Fighting Peacock Bass
We've prepared well, we've got the right tackle and lures, we're fishing in the right spots and using the proper tactics and techniques. We've done everything to allow us to be winners at the "numbers game" of fishing. What do we do when the ferocious monsters actually show up to fight?
The Strike - It isn't possible to say enough about the peacock bass' powerful strikes. Surface strikes can sound like a pig doing a belly-whopper into the water, while subsurface strikes can can feel as though they are trying to rip your arm off. Most of the time they result in a hookup. What do you do when they just plain miss or blast the lure six feet into the air and when they get shy and strike short or just swirl at a lure? Give them another chance. When they miss, don't panic, keep the lure moving properly all the way to the boat. Cast it back and try again. Often switching to a subsurface lure will generate a solid strike immediately after a fish misses a topwater. When a peacock blasts a lure up into the air, be ready, they will often grab it and take off running when it hits the water. When peacocks don't make commited strikes, work harder to entice them. Speed up the lure, move it more erratically. Convince the scaled bully on the other end that his quarry is frightened or wounded and he will likely strike again, harder. Anglers will increase their percentage of hookups by keeping their heads during the strike.
The Hookset - Peacocks have powerful jaws and bony mouths, lined with rows of small raspy teeth. It takes a hard, solid effort to drive a hook into their mouth. Peacocks will close their jaws around a lure, grabbing it and swimming away. Let the line go tight and then put your strength into the hookset. Single hooks with wide gaps such as jigs or Johnson's spoons penetrate more easily than trebles, and usually set solidly with the first effort. Lures with treble hooks are harder to set securely and will often benefit from a second effort when the line is good and tight. The best way to assure a good hookset is to constantly sharpen your hooks. Carry a small file or hook sharpener and use it often.
The First Run - The key to surviving the first run is to have a properly set drag. A ten pound peacock will easily break 30 pound test if the drag is set too tight. Anglers should be readily able to strip line off their reels by hand, with less than 1/3 the force necessary to break the line. If the fish is near cover, put your rod tip in the water and try to sweep the fish toward open water by using your body, your arms, your wrists and the arc of the rod to give the fish a direction toward which it can move more easily. (It doesn't always work and peacocks often reach cover in spite of the anglers best efforts.) Once you have a solid hook-up and a fish in open water, let him run. Keep the line tight and use the rod to tire the fish. They often jump and rattle their gills in an effort to throw the hook. Point your rod at the fish while it's in the air and hope that your hookset holds. A well set drag will get you through the pounding, head shaking histrionics that peacocks perform with their full power at their command.
The Rest of the Fight - Make it through the first run of a big peacock and you've got a great shot at landing a trophy. When they come to a halt, anglers can begin to reclaim line and bring the fish closer. Continue to guide the fish away from structure and toward open water and be prepared for the next run. As you reel in, peacocks will often eyeball their adversary while they recover their strength. They will almost always take off again with renewed strength once they get close to the boat. Don't get complacent. They still have enough strength to straighten hooks and snap the line. Don't "horse" them, let them get tired bending your rod and taking line against the drag. Be patient and work them back toward the boat.
Netting - If you're fishing with a guide, he will almost always do the netting for you. He knows that it's bad practice to let the fish see the net or to touch it with the rim before it's securely netted. Help him. Get a tired fish to lie on the surface and skate it toward the net using your rod. Leave enough line to move the fish close to the net, making it easier for the guide to dip the net below the fish, sweeping it up to assure its capture. It's your trophy after all.
Doubleheaders - Peacock bass are extremely competitve predators. Sometimes several may spot a lure at the same time and race for it. (The smaller, quicker peacocks will often win the race to a lure.) They will frequently try to grab a lure from each other, literally fighting over it. (The bigger fish usually win these battles.) When two anglers are fishing together and one hooks up, it's a good tactic for the second angler to cast a subsurface lure toward the hooked fish. There is very often a competitor following the first fish who may be perfectly happy to settle for the second angler's offering. Sometimes it may even be the big fish that lost the race. Doubleheaders are great fun.
An important caution here is to remember to use both common sense and courtesy. When your partner is playing a fish, he's busy and not thinking about you. It's your responsibility to be careful. Give him space. Don't cast over his line or otherwise interfere with his fish. If your partner hooks up to an obviously large fish, don't cast at all. The last thing anyone would want to do is cost his fishing partner a trophy. Get your line out of the water, stay out of your partners way and offer words of encouragement. You can both enjoy the thrill of a trophy peacock coming to the boat.
Catch and Release - Wow! It's huge and it's amazingly beautiful. Admire it, but please do it fast. Let the guide hold it for you or use a Bogagrip and hold it yourself. Get your pictures, weights and measurements and get the fish back into the water as soon as possible. A tired peacock has just been stressed to an extreme and it needs your help to survive the experience. Hold it firmly and safely while it's in the boat, avoiding contact with its skin and slime coat as much as possible. Even though it's tired, a big peacock can be surprisingly hard to hold and a quick jerk of its powerful body can send it crashing to the floor of the boat. The Bogagrip, a great tool to simultaneously weigh and hold a fish without damaging it, is the perfect way to prevent injury to the fish. Peacock's have very sharp, raspy teeth that will readily scrape the fingerprints off bare skin. They have sharp gill plates and sensitive gills. They won't relax and cannot be lipped like a largemouth. Let your guide show you how to hold them to minimize the stress and damage to these beautiful creatures.
When releasing peacocks, hold on for a moment until you can feel the fish in control of its body. If it's rolling belly up, you'll need to hold it while moving it forward in the water (try a figure 8 pattern) and letting the water work through its gills. You'll know when it's ready to leave by the strong, quick thrusts of its tail. Keep an eye out for nosy dolphins, they'll often try to grab a freshly released peacock before it has fully gathered its wits.
This fantastic fishery can thrill and excite anglers forever if we all cooperate to keep it healthy. As vast as the Amazon is, we must all remember that its resources are still finite. When you get home, take your pictures and measurements and head off to a taxidermist. Ask him to make you a replica. The price is the same as for a skin mount and the resulting trophy lasts longer and usually looks better. And you can feel good knowing that your trophy is still swimming, hunting and reproducing, maybe to thrill another angler in the future. Treat these fisheries like the fragile ecosystems that they are and perhaps we'll all get to take our children fishing here too.