Archive for July, 2009

Fly Fishing for Peacock Bass

July 20, 2009

A basic primer in three parts

Part 1 – A Tactical Overview of Peacock Bass on the Fly

An Awesome Fly Rod Adversary– Unlike some of their pursuers, Peacock Bass are not purists. They will happily brutalize you with any tackle you offer them. They are punishing on spinning tackle and they are relentless on baitcasting gear … but fly fishing for

Fly-fishing for peacock bass.

Fly-fishing for peacock bass.

peacock bass offers anglers a whole new level of self-inflicted fishing abuse! Fly fishing for peacock bass is where subtlety and finesse meets sheer physical power – a true test of tackle and techniques. Hook up and you’ll discover that you’re in a serious hand-to-hand battle, without machinery and without mechanical advantage. This is what your fly fishing tackle was made for; it just doesn’t know it yet. Truly, there is no more exiting freshwater quarry for the fly fisherman than the wild and brutish Amazon peacock bass.

They are not Trout – Although they are a great fly rod adversary, their behavior is decidedly not trout-like. Unlike the freshwater fly fisherman’s usual stream-dwelling adversaries, peacock bass occupy structure-laden, still-water environments. Unlike the usually subtle take of a trout, peacocks will attack a fly with unexpected force – nothing subtle about these aquatic vandals. Their behavior is different enough that trout fishermen will find it necessary to use a different tactical approach and mindset to best come to grips with their unique style. Since anglers often target trout waiting for an aquatic current to opportunistically deliver a meal, stream fishing is more focused on drift and presentation, not so much the cast itself. Peacocks, conversely are typically encountered when they are holding tight to structure, actively feeding or defending their flock of young. Fly fishing for peacock bass is more about the cast itself, its placement and what you do next with the fly. (We’ll cover this in Part 3)

 

Peacock Bass on the fly are not a subtle opponent.

Peacock Bass on the fly are not a subtle opponent.

They are not Bass –Their behavior is not really largemouth bass-like either, even though they are called bass (they aren’t – see our earlier posts). Unlike North American bass (Micropterus), who are primarily opportunistic feeders with a generally defined strike zone, peacock bass (Cichla) are far more pursuit oriented. They’ll chase a baitfish (or a fly) halfway across a lagoon to hunt it down. Unlike a black bass, who will happily feed on anything from fish to bugs to mice to worms, peacocks are primarily piscivorous (fish-eaters). Once again, fly fishermen will find it necessary to use a different tactical approach and mindset than they would for temperate zone fishing. Fishing for black bass with a fly is very successfully done with relatively slow presentations, keeping the fly in the strike zone as long as possible and imitating an easy meal. Conversely, for peacock bass, freshwater anglers will find that they’ve never stripped a fly so fast in their fishing careers, while they attempt to trigger the peacock’s pursuit response.

A trophy peacock bass on the fly.

A trophy peacock bass on the fly.

More Behavioral Differences Peacock’s behavior during their spawning cycle is very different from black bass, as is their relationship to structure and their fry guarding behavior. Peacock feeding behavior is different as well. Unlike most freshwater fly fishermen’s targets, peacocks often hunt in packs and they often actively prowl for forage. These and many other behavioral aspects are important to successfully angling these beasts, but they are equally so for any tackle style. I’ll present that information in future posts addressing general peacock bass fishing techniques and behavioral patterns. So follow our Peacock Bass blog as we go forward and we’ll cover additional tactics and offer more subtle techniques for all anglers, or visit our website and look over our general-purpose Peacock Bass Primer. For fly fishermen, the next important topic is to provide an overview of the techniques that are used and how to select tackle to enable the techniques that work best.

Surface vs. sub-surface fly fishing – Bring gear to cast both types of fly line, but be prepared to concentrate on sinking lines. In spite of the peacock’s great reputation for surface action, subsurface (streamer type) flies tend to be significantly more productive than surface flies (poppers, sliders). Yes, peacock bass can be caught with just about anything you can throw with a fly rod, but some tactics are just far more productive than others under most Amazon fishing conditions. If you’re taking the fishing trip of a lifetime and want to maximize your chances for success, it’s important to consider the approach on which to concentrate. For a fly fisherman to be most effective and to have the best shot at a big trophy, the odds are you’ll need to rapidly strip a big streamer, keeping it a meter or so below the surface.

