Peacock bass were introduced into Florida waters by FWC in 1984. They are a tropical species, and are not thought to be able to survive outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. There were some limited opportunities to catch them in Collier and south Lee Counties before the big freeze of 2010 killed off whatever population was there. FWC had no plans to stock them again, and the conclusion was they would no longer grace Southwest Florida waterways.
A friend came over to me during the weigh-in at the recent SWFKAA tournament, and held up his phone. I looked at the picture of him holding a nice peacock bass and asked, “When was the last time you were over there?” He told me he catches them all the time locally. In fact, the canal where he catches them is only seventeen miles from my house! After getting directions and details, I made plans to visit this canal soon after.
My chance came about a week later. I enlisted the help of fishing buddy Jim VanPelt to scout the location on a Monday afternoon. We walked the banks looking for any sign, and were immediately rewarded with a nice female peacock bass guarding her young. We caught one from the canal bank, but we hadn’t brought kayaks for a full-on fishing trip. But, we now knew the fish were there.
Peacock bass are easily recognizable. Most display three wide vertical stripes on their bodies, and a spot on their tail fins that resembles the eyes on a peacock's tail feather. Females are smaller in size and have smooth, rounded heads. All adult males have a pronounced hump on their foreheads. Butterfly peacock bass (the species that was introduced here in Florida) can grow up to 25” in length and around 12lbs. The average is much smaller, though - around 12”-14”. Thirteen of the sixteen current IGFA records concerning peacock bass have been caught in Florida.
We returned a few days later. This time we brought kayaks and live shiners. We didn’t bring artificial baits, as this was another scouting trip to see how many and what size we could expect. We launched mid-morning; peacock bass are sight feeders and don’t prey on food until the sun is up. We began seeing them stalking the canal edges almost right away. It wasn’t long before I caught a smallish male, a little over 13”. He readily took a shiner free-lined on a 1/0 hook. After a relatively short fight I snapped pictures and released him. This fish was followed by several more, all males, all about the same size.
These bass mainly eat other fish. They were primarily introduced to help control other non-native invasive species of fish that inhabit South Florida canals. For this reason, most anglers will have luck using live shiners for bait, casting them around structure such as downed trees or culverts.. For those anglers preferring to use artificial bait, crankbaits, twitchbaits, and spinners work well. Peacock bass are world renowned for slamming topwater lures, as well, and also readily take flies such as Clousers and minnows.
I don’t know whether this population of bass will survive the test of time. It’s hard to know if they have experienced a freeze yet or not. This area - the Santa Barbara canal in Golden Gate - is in Collier County, and is easily accessible via a county-maintained boat ramp. It’s a relatively large and deep canal, and should hold some larger peacock bass. What I do know is I have found a new area to fish for these South Florida gems, and will continue to do so until the next freeze.