In this post, I hope to give you some insight into my Butterfly Peacock Bass fishing story. I tried to include some of the background behind what I’ve learned and the mistakes I made. Hopefully you can shortcut the process of learning to catch them yourself. I hope you enjoy the ride, and maybe even have a laugh along the way. Most importantly, I hope you find a better understanding of these fish in their habitat, and some idea of how to pull them out of their habitat regularly.
When I moved from Texas to South Florida in 2014, I was thrilled at the prospect of living in a fisherman’s playground. We rented a house right on the bank of a large canal that is part of the South Florida Water Management District, which controls watershed for all of south Florida. All these waterways are interconnected in some way.
As an avid fisherman, I needed to get to know a little more about all the opportunities that the abundant waterways had in store. A quick peek at the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) website yielded instant results. They have a link to all the freshwater species that exist in the state waters. Among them is the Butterfly Peacock Bass. Although they are called the Butterfly Peacock Bass, most folks only refer to them as Peacock Bass or simply Peas. This was the species that immediately caught my eye and really got me excited to try and catch one. For a great many people, the peacock bass is considered a bucket-list fish as South Florida is the only place in the US where this fish exists.
I am a huge fan of researching the species I am targeting to better understand not just the background and history, but the behaviors that I may be able to exploit to generate strikes with some consistency. I am not a big fan of learning through trial and error as it takes too much time and effort for little return. Research helps shortcut the learning curve and put you on fish more consistently and more often.
The FWC website provided some interesting insight into how they got here to being with. There are two strains of the Butterfly Peacock Bass. One is a larger variant and one is a smaller type. Back in 1984, FWC intentionally introduced both strains into the ecosystem to help manage other pesky invasive fish populations. Unfortunately, the larger strain did not take to the climate. However the smaller strain thrived and can be found in abundance in just about all the waterways in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The FWC site was helpful in getting to know the background and history of the fish but not so helpful on the techniques to catch them.
I turned my attention to several sources such as Adam Rizzi of Reel Deal Adventures who gave me a little more insight. Adam didn’t just offer a few tips about fishing the surrounding area. He amazed me with his incredible library of Peacock Bass and Bullseye Snakehead catch photos. He gave me some pointers on where to look and what gear to use to begin my pursuit of this incredible fish. Perhaps the most helpful resource was the YouTube University. There are literally thousands of YouTube videos on how to catch these fish (which now include these that I made not too long ago).
Many of the videos I reviewed are lacking on the “how to” part but you can usually dissect what technique is being used in some of the more detailed videos. I discovered that the majority of online fishing videos feature people catching the fish, though not many offer much instruction on what they are doing or why. Full disclosure: I watch most of these videos with the sound muted to focus on the approach and techniques used to land the fish. Thankfully, that eliminates most of the whooping and hollering about the “GIANT MEGA SUPER MONSTER FISH” caught in the video.
Talking to Adam, reading the FWC Website and watching YouTube videos gave me enough of a start that I could develop my plan of attack. Though there are a lot of great resources out there, there is no better teacher than experience. I decided that my target area for my learning adventure would be CB Smith Park in Broward County. I selected this area for three reasons: it’s close to my house, the water is accessible for miles of hiking without obstruction, and I’d seen Peacock Bass in the area when visiting with my family.
My research led me to the conclusion that my current bass fishing rig is a perfect setup for targeting Peacock Bass. I use either a Medium or Medium Heavy 7’ or 7’6” rod, 20- or 30-pound braid on either a 3000-series spincast reel or a Shimano SLX DC 8.2 to 1 ratio. If I decide to use a leader, I’ll use 20- or 30-pound Fluorocarbon.
I prefer the baitcast setup and you can read this article as to why if you’d like. I tie the lures directly to the mainline using a Uni Knot, and if I want to use a leader I prefer the FG knot to connect the mainline to the leader and the Uni Knot from leader to lure or hook. Leader line should be approximately 18” long. The hook doesn’t need to be big as these fish typically have a small mouth. Use a 1/0 baitholder and you should be good to go.