Okay, you’re scratching your head and wondering why I’veforgotten how much peacocks like to hit on the surface. Well, that’s really a reputation gained primarily because of their responses to conventional tackle. Conventional tackle is very effective on the surface because it gets attention and triggers aggression, particularly in fry-guarding fish. But those plug-casters are throwing two-ounce wooden baseball bats with roostertail generating propellers on the back. Fly fishing tackle just can’t duplicate that kind of surface commotion. Even the biggest poppers and sliders tend to attract mostly piranha, small peacocks and other secondary species; pretty much everything but the big trophies we seek. So, under most normal circumstances, fly fishermen will be most successful with sinking lines vs. floating lines, with big streamers vs. poppers. The use of a quality sinking line will overcome the tendency of the fly to be dragged toward the surface due to the rapid stripping action so important for triggering peacock strikes. I’ll cover this technique in detail in Part 3 of this primer. Or just come fishing with Acute Angling, we’ll teach it to you on the water. 

Based on what we’ve covered today in Part 1,  we’ll focus in on the fly fishing tackle that’s best suited for the purpose in Part 2 – Fly Fishing Tackle for Peacock Bass.  I hope to have it posted here in a week or so.  In the meantime, you can see some more general tackle recommendations on our website.  Part 3 will focus on specific techniques for fly fishing for peacock bass.

Visit us at;  www.acuteangling.com

Follow us on Twitter at;  http://twitter.com/PeacockBass

Check out our photos at;
 http://www.flickr.com/photos/peacockbass/

Watch our videos at;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnzi3Skwi9M

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Equipping Yourself to Catch Peacock Bass in the Amazon

July 15, 2009
The right gear allows productive monster peacock bass fishing.

The right gear allows productive monster peacock bass fishing.

Well, you’ve made the decision to go to the Amazon, to fish for the world’s greatest sportfish in the home of the biggest peacock bass found anywhere. Like any first time Amazon peacock bass angler, you’re understandably excited. The fish of your dreams is waiting to ambush your lures in an exotic place you can hardly imagine. You’ve invested time, money and emotional energy and you’re charged up and ready to go. This, however, is the time to keep a cool head and make sure that you are properly prepared. As in the well-known credit card commercial;

     Booking an Exotic Fishing Trip – $4000 to $5000
     Airfare to get there – about $1200
      Being properly prepared – Priceless!!!

Don’t walk into a tackle shop and ask them to outfit you for peacock bass. Almost unfailingly someone who has never seen a peacock bass and has no idea what to throw at them will load you up with overly heavy, inappropriate gear. Quite likely you’ll arrive in the Amazon well equipped for tuna perhaps, but not for peacock bass. Before you even start packing your bags and before you think about the tactics and techniques necessary to catch them, you need to know what rods, reels and lures will serve you best. Let’s look at what tackle should go in your gear bag, step by step. These recommendations are for the Amazon giants, Cichla temensis, and, although they will still have utility outside the Amazon basin, they are not specifically geared to smaller, generally less aggressive species.

Step 1. The Lures – When peacocks are in full feeding mode, anglers could probably toss their shoes into the water and get strikes. Lure selection, however, becomes much more critical as soon as conditions make the fish a little more selective. To optimize their lure selections, anglers should focus on the following four classes of lures;

The Woodchopper

The Woodchopper

Prop Baits – The classic peacock fisherman’s tool, these big, gaudy plugs are best known for the spectacular surface explosions they elicit. Anglers should bring at least a half dozen assorted samples, concentrating on the larger sizes (up to 2 oz.). Among the best choices are Luhr-Jensen Woodchoppers, Caribe Lures Pavon Props and Highroller’s Magnum Riproller. Although smaller and lighter versions of these lures are available and some may find them easier to cast, they do not always perform as well. Since they can only carry smaller, less durable hooks, they often lead to bent metal and heart-broken anglers.

Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow

Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow

Swimming Plugs – A great all-purpose tool for catching peacock bass. These baits are easy to use and will work under almost all conditions. Recommended models include; Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow (3/4 oz., floater), 7 inch Cotton Cordell Red Fin, large Bombers and floating Rapala Magnums, among others. Bring a half dozen.

