Mastering Fly-Fishing for Peacock Bass
Among the many sport fishing pursuits available to anglers in South Florida, targeting butterfly peacock, more commonly known as peacock bass, is certainly not the most popular pastime. With plenty of saltwater action nearby including some of the most diverse shallows in the state, as well as close proximity to the Gulf Stream, the freshwater scene can get overlooked pretty easily. However, these butterfly peacock are aggressive, scrappy fighters on light tackle and can be a great change of pace for area outdoor enthusiasts. For those with an affinity for fly fishing, this fishery is one of the most enjoyable the Sunshine State has to offer.
While many anglers fishing South Florida’s lakes and canals tar-get peacock with light spinning gear and flashy lures or live bait, there’s an added challenge when you swap in your spinner for a fly rod. That said, many novice fly-fishing enthusiasts focus their efforts on these fish not only because they offer incredible fun on light fly gear, but also because they don’t require as much precision as bonefish, permit, tarpon or other saltwater game fish that are notoriously hard to catch on fly. Fly fishing for peacock delivers a beautiful balance of attainable success for beginners and steady action and fun that is hard to find anywhere in the world of fly fishing.
Whether you’re looking to get into the fly-fishing game for the first time or simply desire a laid-back pursuit that allows you to catch fish and sharpen your skills, peacock fishing with the long stick is a great way to wet a line. While it’s certainly not as complicated as some may think, there are a few things you need to consider when targeting these fish, particularly on the fly. While the calendar will say it’s fall in the coming months, South Florida remains hot and humid for the majority of September and October. Though this is not ideal for those of us eagerly awaiting cooler weather, it is certainly a plus when it comes to peacock fishing.
These fish, introduced to area waters by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission back in the 1980s, are native to the Amazon. While their native conditions differ greatly from those encountered in South Florida, one common denominator during much of the year is warm, muggy weather. So, while you may hate it, the peas love it. The fish remain incredibly active in the coming months, stacking the odds in your favor when you target them with a fly rod.
First, let’s discuss the “how.” Butterfly peacock roam freshwater canals and lakes within Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties, so that’s where you should focus your efforts. These fish thrive in waters that are tough to live in for other native fish, as they’ve made a permanent home in the area, feeding on a variety of both native and non-native prey. Invasive cichlid make up a large portion of a butterfly peacock’s diet, so your fly should be a small imitation of one of these species. That said, peacock are not incredibly picky eaters and more important that the pattern of your fly is the action you impart on it. In my experience, these fish, whether they’re active and aggressive or lethargic and wary, will almost always devour a 2- or 3-inch white clouser with small red eyes. For some reason, I suppose its mimicry of the peacock’s natural prey within this range, the red eyes on the fly can be a deal-breaker. The point is, don’t overthink your fly choice. Tie on a tiny baitfish pattern and focus on how you present the fly.
This time of year, whether you’re fishing from land or by boat, these fish will be tucked up against the bank. Some adult peacock are still bedding, even though these fish largely spawn in the spring, while others simply cruise up and down the banks of area canals and lakes in search of prey. Not to say that you can’t catch these fish blind casting your fly into areas that look fishy, but most of your success will generally come when sight fishing. Therefore, a good pair of polarized sunglasses and a strong mid-day sun give you great chances of spotting these fish. Unlike many game fish we target that are most active in the early morning, late afternoon or early evening, peacock in South Florida seem to favor hot, sunny midday conditions.
When you see a fish, try to approach slowly, particularly if you are fishing on foot. Stealth is a huge asset in this pursuit. Once you’re in casting range, you want to place your fly as gently as possible ahead of the fish, stripping your fly aggressively across its nose to elicit a strike. On that note, one of the advantages flyfishing brings to the table is the ability to land your offering more softly and to recover from a poor cast more quickly. Additionally, peacock are often not very spooky and anglers who miss their shot initially will get second and third opportunities at the same fish. This is particularly true when you find adult fish that are bedding. While these fish are usually not interested in feeding, a fly present – ed near a bed repeatedly will usually get a reaction strike. This is one of those scenarios that, unlike usu – al fly-fishing pursuits that require precision on the first try, allow for a more novice approach. By the same token, it’s a great way to introduce kids to the art of fly-fishing.
Now that we’ve covered the “how,” let’s cover the “where.” In general, canal or lake within the Tri-County Area can hold peas, but there are a few hot spots within this region that are fishier than others. Starting in the northern reaches of their South Florida confines, Lake Ida and Lake Osborne in Palm Beach County offer some of the most action-packed peacock fishing in the state. These lakes feature a lot of fishable area, so it’s best to limit your outlook to certain stretches of shoreline. Focus on areas that feature concrete seawalls or large rocks, as butterfly peacock naturally gravitate to structure. With structure in mind, the bridges within these lakes are excellent places to start.
Further south, Broward County’s southwest stretches feature some of the best peacock fishing in the area, with the canal systems near Markham Park offering excellent opportunities. While larger lakes are best fished by boat or kayak, these canals are narrow and allow for proficient land-based fishing. Additionally, they feature plenty of wideopen space to comfortably cast a fly rod.
In Miami-Dade County, the peacock fishery is rather intriguing. I’ve found that the further west you go, the better the fishing is, but there are plenty of fish to be caught wherever there are canals. Here, the trick is finding areas that are not too urban to fish effectively. It can be difficult to cast a fly with no room for a backswing. Additionally, for anglers fishing on foot, be mindful of prohibited areas and illegal parking. It’s not worth the citation. Once you find a nice, quiet stretch of water, though, Miami and it’s neighboring areas can hold some of the largest peas you’ll find in the region. Regardless of where you choose to target these fish, don’t discount the effectiveness of a 4- or 5-weight fly rod, light tip – pet and a tiny clouser fly.