Peacock bass have become the quintessential Florida gamefish. Since their introduction in 1984, they have gone from invasive species to respected adversary, and their popularity is showing no signs of abating. While relegated to South Florida, as waters warm, peacocks have been on a northward trajectory. If they aren’t in your local waterways yet, it’s probably only a matter of time. It doesn’t take much to find them either — toss out a live shiner on a little J-hook and if they’re there, you’ll know!
Daily Bag Limit
While most fish caught are released, the daily limit for peacock bass in Florida is 2 fish per day, with one being over 17 inches.
Minimum Size Limit
No minimum size, but to keep a peacock bass, you may only take one per day OVER 17 inches.
In Florida, the average size is 2 to 4 lbs., with some getting as big as 9 lbs. The Florida state record is 9.11 lbs. Many anglers have reported catching and releasing specimens over 10 lbs.
Preferred Water Temperature
Peacock bass are warm-water ambush predators; they need water in the 75- to 82-degree range. These fish will not tolerate water temps below 66 degrees. In 2010, a series of cold fronts swept through South Florida, pushing water temps in some areas down to the 40s, resulting in a massive die-off of peacock bass. During this weather event, these fish were practically eliminated north of Pompano Beach, including Lake Ida.
Despite never having been restocked, the peacocks bounced back since then and are present in large numbers again throughout South Florida — testament to both their resilience as a species and their prolific reproduction habits.
Peacock bass are not considered endangered.
There are as many as 19 species of peacock bass around the world; in Florida, the “butterfly peacock” is the most prevalent.
Peacock bass make fine table fare. They are not too bony and generally do NOT carry much of a fishy flavor or smell. Unfortunately, most of their habitats around South Florida are heavily polluted canals and inland waterways, so eating Florida peacocks is not advised. In their native habitat in Brazil, they are considered a delicacy.
Bright in color, the most common coloration is bright yellow with dark vertical bars and bright orange or red fringing on the fins and jaw. Some subspecies also come in a predominantly green color scheme with dots or specks running down the side. Most versions have a bullseye spot or “false eye” near the tail.
In Brazil and the Amazon drainage system in South America, peacock bass can grow much larger. The world record is 91 cm, estimated to be over 25 lbs.
Peacock bass require warm water to survive. In Florida, they range from The Keys up beyond Palm Beach County and out west to Naples. This range is constantly altering as climate change pushes them farther north. As of 2023, the farthest north they’ve been reported is in Boynton Beach.
Introduced to South Florida waterways between 1984-1987, peacock bass exploded in both population and popularity as they found the environment to be perfect for fast growth and reproduction. Today, they can be found in just about every freshwater system from Palm Beach south. They do not tolerate brackish water well and tend to stay in freshwater systems only.
Peacock bass are a top-level ambush predator, they have few natural enemies, especially as they grow larger. Juvenile peacocks get eaten by other fish, birds, turtles and iguanas.
Peacock bass generally spawn in the summer, they tend to build beds on flat, hard bottoms and lay up to 10,000 eggs. Male peacocks grow a large bump or nuchal hump on their foreheads during the spawning season that when rubbed causes the spines on their back to stand up. Young are well guarded by both parents who will attack predators attempting to feed on their fry.
Peacocks are generally targeted around cover and structure using shiners or other freshwater live baits. They can also be caught using a variety of artificials, including jigs, poppers, soft frogs and other common local species imitations. Peacock bass are also receptive to flies and can be caught using a large variety of different imitation insects or baitfish.