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I had just boarded the boat that early morning and was eager to begin my first South American quest for peacock bass. But before motoring out onto the tannin-stained waters of massive Guri Lake, my Venezuelan guide, Miguel Gonzales, started sifting through my tacklebox. I watched in amusement as he probed deeper into my box, his weathered hands deftly noting the weight, size, color, hook sharpness and split ring strength of each lure. I could tell by his expressions that he was not impressed with my collection of bass plugs.

Peacock Bass

He shook his head, indicating that he hadn’t found what he was searching for. Then, from beneath his boat seat, Miguel revealed one of the largest, gaudiest lure I’d ever seen. “Esta es bueno para pavon grande,” he said.

My Spanish was very rudimentary, but Miguel’s message required no translation: To catch a trophy peacock bass, I’d need a lure the size of an axe handle, adorned like an impressionist painter’s canvas.

After tying the immense plug on, I fired off a long cast to a sloping, rocky point and began working the bait back to the boat. “Mas rapido - mas rapido!” Miguel shouted, his hands gesturing, “Speed it up, gringo!”

I began retrieving the bait aggressively, causing the large tail propeller to make a visible and audible commotion as it ripped across the glassy surface. On my third cast, the plug was assaulted with a ferocity that I had not witnessed before -- the sound reminiscent of a demolition blast. A large peacock bass took the bait and bolted for the depths with a surge that nearly ripped the rod from my grasp.

A forceful hook-set failed to get the fish’s attention, and I watched in disbelief as the peacock sped off with its prize. My drag screeched, as the peacock headed for a plot of standing timber 15 yards away. I frantically tightened the drag in a last-ditch effort to thwart his escape to the underwater maze, and, to my delight, this stopped the fish’s run.

Then suddenly, 14 pounds of emerald-green and Sunkist-orange fury bolted to the surface, clearing the water by three feet. Miguel’s red-and-white plug dangled from his jaw like a candy cane. Shaking its massive head, the fish managed to pry two treble hooks loose from what had seemed to be a well-constructed bait. I stood there shaking and staring in awe at the battered plug lying motionless in the water.

Peacock BassA BREED APART

Though its basic anatomy closely resembles that of the largemouth bass, the peacock bass is actually not a member of the bass family. It belongs to a family of fish known as cichlids. Like largemouths, the peacock prefers to ambush unsuspecting prey from a stealthy vantagepoint and demonstrates a gluttonous appetite.

The similarity ends there, however. The peacock bass is much more eye-appealing than its North American counterpart, colorfully adorned in varying shades of green, blue, orange and gold.

“Don’t let this Fancy Dan appearance fool you, though” says Hall of Fame angler Spence Petros. “Peacocks are far more aggressive than largemouths, often pursuing lures or prey larger than themselves. They routinely break lines, shatter rods and destroy tackle that would subdue the toughest largemouth. The peacock has evolved as a world-class gamefish, flourishing in an environment filled vicious piranhas, Volkswagen-size catfish, 12-foot long armor scaled piraracus, alligators and an assortment of other unsavory characters possessing fangs, stingers, toxins and never-ending appetites.”

Peacock bass are bass are known as pavon in Venezuela and Colombia or tucunare in Brazil and Peru. While four distinct species are generally recognized, some fish biologists suggest that a dozen or more varieties might actually exist throughout South America.

A common characteristic shared by all peacocks is the black circular “eye spot” - dramatically rimmed in gold - on the base of the caudal fin. This spot closely resembles the tail plume of a peacock fowl. Hence, the name peacock bass became the perfect moniker.

Actively breeding male peacocks bear a prominent hump on their head. This is used as a battering ram in battles with other males and to protect fry and territory. Some speculate it might be a fat deposit that the male uses to nourish himself when guarding fry and not feeding.

Peacock BassThe speckled peacock (cichla temensis), often called “tigre” or “paca,” is typically the darkest of the peacock bass. It has three dark vertical bars, as well as rows of white or pale yellow spots or broken lines, running horizontally along the length of their bodies. The world record peacock - a 27-pound monster - was a speckled variety. Most peacock veterans anglers rank this the most powerful of the subspecies.



Peacock BassThe peacock pavon or tucunare (cichla temensis), often called “grande,” “acu” or “barred” peacock, is dusky green on the dorsal surface, blending to a golden or greenish yellow on its sides. It has three black vertical bars along each side, and black irregular patches on the cheek. This species can grow in excess of 27 pounds. Some biologists believe it is the same subspecies as the speckled version. The IGFA currently groups them together for world-record purposes.



Peacock BassThe butterfly peacock (cichla ocellaris), also called “mariposa,” is the most colorful member of the peacock family. It is distinguished by three black circular splotches along each side of the body. Butterfly peacocks typically run 2-4 pounds, but can grow in excess of 10 pounds.



Peacock BassFound in Venezuela and Colombia, the royal peacock (cichla intermedia), also referred to as the black-striped peacock, is comparable in size to the butterfly. A dark line runs laterally along its golden or olive green body, while 7-10 irregular bars run vertically along each side.

 


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