Urban Amazonia!

Anglers find exotic action close to home

Brightly-colored tropical birds flushed from the impenetrable jungle overgrowth as we moved past them. Looking like something from a prehistoric time, large iguanas perched in the overhanging brush to warm themselves in the tropical sun while watching for prey.

As we eased along the heavily vegetated shoreline, we tossed Wicked Strike lipless crank baits toward thick aquatic vegetation. The bait didn’t move very far before a beautiful butterfly peacock bass shot from its lair, snatched the lure and headed for deeper water. Native to the Amazon, Orinoco and Rio Negro basins of South America, peacock bass range as far north as Panama and can provide incredible action on light tackle.

Todd Kersey of Bassonline.com holds a peacock bass he caught on a Wicket Strike lipless crankbait while fishing a pond near Miami, Fla. (Photos by John N. Felsher)
Todd Kersey of Bassonline.com holds a peacock bass he caught on a Wicket Strike lipless crankbait while fishing a pond near Miami, Fla. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

“Peacock bass are super aggressive fish,” remarked Charlie Stone, owner of Wicked Strike Lures in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It’s amazing how ferocious they can get, particularly when on the beds. They often hit baits more out of anger than hunger. They are extremely fun to catch.”

While our fishing hole resembled a lost Amazonian lake, at least on one side opposite the houses, condominiums, high-rise offices and highways lining the other bank, we didn’t need to leave the United States to catch these exotic tropical fish. In fact, people who live in extreme South Florida don’t really need to travel much at all to catch big peacocks. Some people can catch them on their lunch hour just by walking across the street from their offices and tossing lures in nearby canals traversing Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

The state first stocked peacock bass in southern Florida waters in 1984 to trim populations of other exotic fishes such as tilapia and cichlids. Stocking continued through 1987. In the past three decades, these aggressive predators reproduced, grew and thrived. Now, these hard-fighting and prized game fish populate many South Florida waters. Jerry Gomez holds the official Florida state record with a 9.08-pounder he caught in Miami-Dade County.

“Part of the appeal of fishing in South Florida is the opportunity to catch species that anglers can’t catch in other parts of the country,” remarked Barron Moody, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist in West Palm Beach. “In urban South Florida, people can catch butterfly peacock bass and largemouth bass together, often right in people’s own neighborhoods.”

Felsher's Urban Peacock Bass 1-16 2015-01-081
Capt. Steve Niemoeller of CFL Fishing Charter Service shows off a largemouth bass (right) and a peacock bass that he caught while fishing at Lake Osborne near Lake Worth, Fla.

Not a bass, but a member of the Cichlid family, peacocks look very similar to largemouths, but with much brighter golden coloration highlighted by three vertical black bars. Anglers often catch largemouth bass and peacocks in the same spot on the same lures. Both species frequently prey upon the same forage, such as shad and river shiners.

“There’s not much difference in targeting peacock bass versus largemouths,” advised Brett Isackson, a guide from Fort Lauderdale. “It’s common to catch a largemouth on one cast and a peacock on the next cast using the same baits. Sometimes, peacocks hang around thick cover or under trees, but they really love to stay out in the sun.”

While a largemouth might swallow anything it can suck into its cavernous mouth 24 hours a day, peacocks typically prefer finfish and normally only feed during daylight hours. Much more aggressive than largemouths, peacocks also fight harder and hit faster-moving baits. Peacocks eagerly hit spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, crank baits, and top waters, but rarely touch plastic worms, jigs or similar baits. Long-rodders can catch peacocks on various minnow imitations or streamers in gold, firetiger, chartreuse, white, or natural colors.

“They like long, slender fish-looking baits worked really fast,” Isackson recommended. “In the morning, I like to throw a Super Spook Junior or a Tiny Torpedo. When the sun starts to come up, I start throwing lipless crank baits, crank baits or jerkbaits in firetiger, ghost white or perch colors. One of my favorite baits is a 1/4-ounce Road Runner.”

All over South Florida, anglers can find many small lakes, retention ponds and canal systems that hold big peacock bass. Some of the best fishing occurs in the Osborne-Ida Chain of Lakes in Palm Beach County. The Airport Lakes adjacent to Miami International Airport and associated canals also offers good peacock action.

“Further south, the C-100 or Falls System is another Miami canal system,” advised Todd Kersey, president of the Florida Fishing Network. “Another great fishery is the Aerojet Canal on U.S. 1 going toward the Keys. It’s the southernmost freshwater fishery in Florida. That system has some really big peacock bass in it and doesn’t usually get as much pressure as the Airport Lakes.”

For booking trips with Isackson, call 954-445-4516 or 888-629-2277, or see Bassonline.com.

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