|John Weimer of Sarasota admires a chunky peacock bass he caught on fly.|
|The author got in on the action, too.|
A little history here. The state of Florida stocked butterfly peacock bass into south Florida waters in 1984. The original stocking was in waters of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Waters anywhere north of that area could be too cold in winter for these tropical cichlids.
Somehow the fish have found their way to Florida's west coast and can be found just 100 miles down Interstate 75 from my home in Sarasota. In just 90 minute, my clients and I can be fly fishing for peacock bass.
I will not reveal the name or location of the lake to protect the fishery.
I have fished the location many times in the past four years. At first, peacock bass were somewhat of a mystery. I didn't catch any on my first trip, but a friend of mine did. Joe Mahler, a fly-fishing guru who resides in Fort Myers, caught a chunky 3-pounder on his famous fly, the Straw Boss.
It took several more trips for me to start figuring out how to catch peacocks.
First trick I discovered was to find peacock bass on nests and sight-fish them. I'd stand up in my NuCanoe Pursuit (www.nucanoe.com) and slowly pole along the shoreline. When I'd spot a peacock on a nest, I'd anchor nearby and cast to the fish. Note that peacocks will hit the fly virtually every time it enters the nest. But hooking them is another matter. They have an uncanny ability to spit your fly out quicker than you can react.
So, it becomes a game of guessing and timing. You almost have to "set" the hook before you see the bass take the fly.
I caught some very nice peacocks with this method.
But peacock bass don't spawn year round. So what do you do when they're not on the nests?
I began "blind casting" along the shoreline with No. 6 Clouser Deep Minnows, using a fairly quick retrieve.
For this fish, I use a 5-weight TFO Finesse rod, floating line and 9-foot (8-pound test) leader.
This method has paid the biggest dividends. I've had several "double-digit' days using it.
My best fly is a No. 6 Clouser in orange and chartreuse. I tied it to resemble a baby peacock bass. The fish are cannibalistic and will often eat their young.
Last trip to the lake was very productive.
John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and I made the trek and did extremely well. We combined to catch 23 peacocks to 4 pounds. However, we didn't catch our first peacock until 12:30 p.m.
Up to that time, we had nine largemouth bass, one bluegill, one shellcracker and two stumpknocker on poppers and on Gibby's Snymph.
The action was much slower than normal. At that point, I pulled out the 5-weight and set up a drifter along a shoreline that had produced peacock bass in the past. I was quickly rewarded. I caught a trio of peacocks, including a pair of 3-pounders in about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, Weimer was casting a tiny Clouser that was producing nothing. I gave him an orange-and-chartreuse Clouser and suggested he give it a try. It wasn't long after that he connected on a solid 4-pounder, the largest peacock bass of his life.
We hit several spots, but really found some fast action at a location that has paid off in the past. I was drifting down the bank when I saw a peacock chasing minnows. I made a quick cast and immediately got a hit. I missed that one, but hooked up on a chunky 2-pounder on the next cast.
After I released that peacock, I began casting again. I noticed some action underneath a nearby tree that was hanging over the water and began to cast around it as I neared. I had the rod nearly jerked out of my hand on a ferocious hit. I was solid into another fat peacock.
I caught and released nine peacocks along that stretch. Weimer also caught a fatty.
The day started slowly, but ended beautifully.
"That's why you have to keep at it," said Weimer, who relocated to Florida from his home state of Oregon. "Your days wn't always start out quickly. But if you keep at it and keep a fly in the water you have a chance."
I love fishing south. I love catching fish that I can't find in local waters. I fish south a lot during the year. And it won't be long before I start fishing along Alligator Alley where I target oscar and Mayan cichlid.
These great fisheries are simple too good -- and productive -- for Sunshine State anglers and others to ignore.