Fishing for Peacock Bass unfortunately can only be described as an addiction that is unsurpassable by any other freshwater fishing on the planet. Once an angler has seen, felt and experienced the topwater explosion of a giant Cichla temensis or three-barred Peacock Bass, the rest is history!
The only cure for this addiction is to keep coming back time and again to see if normality can come back into your life. Many have failed, like me ........ 18 years on and I’m still at it, trembling at the anticipation of getting smashed by a huge Tucunaré Açu. ‘Açu’ simply means BIG in the Tupi Indian language.
There can be nothing like seeing a big ‘Tuc’ crashing on baitfish the size of fish we normally catch back home, 20lb+ monsters hounding after fish that are often half their own size until finally nailing them. You see the commotion, you cast into the melee and BANG, your lure gets exploded on. A Peacock Bass will strike with more aggression and fight harder than any other freshwater fish you will encounter. He will strip line off your reel so fast in blistering runs, jump so acrobatically and just not give up, even when he’s in the net or on the Boga Grip. He’ll often come to the boat, look at you with those Devil’s red eyes and take off again on another thumb-burning run! This is the fish of every angler’s dreams!
The hard-fighting, aggressive Three Barred Peacock Bass are the toughest and meanest Cichla species found anywhere in the Amazon. These amazing predators grow to over 30lbs and can caught on propbaits, walk-the-dog lures like spooks and skitter walks, poppers and on jigs, flies and minnowbaits. They will smash topwater lures with abandon and there is nothing like the strike of a Peacock exploding on a lure worked across the surface.
THE THREE-BAR PEACOCK BASS
When Peacock Bass lay their eggs, the male will guard this nest while the female circles close by. The couple will make their ‘nest’ in a hollowed-out bowl in the sand or mud anything from 50cms -2m in diameter and lay their eggs on a lump of wood. Eggs will stick to the wood and in a few days hatch out into small alevins. At this stage they are completely defenceless and both parents will guard them with their lives and with such ferocity that it just has to be seen. Any fish or small animal in the near vicinity will get exploded on in an instant by one or both parents.
Once they reach approx. 6 inches long, they are known as Pacas, with horizontal dots and dashed on a dark blue/silver/brown body. Once they leave the parents after a couple of months, at this stage they are build for speed, aggressiveness, feeding and fighting! There is no fish alive in freshwater that will fight harder than a big Paca or Speckled Peacock Bass.
Speckled Peacocks will slowly morph into the full-blown Three-Bar breeding uniform over a period of 2-3 months. 3 vertical bars appear and get stronger, while the dots and dashes disappear until they are in their full spawning mode. Once finished with their young, they will morph back with dots and dashes becoming more visible. And so the cycle continues. A Peacock with both three bars AND dots and dashes is known as a Paca/ Açu. The male Peacock Bass, while in his spawning mode, is a much stockier, chunkier fish and sports a glutinous ‘hump’ on top of his head. This hump is believed to attract firstly a pretty female, followed by producing a pheromone to keep the young staying close by. The female is much sleeker and does not have this same hump.
In a spawning pair, the male will generally always be at least 20% bigger than the female and if you catch a 15lb female from a pair, you can guarantee the male will weigh at least 18-20lbs. At this stage they are completely without any sign of dots and dashes and are perfectly-formed Three Barred Peacock Bass. Adults when not spawning are nearly always on the hunt. They are seen actively feeding on smaller baitfish mainly in the early-mid morning and later on in the afternoon. In the hotter part of the day, they tend to search out cooler water in shade or in deeper parts of the lagoons.
SEASONS AND WATER LEVELS
Many good-sized Peacocks are caught during the ‘dry season’, especially in October, November, December, January and February. Although the water is often still higher in August and September in the Negro Basin due to the annual floods, water levels are dropping, stimulating fish to feed heavily. Baitfish can sense the lowering levels and come out of the flooded jungle and into the river system and lagoons. Peacocks follow their food source and this can be a really productive time with many big fish being caught.
Once the levels are back within the banks of the main rivers, the fishing remains stable. Plenty of fish can be caught on top water lures and when the fishing slows, jigs and mid-water fair work well.
It can rain even during the ‘dry season’ as this is fishing within rainforests, but generally it stays dry and hot. A sudden long burst of tropical rains will cool off both the temperature and the fishing for a while. Rising levels tend to put fish down and dropping levels signals the fish to start feeding in earnest.
We suggest the following gear for our Peacock Bass trips:
RODS AND REELS
Medium-Heavy and Heavy 6’6”-7’6” bait casting or spinning rods with 200 and 300 model ‘Curado-type’ baitcasting or 2500-4000 model spinning reels with capacity of min. 120m of 50-80lb braid. These outfits will handle casting and using the bigger Rippers and other propbaits, saltwater Spooks and subsurface lures like larger minnowbaits and jerkbaits. A M/H outfit can also be used for jig fishing.
