Posts Tagged ‘Cichla temensis’

Peacock Bass Science and Conservation – Peacock Bass pH Tolerance

September 16, 2011
The more anglers know about their quarry, the better they are able to successfully pursue it and manage its conservation. The giant peacock bass (Cichla temensis) roams a blackwater environment that is so significantly different from that of temperate zone freshwater sportfish, that it is worthwhile for peacock bass anglers visiting the Amazon to gain an understanding of the peacock’s home waters. The following article attempts to provide some insights via a research project assessing fishes’ acid tolerance in blackwater environments Throughout North America, Europe and Asia, pollution has caused serious damage to aquatic ecosystems. One of the worst culprits is acid rain. Resulting mostly from sulfur emitted by power plant smokestacks, this toxic acidification has been shown to cause massive fish kills and a serious loss of biodiversity in our lakes, rivers and streams.
On the other hand, in the Amazon basin, highly acidic “blackwater” regions exist that support a huge diversity of fishes in spite of being far more acidic than even our most damaged waters. In fact, this is the preferred home of the giant peacock bass. The most powerful freshwater gamefish in the world, lives in water with enough acid content to kill most species! The obvious question you might ask is, “How is this possible?” Many researchers have asked the same question. The answer may lie in the tea-colored material that gives blackwater its name.

Blackwater is formed when wet, oxygen-poor soils permit the slow decay of matter from vascular plant material. Runoff delivers a constant supply of this mixture of dissolved organic matter (mostly made up of tannic and humic acids). Not only does this material deliver blackwater’s characteristic coloration, but scientists have found convincing evidence that it actually protects fishes against the poisonous effects of acidic environments.

Acid water causes fishes to lose their body salts. Freshwater species have a biological pumping system in the cells of their gills that keeps the salt in their bodies from leaking out into the salt-free freshwater that surrounds them. Acid conditions attack these cells and cause them to stop working. The material in blackwater, however, appears to provide a protective effect for these cells, enabling them to continue to work normally. The peacock’s own ecosystem may be what protects it from environmental toxicity that kills fish elsewhere.

The Amazon is a giant enigma, with thousands of interlocking puzzles waiting to be solved. We haven’t even begun to understand how they fit together. Here is just one more reason why it must be protected at all costs. With more study, we might learn how to use Amazon-based knowledge to protect fishes in each of our various backyards. Perhaps we’ll find that reducing the constant deforestation in our countryside might put more of these blackwater materials into our waters and help slow the rate of environmental degradation and fish loss.

Note – The following unpublished paper is the result of an experiment performed on non-Amazon fishes, with an eye toward understanding more about the nature of Amazon Blackwater systems. The reference materials cited in this paper can provide additional information regarding this subject matter from peer-reviewed sources.

Laboratory Analysis of the Effects of Blackwater on Low pH Tolerance in Fishes

PAUL REISS; Rutgers University, Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, New Brunswick, NJ, 08901, USA
Rutgers University Marine Field Station, Tuckerton, NJ


The unusually high level of fish biodiversity found in acidic “blackwater” systems in the Amazon basin suggests that the humic and fulvic acids in blackwater may provide some form of protection against the toxic effects of low pH, or that fishes endemic to this environment may be more tolerant of those effects. These ideas were tested by two experiments in a laboratory study. In the first experiment, seven fish species from three water types were subjected to a treatment regime of reduced pH to compare the species’ tolerance to pH toxicity. Species examined included: Enneacanthus obesus, Micropterus salmoides and Aphredoderus sayanus from blackwater; Fundulus heteroclitus, Menidia menidia and Cyprinodon variegatus from brackish water and Lepomis macrochirus from clear freshwater. The results demonstrated markedly different resistance to mortality in low pH among the species, as measured by the cumulative concentration of excess H+ ion over time. For example, Enneacanthus was able to tolerate almost three times as much exposure as Lepomis, a member of the same family, and over eight times the exposure of Cyprinodon, a brackish water fish. The results also demonstrated that fishes from blackwater are more resistant to low pH toxicity, as a group, than fishes from other source waters.

