How to Find and Catch Peacock Bass in South Florida

Over the past 18 months I’ve been re-learning the waters of South Florida, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Now, living in Miami with my wife and two toddler aged sons, I’ve had the opportunity to spend significant time exploring the vast Miami canal system and its adjoining lakes and ponds which are home to several fresh and saltwater species.

Although there are many species to fish for in the inland waters of South Florida, the most pursued species by far is the Butterfly Peacock Bass!

While peacock bass are native to South America, they were originally introduced in South Florida in 1984. Since then, they have become a highly sought after fish as a result of their aggressive nature and majestic colors.

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Peacock Bass are plentiful in South Florida however over the past 18 months I’ve learned that in order to consistently find and catch peacock bass, you have to cover water, know what to look for, and vary your presentation.

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Covering Water In Pursuit of Peacock Bass

Nearly every type of bridge, spillway, seawall, or shoreline connected to the urban waterways and canals in South Florida can potentially hold Peacock Bass, so it is very important to cover as much water as possible in order to find fish. Since the lakes and canals in Miami are generally clear, the vibrant colors of Peacock Bass make them easily noticeable in most conditions and provide natural opportunities to sight fish.

In re-exploring the urban canal system, I made a habit of stopping at nearly every urban body of water that I could find in neighborhoods, near shopping malls, parks, highways, and various other locations in Miami. Most of the time my reconnaissance of potential locations was without a rod in hand while I was on a lunch break or running errands.

My aim was simply to determine if these various locations held fish that I could come back to at a later date.

While I now use the ANGLR App to mark spots where I find fish, I previously made mental notes or took map screenshots with my phone which I would later review to determine other potential ways to access the same bodies of water where I knew fish were present.

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By taking the time to cover lots of water, I quickly found numerous locations that continue to produce healthy peacock bass year round.  

What to Look for When Locating Peacock Bass

While peacock bass can be found in nearly every body of water in Miami, when searching for new locations, I generally look for deep drop offs near hard structure such as limestone, boulders, or large pieces of cement along shorelines. I’ve also had success finding peacocks in deeper water under lily pads that line seawalls or shorelines. Although peacock bass prefer clear water, they can also be caught in areas where water visibility is limited due to pollution, cloud cover, or tidal flow.

One trick to identifying Peacock Bass in the water during low light or limited visibility conditions is to look for the bright orange color on their anal fins. Similar to other species, when in spawn, bedding Peacock Bass will typically be observed in pairs, and sometimes with small fry nearby. While they are other times observed in large schools, my favorite way to target peacock bass is when they are swimming in smaller groups of 3 to 4 and feeding on small baitfish in the shallows.

Focus on Presentation to Catch Peacock Bass

Due to their predatory nature, Peacock Bass are voracious eaters that can be caught on live bait, artificial lures, and even flies. Unlike species such as Largemouth bass, Peacock bass can be more aggressive with increased sunlight and warmer temperatures. When turned on and active, Peacock bass will devour nearly everything you put in front of them, especially by live lining wild shiners or small cichlids using small circle hooks.

When the fish appear uninterested in live bait, I will often switch from live bait to various small flies which I find to be the most effective method overall to entice slow moving fish. There are also ample opportunities to catch them on topwater lures and flies, which makes for an explosive bite. At the same time flashy artificial lures such as Mirrodine’s, or Rat-L-Traps work well as they mimic small baitfish.

Despite their aggressive eating habits, peacock bass often become less active when in spawn and protecting their beds, and also tend to turn off as a result of significant cloud cover, cold fronts, or rain.

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The key to enticing inactive Peacock bass to bite is changing your presentation.

When attempting to use artificial lures with slow moving fish, I like to downsize my lures and retrieve the lure in a more erratic nature in order to provoke the fish. I find that they will sometimes try to bump the lure, or push it away, yet with repetitive presentations of a lure the Peacock bass will usually bite once they are sufficiently irritated.

When casting a fly to a hesitant Peacock bass, I like to slow down the strip of the fly, and at times will stop the fly right in front of the fish and will even let the fly drop to the bottom near the fish before stripping line quickly to elicit a response. This retrieve tends to irritate or provoke the fish and results in consistent bites from seemingly lethargic and inactive fish.

The Miami canal system is one of a kind, and provides as an opportunity for anglers of all skill levels to catch trophy Peacock bass. The next time you make a trip to Miami, be sure to focus on locations with drop offs near hard structure or lily pads and if you don’t see peacocks after a short time, continue to cover as much water as possible.

Once you find the fish and determine their level of responsiveness to your tactics, don’t hesitate to switch up your approach if the fish initially appear lethargic and uninterested. With the right presentation, you can be sure to elicit an incredible bite!

Chad Nelson is an ANGLR Expert and a Miami-based fishing guide who specializes Peacock Bass and has experience guiding families. To book a Miami Peacock Bass trip with Chad or to find out more about catching peacock bass and other prized species in Miami such as tarpon, snook, and bonefish contact Chad on Instagram @cnelson4. A portion of all proceeds go to support 501(c)3 non-profit organizations working to help underprivileged kids and transform communities in Panama and Afghanistan. Chad was featured on Episode 20 of the ANGLR Tour. Check it out below!