Peacock bass are not actually bass, but rather, they are cichlids. Related to African cichlids, peacock bass share a family tree with these African species that evolved alongside their ancestors on the super-continent of Gondwanaland before it began to break apart about 150 million years ago. Although they appear similar to North American bass, genetically they are fairly distinct from those species. Enjoy this Fly Fishing for Peacock Bass: A 101 Guide.
The reason peacock bass and North American bass mirror each other in appearance results from the fact that they inhabit similar niches in their respective environments. There exist 16 known subspecies of peacock bass, all of which originally hail from the jungles of South America. While they have been transplanted to Central America, Hawaii, and Florida, the best peacock bass fisheries remain in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. Of the peacock subtypes, the most heavily pursued is the Speckled Peacock Bass, or Cichla temensis. These apex predators grow to well over 20 pounds, aggressively smash a variety of flies, and pound for pound fight harder than almost any other freshwater fish. Peacocks are considered by many to be the very best freshwater species of fish to catch on a fly rod. Smaller species such as Cichla orinocensis, Cichla nigromaculata, and Cichla intermedia will frequently keep rods bent while the angler searches for an encounter with a larger Cichla temensis.
The Habitat and Behavior
Peacock bass are found in greatest abundance in areas with minimal current, such as lagoons. Most jungle rivers produce lagoons as the main river channel meanders and changes over the decades. These lagoons are adjacent to the main river, and are often connect to the main river via small channels. To enter these lagoons may take some work with a machete, or may even require dragging the boat some distance over dry ground. In the main river, peacocks often patrol beaches, and any shoreline with sand should be an area of focus. Particularly, the transition point between flooded jungle and a beach is an important ambush site where peacocks are on the prowl. Peacock bass often hunt in schools, resulting in feeding frenzies that can produce periods of epic fishing.
Although opinions will differ regarding the perfect peacock bass rod, most would agree that the best options are fast action vs. medium-fast action. I’ve seen 7-12 weight rods used for peacock bass. I believe that the perfect-sized rod is a 9 weight. A 9 weight is large enough to turn over the gaudiest peacock fly, and powerful enough to do battle with a trophy. A larger rod may be of benefit when hooking in to the largest peacocks. But my hand and wrist are already beat after a week of grinding away with the 9 weight, and I can’t imagine what I would feel like after doing the same with a 12 weight.
- Sage Salt HD: One of the premier fast action rods on the market. The Salt HD will allow the angler to carpet bomb the lagoon banks with maximum efficiency. A rod such as this will preserve the angler’s endurance and allow for hundreds of casts while searching for the “grande.”
- Sage R8: This rod is my personal choice for peacock bass. Stiff enough to turn over a bulky peacock fly, but with a little bit of softness in the tip, the R8 allows a bit more finesse than the uber-stiff rods that others prefer. Oftentimes, slinging the fly underneath some branches, between trees, or curling it behind a stump is the difference between success and failure when it comes to peacock bass. A rod like the R8 provides slightly more versatility, which I appreciate when picking apart a tricky bank.
- Orvis H3D: Similar to other high end, fast action rods, this is another great option for chasing peacocks. This rod’s most important feature is Orvis’ current repair policy, which is easily the best in the industry. A simple online form submission will trigger a “no questions asked” replacement of a broken rod section, which will arrive at the owner’s house in 2-3 days without needing to send in the broken rod. Peacocks are notorious rod-breakers, and Orvis’ repair policy helps set this rod apart.
If there is any place to skimp on a peacock set-up, the reel would be that place. Although it’s always a treat to hook in to a peacock cruising a beach or in the middle of a lagoon, the majority of fish are caught in heavy shoreline structure. If given an inch, the fish will be hopelessly wrapped around submerged tree branches. Therefore, any large fish must be immediately corralled, and I do this by firmly palming the reel after the hook up. This places massive amounts of pressure on the rod and the tests the integrity of the line. Broken rods and broken tippet are part of the game here. But these problems can be mitigated by fighting the fish with the butt of the rod and by using fresh tippet at all times. Therefore, a good peacock reel must be able to stand up to tropical conditions, but doesn’t need an elite drag system. I use the Ross Animas reel and it gives me what I need for peacocks and many other jungle species.
