The peacock bass is a bucket list species for many serious anglers. With strong populations in the Amazon River basin, anglers will embark on week-long expeditions deep into the rainforest in search of these extravagant fish. Luckily for the less adventurous, South Florida is a burgeoning hotspot for butterfly peacock bass. In just about any canal or pond, anglers have a chance at catching these hard-fighting and colorful fish. Here’s everything you need to know about peacock bass fishing in South Florida. 

A butterfly peacock bass caught flipping docks with soft plastic swimbaits. Max Inchausti

Appearance and Biology

The peacock bass hardly resembles the black bass (largemouth and smallmouth) found in North America. In fact, Peacocks are not technically bass but rather a part of the cichlid family, a large group of ray-finned fish commonly found in South America. Well over sixteen species of peacock bass are found in their native range, but the butterfly peacock is the only species found in South Florida.

They are exotic and extravagant fish displaying vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and green. Younger fish will have three vertical dark bars that will continue to fade as they age. A key identifier is a black spot on the caudal fin surrounded by a yellow halo. Male butterfly peacocks will also grow a large hump on top of their head. A typical Florida peacock weighs anywhere from two to four pounds, with true lunkers growing as big as nine pounds. The state record was caught in 2021, topping the scales at 9.11 pounds.

History and Habitat

To understand the history of butterfly peacock bass in South Florida, you need to understand the history of South Florida’s invasive species. Prior to the introduction of peacock bass, invasive species like oscars and tilapia were taking over many of South Florida’s waterways. With no natural predators, they were left unchecked. The answer: introduce a natural predator. In 1984, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did just that. Enter the peacock bass.

The first peacocks were released in large coastal canals in Southeast Florida, but they didn’t stay there for long. The canal systems connects endless ponds and lakes, acting as a highway for their movement. They are now found as far north as West Palm Beach and as far west as Naples. Anglers looking for the highest densities and largest fish should seek out canals in Broward and Dade counties.

As a true South American species, they need warm water. Water temps of 75 degrees and up are preferred, with higher water temps resulting in more active fish. While they continue to creep north, long cold snaps and water temperatures in the mid-60s cause die-offs, limiting their northern expansion. 

A male peacock bass displaying the characteristic hump found on mature fish. Max Inchausti

Fishing for Peacock Bass

Peacocks are predatory fish that will eat just about anything they can get their mouths around, including other fish species, amphibians, insects, and even other peacocks. Because of their aggressive predatory drive, a multitude of angling methods can be used to target these bass. Whether you’re a Florida resident or visiting with the goal of landing a colorful exotic, here is everything you should know about targeting peacock bass. 


Anglers who revel at the thought of a bobber shooting underwater are in luck. A large shiner is one of the best baits to fool large and wary peacock bass. The large profile and flashy appearance of shinners are a dinner bell to hungry peacocks. The easiest way to fish these is with a small bobber rig. Tie on a live bait hook—my preferred is an octopus-style hook—and mount a float two to three feet above it. You can fish these weightless, but a small split shot will ensure the shiner stays in the strike zone. Pitch the rig near structures like docks and break walls, or float them near vegetation like spatterdock pads and eelgrass beds. The takes are typically aggressive, so watch the float and be ready. In deeper water, shiners can be live-lined without a float, and either be free-swimmed or slowly retrieved. 

For those who shy away from live bait, there are plenty of lure options that will fool peacock bass. The name of the game for artificial is fast and flashy. The flash triggers a predatory response and will elicit aggressive strikes. Small inline spinners, like those used in trout fishing, are a great reaction bait. Soft plastic swim baits are another popular choice for peacock fanatics. Baits in the three to five-inch range rigged on a swimbait hook are easy to fish, relatively weedless, and will attract larger peacocks. For added flash, fish with underspin hooks.

When conditions align, topwater lures will draw visual and aggressive strikes. Spooks and small choppers do a great job of making a commotion and attracting fish. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to throw topwater for peacocks, but when the weather is right, it can be an all-day bite. 

Whether fishing with live bait or artificial lures, typical peacock bass setups will do the trick. A seven-foot medium or medium-heavy spinning rod with a 3000-size reel is a great all-around setup. This offers the versatility to fish shiners under a dock or swimbaits through the grass. While bass are not particularly line-shy, they do have abrasive pads that will wear through braided line. A two- to three-foot section of 15 to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader offers protection from this abrasion. Above the leader, I spool my reels with 15-pound braid.

Peacock bass are also eager to eat a fly. Small baitfish patterns are usually the ticket. Patterns like an EP minnow or Clouser minnow with a hint of flash will consistently fool fish. Strip them with a steady retrieve through areas where peacocks will likely hide. If you see a fish following your fly, strip faster. The visual of the fly “escaping” is all a peacock needs to see to commit. Fly rods in the six to eight-weight range are sufficient for most peacocks in Florida. If you are targeting true trophy fish, upsize the rod to a nine or ten weight and throw slightly larger flies. A 9-foot tapered bass leader will help turn over heavier peacock flies and withstand the power of the initial strike. 

Peacock Bass Fishing: Rules and Regulations

Florida is home to countless non-native fish species, many of which are labeled as invasive. Peacock bass, however, is not invasive. It is the only non-native fish species with regulations in place to properly manage its population. Anglers with a freshwater fishing license are allowed to target and harvest two peacock bass a day. Of these two fish, only one can be over 17 inches.  

Why does an exotic fish have its own bag limit? The state of Florida sees peacock bass as a valuable asset that controls other invasive fish and stimulates local economies as a destination fishery. As a result, these fish are managed to optimize size and sustain populations. They can be eaten and taste fairly good, but their true value is as a catch-and-release sport fish.