Kayak Fishing For Peacock Bass E-mail
Friday, 23 October 2009 09:01

After a few months of another “old time” winter in Wisconsin and not having fished open water for over three months I was getting a severe case of cabin fever. The first week of February I was in Naples, Florida, running a conference. A friend from Wisconsin, Steve Starr, who now calls Ft. Lauderdale home, said that if I had time while in Florida, to drive over to the Ft. Lauderdale area for some peacock bass fishing. He didn’t have to ask twice.


Picture of Steve on shore with two kayaks

Steve has done quite a bit of smallie fishing in Wisconsin. In Florida he enjoys fishing for both saltwater species and the freshwater butterfly peacock bass from his kayak. Peacock bass were first introduced to the canals of coastal Southeast Florida in 1984. Stocking was discontinued after 1987 when it was determined that natural reproduction was taking place. These bass will not survive in water below 60 degrees, so the canal system, which rarely drops below 65 degrees, was a perfect place for this tremendous game fish. One of the reasons for this is the Biscayne Aquifer that lies just a few feet below ground. In winter, the warmer water flows from the aquifer into the canals and creates the warm temperatures critical to the survival of many exotic fish, including the peacock bass.

The only free day I had while in Florida was Sunday, Feb. 8, so I met Steve at one of his favorite spots southwest of Ft. Lauderdale. Coming from Wisconsin, the day was going to be super, with temperatures reaching 73 degrees. I knew, however, that the previous week had been extremely cold with nighttime temperatures down to the low 30s, so I wondered how active the peacocks would be. Steve confirmed my thoughts and said the water temperatures were as cold as he’d seen, and that the fish likely would not be overly active.

Being able to escape, even for a short time the Wisconsin winter was OK with me. Just getting on open water and throwing some lures was going to be fun. But being the smallmouth bass enthusiast that I am, I really was hoping to catch at least one peacock bass to compare the fight of the two species.

steve

Steve with a nice top water Peacock

Steve fishes from a 13.5’ sit-on-top Wilderness Systems 135 Ride and had a Tarpon 100 for me. Using the sit-on-top was an extra bonus as I’m looking to get kayaks for my wife and I so we can spend more time on Wisconsin rivers and those small lakes in southeast Wisconsin that are carry-in only. From everything I’ve read and heard, the sit-on-tops are the way to go, and after spending the day in the Tarpon 100, it’s easy to see why.

We were on the water by 9:30 a.m. and began our quest to catch some peacocks. Almost immediately, Steve correctly predicted our only chance would be if the sun popped through the overcast. When we talked the previous week, he also told me how the peacocks respond to very fast retrieves and that reels with a fast retrieve ratio were best. Even though he had rods and reels for me, which included St. Croix medium action Avids, I brought along one of the “new” Shimano Symetre 2500 reels I had been itching to use. Steve also mentioned some of his favorite presentations, so I brought Kalin’s Grubs, Super Fluke Juniors, Heddon Tiny Torpedos, Booyah Pond Magic Buzz Baits and XCalibur XR50 rattlebaits. And, over the next two and a half hours, I caught fish on each style of lure but, no peacocks. I only got a bunch of small, largemouth bass. How could I complain, though? I was out of the Wisconsin cold and kayak fishing beautiful canals ringed by some very impressive homes.

Peacock

Bill with 18” Peacock

Around noontime the sun began to peak through the clouds and from across the canal, Steve motioned me to come over. We had our picture fish, but it was only an 11” peacock. I was hoping for something a little bigger. Steve caught the little guy on a Super Fluke Junior. We continued to fish, talk and enjoy the increasing sunshine, when Steve hooked into a nicer peacock on a topwater lure. After a short fight, I had a picture of him with a nice 15” bass. I also had a couple of monster hits that had to have been peacocks - unfortunately, no hook-ups.

Steve

Bill with BIG Largemouth

We planned to be off the water by 3:30 p.m. and were at the last spot Steve wanted to hit. It was around a small bridge over the canal. Just as we paddled under the bridge, I cast a nose-hooked Super Fluke Junior, gave a couple of quick twitches when I had a hit that felt like a freight train. It was obviously a nice peacock and what a great fight. I had my peacock bass, and it was a beauty at 18”. I can’t remember too many 18” smallies hitting that hard, and the fight was just as hard as I’d been told it would be.

