The stories you hear about Peacock Bass are legendary. These amazing fish hit top water lures with such ferocity, it seems impossible to understand. No other sport fish, freshwater or saltwater, attacks a lure as hard or seemingly with such pent-up anger as this species. If your lure is in his ‘zone’ then he will want to kill it or eat it!
Imagine the shape of an American Largemouth Bass on steroids with a jet engine strapped to its back, then you have your Peacock Bass. It will fight, jump, run, take you into submerged trees in a heartbeat, will make you feel so happy at hooking it and then break your heart in seconds!
The sound of a top water strike is like no other and can be so violent, that a big fish can literally snap 80lb braid like cotton. You will not believe how one fish can make so much noise and commotion, like a bomb going off. Often, a Peacock will hone in onto the bait and chase it all the way back. Sometimes it will slap the lure way up in the air with its head or tail, only to constantly explode on it as lands back in the water until it finally hooks up. This is a sight to behold!!
And subsurface strikes are no less impressive. One minute you’re stripping your minnow bait or jig through a likely-looking area and the next your rod is nearly ripped out of your hand by the savage strike. Peacocks are just so aggressive and strong that they will fight like fish twice their size, all the way to the net. If you think the fight is over and the fish is done for as it reaches the boat, then you’d be wrong. It will look at you with its bright red, angry eyes and rip off yet another lightning burst of speed. This is where hooks can easily be straightened and line broken.
Peacock Bass are members of the species Cichla and we fish for many varieties of these beautifully coloured fish in Brazil. In the Rio Negro and Branco watersheds, we target the Giant Speckled or three-Bar (Cichla temensis), Butterfly (Cichla orinocensis) and Popoca (Cichla monoculus) while from the highland mountain river systems of the Guyana Shield are targets are the Yellow Peacock (Cichla ‘travessao’), Green Peacock (Cichla vazzoleri) , the Paru Peacock (Cichla thyrorus) and the Lukanini (Cichla ocellaris).
The largest of them all, the Speckled or three-barred Peacock (Cichla temensis), is found naturally in Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela in the Negro, Branco, Orinoco and Madeira watersheds. It can reach over 30lbs and the current pending record is 29.4lbs caught in the upper Rio Negro. Fish over 36lbs have been speared by local river people for sustenance.
When not in its spawning mode, it is called a Paca and has a longer body than the three bar with white dots and dashes along its purple/blue or brown flanks. At this stage it is built for speed and feeding and puts up an incredible fight for fish of its size.
As it grows larger and gets ready to spawn, its body becomes stubbier with more fat deposits and muscle and morphs slowly with three main black bars showing through. At this stage it is known as a Paca-Acu. A full-blown spawning Cichla temensis will lose all the dots and dashes and will sport three strong black bars down its orange/brown flank, changing into its spawning splendour. At this stage it is known as an Acu. In native Brazilian Indian, this simply means BIG!
When you see a full-blown Acu over 25lbs out of the water, it is truly a sight to behold. For a male, it can often look even larger and meaner with a spawning ‘hump’ or knot on its head. This hump is believed to give off a pheromone which keeps the young fry close to the parent’s head. All temensis have irregular black cheek markings ringed with bright yellow.
The three-barred Peacock is more often found in slow rivers and eddies, at the entrances of and in black water lagoons. Most are structure related and will be tight to cover ready to ambush any unwary baitfish. They often let their presence be seen while crashing after baitfish and exploding on larger specimens.
The Popoca Peacock (Cichla monoculus) can be caught all over the Negro, Branco and Madeira watersheds. It attains an average weight of 5lbs although larger specimens up to 10lbs have been documented. In the Northern Amazonian fisheries, this Peacock is generally darker than its Southern cousin, although just as pretty. It has three shorter bars than the Cichla temensis with a further abdominal bar along its lower flank. It can vary from a bright yellow colour to a dark green hue and in spawning mode, has a red flair around its lower jaw and belly. It’s a shame these beautifully marked fish don’t grow to the giant three-barred proportions as they are the prettiest of them all. All three of these Peacocks can be caught in the Rio Negro and Rio Branco watersheds at the same time.
The ‘Yellow’ or ‘Gold’ Peacock (Cichla ‘travessao’), the ‘Green’ Peacock (Cichla vazzoleri), the ‘Paru’ Peacock (Cichla thyrorus) and the ‘Lukanini’ Peacock (Cichla ocellaris) can be found in the various upper rivers and streams of the upper Guyana Shield Highland and in some of the lower tributaries. These predatory fish live in the islands of boulders mid-stream, at the inlets of streams and amongst trees and structure. They are all very similar although they can reach 18lbs, 15lbs, 13lbs and 10lbs respectively. These fast water Peacocks, pound for pound, must be the hardest- fighting of them all and share their waters with other huge piscatorial predators such as the Giant Black Piranha, Payara, Traiarao, Bicuda, Surubim and some of the other big Cats.
In most of these highland waters, these Peacocks tend to concentrate in smaller areas and will NOT stray too far from their haunts due to the fact that they share the river with the biggest Piranhas on this earth. Piranhas have been caught here to over 8.5lbs!
The Butterfly Peacock (Cichla orinocensis) can be found in the Negro, Branco and Orinoco watersheds. It can reach over 14lbs and but averages at 3-8lbs. It has three distinct ocelli ‘eye’ marking along its flank as well as the usual Peacock marking on the tail, as in all species of Peacocks.
It generally sports a bright green or light brown colour and the fins can be a bright blue. It has no cheek or facial markings although hybrids with Cichla temensis can show these. Even when the other bigger Peacock species seem unwilling to come out and play, these guys will always take your lures.
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