Heddon Super Spook

Heddon Super Spook

Walking Stick Baits – Oftentimes a slowly sashaying stick bait will trigger amazingly violent peacock bass surface strikes. Effective models include; Zara Spook (3/4 oz.), Super Spook (1 oz.) and Mega-Bait (2 oz.). Bring 3 or 4. Note that the smaller models will require hook upgrades.

Peacock Bass Rattle Jig

Peacock Bass Rattle Jig

Peacock Bass Jigs – This is the ultimate peacock bass bait. Nothing catches as many peacocks as a properly fished 1/2 oz. peacock jig (strip it—don’t jig it). Either tie your own or buy a high quality pre-tied model, such as Sidewinder’s Peacock Rattle Jig.  Bring at least a dozen (or more if you’ll be fishing piranha laden waters).

Other Lures – 95% of the peacock bass on our trips are caught by the 4 classes of lures detailed above. Sometimes, however, conditions do call for a different, more specialized tool. Carry at least one or two large spoons (Johnson’s silver minnow – 1 and 1/8 oz.), a few big Rattletrap lures, and perhaps a small, deep diver. Of course, every angler has their favorite lure, one that they just know is going to change the face of peacock fishing and land them a world record. By all means, bring it, but don’t bring too many and don’t get your hopes too high on it. Weight limits and space considerations demand that you focus on the most productive items.

Step 2. The Rods and Reels – Peacock anglers often bring overly heavy gear. Yes, the peacock is an extraordinarily powerful and violent fish, but rod and reel selections should be made based on the lures you’ll be using. Heavy tackle makes you tired, resting anglers don’t cast and lures in the boat don’t catch fish. Keep your gear reasonably light so that you can fish steadily, make good casts and properly work the lures that will ultimately bring in your trophy.

Based on the lures recommended in Step1, Here is a summary of the rods and reels best suited to fishing with each of the lure types.

Medium/Heavy Outfit – This rig will effectively cast and work the heavy prop baits. Whether you’re a baitcaster or spin aficionado, select a Medium/Heavy rod (like the G. Loomis Escape MHC – we recommend 3-piece travel rods). Avoid overlong (no longer than 7’) rods and definitely no long handles. They just make working the lure more difficult.
Select a fast-retrieve reel. For spin fishermen, this is easy; any medium sized reel (i.e. Shimano 4000 series) has a fast retrieve. For baitcasters, you’ll need a 6.3:1 or faster retrieve and these are not the norm in mid-sized gear. We recommend an Ambassadeur C4 5500 series, a Shimano Corado reel (both modestly priced) or a Shimano Calais (more expensive). Don’t neglect this parameter of equipment selection. Slow retrieving reels will make it difficult to properly work your lures and leave you very tired at the end of the day. If you can skillfully operate either type, spin or baitcaster, the baitcaster is the better choice here due to its higher percentage of tangle-free landings and its lower casting trajectory.

Medium/Light Outfit – This is recommended for jigs and other small, lightweight baits. In the hands of an experienced fisherman with a properly set drag, a quality outfit in this category will efficiently handle even the largest peacock bass while providing unparalleled casting ease, efficiency and accuracy with light lures. If you can skillfully operate either type, the spinner is the better choice here. A good rig would be a Loomis Escape MLS and Shimano 2500 spinning reel.

Medium Outfit – This is an American black bass fisherman’s bread and butter tool. Bring your favorite. Retrieve rate is not critical with this rig. A good example would be a 7 foot medium rod (Loomis Escape MC) and a Shimano Calcutta 250 size reel. Use this for Zara Spooks, Super Spooks, Yo-Zuris and other medium size baits. This rod also makes an excellent backup for either of the other two rods described above (rods break).

Step 3. Line – Peacock bass fishing in the Amazon requires braided line. Leave the mono home. Peacock’s tough mouths call for a solid, stretch-free hookset. Great tensile strength is necessary to withstand their violent strikes while the need for casting accuracy demands a thin, light, flexible line. Monofilament’s characteristics will not serve this fishery well. And don’t bother with leaders or clips. They just provide one more point for potential system failure. Tie right to the lures. It’ll help get rid of worn or frayed line tips and make lure action optimal. Even if you’ve never used braid before, don’t worry, the knots are simple and Brazilian guides know the knots and how to use the line. You’ll quickly become comfortable.