Both research and personal experience have taught me that live bait is usually the best for catching just about any fish and Peacock Bass is no exception. The 3” to 4” live shiner is probably the absolute best bait for targeting these fish. You can fish it freelined or under a cork and either will work. Whichever method suits your style of fishing, you’ll want to target weed lines, bridges, docks and just about anywhere where there’s shade. There are two distinct differences between Largemouth Bass and Peacock Bass. The first being that Peacock Bass have a much smaller mouth and the Second being that Peacock Bass are active in the middle of the day.
Depending on the time of year, I will use several different types of lures however my all-time favorite for year-round action is a Yo-Zuri 4” 3DS. This lure is responsible for my Personal Best 5 pounder as well as the majority if the Peacocks I’ve caught over the years. When the Peacock Bass are spawning, you can throw just about anything that threatens their nest and they will hit it.
The best lure to use is the lure that’s going to match the hatch. If the waterway is loaded with cichlids, use a swimbait that looks like a cichlid. If the waterway is loaded with shad, use a a rattle trap will get ‘er done.
The point is to select a lure that best matches what they are used to eating. They will hit topwaters but one thing to keep in mind is that these fish have a small mouth and may have trouble getting big lures in far enough to allow for a good hookset. Keep in mind that you may have a ton of blowups, but the fish may not be able to get the lure in its mouth. If you are consistently missing fish, you may have on a lure that is too big for them to eat.
March through May is a magical time in South Florida for Peacock Bass fishing as this is the period of the year where they spawn. During this period, you will find them paired up on a nest. They usually stay close to the shoreline in a defensible position fending off anything that comes near, which includes just about any lure you throw at them.
Both the male and the female will attack and the male is usually the larger one with a big protein hump on its forehead. They get hyper-aggressive during the spawn and if you can see them, you can usually catch them. During the rest of the year, you will see them roving around in groups of two or more and you might be able to pick one off with a lure or they may just swim away. During the spawn however, they will hit your lure like a freight train and it doesn’t matter if they miss it: they aren’t going anywhere. Sling that lure right back at ‘em and hang on, ‘cause they may be small, but they sure to fight like a bobcat in a telephone booth.
I have some reservations about targeting these magnificent fish during the spawn as they are easy to catch. How long with they survive if we interrupt this critical time in repopulating the fishery? I would ask that each of you be considerate to the fish population during the spawn so that they can be around for future generations to come.
Where to Fish?
There are several easy access areas that hold Peacock Bass. Here are some that I recommend:
- Highway 41 is called the Tamiami Trail and this waterway is many miles of accessible shoreline where you can park your car and walk.
- Any public park that allows fishing or any of the publicly accessible canals in Broward or Miami-Dade County are also great places to start. Miami Lakes is famous for having them in abundance and you can use Google Maps to help you formulate a game plan to target a large number of these areas.
- Lake Ida is perhaps one of the most famous lakes for not just Peacock Bass but also the alien-looking Featherback Clown Knifefish. If time is short and you’re looking for a Guide, you can always hit me up and I’ll be happy to see how I can help put you on these amazing fish.
When the fish are not spawning, concentrate your efforts around structure that has shade such as docks, lay downs and weed lines. The best areas are lily pads and bridge pilings. If you see them when they are swimming around, throw your lure their way and see if they’re interested. One of the things to look for when fishing for these guys is water activity. If there’s blowups under the bridge, odds are it’s a Peacock Bass feeding. Throw your shiner or your lure in there and hang on.
That’s all I have for you for now and I wish you the best of luck and tight lines!
You’ll also find a couple of other videos and tutorials on my YouTube Channel, Captain Matt Webber.
Thanks for reading and have another fine day full of fun and adventure!
Captain Matt Webber, Certifiable Peacock Bass Fishing Badass.