In a second experiment, the effect of water type on tolerance to low pH was measured among a subset of species selected from the first experiment, i.e., Fundulus heteroclitus, Cyprinodon variegatus and Lepomis macrochirus. Resistance to mortality ranged from 20% to 100% greater in both blackwater and brackish water than in clear freshwater for each species. These results indicate that there are effects inherent in both blackwater and brackish water that protect fishes against low pH and which are lacking in clear freshwater. The study examines the physiological aspects of pH toxicity in various water types, considers differences in innate or acquired tolerance to low pH among species and analyzes the relevance of ecosystem management strategies in relation to the toxic effects of acidification.

To read the full report, please click here.

Acute Angling – Official Website

Fish of the Week: Peacock Bass – Cichla temensis

August 8, 2011
Cichla temensis

Cichla temensis

Our “Fish of the Week” is Peacock Bass – Cichla temensis, which is the largest member of the peacock bass genus. This top level predator is considered by many to be the most powerful freshwater gamefish in the world, as evidenced by its current IGFA record of 27 pounds.

Cichla temensis, in its bright spawning color phase, is called “assu” in Brazil or “three-bar” in English. They become heavier and deeper bodied in this form due to prespawn changes and matured gonads. In the “paca” form, Cichla temensis displays a darker color pattern and a more hydrodynamic shape.

Cichla temensis identification is made somewhat complex by the species’ morphological variability. Specimens are encountered in two very distinct color and pattern phases, with an array of intermediate stages corresponding to their degree of reproductive readiness. The spawning pattern transformation process is gradual – the bars darken, colors brighten and the white speckles disappear. The brilliantly colored acu (pronounced ‘assu’) is in reproductively active condition. The Paca morph has white or yellow dots (3) arranged in four distinct longitudinal rows. Both morphs have 3 distinct dark bars (2) along the sides of the body and a distinct black stripe or speckled markings from the eye to the end of the opercular bone (cheek or gill cover) (1), no ocelli on the sides or at the base of the second dorsal.

Cichla temensis

Cichla temensis

Temensis is the most elongate of the Cichla species, with a body depth generally around 25 percent of its standard length (length measured to the base of the tail). It has the smallest relative scale size of the genus, generally having from 100 to 125 scales along its lateral line.

The species has three distinct, entire bars from dorsal peak to below lateral line, almost to the abdomen. It also has a distinctive postorbital band (or series of connected blotches on operculum [cheek]). In paca form, they sport four horizontal rows of light colored speckles. Its colors are extremely variable. Juveniles can grow up to about 300 cm (12 inches), while adults can grow from 300 mm up to about one meter (39 inches). Its depth to length ratio is approximately 25 percent and it has about 110 lateral line scales. Similar species include Cichla pinima and Cichla vazzoleri.

Cichla temensis

Cichla temensis

Cichla temensis’ violent behavior and awesome tackle-busting power is the primary attraction that brings avid sport fishermen to the Amazon. Its known range include the countries of Venezuela, Columbia and Brazil. Within these countries, you’ll find Cichla temensis in the Rio Negro, Orinoco, Madeira and Branco basins, with some limited populations noted in several rivers draining into the Solimoes and Amazon. Temensis primarily occupies lentic (slow or still water) environments in lagoons, backwaters and shoreline pockets. However, they will readily enter faster waters to feed and when water levels leave most lentic habitat dry. They are mostly restricted to blackwater systems. Common names for this peacock include three-barred peacock, speckled peacock, tucunare, acu, paca and giant peacock.

A primarily piscivorous (fish-eating) predator, C. temensis will behave as both a pursuit feeder and an opportunistic feeder. Their determined and aggressive fry-guarding behavior makes large acu readily accessible to sharp-eyed anglers. Cichla temensis is the premier peacock bass species pursued by trophy anglers. Its sheer size, violent attacks and general overall aggressiveness have made it the most highly regarded of all freshwater sportfish. It has spurred volumes of literature and endless variations of tactics and techniques. See our ‘Peacock Bass Primer‘ for a thorough introductory guide to catching this species in its native, pulsative river environments.


Acute Angling – Official Website

Where Can I Find Trophy Peacock Bass?

May 11, 2011

Ah, the million dollar question – just where exactly are these monster peacock bass that I keep hearing about?

To put it simply, they’re found in the Rio Negro, Rio Branco, Rio Madeira and Rio Orinoco basins. The peacock bass you’re likely going after in these parts is Cichla temensis, commonly called three-barred peacock, the speckled peacock, tecunare acu or tucunare paca. As one of the world’s most powerful freshwater fish, it is often the primary target of Amazon sportsfishermen. The red shaded area in the below map is a generalized representation of the natural range of the giant peacock bass and its transplantation in Lake Guri.

