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Southeast U.S. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Post fishing reports, ask for information, discuss this area...

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Old 09-21-2017, 11:58 AM
alansb1982 alansb1982 is offline
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Default How to Catch Peacock Bass in South Florida

Hey all,

I wrote a primer on catching peacock bass in South Florida in exchange for some help on planning out a day trip to Washington DC. I figured this might be a good resource here, too.



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How to Catch Peacock Bass on Fly in South Florida

The peacock bass can probably be called the king of South Florida canals. Introduced in South Florida to combat the rising numbers of invasive cichlids, its dominance stretches from West Palm Beach to the southern tip of Florida. Here, they can grow upwards of 20 inches and over 8 pounds in weight. Each fish sports a unique color pattern of greens, yellows, blacks, reds, and orange. They are perceptive, aggressive, and powerful fish capable making your reel scream.

People visit South Florida from all corners of the country to hunt peacock bass, and many leave with nothing to show for it. The truth is, they aren't too hard to find and, once you do, they're even easier to catch. I'm by no means an expert, but this is what works for me.

The Gear

Your general purpose set-up will work just fine here. A 5 or 6wt, 9 foot fly rod will do fine. You don't need a reel capable of massive drag, but big versions of these fish will run 2-4 times before you land them, so be familiar with your reel's drag. For line, you're going to want a tropical-ready weight forward floating line. The canals are particularly warm, so you'll want that stiffer coating to avoid the noodle effect of casting cold water lines in warm water. If you've got a sinking tip line, bring that as well.

For flies, you'll want to have a mix of colors and sizes of flies. While you can probably elicit a bite with whatever you have, you'll find that different flies trigger different fish in the area. We'll talk more about that below. Two flies that I absolutely won't leave home without are a size 6-8 Mickey Finn and a size 4-6 beaded purple woolly bugger. I'd also recommend having a size 4-6 chartreuse and white clouser minnow. You might also want to have a red and white, as well as a blue and white, clouser minnow in the same sizes. These vivid colors are "matching the hatch" of other, smaller cichlids that are in the vicinity of the peacock bass, as well as the colors of smaller peacock bass. You can also bring some topwater, but I don't find them anywhere near as productive as a well-worked streamer.

Peacock bass aren't leader shy, which is good because you're going to need a sturdy leader to fight them. The leader I typically use is 4 feet of 30# mono and 2 feet of 20# mono. For the tippet, if I'm fishing in shallow water, I'll use 15-20# mono, but for most canals (which are fairly deep), I'll use 15# flourocarbon. No need for the fancy flouro tippet spools; just use some spinning flouro.

Lastly, bring a landing net. Some of the canals are raised up fairly high and have a lip to the bank. If you try to land a fish at this lip, two things can go wrong. One, the fish can use the lip as leverage to break your tippet, or two, the fish can make one more run straight down and break the tip of your rod.

How to Find Them and Get a Bite

You're going to want to wait for the sun to come up a bit before going after peacock bass in the morning. They are fairly lethargic before 8 or 9 a.m.; in winter, you might have to wait until 10:30 or 11 a.m. before they start biting. This is most likely due to the fact that, in Florida, these fish are at the northern end of their range, and do better in warmer water. You can elicit bites through mid-afternoon, but once you start getting into the last few hours of daylight, they'll stop feeding.

To find spots, you're going to want to look for freshwater canals; not salt or brackish. You're also going to want to look at small ponds and lakes. Peacock bass are less prevalent in larger bodies of water, likely because the water temperature is a few degrees colder. The only large lakes I know of that hold a lot of peacock are the lakes just south of Miami International Airport along Blue Lagoon Drive.

Most South Florida canals have a limestone shelf that extends 2-4 feet into the canal, and is covered with 2-4 feet of water. Then, at the edge of the shelf, the bank descends almost straight down 12-20 feet to the bottom of the canal, and this topography is mirrored on the other side. The shallow shelf may be bare or hold some vegetation. There may also be some vegetation that grows up from the bottom of the canal. Peacock bass can be found in all of these areas. Stick to the more narrow canals; the larger ones tend to have fast-moving currents and/or brackish water. Check out my article on how I use Google Maps to find specific places to fish.

When you approach the canal, before walking up to the edge, make some casts from 8-10 feet away to the spot you plan to fish from. If there are no fish there, get on that edge. If you can't see any fish, cast along the shelf, retrieving your fly in short, regular, 4-6 inch strips to draw one out of hiding. Cast again, retrieving your fly in long, fast strips. I've had peacocks completely ignore my fly using one retrieval method, only to slam it on the second pass. If you've got a sink tip, cast into the middle of the canal, let your fly sink to the bottom, then make the same two-pass retrieve along the bottom of the canal.

If you've got a peacock chasing your fly, don't slow it down or stop it. That's a sure way to turn off a fish. If anything, try to strip longer and faster; they like a chase and become suspicious of something that slows down as they approach. If you have to re-cast, keep an eye on the fish to see where they go; once they're flushed out, if you see them swimming quickly in circles, get ready for a strong hit.

Later in the day, you're more likely to find peacocks suspended in the middle of the water column. Whether they're nesting, or have just taken a liking to a particular area, you're going to need to poke and prod them a bit before they take a bite at your fly. This is where I switch from unweighted flies to a woolly bugger or clouser. You're going to want to start buzzing the fly by them; targeting their tail, if you can. The red and white clouser is particularly good for this. If you're not getting a reaction, try landing the fly near them and, when they come over to investigate, strip it away quickly. But avoid landing the fly on the fish's nose; they'll just play with it. You want it moving quickly by the fish.

Monster peacock bass can sometimes be difficult to trigger into taking a fly. First, try to changing up your fly, retrieval timing, and retrieval angle. If it doesn't work, try targeting one of the smaller fish. Sometimes, it takes hooking a smaller peacock to draw the larger ones out.

Once you're on, get ready for a series of short, explosive runs, with larger fish running longer. Peacock will also jump and headshake as they reach the end of their runs. The larger ones are pretty smart, and will dive down near the bank to break you off on the sharp limestone rock.

And that's all I have to say about that...But if I think of anything else, or I learn something new, I'll update this article. Best of luck, and tight lines!
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Last edited by mcnerney; 09-21-2017 at 12:00 PM. Reason: Removed link to personal blog!
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  #2  
Old 09-21-2017, 01:28 PM
pnc pnc is offline
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Default Re: How to Catch Peacock Bass in South Florida

Good to post, more of the same from others about PB's or other fish in others places would benefit many.

For bigger fish sometimes a big fly or mouthful will get response. Fly to simulate mass while kept light. So as to use on 5w or so. A short glass 4 or 5w can be a riot.

....... pc
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Old 09-22-2017, 07:45 AM
alansb1982 alansb1982 is offline
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Default Re: How to Catch Peacock Bass in South Florida

Yeah, I have a glass 3wt I keep in my car whenever I've got some time to kill. Riot is a good word to describe a peacock on light tackle.

There's peacock guides out there that put my knowledge to shame, but it kills me when I hear about someone who shelled out cash money, came to Miami on vacation, fished multiple days, and got skunked on peacock.
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