Braid Options – For spinning tackle, we recommend a quality thin braid such as Power Pro. Use 30 lb. for medium and light gear. Lines up to 50 lb. test are appropriate for your heavier gear. For baitcasting gear use 30 or 50 lb. test for the lighter rigs. A heavier test thin braid (65 lb. test Power Pro) is recommended for the heavier rigs. These will prove to be more resistant to backlashes and “digging in”.  A hint for new braid users; When tying your line onto your reel’s arbor, place a small piece of electrical tape over the first turn of line. Subsequent wraps will dig into the tape and help to anchor the braid firmly onto the arbor. This will prevent the line from spinning on the spool and will assure that your drag works properly. Learn the “Palomar” knot. All braid packages come with instructions for this simple and super-strong knot.

A Warning – Despite their high tensile strength, even these powerful lines will not allow you to out-muscle a peacock. Their explosive initial bursts will break these strong braids like sewing thread if your drag is not properly set (meaning too tight or locked down). Even if your line survives the initial onslaught, something else will give. Hooks will straighten, rods or reels may break. Peacock bass cannot be “horsed”. Use a properly set drag (you must be able to manually pull out line, although with some effort) and use your angling skills to lead fish away from structure and slowly and steadily tire them out.

Step 4. Traveling Light – Be judicious with your tackle selections. Almost all charter operators have a 44 lb. (20 Kilo) weight limit. Anglers often find they bring material they never use.

Step 5. Where to Buy – All of the individual items recommended here, as well as complete destination specific packages are available at www.Tackle-box.net or call 866 832-2987 or 866 431-1668 for assistance. Lower priced or higher value alternatives are also available.

Blackwater Explorer

Blackwater Explorer

Most higher end trip operators make rods and reels available for their clientele. Acute Angling has stocked the Blackwater Explorer yacht with the appropriate mix of Loomis rods and Shimano reels, free for clients to borrow, so that no one ends up without suitable equipment. Of course, you’re always welcome to bring your own gear. We’re well aware that anglers tend to more comfortable and skillful with equipment they’ve grown accustomed to. Lures are a different story and are best purchased before you leave. They may be unavailable at your destination and they will certainly be more expensive.

Now that we’ve gotten some of the basics covered, we’ll start talking about how to pack and prepare and then how to catch these scaled marauders in upcoming posts.  To find out more about the tackle recommended for these great fish, visit the tackle section of our website;

Visit us at;  www.acuteangling.com

Follow us on Twitter at;  http://twitter.com/PeacockBass

Check out our photos at;
 http://www.flickr.com/photos/peacockbass/

Watch our videos at;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnzi3Skwi9M

Choosing the Right Peacock Bass Destination

July 8, 2009

OK, enough technical talk about Peacock Bass, let’s get into fishing for them. The first group of posts to the Peacock Bass Blog was focused on defining what a peacock bass is, or better yet, what the many species of peacock bass are and how they differ. I felt it important to get that basic definition out of the way before addressing other, perhaps somewhat more exciting (for anglers anyway), aspects of these awesome fighting fish. There’s much more to be said on the taxonomy subject and I plan to get to it in future posts, however, I’ve decided that you and I need a break from this strictly technical talk, so let’s start in on some of those other topics for awhile. To see more about peacock bass taxonomy;
http://www.acuteangling.com/taxonomy/peacock-bass-species.html

I’ll work my way through several interesting threads as we go forward, including; where to catch them, what to catch them with, how to trigger strikes, how to land what you’ve hooked, what is their life cycle, how do they reproduce, what’s their biology and much more. Perhaps we’ll come to consider this blog “Peacock Bass Fishing – 101” (although other than going out and catching them yourself, there’ll be no exams). The focus for those “catching” topics will be primarily on the premier gamefish species, Cichla temensis, although much of what is covered will also be quite applicable to the other, smaller species. In order to get to the lures and techniques and catching stuff, I think it’s important to consider where and when the catching happens first, so this post will give a quick overview of the principal peacock bass fisheries. From there, we’ll delve deeper into the actual fishing in future posts.

