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How To Catch Peacock Bass? Bait, Lures, Gear, Law (Big Guide)

Welcome to our “How to Catch Florida Peacock Bass – Complete Guide”! These are fun and tasty freshwater fish that can be found in South Florida in some select locations. Many anglers target these fish because they are plentiful and fun to catch in some lakes and ponds. Read on to learn about where to find them and what to tempt them with on your hook.

Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.

[Page Updated – 23 July 2021.]

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HOW TO CATCH BUTTERFLY PEACOCK BASS—Guide

What Ratings Do they Get?

Size: 3/10,  Fight: 3/10,  Difficulty to Catch: 2/10,  Taste: 6/10

INDEX to Sections in this Guide:


PRO TIP – These bass are also sometimes called P-Bass, Peas, Peacocks, BPBs.

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Butterfly Peacock Bass catch and release at local Miami-Dade Florida lake.
The nucchal hump above the eye of this Butterfly Peacock Bass is evident during spawning period April to September.

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Facts

Classification: Family Cichlidae. Genus, Cichla. Species, Cichla ocellaris.

This species, the Butterfly Peacock Bass, is native to the Amazon River Basin in South America and in 1984 it was introduced to southern Florida waterways by biologists hoping it would take care of other destructive non-native fish like Tilapia. It definitely has done that, consuming many juvenile tilapia before they reach adulthood. Fish were released into the canals of the Southern Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward. Here’s a map of the canal system in PDF format. By now, these fish have also made it well into many lakes and ponds, and also the Everglades National Park. So, mission accomplished, at least for the canals where they were first introduced. South Florida now has another amazing fish to catch because they multiplied quickly and thousands of anglers each year make them a target species.

Click the map to see the PDF file showing the Canals near Miami that were stocked with Peacock Bass.

Similar Species: There is no other fish that resembles this bass with the exception of the largemouth bass in body morphology (general body shape). The colors and patterns are completely different, and nobody would mistake one for the other.

Conservation Status: The IUCNRedlist (.org) site recently assessed the state of the species on 17 June 2019 and found it to be of least concern (LC). More and more people are finding out about and targeting this gamefish both in its native range and here in Florida, but the numbers are still good in their native range around French Guyana. I don’t think this species is given much consideration in Florida because it was artificially introduced.

Description: The body is elongated with a very large mouth and the dorsal area between fins is well-defined. Coloration is olive green, blue, orange and gold with 3-4 dark bands on the ventral (sides) surfaces. A circle on the tail outlined in gold/orange is present in adults, not juveniles – which have another black band instead. Anal fin – comprised of 3 spines. Caudal fin – slightly round.

Males have a large bump (nucchal hump) on the head between the snout and dorsal fin while sexually active (usually April through September).

Length: A 17-inch fish can weigh around 3 lbs. on average. A 19 inch fish can weight 5 lb. or more. Each inch of growth after 14 inches adds a lot of weight. These fish can grow to 12-14 inches in the first year and a half of life.

Weight: The average weight is around 2-4 lbs. Bigger fish around 10 lbs. are possible and highly sought-after! Please note, the taste of this fish is not generally accepted to be as good as largemouth bass, but then if you’re smothering it with toppings in fish tacos, nobody is going to know the difference.

Range/Distribution: Found in canals, streams, lakes in southern Florida. Originally introduced by scientists to combat Tilapia fish, an invasive species.

A juvenile Butterfly Peacock Bass showing pre-adult markings and colors.
Juvenile fish transitioning into adult. Notice the unclear bands and the round dot on the tail is not well defined yet.

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World Record

Butterfly Peacock Bass

  • Weight: 12.6 lbs. (5.72 kg)
  • Location: Fishing on the Chiguao River in Venezuela
  • Date: January 6, 2000
  • Angler: Tony Campa

Florida Record

  • Weight: 9.08 lb. (4.12 kg)
  • Location: Kendall Lakes in Dade County, Florida
  • Date: March 11, 1993
  • Angler: Mr. Jerry Gomez

There is a note on the myFWC website talking about a much bigger bass caught in Florida that was not put through all the steps to certification, but they said it weighed 12 lbs. (5.44 kg) and was 25.5 inches long. So, there are huge Peacocks here in Florida. Someone just needs to catch that world record and bring the trophy home for Florida!