Peacock Bass Map
The ranges illustrated in the above map are based on a combination of information sources, specimen collection locations, catch data from sportfishing and observations by Acute Angling. These ranges are estimations based on river basins known to hold these fish and the tributary streams and drainages likely included. These ranges aren’t meant to be definitive descriptions of species limitations, as it’s likely that some actual ranges may be larger than shown. Transplantations appear as isolated areas in a species’ range, although not all transplantations are included. While we’ve made good headway in our research, much exploration, specimen collection and data review still needs to be done to fill in the gaps.

For more information about where to fish and when, see our detailed Peacock Bass Primer.

Acute Angling – Official Website

Part Two of Paul Reiss’ Interview with Bass Fishing Source: “Amazon Peacock Bass – The Real Heavy Hitting Monsters”

May 6, 2011

Paul Reiss, owner of Acute Angling, talks with Bass-Fishing-Source about fishing the Amazon for peacock bass in part two of an exclusive interview. Read it all below or click here.

Amazon Peacock Bass – The Real Heavy Hitting Monsters

Amazon peacock bass are quite different than anything you will find in the U.S. While the peacock bass in Florida can be great to catch, fishing for Peacock in the Amazon is not only a whole different experience but it’s also a whole different fish.

In our search for information on catching the “bass” that hits your line like a truck, we were lucky enough to get some insight from a true authority in Amazon Peacock Bass, Paul Reiss of Acute Angling.

We got a chance to ask Paul about what it takes to catch Peacocks in the Amazon, including tackle, lures and even some tips and techniques to land your next trophy Peacock. You don’t want to miss what he has to say about giving youself the best chance to land the fish of a life time.

First a quick introduction for those that may not know Paul.

Paul Reiss Peacock Bass Catch

Paul Reiss operates Acute Angling, a unique outfitting company offering guided Amazon fishing trips and explorations. After a conventional entrepreneurial career, he fulfilled a lifelong nature lover’s dream by founding a business that allows him and the anglers he takes along, to explore the world’s vastest wilderness, pursuing its fiercest sportfish and observing firsthand the amazing aquatic life of the Amazon. With two decades of field experience and doctoral study, Reiss is probably the world’s foremost expert on Amazon sportfishing and the amazing peacock bass. His company is focused on finding and accessing pristine waters for Peacock Bass, Payara, giant catfish and other fierce Amazon sportfish.

Find out more about Paul Reiss and his service, Acute Angling.

B-F-S: How long have you been fishing for Peacock Bass?

Paul: Seventeen years. My first visit to Brazil was in 1994. I quickly fell in love with the Amazon and vowed to find a way to spend my time there. The fishing business quickly evolved and along with it my research and conservation projects.

B-F-S: How do Peacock bass in the U.S. differ from Amazon Peacock Bass?

Paul: Basically, they are simply an altogether different species than thegiants we pursue in the Amazon. Even though they are related, they are as dissimilar as smallmouth and rock bass, snook and Nile perch or ladyfish and tarpon. The species that was successfully transplanted to Florida two decades ago is Cichla ocellaris, a smaller, more cold-tolerant species than the Amazon giant, Cichla temensis. Their behavior is quite different as well. Unlike the Brazilian giants, who are known for theirviolently aggressive topwater attacks, the Florida transplants are more of an opportunistic subsurface species, similar in some ways to the feeding behavior of a largemouth bass, although they typically strike harder.

Amazon peacock bass are enormous and can reach sizes approaching 30 pounds, while the Florida fishery typically yields 2 to 3 pound fish, with specimens occasionally reaching double digits. The fishing experience is also as different as the fishes. It’s hard to compare fishing in a pristine Amazon wilderness with casting in a canal in the shadow of a roaring airport. To experience the true power and ferocious nature of the giant peacock bass, there is no shortcut that bypasses the Amazon.

Amazon Peacock Bass Fishing

B-F-S: Why can you only find these big Peacock in the Amazon?

