Archive for May, 2009

What is a Peacock Bass?

May 27, 2009

This sounds like such a simple question that it shouldn’t merit more than a sentence or two for an answer.  Ah, but it’s far more complex than it seems.  Depending on your interest, there’s a whole array of answers; a general answer, an aquarist’s answer, a scientist’s answer and an angler’s answer.  Since this is a fisherman’s forum, it’s the angler’s answer we want to get to.  In order to address it in its full context, we’ll take a look at all the information and drill down to what’s important to the angler.

Trophy peacock bass

Trophy peacock bass

In this post we’ll begin with a general overview of the genus Cichla. This will let us define what fishes we’re actually referring to when we use the term “peacock bass”.  First of all, the common term “bass” is not a particularly appropriate descriptor.  Taxonomically, it’s a Cichlid.  Within the family Cichlidae, the genus Cichla is comprised of fifteen different Neotropical species.  Scientists Sven Kullander and Ephraim Ferreira recently published a paper expanding the described members of the genus from the group of five originally recognized species.  (For more information about peacock bass classification, see;  All fifteen species share certain similarities.  They are relatively large, diurnal (active in daylight) predators and they are primarily piscivorous (fish eaters).  All are commonly known as ‘Peacock Bass’ in English, ‘Tucunaré’ in Brazil and ‘Pavon’ in Spanish speaking countries. They are of significant commercial importance in Amazonia, both as a sportfish and for human consumption.

In an overview, all of the species appear to be quite similar.  This has caused much confusion and misperception, especially among novice peacock bass anglers.  It’s when we start looking at their habitat, behavior and life history individually that significant differences become apparent between the species.  Some live in roiling fast water.  Some live in meandering flood pulse river systems.  Some are pursuit feeders and some opportunistic. Some readily attack on the surface while others rarely do.  Some average a pound or two while others can exceed twenty five pounds. These differences are all-important from the angler’s point of view.  Although all of them can be fun to catch, only one species in particular has earned the reputation of the world’s most powerful and challenging freshwater gamefish.  Cichla temensis, known as the three-barred, speckled, or giant peacock bass is the largest, most powerful and most aggressive of all the species and frankly, the only one worth traveling in pursuit of.  With fourteen other, very different animals sharing the same common name, it’s easy to see why the reputation of Cichla temensis has been victimized by confusion with other species.

The true trophy peacock bass is not found outside of the Amazon basin.  You can’t fish for them in Florida or Hawaii or Panama because they simply aren’t there. Cichla temensis’ natural range consists primarily of blackwater flood pulse rivers with extremely variable seasonal environments in South America’s Amazon regions.  The species occurs naturally in Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia.  They are native to the Rio Negro, Rio Branco and lower Rio Madeira basins in Brazil and in the Orinoco and upper Rio Negro drainages in Venezuela and Columbia.  Populations are also recorded in several blackwater tributaries of the Rio Solimoes and Rio Amazonas.  Unlike some of its smaller cousins, efforts to introduce C. temensis into other regions have mostly failed, probably because of a greater sensitivity to cold or variable temperatures.  The only notable exception has been Lake Guri in Venezuela.  Other, smaller Cichla species however, have been successfully introduced into more accessible regions, such as several lakes and reservoirs in Brazil, Panama, Hawaii and the canals of South Florida.  It is these species that anglers commonly encounter on vacations and it is the misunderstanding that these are the same as true trophy peacocks that has fostered the confusion and misinformation that plagues the peacock bass fishing domain.

So if not every peacock bass is Cichla temensis, what is Cichla temensis?  The species that commands angler’s adulation is big, averaging 5 lbs. or more (depending on the river) with 15 lb. trophies common and with hulking monsters over 25 lbs. lurking in the waters.  They are primarily piscivorous feeders and are pursuit hunters.  That means their target is fish and once they decide something is food, they’ll run it down halfway across a lagoon if they have to.  And, unlike most of the smaller species, they aggressively strike lures on the surface, violently and with abandon, hence Larry Larsen’s famous description of “Peacock Bass Explosions”.  This is probably the most exciting predatory attack of any sportfish in the world.  Frankly, no other fish compares, anywhere.

peacock bass habitat

peacock bass habitat

Amazon peacocks live in the most pristine and exotic habitats on earth.  Jungle lined-blackwater rivers, hidden lagoons and white-sand scalloped beaches are just some of the spectacular settings in their native environment.  The alien-appearing, isolated still waters lend a counterpoint to their sudden, violent and explosive attacks.  And, there are lots of other fish, ranging from acrobatic aruana to hulking giant catfish.  Even if there were no fish at all, the Amazon environment alone creates a hauntingly beautiful experience.

They have adapted to a unique ecosystem.  The central Amazon basin experiences a yearly water level pulsation, akin to a gigantic tide.  With water levels rising and falling from 30 to 40 feet during each year, these fisheries undergo astounding changes.  Amazon peacocks have evolved behaviorally in response to these unique conditions.  They feed, spawn and undergo remarkable physical changes during these cycles.  Most importantly, from a fisherman’s point of view, they become highly concentrated, aggressive, accessible and hungry during the falling water period.  This creates optimal conditions for anglers and coincides, of course, with our fishing season.

We’ll explore some of the other species of peacock bass in future editions of this blog, starting with a comparison of Amazon peacock bass fishing trips and the Florida alternatives.  I think you’ll find it interesting, and if you’re a true fisherman, extremely illuminating.

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Peacock Bass – Fishing, Facts and Conservation

May 9, 2009

For almost 20 years, anglers have recognized the peacock bass as the world’s most exciting freshwater gamefish.  Although much has been learned about the life history and fishing characteristics of this spectacular gamefish by scientists and anglers alike, very little accurate and consistent information is available on the web.  There are two simple explanations for this.  On a small scale, it’s partly the result of the publication of unreviewed and largely incorrect information by unqualified individuals.  On a much larger level, it’s a result of aggressive commercial competition among legitimate agents and operators of peacock bass trips, as well as input from a variety of shady hustlers and wannabees.  All, of course, in pursuit of the angler’s dollar.

Amazon peacock bass

Amazon peacock bass

My purpose for this blog is to try to apply a framework of accuracy, reality and consistency to the amorphous fog of peacock bass information swirling around the internet.  If the web is all about information, it should at least be correct.  Hopefully, such information can help anglers enjoy this wonderful animal and hopefully it can be applied to sorely needed management and conservation efforts.  A little bit of enlightened effort can ensure that the remarkable experience of fishing for peacock bass in one of the world’s few remaining natural wildernesses remains available for future generations.

I’ll try to avoid being commercial, although I’m a principal in a peacock bass fishing operation.  I’ll try to avoid being pedantic, in spite of being a doctoral candidate in the study of, what else, peacock bass.  I’ll try to avoid naming names or pointing out sites with incorrect information about peacock bass.  Instead, I’ll aim high by trying to simply provide real, scientifically valid and factual information.

None of it is secret, most of it is readily available in peer reviewed publications or is evident through simple logical application of established fact.  Nonetheless, I hope it opens some eyes and elicits the occasional “Wow, I didn’t know” that response.  That would be enough to make it worthwhile.  I hope to get underway soon.

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