“Throw it again, John.” A pair of peacock bass was clearly visible, and had not shown much interest in the Clouser Minnow on the first few casts. Capt. Alan Zaremba was giving the orders. He wanted me to keep trying. Finally one of the fish chased down and inhaled the fly. Success!
Alan had handed Chris Myers a rod rigged with a Heddon Baby Torpedo. “Work it fast,” he said. “Be aggressive. A lot of my fishermen are bass anglers, and they work the baits much too slowly.”
He handed me a Clouser Minnow to tie on to the end of my leader. “Cast it up by the shoreline. Pay attention to fallen trees, docks, any structure. Take three or four fast strips, then make another cast. That’s a floating line? I usually like a sinking line for this work.”
Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission introduced peacock bass in to south Florida’s canals in 1984. Peacocks prefer live fish and the fish-imitating baits often used by largemouth bass anglers, but they rarely hit plastic worms commonly used to catch largemouth bass.
Alan says the average south Florida peacock runs between one and three pounds. You can catch them throughout the year, with most of the larger specimens, up to ten pounds, caught between February and May. Alan says they can be sight fished then, of particular interest to hackle heavers. On an average day his fishermen catch 21 peacocks, with largemouth bass, cichlids, and other assorted exotic fish being taken as well. Chris and I has a somewhat “slow” day, getting about 15 peacocks to three pounds, a half dozen largemouths, and a single Mayan cichlid.
Shaded areas provided by bridges, culverts, docks, and other structures generally are productive fishing spots, along with fallen trees, canal ends, bends, and intersections. Most peacocks are caught during daylight hours.
Alan likes topwater lures such as the Baby Torpedo and Storm’s Chug Bug. He also likes minnow-imitating crankbaits, with the three inch Rapala being a particular favorite. He says yellow, gold, and orange colored baits show up well in the often discolored water of the canal systems he fishes.
Jigs fished on casting or spinning tackle are good choices for artificial baits, although Alan says he finds it harder to hook the fish and keep them hooked when using single hook lures. Small tube lures and jigs frequently are used to sight-fish peacocks, especially when they are aggressively guarding spawning beds near the shoreline.
Although bigger baits (up to five inches) may entice more trophy-sized fish, baits less than three inches in length will produce more consistently than larger ones. However, even big peacocks will take baits smaller than largemouth bass anglers typically use.
Fly casters can use flies such as divers, deceivers, EP-style streamers, Clouser Minnows, and poppers with success. Alan likes chartreuse or yellow flies with flashy strips of mylar-type materials. Flies should be stripped rapidly. If you aren’t working hard, don’t expect a lot of bites.
Alan likes light spinning tackle with six to eight-pound test line. Light lines and tippets generate more strikes than heavier ones, and heavier lines aren’t necessary because canal-caught butterfly peacock tend to be open-water fighters.
A peacock bass can be handled by its lower jaw, using the same thumb-and-finger grip used for largemouth bass, although this will not immobilize them. By the end of the day, successful anglers using this grip will have many minor thumb scrapes caused by sandpaper-like teeth.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages anglers to practice catch and release when fishing for butterfly peacock. Overall, this species is a hearty fish and nearly 100 percent will survive being caught and released when properly handled. However, butterfly peacock do not survive as well in live wells or as long out of water as do largemouth bass. It is important that they be released quickly to maximize their chances for survival.
There are 1100 miles of canals in peacock country, 400 or so of which support peacocks. The uninitiated will need some help zeroing in on the more productive areas.
The best and most up-to-date fishing reports for peacock bass are available from local bait and tackle shop operators. For first-time, non-guided butterfly peacock anglers, it is strongly recommended to check with local freshwater tackle shops for the best locations and baits to use.
The following Dade and Broward canals get high marks for butterfly peacock bass: Tamiami Canal (C-4), Biscayne Canal (C-8), Cypress Creek Canal (C- 14), Cutler Drain Canal (C-100), Snake Creek Canal (C-9), and Snapper Creek Canal (C-2). Those looking for both quality largemouth bass and butterfly peacocks might try the Cypress Creek Canal (C-14), the Cutler Drain Canal (C-100), the Airport Lakes Canal (C-4), and the Biscayne Canal (C-8).
Typically, these canals are kept weed-free, thus giving light-tackle anglers a reduced risk of hang-ups and a greater opportunity to land a wall-hanger. Phenomenal peacock and largemouth fishing activity now awaits anybody with a hankering to do battle with world-class finny adversaries.
After successfully using the lures Alan suggested, we thought we’d try some DOAs. Chris used a Chug Head on a jerk bait, and I used a Fly Rod Minnow. Both worked. Chris then tried a Holographic Shrimp. Alan spotted a pair of fish under a dock. Chris repeatedly skipped the shrimp under there. After a dozen or so casts one of them took it
After releasing that fish Chris commenced to skipping the shrimp under the dock again, since the second fish was still there. It took at least two dozen casts, but the second one finally took it and Chris released that one, too. How could you not love a fish that gets more likely to take your bait the more you throw to it?
Capt. Alan Zaremba is a professional guide who specializes in fishing for this species, both in south Florida and South America. Experienced guides are especially helpful for visiting anglers and those who want to quickly learn the basics, plus a few of the best canals to fish. Alan can be reached 954.961.7512.
For more information contact the FWC Everglades Regional office, 561.625.5122, http://floridaconservation.org/fishing/offices/westpalm.html.