Paul: Simply put, temperature. They just can’t survive Florida winters. While Cichla ocellaris can tolerate temperatures as low as 60 degrees, the Amazon giant, Cichla temensis, won’t survive if water temperature dips below 75. They are really at their best in water ranging from 82 to 88 degrees year round, an aquatic environment not readily found outside the Amazon.

B-F-S: Many people tend talk about Peacock bass as one species of fish but my understanding is there are actually several species that are categorized as Peacocks. Can you clarify what the most popular and/or most common type of Peacock Bass?

Paul: There are actually 15 described species of peacock bass, but there is a tremendous amount of misinformation and misidentification circulating on the internet regarding their taxonomy. Even in scientific circles, classification of the genus Cichla (to which all species of peacock bass belong) has historically been a subject of disagreement. Recently, however, DNA analysis has provided clarification regarding its place in the family Cichlidae, while a revision of the genus in 2006 has done much to resolve Cichla taxonomy at the species level. There has not, however, been a widespread dissemination of this newfound knowledge in angling and non-scientific circles.

All 15 species of Cichla are relatively large, diurnal predators and all are primarily piscivorous. All of the species are commonly known as Peacock Bass in English, Tucunaré in Brazil and Pavon in Spanish speaking countries.

The giant species targeted by trophy anglers is Cichla temensis, the largest member of the genus and of the greatest importance in the lowlands of Amazonia, both as a sportfish and for human consumption. Their natural environment consists primarily of blackwater flood pulse rivers with extremely variable seasonal conditions. The species is found only in Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia, from the Rio Negro, Madeira and Orinoco drainages. There is an up-to-date and detailed species ID guide on our website, where anglers can see the pertinent information on all 15 species of peacock bass.

Acute Angling – Official Website

Amazon Peacock Bass Fishing – Mid-Season Report

January 18, 2010

This has been an unusual season so far, to say the least. It began with a flood; the highest river stage in 63 years peaked during the 2009 rainy season. Then it turned into a drought; waters dropped so fast it seemed as though someone had pulled the plug out of a bathtub. Through it all, we enjoyed some of our best fishing in years. We used our extraordinary mobility to take advantage of the conditions and stay on top of optimal water levels. We don’t hesitate to move our operations, so we fished November waters in September and we fished “trunk” rivers in December when the secondary tributaries became too shallow to navigate.

 20+ pound peacock bass.

The Rokey brothers show off a pair of 20+ pound peacock bass.

The results were outstanding with consistently productive weeks and some of our best “big fish” totals in years. I had one of my best days ever early this season, with a single morning that produced 12 fish over 12 pounds, with a nineteen pounder to cap it off. The afternoon was almost as good! Late on, we had a week on our beautiful Blackwater Explorer yacht where ten of our anglers combined to catch a total of 2600 fish, with over 70 in the “teens” and seven over 20 pounds!

Right on cue, the mid-season rains arrived over the holiday season, soaking the upper Rio Negro basin and raising water levels throughout the enormous system to a more manageable and navigable level. The timing was excellent, since the 2010 portion of our schedule and our second round of trips is just beginning. Following the pulse of new water, the rivers are dropping nicely again and we expect even better conditions than before in the newly refreshed Northern fishery. If you can travel on short notice, this is a good time to take advantage of some excellent fishing opportunities. And … we still have some excellent options available for you.

Winter Fishing Trip Opportunities

Rio travessao payara

A Rio Travessao Payara

The Amazing Rio Travessão is probably the best variety fishery in the Amazon, with over a dozen impressive gamefish species and unrivaled natural beauty. This season we are taking advantage of a unique opportunity to explore new waters in this amazing system. Due to the aftereffects of the global recession, we are operating a shorter planned schedule this coming season. Although that’s bad news from a business point of view, it presents us with a great opportunity from a fishing point of view. The shorter (three week) schedule will enable us to operate without requiring a resupply mechanism during the season. The benefit of this simpler logistic is far greater flexibility for our camp. Therefore, we’ve elected to explore new waters in an as yet un-fished stretch of the river. We’ll carry all of our supplies in at once and simply depend on floatplane service for all access and egress until the season ends.

This provides us with a new exploratory opportunity on a river we already know to be super-productive. It should be the best of both worlds from an angler’s perspective. We expect to find fish that have never seen a lure, new honey holes, new hotspots and perhaps even new world records.
Take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy pristine waters and join us on the Rio Travessão this February. Northern rivers are already dropping and we expect optimal water levels this year. We have 5 openings remaining. The trip will be hosted by Wellington Melo.

