass central which eventually spread westward to The Golden Gate Canals in Naples. Those fish are still there and growing big but don’t hook up the boat trailer just yet. Like the jumbo Everglades pythons that have moved as far north as Charlotte County, we’ve also got our own Cape canal peacock bass.

These exotics seem to get bigger each year in South Florida but will probably never reach the near 30-pound Amazon/Rio Negro rivers class like the current world record 27-pound giant or the recent world record fly rod catch of 25.3 pounds. As stated, they’ve been here since 1984 with the current Florida state record standing at 9.11 pounds, although a documented 12 pounder was released and not submitted for a record.

There’s little question warmer waters around Miami produce the bigger specimens, especially those approaching the 10-pound mark trophy size. The first one I saw caught here was 3 or 4 years ago although others have reported earlier catches. Most I’ve seen locally have been under the 12-inch mark due, I’m sure, to the “colder” and slower growing Cape climate.

If you want to take a break from the normal routine, then leave the boat at home and grab a few ultra-lite rods and your bass box or lite fly equipment and try your luck in the northern part of the Cape where some canals hold a large variety of salt and freshwater gamefish from tarpon to tilapia and a ton of other cichlid species, largemouth and peacock bass, and lots of spotted gar.

These fish, especially peacocks, absolutely love a small live shiner freelined or under a small float but will strike most baitfish imitations as well as top water plugs. Take along a container of earthworms and small hooks and floats to catch big tilapia.

Be warned that roadside fishing at canal bridges is city banned due to our two-legged swine friends leaving their mess behind while others trespassed, in the end only making it harder on the responsible, on-foot angler.

Peacocks and other non-native cichlids like Oscars and tilapia all have a mild taste and if you decide to eat a peacock, you can legally harvest 2 per day, only one of which may be 17 inches or longer in total length.

Post card-like weather, highs in the 80s and mild breezes are forecast allowing backcountry to deep Gulf anglers to get out and pursue their favorite species. Be sure to take small crabs to nearshore reef locations to bag a beautiful permit before they disappear. Kingfish and cobia could suddenly appear, so have rods pre-loaded with lures or bait-ready hooks.

While many are getting their gear ready for the annual spring tarpon migration others are concentrating on snook as they make their way to the beaches. These fish are hungry and respond well to live to lure presentations.

Pretty soon it will be steambath time so get a head start on basic maintenance. Air and grease for trailers, distilled water for batteries and a new water/fuel separating filter.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You an contact him at 239-282-9434 or via email at captgeorget3@aol.com.