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Why Catch the Peacock Bass?

If you are coming to Florida with or without your family, and you want to go fishing there is probably no easier way to do it than to fish for this species in the canals, lakes, and creeks around your vacation area in Southern Florida. Keep in mind, these fish are present on the east coast from Palm Beach and south down to the Everglades. There are a number of big lakes you can take the family to, or just roll up in your rental car to fish at. Read about fishing license requirements for in-state and out-of-state anglers toward the bottom of this page.

Oh, and fish over 14 inches long are really not great eating. The law allows you to keep one fish over 17 inches, but there’s really no reason to keep it to eat it, it won’t be that great! Please catch and release all fish over 14 inches.

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Where To Find them?

Habitat – From Palm Beach southward, you can try any freshwater canal you see. They don’t inhabit saltwater canals or any salt water body because they have a low tolerance for salinity. Look for concrete structures or rocks near the shore. These bass seem to prefer clear water with smaller baitfish available. They enjoy warm water, and can withstand hotter temperatures than Largemouth Bass. When the weather gets warm, target them in the mid-column because the Largemouths will be on the bottom trying to stay cool. Peacocks do not tolerate water of 60° F or cooler or salinity higher than 18 parts per thousand (ppt).

Keep in mind, there are lots of other freshwater species you can catch in the large lakes and canals like:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Sunshine bass
  • Oscars
  • Bluegill
  • Mayan Cichlids
  • Clown knifefish
  • Redear Sunfish

The map below highlights some fishing lakes you should visit to find these beautiful bass.

((( ENTER MAP HERE

Lake Osborne in Palm Beach County is a large fishing lake with plenty of Peacock Bass to catch!

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What Do Peacock Bass Eat?

  • These aggressive bass may strike anything that threatens their bed. They are territorial and aggressive fish that will not permit other fish or animals to enter or get near their nest. Pulling a lure overtop of it or through it, near it even, can provoke a strike. Small baitfish are ideal. You can try long plastic worms too and they’ll hit them sometimes, but not as much as Largemouth Bass prefer them. Use live fish and feather or fish jigs if fishing artificial bait.
  • Use live shiners freelined with lightweight line for best presentation.

Peacock bass are ideal ambush hunters. They like to wait behind some fallen branches, leaves, rocks, or other structure and surprise their bait, quickly chasing it down or just inhaling it with that massive mouth. They are diurnal, active during daylight hours.

Best Bait?

If you can bring just one bait, bring live shiners of any size. If you have to bring one lure, bring a contrasty inline spinner or Rapala ScatterRap ((( link it and pull it right through the bass beds. You’ll find out if fish are there!.

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Bright yellow Peacock Bass from Broward County canal.
Here’s a small colorful bass caught at a residential canal in Broward County.

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How to Catch them?

Fish clear water canals and lakes using ultralight gear for the most fun. These are not huge fish on average, and they fight a bit, but you certainly don’t even need a medium-action rod. Fish along the shore or from a pier close to the shore. Ideally you’ll use live shiners as bait and just freeline them along the shore. Let them swim freely. A 10 lb. braid is a good choice for the main line and then use a lightweight leader line of like 8 lbs. of fluorocarbon so they cannot see it well and it will minimally affect the bait’s natural swimming motion.

Use a real light drag and take your time reeling them in. I’ve seen so many people lose them because they reeled them in like they were trying to land a grouper. There probably isn’t much structure in the lake or canal for them to snag you up on and break the line, so you can generally take your time landing them.

If you want to take the extra time to catch live bait for Peas, you can do so by going to just about any decent size lake or canal and dropping a sabiki rig in the water close to shore. On each small shiny gold hook, put a very small piece of rolled compressed white bread on the hook. Just stick the hook through. Toss it out there and within a minute or so you should have your first Mayan Cichlid juvenile. These are perfect for catching Peacocks and though they take some extra time and require an aerator and bucket, you’ll be so glad you did use these for bait.

When you use the Mayan Cichlid for bait, you can hook them up under the bottom lip and out the top lip, or through and under the spine. Use circle hooks and setting the hook is not necessary, just use a steady pressure to raise the rod tip when you notice a bite.

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When Is the Best Time to Catch Peacocks?

