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Secret Peacocks

I had heard the rumors for years. There was a small lake deep in the Everglades where there was a forgotten population of peacock bass. I searched the internet, scouring various fishing forums. I asked guides and tackle shop owners and checked and rechecked maps and aerial photos till I narrowed down some possible locations. I enlisted the assistance of fishing buddy Jim VanPelt and headed off on an adventure.

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The Everglades are vast. There are many thousands of square miles of grassy swamp and cypress hammocks, and lots of water. The location I wanted to scout was far off the beaten path, but a network of swamp buggy paths and old Indian trails would bring me close. Jim and I arrived at the farthest point accessible by vehicle, and began our hike through the swamp. Summertime brings daily torrential rains to South Florida, and the water was about knee deep. We hiked with our fishing gear following trails I had mapped out. Eventually we came upon a beautiful, deep, crystal clear lake.

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We found a small patch of dry ground to drop all of our gear, and then began working the edge of the lake. Almost immediately our topwater baits produced fish. We were both using an Unfair Lures Dawgslider 68. I have found this lure to be particularly useful for peacock bass. My first fish, however, was a mayan cichlid. I have never caught one of these exotic species on topwater, but this fish violently attacked the lure. The cichlid was followed by several peacock bass and largemouth bass as well.

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Jim was having similar success on his edge of the lake, landing peacocks, largemouth and cichlids. The water was so clear we could see the fish follow then smash the lures. After a half hour or so, we both had caught several fish and we switched over to some live shiners we brought to see if we could entice the larger fish into action. We were not disappointed. The peacock bass were very aggressive and for the first time I really noticed how these bass compare to largemouth.

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I have been catching peacock bass on the East and West coasts for a couple of years and although they were good fighters, the bite and length of fight seemed a little lacking. These fish were slamming the bait very hard and refused to quit, especially the smaller ones. This went on for another hour with us landing many good sized fish. All told, we were at the lake about an hour and a half and easily caught more peacock bass than we had caught before total. It was a hike, but it ended up being worth it.

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Normally I disclose the specific location of the fishing holes I come across, but this one will have to wait awhile. There are still little known places out there to spur our curiosity and make our adventurous spirit come alive, all we have to do is find them.

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Peacocks In Paradise

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By Bob Bramblet

I hadn’t had my kayak in the water for months when fishing buddy Jim VanPelt suggested we try for peacock bass in a local canal system. I dusted off my fishing gear and loaded the truck somewhat begrudgingly. The heat of the Southwest Florida summer had taken its toll on me and my usually strong desire to fish. Still, the promise of peacocks on topwater lures proved a strong incentive for my motivation.

We met early that Saturday morning and drove to Golden Gate. Our destination was the Santa Barbara canal system. This system is loaded with peacock bass, largemouth bass, freshwater snook and a variety of smaller exotic and native fishes. When we arrived we were greeted with fast moving mud stained water choked with large floating mats of uprooted hydrilla. The frequent South Florida thunderstorms had dumped so much rain in the last few months that sheet flow had turned this quiet canal into a tumultuous river of chocolate.

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Undaunted, we launched our Pro Anglers and ventured into the water. The edges of the canal provided a respite from the fast moving center. We made our way upstream in hopes that a t-canal a short distance away may have clearer, more docile water. As we rounded the corner our hopes became reality as we entered a much calmer area. We were immediately rewarded with signs of aquatic life seemingly everywhere. Bait fishes were scattering from boils and there were telltale “smacks” on the top of the water. It was otherwise quiet, and this is what we had come for.

My lure of choice was an Unfair Lures Dawgslider 68 in a gold color and Jim had tied on the same lure in a greenish color. It wasn’t long before we had results. I broke the proverbial ice first when a peacock bass slammed my lure. It was a smaller female but fought like a champion. Peacock bass respond to topwater with a ferocity unmatched by any other freshwater fish. The peacocks in this canal have been here for years according to local residents, well before the big freeze of 2010 that killed off the rest of the Collier County population.

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FWC originally stocked the canals of Miami-Dade County in the 1980’s with peacock bass, but did not include Collier County in the program. The fish here came from another source. There has been a rumor for years that Roland Martin, a fishing show host who lives nearby, had introduced the peacock bass to this area. Recently I asked his son Scott Martin who told me it wasn’t Roland, the bass have been there for many, many years before they lived in the area. In the end, it doesn’t matter where they came from, they are here and Jim and I were just getting started.

Jim hooked up next with the largest peacock bass I have seen in this canal. His was a male fish with the ubiquitous gelatinous forehead hump. After several magnificent attempts at freeing himself, the fish finally gave up. He was released back into the dark, clear water with a story to tell.

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Jim and I continued on, catching several more peacock bass and a few spirited largemouth bass as well. As the sun rose and the temperature climbed, we headed back to the launch.

We loaded our gear up and I remembered we brought a dozen shiners in case the bass weren’t interested in our topwater offering. I tied on a hook and within seconds landed a largemouth bass that was hanging out under the dock. This was followed by another and another, until Jim and I used up our bait. It was a perfect ending to our short trip.

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If you want to go, I recommend waiting until the rainy season subsides a bit. The launch I use is the boat ramp at the Golden Gate Community Park, just off Santa Barbara Blvd, one block south of Golden Gate Parkway. I also recommend checking out maps of the area as this is an extensive canal system. There are many t-canals that intersect with the main canal you will be launching in. Peacock bass respond to topwater lures and hard minnow lures such as Rapalas, Unfair Rip ‘n Slash and Rattle Traps. They also love live shiners. See ya there!

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Grouper Galore

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By Joey Nicotra

The very last weekend of my summer in Florida was spent (surprisingly) fishing offshore. That’s right, I went offshore fishing with my dad and some coworkers out of Venice, Forida. The day started in the wee hours of the morning, driving with my dad up to Venice. We met up with Capt. Bob Breton as he launched his 27′ Pro Sports ProCat at dawn.

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We were on our way out by 6:30 AM to catch some live bait. We pulled up to a spot off the beach that showed hoards of pinfish schooling on the bottom. We buddied up and dropped sabiki rigs tipped with squid and soon had 150+ pinfish and a couple blue runners in the well.

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From there we made a run out to about 60 feet of water. The morning bite was slow as we tested the waters with a variety of baits, from octopus chunks to large live pinfish. After a couple hours we had only a few keeper red grouper on ice, and our captain would not rest until we had a full cooler.

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We made another long run even farther out to 100 feet of water, and this is where the action really turned on. On my first drop with a live pinfish I hooked into a monster grouper that eventually snapped my 30 lb test mainline. Soon after we had a school of amberjacks under the boat that kept everyone busy for a while. My dad and I hooked up simultaneously with two of the bigger AJs of the day. I also caught a 6 foot nurse shark before heading over to a better grouper hole.

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The next few spots we hit yielded big grouper after big grouper. All were reds except for one keeper gag.  My dad seemed to be having the most luck on his lighter spinning outfit and landed one of the biggest grouper of the day.

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It took us until about 4:00 PM but we all had our limit of grouper by the end of the day.

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We relaxed on the long run in and had our fish fileted for us by our mate at the docks. We drove home exhausted but with a cooler packed with fresh grouper filets. It was a beautiful day and a great change of pace from my usual inshore fishing. Capt. Bob and his mate made our trip very productive and enjoyable. He kept us on fish all day long, even when the grouper did not want to cooperate. He sure kept his promise of getting us a limit of grouper and sore arms!

If you are interested in booking a trip with Capt. Bob, visit http://www.thehoghunter.com/book-a-florida-fishing-charter.