Peacock Bass Fishing - Mothership

The Blackwater Explorer Yacht

The Blackwater Explorer is currently heading into the northern Rio Negro basin to take advantage of what currently appears to be the best water levels in the basin, with access to some of its biggest fish. We plan to follow optimal conditions for the rest of the season, wherever that takes us, upriver or down, tributaries or trunks, even moving into the Rio Branco basin if water levels so dictate. We can blame (or credit) global warming for the unusual weather all we want, but most importantly, we’re taking advantage of the great fishing its provided so far this season. Join us on the Blackwater Explore this February. There’s still time to book a trip, get out of the cold and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.

Short Notice Travel Deals

Several of our February 2010 dates have inefficiently low numbers of bookings. It’s in our best interest to make our trips as operationally efficient as possible, so we’re looking for anglers who can travel on short notice to help us fill them. If you’re interested in a great deal and can fit into our scheduling needs, call us now. We’ll work with you if you can move fast and be flexible.  Call us now at 866 832-2987

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Fall 2009 Amazon Peacock Bass Fishing Report

October 14, 2009


The Amazon Fishing season is underway and we’ve gotten off to a great start. Roaming from the western tributaries of the Rio Solimoes all the way east to the small water tributaries of the Rio Branco and Rio Negro, the Blackwater Explorer tracked down the best of the season’s Amazon fishing opportunities.

Rio Solimoes backwaters hold enormous arapaima.

Rio Solimoes backwaters hold enormous arapaima.

Brazil’s Rio Solimoes forms the main stem of the Amazon river. It’s headwaters are a primary source of the Amazon’s mineral nutrients and have given rise to a rich aquatic biodiversity.

Amazon Aruana

Amazon Aruana

This September, the Blackwater Explorer set out on an extended exploration to sample the fishing possibilities of this enormous and complex river basin. Eighteen days and over 1000 miles later, both guides and anglers had learned a tremendous amount, caught a wild variety of species and had the experience of a lifetime.
Starting in Manaus the Blackwater Explorer steamed west through the sediment laden “white” waters of the Solimoes and docked at the port of Tefe. Our intrepid exploratory group of Aussies and South Africans arrived in Tefe by air and boarded the Explorer. After settling in with a robust breakfast, they assembled their gear and began a singular exploratory fishing adventure.


A leaping apapa.

A leaping apapa.

Monday – Sept 7th

– Lago Tefe – peacock bass (Cichla monoculus) – Arapaima, aruana
Tuesday – Rio Tefe – peacocks, Tefe streetside dinner.
Wednesday – Blackwater lake of Japura – peacocks, aruana, small pirapitinga and other species.
Thursday – Lago Comapé – Loads of Peacock bass.
Friday – Went looking for Amazon catfish and got waylaid by an enormous school of feeding apapa. Within minutes, the water was boiling with striking fish and we were engulfed in a feeding frenzy. Caught them on spooks, jigs, flies – 5 pounds to 15 pounds. Extraordinary day!
Saturday – More apapa mania, also sorubim, redtails.
Sunday –
Rio Mamiya – Peacocks, arapaima, aruana.
Monday – Codajas – arapaima.
Tuesday – Lago Januauca – Big peacocks, arapaima.
Wednesday – Peacocks, arapaima – begin journey north.
Our Solimoes Exploratory will be described in detail in an upcoming article in Col Roberts “Fishing Wild” magazine.
Meanwhile, we’re scouting new tributaries to explore and more species to find for another intrepid group next fall.

Brothers Ric and J.R. Rokey (right) of Arizona show off a brace of 22 lb. trophy peacocks.

Brothers Ric and J.R. Rokey (right) of Arizona show off a brace of 22 lb. trophy peacocks.

After our exciting sojourn in the Rio Solimoes basin, the Blackwater Explorer headed back eastward to the habitat of the giant peacock bass. It seems that every year now presents us with a new set of firsts – we’ve recently had the biggest drought, the earliest rains, and this off-season, the Amazon experienced its greatest flood in 6 decades. A normally predictable system was once again topsy turvy!  –  For us …. No problem! While the usually low southern rivers proved higher than expected in September, the northern rivers began to drop faster than any of us could remember! I guess it figures. We hit Manaus, turned left and headed up the Rio Negro, a month earlier than planned, and our Solimoes explorers went right along with us.