It was a superb day: six hours on this beautiful system of canals and small lakes, a bunch of smaller largemouth, a great 18” Peacock and a diversion from the Wisconsin winter. Steve told me that on a normal day, without the week of cold weather, we would have caught quite a few peacocks.

steve

Steve with Mayan Cichlid

As I was getting ready to head back across Alligator Alley, I told Steve that I couldn’t wait to get back. Little did I know I was going to be back on the water with Steve in seven weeks. I returned to south Florida at the end of March for work. So, on Sunday, March 29, Steve and I hit the same system of canals and small lakes we fished on Feb. 8th. This time, the weather leading up to the day had been seasonably warm. We were on the water by 9:30 a.m. and caught quite a few smaller largemouth bass and one peacock by noon. We were hoping for the sun to join us, but a weather system gave us only a few peaks. As Steve told me in February, having the sun is what we need for the peacocks to become more active.

Just after noon, Steve caught a nice 14” peacock. About 20 minutes later the excitement level jumped as I caught my first peacock on a Smithwick Devil’s Horse. We were near a bridge, and I was throwing this topwater, hoping for some active fish. On my third cast I was twitching and retrieving it very fast, when something huge exploded on it. I had something really big on the end of the line. After a few seconds the largest largemouth I had every seen “in-person” flew a foot out of the water and spit the Devil’s Horse. My heart sank, and I yelled to Steve that I just lost the biggest largemouth I’d ever seen.

steve

Bill with 4 pound Largemouth

Dejectedly, I paddled over to Steave. After we talked for a few minutes, I decided to try a lure that has worked great for me with both smallies and largemouth since I first tied it on two years ago. Using a St. Croix 6’6” medium light Avid spinning rod, I tied on a Gopher Tackle mushroom head jig with a 5” Kalin’s Lunker Grub in blue pearl/salt and pepper. This grub is designed to be fished slowly producing the maximum vibration from the long, wispy tail. I thought after the fish hit something fast and erratic, this would be my best shot. On my third cast to the same location, the monster hit. I couldn’t believe it hit again, and I couldn’t believe the fight. By this time, Steve was paddling over and I could only hang on as the 10/4 Fireline Crystal was being ripped from the Bass Pro Johnny Morris Signature Series 1000 spinning reel. After a couple minutes of heart-pounding exhilaration, I grabbed the monster largemouth. Steve and I sounded like Mike Iaconelli during a bass tournament. We didn’t measure the fish, but I think you can see from the picture how big it was. What thrill, and needless to say, this was my biggest largemouth ever!

We continued to fish until about 3:00 p.m., when I had to leave for a work assignment. Due to the cloud cover, we didn’t catch any more peacocks, but continued catching largemouth bass, including a couple of four-pounders and a few exotic Mayan Cichlids. I kept the Kalin’s Lunker grub on one of my two rods, and it continued to be what the largemouth wanted. 

steve with fish

Bill with male Peacock

The next day, I had a number of work-related meetings, but planned on doing some shore fishing in the afternoon. As we were loading the kayaks Sunday, Steve told me he had the next day off and asked if I’d like to fish with him in the afternoon. Obviously, he didn’t have to ask twice. We hit the water at about 1:30 p.m. with the sun shining bright, and this time found the peacocks much more hospitable. Over the next 3 hours, we caught 15 to 20 peacocks, all in the 13’ to 15” range, along with another 20 largemouth. We found the peacocks close to shore and many times in or near the hydrilla. Having caught thousands of smallies, I can say that these fish hit and fight a little harder. Although, as Steve told me, they don’t have the endurance of a smallie. These lake peacocks remind me of river smallies that always seem to fight “bigger” than they are.

another fish

Bill with nice 15” Peacock

On this day, the lure of choice was a nose or weedless hooked Zoom Super Fluke Jr. in a light color like albino. If you’ve ever seen Amazon peacock bass fishing on one of the fishing shows, you know how fast a lure has to be retrieved. Steve told me that I had to retrieve the Fluke very fast, with a quick twitching motion. This was faster than I’d ever fished this style of lure, but it worked. They wanted it fast. The largemouth weren’t as picky and hit a variety of presentations. After this second road trip for Florida butterfly peacock bass and largemouth, I want to go back. Catching peacocks is fabulous, and the “big” largemouth was a great bonus.

 

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