I’ve already said that there’s far too much misleading information and outright baloney on the web regarding peacock bass. The same holds true for most other media and most other types of sportfish. Fishing TV shows, fishing advertising and fishing product sales techniques are full of hype and hyperbole. This may not be too far removed from fishermen’s own perceptions of the exaggeration jokingly associated with their sport, so it is often accepted with the proverbial grain of salt. And I guess its OK for selling magazines and promoting Saturday morning TV shows. A little bit of flimflam is probably harmless for such casual entertainment decisions, but when it comes to making decisions about trips costing thousands of dollars, I believe that it’s a far more appropriate service to anglers to tell it like it is. So, here is a condensed, unexaggerated guide to where to fish for trophy peacock bass, when and why.

Three of the principal Brazilian fisheries for peacock bass.

Three of the principal Brazilian fisheries for peacock bass.

As we’ve already covered in earlier posts, the giant peacock bass, Cichla temensis, is the largest species of the genus Cichla and is the most important sportfish in lowlands Amazonia. Its natural range consists primarily of pulsative (more on that later) lowland rivers with extremely variable seasonal water levels and often widely spaced fish populations. These giants are found in Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia from the Rio Negro and Rio Orinoco drainages as well as in blackwater tributaries of the Rio Madeira and Branco along with a few effluents of the Rio Solimoes and Amazonas. Unlike several other, smaller species that have been transplanted elsewhere, C. temensis has proven resistant to human manipulation. Efforts to introduce these huge predators into other regions have mostly failed, probably because of their great sensitivity to cold or variable temperatures. You won’t find these in Florida, or Panama or Hawaii. As a result, sportfishermen tend to concentrate their efforts in certain regions and specifically in certain rivers within those regions. Here’s a look at where and when.

Some limitations are quickly evident. Although there are big peacocks throughout the range described above, a combination of political and safety issues have recently made both Columbia and Venezuela less than attractive destinations for the typical angler. Currently anglers focus most heavily on safe and friendly Brazil. Within the Brazilian Amazon basin, three types of peacock bass fisheries provide attractive and productive angling opportunities and each of them has its own characteristics and variables. In every case, performance is determined by the single most important factor in successful peacock bass fishing, water level. The variables are complex, but we can get a good idea of each region’s differences by considering the main characteristics of the fisheries when they are at their optimal water levels.

Rio Madeira Basin: The Madeira, like the Solimoes and the Rio Branco carries suspended particulate matter and the big trunk river is not itself a fruitful peacock fishery. Many of its lower tributaries, such as the Igapo Acu, Matupiri and Marmelos provide perfect peacock habitat and that’s where the action is. These rivers range from relatively clear to lightly stained blackwater and are equally excellent for fly and conventional anglers. They typically produce large numbers of peacock bass, with a heavy concentration toward the medium sizes while still offering access to the big hulking 20+ pounders that lurk here. This is the place to go if your goal is lots of action with a variety of fishing styles. Under good conditions, these waters will produce 15 to 50 fish per angler per day, as well as trophies into the 20 pound class. We usually concentrate on this region in September and October, when water levels are generally perfect. The Rio Madeira basin represents a great balance between quantity and size, thus it’s a great place for novice peacock bass anglers to start a serious peacock bass habit.

Rio Negro Basin: The most famous of all trophy peacock fisheries and the heart of the species’ territory, this huge basin contains the world’s largest peacock bass. With at least a dozen productive blackwater rivers, such as the Unini, the Urubaxi, the Tea and the Caures, we normally fish this area from late October until the end of February. The deeply tannin-stained waters are unique in their austere characteristics, containing fewer nutrients and less biomass than clearer waters but often more biodiversity. Quantity tends to be lower here, with anglers typically landing 10 to 15 fish per day, but size is the key. Often several of those daily fish will be in the teens, with fish up to the mid-20 lb. class fairly common. If a shot at a world record is your goal, then this is your fishery, but be aware, it often takes a good day’s labor to get the numbers that come easily elsewhere.