Sure enough we found perfect water levels, 400 miles from where we expected them, in tributaries of the middle Rio Branco. Thank heavens for the Blackwater Explorer’s great mobility. Our anglers untied their esoteric exploratory lures, put on their faithful jigs and woodchoppers, their spooks and plugs and flies and they went straight to work, with great success. Our first week (actually only 5 days) of peacock bass fishing yielded 997 fish, and an average of 124 per angler. The week’s biggest fish landed was a tie at 16 pounds between Rob Bland and Brent Boswell, both of Australia. Honors for the most fish caught went to the Aussie team of Col Roberts and Brent Boswell, with 377 fish between them. The average size of the peacocks caught this week was high, with fish weights heavily concentrated in the mid-size range. The week produced a high percentage of trophy fish that continued growing through the next two weeks. The world’s weather may be turning topsy-turvy, but the Blackwater Explorer knows how to find plenty of big peacock bass nonetheless.


Aussie Neil Patrick with a trophy peacock bass.

Aussie Neil Patrick with a trophy peacock bass.

Our second group arrived and began immediately producing lots of mid to large size fish in the same region. As reports of dropping water levels to the south came in, however, we elected to leave them biting and explore the opportunities in several other fisheries. We let our anglers loose on the Rio Tapera, the Rio Massaui and the mouth of the Rio Caures on the Rio Negro system. The effort proved worthwhile as we encountered plenty of big fish along the way, 78 of them to be exact. Our anglers landed a total of 1688 peacocks, averaging 187 per angler for the week. The team of Don Mitzel and Dave Dunafon, both of Missouri, landed an astounding total of 672 peacock bass between them. Jim Butters of New Jersey took the honors for biggest fish with an 18 pound trophy.


Steve Townson (front) and Ron Elbers with a double-digit Rio Caures doubleheader.

Steve Townson (front) and Ron Elbers with a double-digit Rio Caures doubleheader.

Week three found us ascending to the headwaters of the Rio Caures. Not only do we depend on the Explorer’s mobility, but we take advantage of its shallow draft to navigate rapidly dropping river systems. Water levels were perfect and the results showed it. The group landed 1286 peacocks with an amazing total of 101 trophies, including 4 over 20 lbs! The largest peacock was a 22 pound hog, courtesy of J.R. Rokey of Arizona. The hard-working pair of Steve Townson (Portugal) and Ron Elbers (Canada) caught the most fish for the week with a total of 309 peacock bass between them.

If you can travel on short-notice, join us now and take advantage of the best water levels in years! The rivers are perfect and the fishing just doesn’t get better than this. To make things even more attractive, we’re offering a one-time only short-notice discount package for several of our upcoming dates. Call now for available openings – (866) 832-2987.

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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;

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.

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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 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 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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Why Go all the Way to the Amazon – When They Have Peacock Bass in Florida?

June 18, 2009


Why go all the way to the Amazon, when they have peacock bass in Florida? Well, for the same reason it’s worth traveling 10 miles down the road to a river full of smallmouth bass instead of fishing for rock bass in the creek behind your house.  The term bass is a catchall for several related but quite dissimilar fishes.  They are very different animals in a very different environment.  The peacock bass imported to Florida are about as similar to the Amazon giants as rock bass are to smallmouths.  They are very different animals in a very different environment.

Amazon Peacock Bass attain enormous sizes

Amazon Peacock Bass attain enormous sizes

 The venerable smallmouth, highly regarded as one of North America’s most sporting gamefish belongs to the family Centrarchidae, as does its smaller, meeker cousin, the rock bass.  Although they are from the same branch of their family (let’s call them cousins) and they are both called bass, they are very different in form and have very different behaviors. (Perhaps you have a first cousin named, well, lets say “Fauntleroy”, whose hobby is collecting back issues of Home and Garden; See what I mean?)

