Monster Peacock Bass
Steve McDonald Jr. / Sportsmens Compass Contributing Member
Do you have a passion for freshwater fishing like I do, and moreover an adoration for mighty monster peacock bass? If you said “yes”, then you owe it to yourself to experience the Amazon one day soon, and LIVE this once in a lifetime fishing adventure first hand!
I have fallen in love with peacock bass by both catching them, as well as guiding for them here in South Florida. The butterfly peacock bass that the FWC stocked 30 years ago has provided myself and my kids hours of backyard enjoyment. Hundreds of our clients have left the South Florida area with awesome fish stories to tell their buddies back home. Lots of bent poles and tight lines are generally the result of a day of monster peacock bass fishing here in Florida. If you have ever seen one bust a top water plug, then you have likely been “hooked” by this fish’s ferocity and their reputed fighting ability which I believe is second to none!
The Amazon regions of South America are home to the world’s largest peacock bass. The largest of these bruisers is the Tucunare Acu (or 3 barred peacock bass) which grow to 40+ inches and 30 pounds! In the rivers we fish there also resides other species of peacocks such as the Tucunare Paca or “speckled” peacock, and the Tucunare Borboleta or “butterfly” peacock which we have right here in Southeast Florida. If you have never experienced this awesome species then come along with us right now as we venture deep into the Amazon jungles of Brazil in search of Monster Peacock Bass!
It’s 3:30am and I’m just waking up to that annoying sound of the alarm clock. However this morning, is a bit different for me. No rush hour traffic to deal with. No lines at the gas pump, and there is no snooze button in my world today! I’m off to Miami International Airport to board a non-stop TAM flight to Manaus, Amazonas – Brazil. Yep – I am wide awake with no sleep in my eyes this am. The wheels in my head are turning and my mind dreams of watching that double digit beast annihilate my top water lure! About noon I hear the 767′s landing gear go down, so I crack my window shade. What my eyes fixate on is one of the most beautiful, special and wildest places on the planet. The sheer size of this jungle and its rivers will stun you with awe and its beauty will lull you into a sense of comfort almost immediately. Brazil truly loves showing off its prized possession – the AMAZON!
After clearing customs it as a three hour bus ride to Ita Coatiara and our 75 foot hotel boat the Amazon Prince. This is what we will call our home for the rest of the week. When we arrive at the boat we are greeted by the crew and given a cast-away party that is fit for royalty. After an awesome dinner and some drinks, it’s time to get our tackle ready for the next day’s battle! Heavy action All-Star® rods, high speed Pflueger® reels and spools of 80 pound Spiderwire® braid litter the top deck of the yacht. The smell of epoxy is in the air and a good pair of split ring pliers quickly becomes a Wall Street commodity. In the words of a simple man who loves to fish…”life is good.”
If you can sleep this first night then you are better off than me. I end up staring at the ceiling of my state room for most of the evening in anticipation of launching that first cast into the hallowed waters of the Amazon.
At 5am I receive a wake up knock on my door from my guide Sula, telling me that it is time to chunk and wind! I scarf down a quick ham, egg and cheese sandwich, some fresh fruit and a glass of juice for breakfast and we are off. While Sula navigates the fishing boat away from the yacht and through the rivers and lagoons in search of prime water, I begin to double and triple check everything in my fishing system. Finally he shuts the Mercury® off and lowers the trolling motor down into the black water. Knowing it is
now go-time, I unclip the bone colored Super Spook® from my casting rod. I make sure my Owner® 4x blood red treble hooks are hung correctly in the 100# Bass Pro Shops® saltwater split rings that we swapped out last night and that the pegs are properly epoxied back into the body of the bait. Last, but certainly not least, I ratchet the drag on my reel down so tight that you can barely pull any line off the spool. Now we are ready to go peacock bass fishing!
The first couple of days were great for numbers of fish up to 12 pounds, but the grandes were very elusive. On day three our captain brought the Amazon Prince further up the Rio Uatuma and into lunkerville! Sula told me that he wanted to make a long run this morning – about an hour up the river to a lagoon that he liked a lot. You sacrifice some fishing time by doing this, but last year I broke off a 22 pounder there, so I knew there were some bigger fish that resided in that lagoon. I said “let’s do it”. My motto in Brazil is, “Go big or go home!”
