Last Friday I was lucky enough to be fishing the Miami, Florida, area for peacock bass with guide Alan Zaremba. These South American exotics are fairly abundant in the freshwater canals of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in southeast Florida. In a nutshell, they’re really interesting fish to catch and they fight like hell. That’s Zaremba in the photo, holding a peacock of roughly average size among the fish we encountered.
Peacocks were stocked here by the state starting in 1984 as a means of controlling other accidental introductions of exotics such as some forms of tilapia. This, I’m told by the state, has worked pretty well. Meanwhile, though, peacocks have become a hugely popular local sport fishery that isn’t available anywhere else this side of the Amazon.
As Zaremba explained as we slow-cruised the shoreline looking for peacock spawners, the exotic bass are extremely cold-intolerant. Water below 60 degrees will kill them. Nor do they tolerate salinity, so any salt- or brackish-water expansion is out. That limits the peacocks’ distribution to roughly 400 miles of freshwater canals in the greater Miami area.
Some peacock fishing is available here all year. This month is part of their spawning interval, so we searched for pairs of bedded peacocks in shallow water, often near or on a rocky structure. A weighted Clouser minnow was the fly of choice in any light color. The fish on Friday were seemingly shy. It often took multiple presentations to goad them into striking, but once one did, both its leaps and runs were high-powered–roughly equal to a smallmouth bass of similar size.
The dramatic 2010 winter cold snap here affected peacock numbers along with everything else. There are fewer of them than just a few years ago. Warmer weather should foster a comeback, but meanwhile we had no shortage of action with fish ranging from 1 to about 4 pounds. (As I recall, the largest recorded Florida peacock was about 12 pounds, but that would be a rare fish indeed.)
For me, it was something new, different, and loads of fun. For Zaremba, who has been guiding peacock anglers here for the past 22 years, I suppose it was kind of old hat. I’m just delighted to have caught some, and even more delighted at not having to travel to the Amazon to do it.