Rio Branco Basin: Fishing in this region generally begins in December and can continue right through March. Like the Madeira, the Rio Branco itself is not a peacock sportfishery. However, its clear water tributaries, such as the Tapera and Xeriuini produce greater numbers of peacock bass than anywhere else in the Amazon basin. Although peacocks over 20 lbs. are not very common here, the area is known for a high proportion of midsize fish and with more than enough fish in the high teens to satisfy any fisherman. Anglers here can land as many as 25 to 100 fish per day! The pristine waters in most of these tributaries drain through the vast biofilter of northern Amazon savannah lands. The resultant clear black waters lend themselves to sight fishing and are highly productive for both fly and conventional anglers. When you add in the exceptional beauty of this region, with its small waters, white sand beaches and looming forests, you have the makings of the most idyllic peacock adventure of all.

The key to successfully fishing any of these regions is to be in the right place at the right time. Regardless of the location, peacock fishing is simply at its best in dropping water conditions. Everything we do is geared to enabling us to effectively access peacock bass waters as they drop. Thankfully, the Amazon has a reasonably consistent seasonal progression of water levels that allows us to predict reasonably well, where we’ll be fishing and when. But, even though we can make complicated schedules, Nature still has the power to trump any human plans. So we stay mobile. Why? In the face of falling and rising waters, bureaucratic unpredictability and the demands of a mighty, untamed river system, our best strategy will always be to stay flexible and be prepared to move even faster than the changing waters.

To find out more about the trips, schedules, availability and accommodations that access each of these great fisheries, visit the schedule section of our website.
http://www.acuteangling.com/Schedule/2001Sched.html

Visit us at;  www.acuteangling.com

Follow us on Twitter at;  http://twitter.com/PeacockBass

July 6, 2009

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How to Identify the Species of Peacock Bass

July 1, 2009

Peacock bass aficionados, both anglers and aquarists, know that 15 species of Cichla have already been described by scientists. The genus is widespread in Neotropical South America and several species have been transplanted to other regions. They are all called peacock bass, but the differences among them can be great, in terms of size, behavior and life history. Whether you’re a fisherman or a monster fish keeper, it’s important to know which is which if you’re truly a peacock bass person.

An example of a specimen for identification

An example of a specimen for identification

Telling species within a genus apart from one another is not always easy, even for taxonomists, but by focusing in on a few of the most clearly identifiable characters, it’s usually possible to know which peacock bass you’re dealing with. Sometimes it helps just to know which species your specimen is not. The process of elimination can rapidly narrow down the possibilities. Let’s look at some of the most useful techniques and apply them to the challenge of identifying an example  of a specimen we’ve just caught (see the photo above).

Where – Some of the species of peacock bass have relatively limited natural ranges and some are transplants, so often just knowing where the fish is from will  narrow down the possibilities, or in some cases even make the ID for you automatically. For example, if you’re in Guyana or on one of the two main fast-water tributaries of the Rio Branco, you’re only choice is Cichla ocellaris (Florida too, for that matter). If you’re in Peru (or Hawaii), you’re looking at Cichla monoculus. “Where” can also tell you what isn’t a possibility. If you’re in Bolivia, it isn’t Cichla temensis (or for that matter C. orinocensis or C. pinima or several others). Finally, transplants are generally a single, once-imported species as in Florida, or Hawaii or Panama. You can visit http://www.acuteangling.com/taxonomy/peacock-bass-species.html to see the characteristic ranges of the different species.

Body height – The 15 described Peacock bass species have characteristic relationships between their height and length. When considered as a ratio, this can be a useful identifying characteristic; however the measurements must be properly made to be meaningful. Height is fairly simple; measure the greatest distance from the fish’s back (dorsum) to its belly, without including fins or nuchal hump. This may be simple to see, but it’s not always easy to do without a good measuring device such as a caliper. In the field, in a pinch, fishermen can support the fish above a solid surface (boat deck, seat) and stand their rod butt next to the specimen. Working quickly to protect the fish, either by eye or using a flat, straight item (pencil, twig, knife), determine where the highest point on the fish (usually just in front of the dorsal fin) intersects the rod butt. Note it to measure it later. Then measure length. In this case anglers must measure “Standard Length”, specifically, the distance from the tip of the upper jaw to the base of the tail (where scales end and fin rays begin) – do not include the tail. Once again, your rod can help here. Place the tip at the base of the tail and determine where the tip of the jaw intersects it. If you don’t have a tape or ruler with you to determine the measurements on site, record the measurements with a piece of fishing line to measure later. All measurements must be made without being affected by the curvature of the fish’s body. Once you have accurate measurements, calculate the ratio of height to standard length by dividing the height by the length. For our example, lets say we’ve caught a 23 inch long peacock that has a height of 7 inches. Divide 7 by 22 – you’ll get .318 – move the decimal point two places to the right and you have 31.8% height to length. The chart below shows some of the expected ratios of the 15 species.

