“Suddenly, a massive geyser of water exploded not 10 meters from my rod-tip, startling me just in time to avoid having my rod ripped from my hands! The plaintive whine of my overwhelmed drag and the rapidly moving wake heading toward the nearby flooded jungle made it clear that a big peacock bass had decided to go one-on-one with me – and he was winning!” … This is pretty much how all stories about peacock bass begin – and none of it is hyperbole. Anyone who has been privileged to experience the attack and fight of a giant peacock knows that the description is uncannily accurate. This fish has properly earned its reputation.
If you’re a truly addicted fisherman, then this beast is already on your “must catch” list, so we won’t try to extol its sporting virtues further. Rather, we’d like to present a compendium of key pieces of basic information that will start you off on the path to learning “everything you need to know to go peacock bass fishing in the Amazon”. Nothing about the Amazon is as simple as it appears at first glance, but with a little explanation, the pieces fall into place. In fishing, knowledge is power. Lets start gaining power by examining “what exactly is a peacock bass?”
First off, it’s not a bass, it’s a Cichlid; a family of highly evolved and specialized fishes particularly prominent in Africa and South America. They have radiated to fill all manner of ecological niches, including the role of one of the world’s fiercest and largest freshwater predators, the giant peacock bass. There are currently 15 different species of peacock bass (Genus: Cichla) recognized, but there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation and misidentification regarding the taxonomy of these fishes within the genus. Be careful, only one species is the target of trophy anglers! Although all are relatively large, diurnal predators and all are commonly known as peacock bass, only Cichla temensis, achieves the enormous size and delivers the spine-tingling power that so much has been written about. This is the first piece of critical information for prospective anglers; Know precisely what fish you’re after.
Reaching up to 30 pounds, Cichla temensis are the largest of the peacock bass species, attaining nearly double the maximum size of any of the other species. Their violent surface attacks and almost psychotically aggressive behavior make them the most exciting of all as well. Their natural environment of blackwater flood-pulse rivers exists primarily in the Rio Negro, lower Madeira, Rio Branco and Orinoco drainages. The vast bulk of this range lies in Brazil’s enormous state of Amazonas.
Feeding almost entirely on other fish, peacock bass have evolved into one of the most efficient predators in the world. Their speed, strength, size and ferocity enable them to make a meal of almost every other smaller species of fish in the Amazon. Like the largemouth bass, their huge, bucket-mouth can engulf surprisingly large prey, making almost anything smaller than them a good candidate for dinner. Fifteen recognized species are found in the Amazon and elsewhere in South America.
Cichla temensis is called "tucunaré açú or paca" in Brazil. They are very sensitive to water temperature and are essentially restricted to the equatorial tropics of Amazonia. Specimens as large as 29 pounds have been caught by anglers. Unconfirmed reports of commercially caught fish of over 35 pounds have come from the market in Manaus as well. Whether those market reports are accurate or not, there are surely plenty of new records still swimming in the vast, relatively unexplored waters of the Amazon.
Cichla temensis coloring and appearance is widely varied through its range and specimens from the same waters can often appear to be members of different species. All specimens have the trademark tail spot for which they are named, but body color can vary from a dark brownish green through deep yellow to almost silver. When in spawning mode, three black, vertical bars of varying size and intensity mark their sides and blood red runs along their bellies and colors their lower fins. Before or after spawning Cichla temensis individuals’ color and pattern is strikingly different, displaying dotted, horizontal white lines overlaying the pattern on their sides. Individuals in this form are called "paca" (anglers swear that the paca color variants are even stronger and more tenacious than their açú counterpart). A freshly caught spawning peacock's dorsal fins are often colored with an unearthly electric blue. It's hard to believe that a predatory fish as fierce as a peacock can also be so beautiful. For more on Cichla temensis color and pattern variation see; What is a Peacock Bass?
Cichla Orinocensis, the Amazon butterfly peacock, is found in much of the same waters as it's larger cousin with the exception of the southern extent of C. temensis range . These peacocks (called borboleto in Brazil) are differentiated by three black rosettes marking their sides instead of the black bars of C. temensis. Although rarely exceeding 7 or 8 pounds, they are terrific fighters, readily strike many of the same baits and at times can be every bit as aggressive as their larger cousins. (Note - these are not the same transplanted fish found in Florida waters and, confusingly, also called butterfly peacocks - those are yet another species within the genus, from Guyana, Cichla ocellaris).
Meanwhile, a third commonly encountered Amazon species, Cichla Monoculus, (or papoca) is also found in much of the waters occupied by C. temensis and rarely exceeds 4 or 5 pounds.