Featured Fish: Butterfly Peacock Bass
Size: The current certified state record is 9.08 pounds, although larger peacock bass have been documented in Florida. The Big Catch minimum qualifying sizes are 4.00 pounds or 18 inches for adults, and 3.00 pounds or 13 inches for youth (BigCatchFlorida.com).
Origin and range: Amazon River Basin in South America. The butterfly peacock is the only legally introduced exotic fish to become established in Florida, and were stocked only after many years of scientific research. These fish were introduced to increase predation on illegally introduced and abundant exotic forage fishes, especially the African spotted tilapia, as well as to enhance freshwater sportfishing opportunities in the metropolitan Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area. About 20,000 fingerlings were stocked by the FWC in eleven south Florida canals between 1984 and 1987. These fish were protected by law until 1989 when their population was deemed large enough to support harvest. Butterfly peacock in Florida range as far north as Palm Beach County..
Identification and similar species: This fish is not a true bass, but is related instead to other cichlids such as the Oscar and spotted tilapia. This bright, gold-colored fish is hard to mistake. The lower fins are bright red, and there are usually three vertical black bars on the body that are more pronounced in younger fish. Unlike the familiar largemouth bass, bigger butterfly peacocks will most likely be males rather than females. Male peacocks can also be distinguished by a pronounced hump on the forehead during the breeding season.
Angling qualities: This highly desirable gamefish is well-known for its aggressive strikes, strong fight and acrobatic leaps. Highly piscivorous (eating other fishes), this fish will fall to most minnow imitations such as Rat-L-Traps and Rapalas. Small jigs and various topwater lures are other favorites. The "big lure, big fish" axiom does not hold true here -- stick with smaller lures up to 3 inches. Peacocks also prefer a very rapid retrieve. When using bait, live shiners are the top choice.
Where to catch them: Butterfly peacock thrive in south Florida's canal systems, and detailed canal maps are available at the Miami-Dade, Broward & Palm Beach Canals Fishing Forecast. The best canals for peacock bass, based on the most recent surveys, include the Tamiami (C-4), Cutler Drain (C-100) and Snake Creek (C-9) canals. The Boynton (C-16) and West Palm Beach (C-51) canals are also good, but be aware that extreme cold can cause exotic fish kills that have greatly reduced peacock bass numbers here in the past.
Butterfly peacock bass illustration by Duane Raver, Jr.
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