The peacock bass is a bucket list item for many anglers but an excursion to the Amazon to fish for this colorful and aggressive species costs thousands of dollars. Fortunately, there's a much more budget-friendly option.
South Florida boasts plenty of peacocks.
Luke Bishop, an 8th-grader at Daniel Island Elementary-Middle School, had floated the idea of going peacock bass fishing with his father Ted, a tugboat captain, prior to a recent family trip to Fort Lauderdale. But he didn't think his father had taken the hint.
"He told me we were going on a surprise fishing trip. He talked about going offshore. I guess he was trying to fool me," Luke said after the recent successful peacock excursion. "It really surprised me. I was pretty happy about it. I'd always wanted to catch one. I'd seen videos on YouTube of people down in the Amazon. I wanted to catch one and see how they were."
Ted said it was a birthday gift for his son, who turned 14 on Dec. 31. He said they usually go tarpon fishing with a guide he knows in Fort Lauderdale, but he was talking with Charleston fishing guide and friend Addison Rupert who told him "if you want to do something different, go do this."
Rupert told him they would catch peacocks and a variety of other species. Rupert recommended guide Alan Zaremba (floridapeacocks.com), who fishes for peacocks in both South Florida and Brazil.
"Luke fishes a ton. He's been fishing since he was 2 years old," Ted said. "I called Alan up, told him when we were going to be there and asked if he had an opening. He had availability on Saturday morning so I told him to sign me up."
Ted said Zaremba offered them two fishing options — the Everglades where they would catch peacocks and largemouth bass, or freshwater canals "where there's no telling what you might catch."
"You could catch a jack, you might catch a small tarpon. It was the ultimate mixed bag," Ted said.
Luke said they started the day trolling Bagley jerk baits under bridges and hooked a small snook on their first troll. They next tried throwing jerk baits on some points and caught a small peacock. The next fish was a largemouth bass. They finally settled on a pattern of pitching small jigs to bedding peacocks.
"I hooked a 5½- or 6-pounder that was bedding on a ladder. You can see all the way down because the water is so clear. And I almost snagged an iguana," Luke said, adding that it was very much like fishing for largemouth bass but that the peacocks fought much harder. Luke's biggest peacock weighed 6½ pounds.
Peacocks were introduced to South Florida waters in 1984 in an experiment to try and control invasive species such as spotted tilapia and Oscars, according to an article in Florida Sportsman Magazine.
Ted said they fished places you would see traveling Interstate 95 to the Florida Keys and probably caught a dozen peacocks.
"It's unbelievable fishing down there," he said. "You could fly Jet Blue in the morning, be in Fort Lauderdale by 8:30 and meet a guide, then catch a flight back to Charleston that evening if you wanted."