It is an unspoken fact that Southwest Florida has a population of Peacock Bass. Most anglers guard their secret spots to help insure they can keep catching the beautiful green, yellow and orange “Peas” as they are affectionately referred to. I recently set out on a quest to track down these veracious fighters in the canals across Southwest Florida. I was not disappointed.
I set out on a morning that reminded me of my time living in Colorado. It was 40 degrees out and the lizards were in cold shock. I managed to be able to just walk right up to this invasive Cuban Anole and pick him up without a fight.
After unloading my Hobie Pro Angler 14 kayak at the boat ramp, I setoff down a canal. Looking for those tell tale signs of fish habitat and activity. Overhanging branches, grass mats, lily pads and anything that would obstruct the flow of water where a predator fish would like to hide. My first stop was at a bridge that crossed over the canal. I used a live Golden Shiner on a 2/0 Owner Mutu Tournament Circle light hook, 20 lb Yozuri flourocarbon leader, on 20 lb braid. Using a Coastal Predator Incursion Series Rod and a Penn Battle III, I made a cast at the first bridge piling and let the Shiner work his magic. I watched as my bait fish swam around from the front of the pillar, following the current and get just barely into the slow moving current. In a bright yellow flash, my bait was taken and my rod began to bend. The fight was on.
The fish attempted to swim back in between the pillar, but the heavy action on my rod and the brakes of the Penn Battle III kept him from making it back. After an exciting little fight I got the fish closer to kayak. My first glimpse at the fish was through the tannin rich tea stained water. I could see the black spot on the tail, staring at me like a second eye. The green and yellow skin was peering out from behind the black speckles of it’s broken stripes. When I got it out of the water, the orange flashed from below it’s chin and gill plate. It was indeed true, I had caught a Southwest Florida Peacock Bass.
Pleasantly surprised with the discovery that the rumors were in fact true, I continued fishing. I spent the rest of the day catching all different color variations and sizes in this canal.
After a full days worth of fishing I decided that I would check out to see if there was truth to the rumor that there were Peacock Bass in Cape Coral, FL. After all there is always some truth to every rumor.
As it is in Florida in December, the temperature changes can be drastic. When a cold front from the North comes through we end up with lizards falling from trees. If you wait a couple days though the temperatures will go back up. The day I decided to head to Cape Coral it was 60 degrees that morning. Unlike in Golden gate where it was sunny all day, in Cape Coral it was gloomy. Overcast skies and a cool unrelenting breeze. For a kayak fisherman, the wind matters. It makes pedaling/paddling a lot harder. It makes finding a consistent anchor point an art form, instead of a science. Needless to say it was a tricky day, even in the shelter of the canals.
Taking my Hobie Pro Angler 14, I headed off down the tunnel of trees and bushes that lined the canal. High grass and lily pads made for a maze to get to the main channel. While I was deciding on going left or right down the canaI, I stopped to rig my baitcaster set up. A medium/ heavy power, moderate action Coastal Predator Incursion Series rod paired with a Shimano Curado DC. For fishing in the canals I like to keep the same theme among all my rods. 20lb Yozuri fluorcarbon leader and 20lb braid, there are just to many docks and so much vegetation I don’t want to risk the break offs. I decided to head windward first and then work my way back so the wind would be pushing me when I was coming home. No sooner than I turned the corner, I looked down in the water and saw the familiar black spot and three stripes of a peacock bass. I cast my Coastal Predator 4″ Jerk bait in Fire Leopard next to a group of lily pads next to the canal wall. One twitch, two twitch, THREE! The Peacock Bass slammed the jerk bait and the fight began. Peacock Bass have a unique style of fighting, similar to a Mutton Snapper. They pull down and head shake, down and head shake. No really big runs, they are trying to muscle the hook out of their mouth. Once I got him in the kayak I was able to see he was a more of a brown than the yellow and green I had been catching in Golden Gate.
Peacock Bass are the fish with the most widely variable coloration patterns on the planets. This has a lot to do with their home range in South America. They are known more as a river fish and they adapt their colors to their surrounding water conditions. The clearer the water the brighter they are. In the canals in Southwest Florida the water is tea stained. Therefore they are not as bright as the ones coming out of the coral bed rock canals in Miami.
When FWC introduced Peacock Bass into the Miami area in the 1980’s, they were trying to combat the spread of the invasive African Tilapia. Now it has turned into an excellent fishery in Miami, where the state record 9lb Peacock Bass was caught. How these beautiful brawlers made it to Southwest Florida is anyone’s guess. It could have been through the Everglades, fishermen transplanting them or some mystery we will never be able to figure out. However it was done, I’m glad they are closer to my home.