 The same analogy holds true for peacock bass.  All of them belong to the family Cichlidae; Fifteen species comprise the genus Cichla and all of them are called peacock bass.  Cichla ocellaris, also known in Florida as the butterfly peacock (lets think of them as the rock bass of the family, or maybe “Fauntleroy”, for the moment) were transplanted from waters of the Guyana shield region, (north of the Amazon main stem) into South Florida canals some 20 years ago.  A strong, efficient predator for their size, they flourished in the region.  Their native environment in cooler waters outside the lowlands Amazon basin made them temperature-tolerant enough to survive the cold spells common in subtropical Florida.  They have been a good addition to south Florida’s freshwater fish population and they offer a nice alternative to the resident largemouths.  But from a fisherman’s point of view, they are no comparison to the enormous beasts found in the Amazon.

   Let’s compare them point by point in some of the more important parameters;

 1. Size; No comparison here.  Although Florida peacocks (Cichla ocellaris) can attain up to 10 lbs. in weight, a far more typical size is a pound or two.  Their Amazon cousins (Cichla temensis) are beasts of a different magnitude, averaging 5 lbs. or more (depending on the river) with 15 lb. trophies common and with hulking monsters over 25 lbs. lurking in the Amazon’s blackwaters.

 2. Feeding Behavior; Although not as obvious as the size differences, feeding behavior is what characterizes a gamefish and is probably the most significant indicator of fishing quality from the point of view of a sportfisherman.  Florida peacocks tend to be subsurface feeders and can be extremely selective.  Anglers find it often takes a live shiner to get their interest.  Amazon peacocks, on the other hand are exclusively 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 the Florida 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.  No comparison here either.  Frankly, no other fish compares, anywhere.

 3. Habitat; Amazon peacocks are found in the most pristine and exotic habitat 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 the sudden, violent and explosive attacks of these monsters.  And, there are lots of other fish, ranging from acrobatic aruana to hulking giant catfish.  Even if there were no fish at all, the stunning Amazon environment alone creates a hauntingly beautiful experience.  Florida’s peacocks live in a wide range of very different water bodies, ranging from canals surrounding Miami airport, to residential development ponds, to the infield at Homestead race track.   One might consider these to be exotic also, but in a very, very different way.

 4. Environmental conditions; The central Amazon basin experiences a yearly water level pulsation, akin to a gigantic tide.  With water levels rising and falling as much as 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.  These conditions aren’t found outside of the Amazon, so Florida understandably provides a more homogenous fishing environment, without the extraordinary seasonal productivity associated with low water in the Amazon.

 5. Price; Surely I’m kidding, right?  There can’t be any comparison, can there? Well, believe it or not, fishing for peacocks in the Amazon costs about the same per day than the same length of excursion in Florida.  Our Brazil trips provide about 6½ days of fishing and start from $3,650, or about $560 per day.  That includes everything (except tipping); sumptuous meals, open bar 24/7, dedicated personal service, one of the world’s last great wildernesses and an unequalled fishing experience.  What about Florida?  You can expect a professional guide to ask for $375 to $550 per day (and sometimes you’ll pay extra for gas, lunch and bait as well).  Let’s be economical and just call it $475.  Now add in a motel, at least $60 a night, dinner and breakfast, if you eat cheap you can manage on $40, (and if you enjoy a cocktail in the evenings you’d better figure that in as well).  We’re at $575 per day already, without even a cold beer, and you’ve got to admit you’re not quite getting the same ambiance for your money.  Compare that to our trips.  Go ahead, you do the math!

Amazon peacock bass are found in the most pristine waters on Earth.

Amazon peacock bass are found in the most pristine waters on Earth.

 There are many other points open for analysis, but I hope that by now it’s become clear that we’re not talking about the same type of fish or the same type of experience.  All of this being said, I wouldn’t disparage the Florida peacock in any way.  It’s a great fish in its own right.  Pound for pound all peacocks are great fighters, displaying an unparalleled power and tenacity on rod and reel.  Florida peacocks are no exception.  They’re great fish when taken in context;  they’re just not in the same league with the Amazon peacocks.

 I’m not a purist, I just love to fish.  I’m a pragmatic fisherman.  When all that’s available to me are rock bass, I’m not proud; my bait will be in the water.  As Steven Stills so famously and perhaps a little bit callously sang, “Love the one you’re with”.  If I can’t be in Brazil, I’ll happily fish for Florida peacocks and if I can’t get to Florida, I’ll happily fish for one pound largemouths in my backyard pond or even rock bass in the creek, just as long as I’m fishing.  But given the choice and the chance, count me in for the world’s greatest freshwater fighting fish, the Amazon peacock bass.

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