Almost anytime is OK, they’re in freshwater so they’re not going anywhere. They really love the hot weather, so your best bet is to fish for them when it’s real warm. Also the real hot time for them is around June. Let’s say May through July is probably best. You’ll catch more of them when the weather is warm, and anytime the water is around 60° F, you’ll probably catch none at all.

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GEAR?

Best Rod for Peacock Bass?

Literally anything will work, even a stick with a line on it. Not joking. These fish are so close to shore that you don’t need much to catch them. However, a stick is the last option. Use a lightweight road and reel and you’ll have a lot more fun.


 


 

Best Line?

Simple 8 lb. test fluorocarbon leader about 3 feet long works well. For your main line, just a 10 lb. braid is all you need. Nothing too heavy or complicated.

  • Braided Line (See availability at Amazon)
  • Fluorocarbon Leader (Check at Amazon)

Best Hooks?

The best hooks for these bass are circle hooks that hook the fish in the side of the mouth. You’ll be releasing most fish so the least damage you can do, the better. Circle hooks are rarely swallowed and don’t damage the fish much. Use them!

  • Circle Hooks we use (Check at Amazon)
  • Other Circle Hooks we use in case those are sold out (Check at Amazon)


 

Best Rig?

Sometimes the best rig is no rig at all! We fish for Peacock Bass the same way we fish for Speckled Trout. Drift a live bait over them or near them and let them do the rest. Really, if you have either minnows or small Mayan cichlids for bait, you’re going to score. Free line them on a 1/0 circle hook and you’ll be catching fish as soon as you find a lake or canal where they are hiding.

We usually tie the 10 lb. braid and the 8 lb. fluoro directly too each other, but if you want just a little weight to make the fish sink after it hits the water, try different sizes of swivels to connect the two lines.


 

Best Artificial Lures

Honestly, if you just start dragging any 2-4″ fish lure over one of these bass’ nests, you’re going to catch fish. Especially when the weather is warm and there is nobody around. Peacock bass can be in the smallest litte residential lakes around hosing complexes and just off-road. They may nave never even SEEN an artificial lure, so they’ll hit whatever they deem a threat to their eggs. Here are 2 lures we’ve used over and over to catch nice sized Peacocks.

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Peacock Bass Bag Limit and other Laws in Florida

You probably need a Florida Fishing License for freshwater or saltwater fishing. Check out this page on Florida Fishing Licenses And then the exemptions page here, just to be sure. You may qualify if you’re a vet, disabled, or because of your age.

Gulf and East Coast Waters (statewide)

The CURRENT REGULATIONS (July 2021)

  • Minimum Size Limit: none
  • Daily Bag Limit: 2 per harvester
  • Oversize Fish Allowance: 1 fish over 17 inches may be kept per day per angler.

These laws may change again, and though we try to stay up-to-date with the latest regulations and changes, something could slip by us. Always ensure you have the latest information by visiting this page at the FWC. Fishing laws are strict in Florida with heavy fines and ignorance of the current law is no excuse.

Legal Harvesting Methods (Recreational)

Considered Game Fish, these bass cannot be taken with anything other than fishing line and hook. No nets. No spears or gigs. No snagging. No bow fishing. No snatching. There are very specific rules about how to take each freshwater fish here. You should know them.

  • Hook and line only.


 

Video – Emmanuel Catching Heaps of Peacocks in South Florida

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQC1pNXkygs

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How to Cook them?

I don’t think I’m going to go into how to cook these bass. I don’t eat them, and I don’t think many people do. If you like, you can check out my 5 Redfish Recipes and see how you might go about it if you want to try them. I think these fish are great for catching, and not so great for eating, so I don’t eat them. There are so many more Florida Fish that are fantastic eating (Sheepshead, Redfish, Snook, Speckled Trout, Grouper, Dorado, Snapper, Pompano, Tripletail) that I feel like I can afford to be choosy about which ones I eat.


 


 

Resources

  • IUCNRedlist.org – Butterfly Cichlid
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (B.P. Bass)

Image credits (top to bottom): Images by photographers at Dreamstime stock agency. Other images may have been pulled from official government fishing websites. Any copyright information in that case is retained in the photo. Note, images may be cropped and otherwise optimized for SALTY101.com user experience.

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