Species Common Name Mean Height to S.L
Cichla temensis 3-bar or speckled peacock 24.5%
Cichla monoculus Popoca, botao 30.6%
Cichla orinocensis Borboleto (Brazil butterfly) 29.7%
Cichla ocellaris Lukanini, Florida butterfly 30.3%
Cichla intermedia Royal peacock 27.2%
Cichla jariina Rio Jari peacock 26.6%
Cichla kelberi Yellow peacock 32.0%
Cichla melaniae Lower Xingu peacock 29.7%
Cichla mirianae Xingu peacock 29.7%
Cichla nigromaculata None known 29.9%
Cichla pinima White spotted peacock 26.6%
Cichla piquiti Blue peacock 28.3%
Cichla pleiozona 4 vertical bars 31.0%
Cichla thyrorus None known 29.3%
Cichla vazzoleri Vazzoler’s peacock 26.5%

Here’s an instance of how this character is useful in our example. Several species bracket the value of 31.8 (monoculus, pleiozona, kelberi). Although you can’t readily tell from this information alone which one of the three it might be, you can readily eliminate some other species. You can see from the chart, it’s not likely to be C. temensis or C. pinima, both much slimmer species. Now we can use location to help us further. Let’s say we’ve caught our specimen in the Amazon on the Rio Unini (part of the Rio Negro basin). Only C. temensis, C. monoculus and C. orinocensis are normally found here. This eliminates, C. pleiozona and C. kelberi, which are only found elsewhere and tells you that you’re probably holding Cichla monoculus, common in that region. Are we done? Well, perhaps not with full certainty. Another look at the chart tells us that C. orinocensis at 29.7% is a bit slimmer, but close enough so that for us to be truly positive in our ID, it might have to be considered also. So we’re down to two possibilities. You’ve made a pretty good start at a field ID without having even considered the complexity of markings and coloration. 

Cichla monoculus - note the 3 vertical bars

Cichla monoculus - note the 3 vertical bars

Color and Pattern –  This is a complex and extremely variable set of characters, although once you’ve gained some general familiarity with peacock bass morphology, it quickly provides the most facile of all identification information. Rather than describe the details for all of the species, I’ll refer you to http://www.acuteangling.com/taxonomy/peacock-bass-species.html where an instructive description of color and pattern characters can be found, along with photos and detailed descriptions for each species. Meanwhile, let’s go back to our example. C. monoculus possesses three stubby black bars while

Cichla orinocensis - note the 3 rosettes

Cichla orinocensis - note the 3 rosettes

C. orinocensis has three round rosettes on its sides (see photos). Telling these apart is really a no-brainer. Since we’ve already assumed our specimen has the bars (as in the first photo), you can immediately eliminate orinocensis and come to a final, positive ID of Cichla monoculus. Who cares? If you’re an angler, you do. You might be holding a world record in your hand. If you’re an aquarist, you do too. Try finding the proper mate for your specimen if you can’t positively ID the species.

There’s more information you can use too, such as; lateral line scale count; gill raker count, and relative eye diameter. The problem with considering them all at once, however, is that by the time we finish with all of these measurements, our specimen will probably be totally desiccated. That makes successful catch and release pretty difficult, to say the least. Your tank raised specimen is not likely to hold still for this treatment either. Sometimes this information will be important, however, so I’ll write about it in the future for those who want that degree of detail. For now, however, with the techniques we’ve already covered and the photos and information on the Acute Angling website, you should be pretty well prepared for most field identifications. Go forth and classify.

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