Peacock Bass Tactics
How do I catch peacock bass? — Well, first, you have to get at them. To the peacock bass novice, every inch of the Amazon looks like it holds fish. But, ever-changing conditions, such as water level, temperature, oxygen, food availability and spawning cycles all impact where peacocks can actually be caught. Too much water ... baitfish (and the peacocks right behind them) will simply go into the jungle ... we just can't catch peacocks there. Too little water ... they'll head for the river channel ... it's pretty tough to catch them here also. But, as water levels drop just below the river's banks, peacocks become concentrated in back waters, lagoons and riverbank structure ... we love to fish for them here. This is the outfitter's single most important function; to know where peacocks can be found in water where they can be caught; and to take anglers there.
That being said, let's assume you've made it to the holy grail of peacock bass fishing ... optimal water levels. And you’ve got a box full of killer baits to load onto your ready-to-cast rods. Now, you just have to get them on a hook. Peacocks make it interesting because there are two ways to do that ... get them to eat your bait ... or get them to kill your bait.
Presenting an edible bait
In Lagoons - The majority of peacocks are caught in lagoons. The interiors of lagoons provide sheltered feeding and breeding areas for both peacocks and the forage fish that make up their diet. Like largemouth bass, peacocks usually relate to 'structure' near shorelines.
Woody Structure - As a result of the constant cycle of rising and falling waters, lagoon banks are lined with fallen, dead trees, forming dense heavy structure along the shorelines. Fallen logs, points and sand bars are where many peacocks lurk. Therefore, much of an angler's time is spent fishing this type of structure. Both propeller type surface lures and walking sticks are very effective here when cast in toward shore between trees, logs and extending deadfall. When placed close against structure they often elicit immediate strikes. Fish will also follow them out from cover and strike them in open water. Similarly, jigs and spoons are very effective when cast into the base of standing timber or near fallen trees and retrieved parallel to trunks and branches. Peacocks will often trail these lures right up to the boat, sometimes striking as the angler begins to lift the lure out of the water.
Points - Peacocks love points. Points create an underwater ridge, with deeper water on either side. Have a rod with a surface lure and another loaded with a subsurface bait ready as you approach. Wait until you're close enough to cast ten feet or so past and perpendicular to the ridge, into the deeper water, and then work the surface lure over the top of the ridge. Be ready. Most points of this type will hold fish. If the surface lure doesn't produce, use a subsurface bait and probe the deeper water on both sides, casting toward shore and parallel to the ridge.
Feeding peacocks - During the course of a fishing day, anglers may encounter feeding peacocks moving into open lagoon water in small schools behind baitfish, sometimes bursting into feeding frenzies. These are great opportunities, especially for big fish. Baitfish fleeing, skipping across the surface, or over large disturbances in open water are good indicators. Don't pass up the opportunity to cast a lure into the fray. Drop it right in front of the baitfish, in the peacock's path. If you place it well, it will usually be taken immediately. Set the hook and hang on. Feeding peacocks are greedy and highly competitive when schooling. Another peacock will almost always be close by, attracted by the commotion. Cast near a hooked fish (unless your partner is onto a giant; then politely reel in and get out of the way).
Peacocks will sometimes use lagoon banks and beaches to drive baitfish onto the shore and then pick them off as they flop back into the water. If you see this, throw anything onto the bank and drag it into the water. Peacocks will usually grab the closest object in the melee.
When foraging fish are visible in water of less than a meter or so, they can be somewhat skittish, but a well placed lure can produce. Cast just beyond the fish and perpendicular to their line of travel, retrieving quickly enough to pass their line of sight a bit ahead of them. When it's spotted, the hair-raising sight of several big, hungry peacocks racing for your lure will thrill even the most jaded angler. Hang on, wait for the winner to get there and when the line goes tight, lean back and set the hook.
In the River - During periods of hot, dry weather and low water, conditions may encourage peacocks to move into the cooler and more oxygenated water of the river. In these conditions, anglers can pursue peacock bass in and around lagoon mouths, rock piles, bushes, sand bars, points, and log jams. This can add another dimension to the angling experience.