Medium or Medium/Light 6’6”-7’6” spinning rod matched spinning reel with capacity for min.120m of 30lb braid. This much lighter outfit will give your arms and wrists a rest and will allow you to easily use jigs and smaller minnow baits.
For fly fishermen, 7-9 wt fly rods should be matched with good, smooth drag system reels and loaded with a tropical, fast-sinking 300-400 grain, tropical intermediate and tropical floating fly lines, all with at least 100m of 30lb backing. 1.5m-2m of 30-50lb straight nylon tied directly to the fly line can be used for leaders. We advise a good pair of stripping gloves unless you want another lifeline burnt into your palm!!
*Always bring spare line and a multi-tool.
Prop baits like the 4.25”-6.25” Caribe Pavon Props, K Lures Props and 4-6” Highroller Riprollers can be ripped across the surface in a steady cadence, ‘rip, pause, rip, pause’, all the way back to the boat.
Medium and saltwater Super Spooks and other small-medium cigar-shaped stick baits like Rapala X Walks are used with a walk-the-dog, side to side, swishing action that ‘sways’ the lure like a snake across the water. This is a more subtle, quieter lure used when Peacocks are being less aggressive
Medium-sized Poppers can also work well and if used properly, they catch a good number of big fish. They should spit and gurgle and spray water in front, rather than ‘bloob’ or ‘pop’ and the best we have found is the Skitter Pop or the Saltwater Chug Bug skimmed along the surface or quickly popped.
Small minnow baits and crank baits will always work well in most situations and our choices are shallow running 4-6” Rapala X Raps, X Rap Sub Walk, Rattle Traps, Cotton Cordell Redfins and Yozuri Crystal minnows and Tobimarus.
Bucktail jigs like the Stevie Stinger or similar, with extended tails are the #1 lure for the Amazon. The top-producing colors are Red and Yellow/black tail, Red and White/red tail, Black and White/black tail, Firetiger/black tail and Green and White/green tail. They are cast and fast-stripped back to the boat (not jigged on the bottom) and they can also be troll-jigged on the way back out of a long lagoon. Jigs are the most productive weapons in any tackle box for Peacock Bass and our #1 go-to lure. Anglers can boat over 200 fish in a day using jigs and flies.
Flies used for Peacock Bass in general are tied on 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0 and even 5/0 fly hooks for in 4-8” long-profile streamer patterns with lots of flash, like Deceivers, Whistlers etc. or even popper-type surface flies that provide plenty of noise and action, like Waller Pearly Poppers, Big Boy Trevally Poppers to create some spectacular surface explosions.
With two anglers fly fishing at one time, they can cover plenty of water and double takes at any given time are not uncommon. Sometimes an angler will hook up on a smaller Butterfly or Borbaleta Peacock, only to have it chased by a huge three-barred Peacock and the other angler should cast at this fish as it can often result in an instant hook-up.
Whether fishing in the river or a lagoon, anglers should always listen to their guide. He can see fish from a lower angle than a standing fisherman and if he says cast there, then the angler should cast there!
Usually a fast strip is used on streamer flies and a series of gentle, constant ‘spits’ for surface flies. Don’t waste too much time on over-elaborate fly patterns as Piranhas will eat plenty!! Go simple!
If you ask any veteran Peacock Bass angler about fishing for Peacocks, he’ll tell you about their topwater strikes and how strong they are and where to find these incredible predators and what baits to use. He’ll describe just how aggressive they really are and how they will chase and attack any baitfish or lure in their ‘zone’ just because it’s there, whether they are hungry or not! They just want to kill it.
Structure is the key word in most of our fishing tactics. This can mean drop-offs, points, stand-ups, rocks, lay-downs, blow-downs, tree stumps, tree clumps, beaches, the list goes on. In a bland stretch of lagoon or river and you come across a solitary tree or stick, you will usually find a crowded house of fish around it. Throw that lure past the structure, reel in and hang on to your hat.
Peacock Bass are extremely territorial and protective towards their young fry. And if you’re lucky to come across ‘dimpling’, like little insects on the surface of a quiet, mirror-glass smooth lagoon, then you might be surprised to find it is a cluster of fry (called a fry ball) with two very aggressive parents underneath, guarding them diligently. A cast past the fry ball and the lure ripped back through it nearly always produce a result that not many people have witnessed. You know that as soon as your lure is anywhere near this fry ball, all hell will be let loose! One of the parents will try and annihilate the bait for sure. If you can imagine a concrete block dropped into the water from a great height, then you’re getting close to the sound made!
Generally, a Peacock’s choice of baitfish is large, sometimes over half their own length. Peacocks can chase a shoal of these fish into a corner, against trees or other structure or even up a sandy beach, only to pick them off one by one as they fall back into the river.