Upon our arrival we fished some rocky points with little success. Around 9am we ended up moving back into a little area that had some shallow flooded forest. We saw some fish busting bait there earlier, so it seemed promising. I threw a Rebel® Jumpin’ Minnow (which started the week out silver and black, but now appeared more of a bone color being almost paint-less from peacock strikes) in past a large dead tree about 20 yards in front of the boat and half way back into the forest. I walked the lure quickly past the big tree and the water just flat opened up! A split second later some 18lbs of emerald-green and Sunkist®-orange fury came leaping out of the water, shaking its head violently trying to throw my plug! That moment, seeing that fish eat my lure and then jump, was the culmination of hours and hours of hard work, thousands of dollars spent, thousands of casts made and months of preparation! Just as quickly as I had received my moment of jubilation it turned to despair as the monster fish proceeded to tear some 20 or 30 yards of line from my reel and then it wrapped me around a tree that was behind our boat! All I could do was pray that my 80lb braid held. I don’t know how the line survived being mangled around that tree trunk so long, but it did its job and I was able to stay tight on the big fish! Then just as quickly, I had another issue on my hands as this beast had tangled itself in a lay-down 30 feet behind the tree we just came around. Sula maneuvered the boat forward and around the big tree so problem number one was solved. I was still tight and could still feel the fish moving on the end of my line. I kept tension on the line as Sula untangled the fish from the lay-down and ultimately after another short battle we slipped him into the net. We got a monster! I breathed a sigh of relief and took some pictures of the fish. Looking back I was lucky that he got stuck in that lay-down or I would never have landed him. After we let him go it was high fives and hugs between fishing my partner, myself and our guide Sula! Then it was back to work.
Our fifth day was a special day for me. I had already touched probably 150 peacocks during the week (up to 18 pounds) so I was a happy camper. We started our move for the day downriver to fish some new lagoons. The morning session was fun for all of us. Doug Hatchett from Oklahoma caught one 17lbs on a Spook® and I caught one about 12lbs off of a lay-down on a blue and silver Caribe® prop bait.
In the afternoon Sula and a couple of other guides took us to a private lagoon that was fenced off with chain link. It was actually quite an impressive structure to see. We gave the owner of the lake some Coca-Cola® and a couple cans of beer, and he broke out the dikes and started cutting! I could not believe it! We got in there, but the first hour was slow. We fished our way into the back of the lagoon and all of a sudden the place came alive! There were fish schooling everywhere we looked! I did not know where to cast. We were like “Cast at those – they look even bigger”. My partner and I landed about 30 peacocks, up to 8 or 9lbs, in that hour. It was awesome!
After that frenzy I started keying-in on larger tree trunks similar to where my 18 pounder came from earlier in the week. So now I was only throwing at the bigger stumps. And then right before dark – kablaaaaaam! This 20 pound freight train engulfs my Rebel® Jumpin’ Minnow! The fish went 20 yards left and jumped I would guess 6 times about eye level with me. It was incredible! Each time he went to jump I cringed a little bit knowing that sooner or later he might throw the lure. This time lady-luck was on my side, and Sula was able to slip the net under him and lug him into the boat. I was more like Mike Iaconelli than myself when we landed that fish. I probably woke-up a few monkeys in the jungle when I screamed out – “YES” !!!!! We weighed, measured and photographed the monster peacock bass before a few minutes of big fish revival. Once he was ready to go, I released my firm grip from his lower jaw and simply watched in awe as he swam back to the tannin stained waters of the lagoon.
You may be wondering about the accommodations you might have on a trip of this nature. And what will you eat? Is it safe for Americans to travel to Brazil? I also had these same questions and concerns on my first trip, and believe me you do not need to worry about any of these items. You will stay on a comfortable mother ship designed to navigate the shallow rivers in a double occupancy private stateroom. Each cabin has a private bathroom, shower and a remote controlled air conditioner. You will eat like a king all week long. The on-board chef prepares 3 sit-down meals daily, as well as appetizers before lunch and before dinner. We eat foods like chicken, fresh fish from the river, Brazilian steaks, sausages, assorted cheeses, hamburgers, deli meats, fresh fruits, fresh juices and an open bar complete with bartender. The bartender sure had a heavy hand! As far as your safety goes – Brazil is a very stable country with a stable government and economy. You never have to worry about your comfort or safety while you are visiting the Amazon. I have travelled all over the world and I can tell you that the treatment and service that you will receive from the Brazilian people on a similar trip is unsurpassed anywhere else!
Stories like mine are commonplace with others that have been on this adventure, and we all have great tales of “the big one that got away”. The Amazon is a special place for anyone, and for us inshore and bass anglers – I’ll just call it paradise.
Come and LIVE this adventure!
Steve McDonald Jr.
Monster Peacock Bass Outfitters