Logs, deadfall, and cuts will often hold peacocks, especially in backflows or still sections. Fish this structure just as though it were in a lagoon, making compensation for the effects of any discernible current. The outer points at the mouths of lagoons are often particularly attractive to fish because of their transitional nature, interfacing the flowing water of the river with the still waters of the lagoon.
Although not common in Amazon rivers, rocks, compressed clay or dirt slide piles are peacock bass magnets. When available, peacocks will consistently congregate tight to this structure. Surface lures can be retrieved parallel to the structure or maneuvered through openings and between rocks. Subsurface lures can be run deep around the base of rocks. But jigs are the bait of choice. Bounce them off a rock and let them drop in, then start ripping them back. Work them along an edge and probe crevices and overhangs. The speed of acceleration is the key to this lure's effectiveness. In clear water, peacocks can be seen flashing out of crevices, stopping dead behind a jig slowing down between rips, and then slamming it as the angler rips it again. If the jig doesn't move away quickly enough, anglers can watch the same peacock flash back into the rocks, rejecting the lure.
Fast Water - The first time I encountered peacocks in open, fast water, I was truly surprised. It didn't seem like the sort of place where I would find a fish that I strongly associated with still water lagoons and structure. I was fishing a narrow tributary. The boat was tied onto a fallen tree extending into the water just below a stretch of fast water, that for Amazonia could almost be called rapids. The river narrowed here and formed a deep, fast chute just upstream of my location. After some experimenting and positioning, I settled into a groove that allowed me to cast upstream into the chute and rapidly retrieve my lure downstream through the fast water. The bucktail jig proved to be the most effective tool here, although a spoon produced also. To my amazement, I caught a fish on almost every single cast. Over twenty-five fish came out of this one little chute, before the action even began to slow down. Most of the fish ranged between 2 and 4 pounds, with several just under ten pounds. This was a blast!
Since that experience, I make it a point to probe any fast water I encounter. Peacocks seem to behave differently in fast water. Although they may strike less intensely and make less violent runs, they seem to last longer and run farther in the moving water. The effect of the current adds changes to the character of the fight.
Sandy beaches occur on the outside bank of curves and along the edges of shallow stretches of river. The rainy season's high waters cut scalloped forms into the expanses of white sand. Fisherman can exploit the steep edges between these ribs of sand. Subsurface lures produce well here. You can even cast a "Woodchopper" perpendicular to the ribs and sometimes get a violent but pleasant surprise.
Always keep an eye open for water sources entering the river, no matter how insignificant. Casting well up into the mouths of entering streams will often produce strikes from fish holding right at the point where inflowing water blends with the river. Smaller brooks and streamlets may often hold fish right at the river shoreline.
Presenting a killable bait
There is just nothing more exciting in the realm of freshwater fishing than to catch Cichla temensis by “pissing them off” and that is best done just before and just after they spawn. Peacocks are very difficult to catch while they have eggs or non-swimming fry on the nest. They're just too busy doing their parenting jobs to pay you any attention. Luckily that period only lasts 4 or 5 days and pairs don't all spawn at the same time. Just before this period, however, is when an angler's wildest fishing fantasies can come true. Peacocks are violently protective of their nesting site before they spawn. They are staking out their turf and attracting and courting mates and will brook no interference from a presumptuous plug. Rip a big propeller lure past them and they will simply attempt to dismember it with a single explosive strike.
What could be more exciting than pre-spawn fish? ... Baby-sitting fish! Once the fry have become free swimming, their parents will leave the nesting area and guard them as they feed on microscopic organisms in open, sunlit water. The parents cease hunting for food during this period, but ceaselessly and diligently guard their babies against predators. Place a lure into a school of peacock fry and papa will immediately and violently teach it a lesson that it (and you) won't soon forget. This a strike born of vehement aggression that no other fish can duplicate.