In cost-saving efforts, I’ve brought cold-water lines to the harsh environs of the jungle, and learned the hard way that they just don’t hold up. The running line curls in the jungle heat, the plastic coating on the line delaminates, and just casting these lines in the jungle feels like casting half-cooked spaghetti. A series of good tropical lines is paramount. I like the Rio DirectCore Jungle Series. I bring the full line-up, in floating, intermediate, S3, and S6 varieties. I find myself primarily using the floating line for poppers and the S6 for streamers, although it seems like the S3 is most popular for streamers amongst other anglers. With a 50 lb core strength, even the largest peacock is unlikely to break these lines.
The tippet used for peacock bass is very simple. I use a 3-foot piece of straight 60 lb fluorocarbon. There is some risk to this strategy, as it could put the 50 lb core of the fly line as the theoretical weakest link. However, if the angler keeps the fluorocarbon leader fresh, any sort of line breakage is extremely unlikely. When I traveled to the jungle for the first time, I broke off more large peacocks than I’d like to admit. I quickly learned that I could mostly avoid this problem if I switched out my tippet frequently. Any sort of abrasion or defect to the leader will spell disaster in a battle against a big peacock. I always check my leader after an encounter with a piranha, or if I get stuck in the wood. I liberally replace the tippet if there is any sign of wear or tear.
A variety of large streamers will produce for peacock bass… they are not the pickiest species when it comes to fly selection. Large flies tied for trout, musky, tarpon, and other predatory species will do the job. I tie all my own peacock flies, and they resemble famous patterns such as the Producer and Lefty’s Deceiver. A very strong hook is an important feature of a good peacock bass fly. I tie all my patterns on the Ahrex SA270 hook in sizes from 2/0-6/0. A variety of color schemes is key, although I tend to do best on combos including green/white and black/yellow. Peacock bass are also notorious for crushing topwater flies. Any large popper will work. I like to use the NYAP, as they are easy to make, very durable, and extremely effective when the peacocks are looking up. If you’re not in to tying, check out my buddy’s business at www.payaraflyfishing.com. Here you can find a number of affordable, proven patterns for peacock bass and other jungle species.
- Gloves: Attempting to corral a peacock bass freight train under the relentless sun will threaten to destroy any angler’s hands. Sun gloves are necessary at a minimum, but something with a little more protection such as the Simms Solarflex Guide Glove will keep the hands in top shape for a week of peacock battles.
- Clothing: Selecting proper clothing is key to enjoy a week in the jungle. Lightweight, breathable clothing is a must. Skin exposure should be kept at a minimum for protection against the intense equatorial UV rays and multiple varieties of biting/stinging insects. The Simms Bugstopper Hoodie for men or women, checks all the boxes for a week of jungle fishing.
- High Water: When the water is high, peacock fishing becomes much more challenging. The fish prefer to hide in the protection of the flooded jungle, making them much less accessible. I’ve had the misfortune of timing most of my jungle trips with high water, but we have developed a strategy for this circumstance that seems to help produce more fish. The person in the front of the boat fishes a big, noisy popper, which seems to draw the fish out from the jungle. The second angler subsequently cleans up with a streamer after the fish are drawn out. The peacocks will certainly pounce upon a popper at times, but just as often, they follow it in curiosity without committing to the strike. This strategy has produced a number of good peacocks for both myself and my fishing companions.
- There is a reason you see pictures of so many peacock bass doubles. When one fish is hooked, the other fish in the school often become hyper-aggressive. One fish flailing on the end of a line seems to trigger the feeding frenzy response in adjacent fish. When fishing two anglers to a boat, after the first angler hooks up the second angler should immediately throw their line next to the hooked fish. More often than not, the mayhem of a peacock bass double will be the result.