Posts Tagged ‘ocellaris’

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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