Of all the incredible gamefish in the Amazon basin, the one that has received the most press is the peacock bass. Their remarkable, explosive topwater strike, combined with an astonishing ability to break heavy lines and leaders and straighten even stout saltwater hooks, makes them one of the most sought after species in the Amazon basin.
Peacock bass are not bass, but comprise a genus within the family Cichlidae. (For that matter neither are the largemouth and smallmouth bass, Micopterus Sp., found in North American waters, they're actually sunfish.) Cichlids are a diverse family of tropical fishes found primarily throughout Africa, South America and southern Asia.
Although all peacock bass species are highly temperature sensitive fish, some have been successfully introduced in tropical areas from Panama to Hawaii. The latest transplants (C. ocellaris) are happily swimming in many of the major freshwater canals in Dade County, Florida. However, no permanent populations of the giant species, C. temensis have ever been successfully transplanted outside of the Amazon basin and Lake Guri. If you want a trophy-sized opponent, they're still all waiting in the Amazon
Until recently scientists recognized only five species of peacock bass, C. temensis, C. ocellaris, C. monoculus, C. orinocensis and C. intermedia. A recent rediscription of the genus now includes 15 named species with the possibility of other species yet to be described (although there is still debate on this topic). All species are called tucunaré in Brazil, while most Spanish speaking South American countries use the term pavón.
Morphology: Although including a range of wildly differing species, Cichlids share several unique physical characteristics. All have only one nostril on each side of the head, not two, and they have both a spiny, and a soft, dorsal fin.
Behavior: Cichlids show some of the most complex and highly evolved behavior patterns of all fishes. Because of the family's diversity, it is difficult to ascribe characteristics to all members of the group. However, many generalities effectively apply to the majority of species. Cichlids are among the intellectuals of fishes. They are highly intelligent and it has been shown by scientists that cichlids can learn. (The way they sometimes tear up my gear, I'd swear they knew who I was and had passed the word among themselves.) Cichlids are generally very aggressive and pugnacious. They are often extremely territorial.
Reproduction: One generalization that can be made about New World Cichlids (in contrast to African Cichlids) is that they are all substrate spawners. Although several species may guard eggs or young (i.e. the Convict Cichlid) in their mouths at some time during the brooding cycle, none are true mouthbreeders. Some (notably the famous aquarium discus) provide nourishment for the young directly from their bodies.
A World-Class Fighter
The peacock bass' explosive strikes and spectacular fighting prowess serve to rank it among the greatest fighting fish in the world. Even big specimens, like this 17-pounder, don't hesitate to go airborne. Bringing big, powerful fish like these to the boat in the tight quarters in which they are usually found is a great challenge for any angler.