Summer 2013

Peacock Bass in Miami Offer A Bit Of The Amazon

Article by Cash Lambert

Photo of angler Steve McDonald holding a peacock bass
Steve McDonald shows off a colorful peacock bass caught in a canal behind a Miami warehouse. (Cash Lambert photo)

Trolling in the heart of Miami, Steve McDonald waits for a bite. His target is a rare fish known for its bright colors, a fish that in the U.S. can only be found in this huge canal system.

“Everyone always comments on its vibrant yellows, reds, and greens,” McDonald said. “That’s why this fish is a novelty.”

Suddenly the braided line dances and the mortgage-broker turned guide reels in a violently thrashing butterfly peacock bass. Native to South America’s Amazon River, the butterfly peacock bass were intentionally introduced into South Florida in 1984. The butterfly peacock fishery now extends through 330 miles of canals in Dade and Broward counties and is self-sustaining.

“South Florida had canals that were inundated with tropical fish that residents tossed out, and the water system grew disproportionately,” said Larry Larsen, President and Executive Director of the Peacock Bass Association. “There weren’t predators for the larger fish, so the state of Florida introduced butterfly peacock in a one-year experiment to establish a fishery.”

Photo of a Peacock Bass

For the past two decades, this one-year experiment has been a craze for fishermen and a profit for fishing guides, including McDonald, who runs Bassmaster Guide Services Inc.

“It’s a big excitement watching them hit the bait,” McDonald said. “There’s no other fish that takes the bait – and I’ve seen tarpon, big snook – they’ve got nothing on the peacock.”

According to McDonald, the fishery is year-round but March through August is the best time of year. The daily limit is two per person with only one over 17 inches. Oh, and peacocks are good eating.

“The meat is white, flakey, and as good to eat as any saltwater fish,” McDonald said. “I’d compare it to eating snapper.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the largest butterfly peacock caught in South Florida is 9.08 pounds. The current International Game and Fish Association (IGFA) all-tackle world record is 12.6 pounds, caught in Venezuela.

Many of the larger peacock species reside in the Amazon, where McDonald bi-annually travels with customers to catch peacock that can be up to 40 inches and 30 pounds.

“If you want to experience peacock fishing, and you don’t want to spend $5,000 traveling to the Amazon, you can do it here in South Florida,” he said. “And eat American food while doing it.”