Peacock Bass On the Fly: Fishing in Florida
Updated: Sep 17, 2022
Growing up in the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia outdoor opportunities were plentiful and I quickly took to fly fishing in my early teens. Being limited in that I couldn't drive yet, my local fish were trout, bass, and bluegill. When I got a little older I began fishing on the Potomac River I started landing larger bass than at the local farm pond, and then I got into Smallmouth as well. Such a great summer activity wading the rivers ledges and casting to smallies.
Since then I've always enjoyed the fight of a bass on a fly. A pocket full of poppers, streamers, and clawdads is all your need and a great way to beat the heat. I also started hearing about this other weird kind of fish called a Peacock Bass. ESPN had a few fishing shows on Sunday mornings and one was actually a fly fishing show. Either Roland Martin or The Spanish Fly and they actually caught on of these fish on a huge topwater popper. It was an impressive top water explosion and fight! The problem was these guys were in the Amazon forest and not anywhere around here. But that day that species made my bucket list for sure.
Peacock Bass aren't actually a bass at all. They are actually in the cichlid family and are native to the Amazon region and Central America. They require very warm water and are super aggressive predators. I assumed that Brazil would be my destination for this, but I started doing some research and found that we actually have pockets of Peacock bass in Southern Florida around the Miami, Dade Counry area. Not native to the region, they were introduced in 1984 to some canals to help control other invasive bait fish. Because of their intolerance to water temperatures below 60 degrees, Florida Wildlife Control feels that they are not a threat to spread elsewhere. Upon learning this information a few months back, it was off to Florida for an adventure.
Capt. Scott Miller of Reel Intense Fly Fishing www.reelintenseflyfishing.com was an awesome guide for what he markets as his Suburban Jungle trip. Lake Ida was the setting for this trip and I joined Captain Miller on a beautiful sunny morning. I was told we were going to be working a lot of sea walls and docks around the lake, which I completely understood was the kind of habitat Peacocks enjoy. They are an ambush fish so they hide behind some structure or in a darker shadow. This makes the spots to cast easy to understand right away, but getting the fly there is something entirely different. Using a streamer Capt. Miller tied, we basically tried to skip the fly off the top of the water and underneath docks and boat launches. A side arm cast and double hauling are totally necessary for this to be successful.
Once, I got the cast down a little better and the day warmed up a but, we started to get some fish. They pound the fly hard for sure! Setting the hook required more of a strip-set technique, which was humbling as I lost my first two. Finally we found a great turn in the lake where a canal dumped in and we started up it. As we motored up a few schools of bait fish ran out and a cichlid or two were around. There was a little bridge and overhang where all this fish had to congregate to get to the lake. If there's a peacock anywhere, its there for sure. Second cast and boom! A solid hookup and I finally got one landed. It was absolutely beautiful, and while not the size of the monsters in the Amazon, a species off the bucket list. I caught several more throughout the day, but the first I landed was the biggest that day.
Capt. Miller had another species in store as well. Another invasive species to Florida, the Clown Knifefish. One of the strangest things I've ever seen, but definitely fun to catch. We motored down another canal and into a smaller connected lake, but much deeper than everywhere else we've fished previously. Rises and splashes started surrounding us, and I was told these fish basically sit on the bottom and chase schools of fish upwards, trapping them against the surface. While we could not fish for them with a fly, we quickly hooked up with a couple using bait. Certainly a fight to remember, and an interesting fish.
At the end of the day I was very happy with the experience. One thing about Capt. Miller's boat is that it is well suited for these canals and smaller waters. We were in canals maybe 20' wide in a 16' boat. Ducking under causeways and bridges was necessary and means that few people can access some of the water he could. He offers a variety of trips in the area, and is geared toward fly fishers in particular. If you are in the Palm Beach/Miami area I would look him up. Now that I know that I don't have to travel to another country to catch another one, I see another trip in my future when it's cold in Virginia and I have fish fever.