For many anglers, these bucket lists include species they dream about from articles or watching some television show. On this trip, we got an invitation to spend some time with one of Marian’s college girlfriends who had a time share on Sanibel Island in Florida.
The first thing I do before a trip is start a thread on YakAngler.com asking for any advice on possible fishing areas for my destination. You would be surprised at the number of participants on YakAngler, and just how much advice you will receive on your thread. I might even find a new fishing buddy who will take you to their favorite spot. In some cases, I might need to rent or borrow a kayak.
The next thing I do is research the Web for fishing opportunities in the area we will be visiting. I look for possible fishing spots, what species are available, and for my purpose if there are any reports or videos of kayak angling. This research provides me with a list of species to match against my wish list. After all, if there are species in the area that aren’t crossed off my list, or that are not available in my home area, these will be the fish I will what to target.
My research showed the Sanibel area provides access to saltwater and freshwater areas to fish for all types of species. It is hard to beat the redfish we have the opportunity to catch in Charleston, SC. We also have speckled trout – OK, not the world-renowned “gator” trout that Florida is famous, for so big trout are always on the list. Occasionally here in Charleston, a lucky angler will manage to land a lost snook. Since I do not play the South Carolina lottery I have yet to land a snook, so this is one species that was on the list for this trip. On the freshwater side, this area also has peacock bass.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission introduced the butterfly peacock bass and speckled peacock bass as predators for invasive species like oscars, cichlids, and tilapia. The speckled peacock has not flourished as well as the butterfly in the canals and freshwater waterways in southern Florida. According to some of the research that I did the peacock bass is not a bass but a member of the Cichla family. They are native to the Amazon River Basin, Orinoco River Basin, and coastal Atlantic drainages of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana, in South America.
I was in contact with Bob Bramblet (aka BonitaBob), flounder of Southwest Florida Kayak Anglers Association and also a participant on YakAngler. I first met Bob at the Chokoloskee, FL Boondoggle. Bob had a spare kayak, so I would not have to bring my Jackson Kayaks “Big Tuna”. We planned to target peacock bass in one of the canals near Naples, FL. According to Bob, if the conditions are right I might even get the opportunity to land a freshwater snook.
I met Bob at his place at 7am. We loaded the gear in Bob’s truck, made a stop at the local bait shop for some shiners, and headed to the launch site. When we arrived, Bob suggested that I swap the lure on one of my rods to a surface plug. He thought we were a little early for the peacock bass but a snook or largemouth might take the surface plug. Within a short distance from the boat ramp, Bob had a nice male peacock bass on the topwater. The jumping action got Bob excited about his catch, and that acrobatic bass had me hyped up anticipating my first peacock.
As we worked our way up the canal - me along one bank and Bob along the other - I could see some bass beds along the way. Unfortunately, there were no largemouth or peacocks guarding the nests. After a bit, Bob came over and said there was a pair of peacocks guarding a bed under a dock. I carefully pedaled over and started casting a D.O.A. “C.A.L. Shad Tail” on a jig head under the dock. No hits. Bob had me switch over to a live shiner; surely either the huge male or the female would take a live offering. One of them would just push the bait out of the bed. Bob suggested that we let them rest and we would head up to the pond the canal drained into.
This area had a lot of docks and deep holes, and according to Bob will produce some snook and trophy-size peacock bass. Most of the time these catches are a result of using live bait, not plastics. We fished here for a couple hours with no luck, but we did get some tips from a landowner who was on his dock enjoying the weather. We decided to head back and check out the pair of peacock bass. On the way back I was working a live shiner along the back of the canal, and bang! - it was fish on. It was not a peacock bass, but a small largemouth. At least I would not be skunked on this trip. As we fished towards the bridge, and then the dock that we knew held a treasure, I was hoping no one else had discovered my opportunity for a huge peacock. When we got there, only the female was guarding the nest. I once again made my presentation, and again she would just push it out of the bed. We tried several angles and presentations with zero results, so we decided to leave her alone.
Bob traveled back to the boat ramp while I went the other direction, both checking out beds for other peacocks. When I casted towards or between beds, I would let the free-lined shiner do his work. After a bit, I would retrieve the bait and cast to another bed. On one of these sequences, the shiner hit the surface on the retrieve and I noticed the head of a male peacock bass break the surface, swimming towards the shiner. I stopped the retrieve, hoping he would take it. No luck! I cast again in the same area, and this time I had a hard hit. I set the hook and the fish exploded out of the water. It was a nice peacock bass. I managed to get the fish into a net and in the kayak. I took a measurement, and my first peacock was 16”. This guy hit so hard that he had the hook almost in his stomach. Bob removed the hook with pliers. We took a few photos of me holding my trophy. The sad part was that the fish did not recover, so he went onto a stringer for dinner.
Bob would check him out occasionally as we fished on the way back to the launch, but no chance for recovery. About halfway back I hooked another fish. This time there was no jumping. It was a 17” largemouth, and after a photo he was released to fight another day. This would also be the last fish of the day.
This was a great day, and Bob worked really hard to help me cross off my first peacock bass first southern largemouth. I did not get my snook, but there is always another trip back to southern Florida to accomplish that with the kayak.
So are peacock bass great to eat? I noticed that there is a series of small ridge bones at the forward center of each filet. This reminded me of those small “Y” bones in northern pike or pickerel. You have to trim these out. When cooked, the flesh is white and sweet with very little oil. If you did not know it was a peacock bass, you would think that you were eating snapper or grouper.
Thanks to YakAngler.com and BonitaBob for helping set up this trip to fish for a species I do not get the opportunity to battle every day. Make sure you use every resource to plan and make connections for your next fishing trip!