Urban Jungle The Bass Cast
Peacocks, largemouth, and more in suburban south FloridaPrint This Post
“We’ll start with largemouth, then look for peacocks later,” said my guide Captain Craig Korczynski, as we idled past several boat docks crawling with iguanas. “The peacock bite is best around noon, but we have some huge bass we can target in the meantime.” For years the butterfly peacock bass has been a dream fish of mine to catch, but with the high cost of traveling to South America, it seemed my bucket list would have to go unchecked. That is until learning of a small area in Southeast Florida where these feisty imports are thriving. Introduced in the 1980s by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission as a means to control the Mayan cichlid population, this voracious exotic flourished in the sunshine state’s warm year round conditions along with several others including the midas cichlid, oscar, jaguar guapote (tiger bass), bullseye snakehead, and clown knife fish. Unable to tolerate high salinity and water temperatures below 62 degrees, the peacock’s range geographically limited to the urban canal system along the southeast region of the state.
The balmy tropical climate of Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami Dade Counties are similar to the peacock’s native habitat of Brazil. Broward and Miami Dade are considered the heart of peacock country, but after several years of mild winters, large numbers have migrated further north into the Palm Beach County Chain of Lakes. Interconnecting Pine Lake in West Palm south through Lake Clarke, Lake Osborne, Lake Eden, and ending in Lake Ida near Delray Beach, the 30 mile long chain is also known for producing huge largemouth bass. Generally considered the northern tip of the peacock’s range, this area is a prime intersection for targeting both species. Bisected with hundreds of residential canals that make great peacock haunts, each of the Chain’s lake bottoms contain a deep linear trough called the West Palm Beach Canal that runs north and south throughout. Spoil deposits left from its construction form bottom undulations attracting largemouth year round.
“Cast straight out that way,” pointed Korczynski, while staring at the screen of his Humminbird Helix 10. “We should be right on the hump.” Starting the morning out casting worms near the canal in Lake Clarke, it took only minutes before his rod was feeling the strain from a big fish. “That’s a pig!” he shouted, as a massive largemouth breached the surface shaking its head from side to side. After several tense moments, he managed to wrangle the stocky fish into the Gheenoe for a photo. “You sure you still want to go after peacocks today? He joked. For enticing largemouth, Korczynski prefers Carolina rigging 8” finesse worms in either green avocado or junebug, similar colors that work well in neighboring Lake Okeechobee. For fighting open water fish, he opts for a 7’ Team Daiwa medium light spinning rod, paired with a Daiwa Procyon EX spinning reel, spooled with 10 pound test TUF-Line Domin8 braided line.
“The largemouth in this system generally prefer the main lake bodies, grass lines, mud bottoms, deep holes, and heavily vegetated areas,” he explained. “During times when the locks and spillways from Lake Okeechobee are open, there can be a lot of water movement in these canals, so they’ll concentrate in the main lake channels where it’s most prevalent, whereas peacocks won’t tolerate areas with sustained current.”
Preferring hard bottom, rocks, and structure like dock pilings, rocks, and seawalls, peacocks can be targeted almost exclusively in areas with hard structure nearby. “During winter, metal seawalls are a great place to find them as the sun heats up the metal faster than other materials,” explained Korczynski. “And during spring they’ll concentrate near them to spawn, fanning out their beds as close to it as possible to protect the eggs.”
For all their aggression, peacocks don’t hit plastic worms, instead preferring small colorful lures that mimic their main forage base – the midas and mayan cichlids. Bright orange and green hard baits like a Rat-L-Trap mini-trap in strawberry sunfish, Rapala Floating Minnow in fluorescent orange, and topwater popper flies will draw some impressive strikes, but for bedding fish go with small jigs, sinking flies, or Korczynski’s favorite – a 3 inch DOA shrimp in either fire tiger or copper crush. Using the same spinning gear for peacocks as he does for largemouth, the only difference in the set up is that he tips the braid with a two foot section of 20 pound Ande fluorocarbon leader. “Peacocks have a seriously abrasive mouth and some of these males can reach up to eight pounds, so you need a minimum 20 pound leader to prevent break offs.”
Bucket List Peacock
By noon I was chomping at the bit to go after peacocks. As much fun as it was winching up largemouth from the lake bottom, I couldn’t wait to tango with this fierce exotic.
Arriving at a seawall clustered with sandy potholes, I began pitching my lure to a stubborn fish nestled in one of the depressions. “That’s actually a Mayan,” said Korczynski, as I prepared another flip at what looked similar to the shape of a peacock. “There all actually cichlids, but the best way to identify them from each other is that peacocks have three vertical bars going down their side, cichlids have five, and oscars have dots.” Scanning the bed next to it, I spotted a three barred fish with green sides and a distinct orange underbelly leaving no doubt it was a peacock. “Pitch it past him then bring it on the bed and twitch it,” Craig advised. “With a slight twitch of the rod tip the fish charged the lure with the ferocity of a bull, then in the blink of an eye puffed it out of the bed without taking it into its mouth. “Try again,” he said. “They’ll do this a lot, but eventually they’ll take it once you agitate them enough.” Another pitch, but time the lure clanged against the base of the steel wall and was quickly devoured after dropping into the water. “There you go,” said Craig, as my drag spun momentarily. Before long I was proudly holding my first peacock bass.
When to Go
Florida peacocks generally aren’t active until noon, pretty much the opposite of a largemouth schedule, so you can make a day of catching both species as long as you can stand the midday heat during the spring and summer months. May through September is the easiest time to bed fish peacocks if sight fishing’s your game, but during April, the largemouth spawn is in full swing, and the peacock’s pre-spawn ritual consists of crushing topwater lures like their Amazonian cousins. This is the peak window to catch both a big female largemouth, and a big hump-headed male peacock all in the same trip. Regardless of what time of year you choose to visit, be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, extra lures, and plenty of iguana repellant, as you just never know what you may encounter in the urban jungle.
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Captain Craig Korcysnki