Peacock Facts - All about the Peacock Bass

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Typical South American peacock bass
Colorful prowling peacock. Note the large hump on the actively spawning male peacock.

It was the late 1950's or early '60's that the first accounts of peacock bass were told by the late Field and Stream angling editor A.J. McClane. His text and stories described huge, hump-backed fish that had a resemblance to largemouth bass, but were much bigger and were brightly colored. McClane referred to those fish as pavon, the local Venezuelan name, which loosely translated to peacock in English.

Some believe that the bass moniker was either tackled on to peacock by Florida Fish and Game personnel that were involved in the early stocking programs, or perhaps an early American fishing tour operator, believing that not many "gringo" anglers would be interested in fishing for a fish called pavon.

In actuality, the peacock bass is not a member of the bass family at all. It is just one of the some 1,600 plus members of the family of fish called cichlids. There are some striking similarities to the largemouth bass however, such as basic body contour, cavernous mouth, ravenous appetite and a strong propensity to attack prey and fishing lures with a ferocity that is more reminiscent of much larger fish. One striking difference, immediately apparent to the first-time peacock bass angler, is that this fish is much more vividly colored in varying shades of green, blue, orange and gold.

"Don't let this ''Fancy Dan" appearance fool you, though" says author, writer and National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame angler Spence Petros of McHenry, Illinois. ( "The peacock bass is much more aggressive than the largemouth, often pursuing lures or prey larger than itself. Peacocks routinely break lines, shatter rods and destroy tackle that would subdue the toughest largemouth. The peacock bass has evolved as a world class gamefish, one that has learned to flourish in an environment that possesses vast schools of vicious piranhas, giant Amazon catfish the size of Volkswagens, 12-foot long armor scaled pirarucus, alligators and an assortment of other unsavory characters that possess fangs, stingers, toxins and never-ending appetites."

While four distinct species of peacock bass (known as pavon in Venezuela and Colombia or tucunare in Brazil and Peru) are generally recognized, some fish biologists suggest that perhaps as many as 12 or more species might actually exist throughout South America.

A black circular "eye spot" - dramatically rimmed in a fluorescent gold - on the base of the tail fin is a common characteristic shared by all the many subspecies of peacock bass. It is said that this "eye spot" resembles that found on the tail plume of the peacock fowl and perhaps this is the reason that South American anglers called the fish pavon or peacock.

Spawning peacock bass
Another spawning male peacock bass, specifically, a royal pavon. Note the prominent hump on its head.

Another unique difference between peacock bass and their North American counterparts is that the largest of the largemouth species are always female, while either the male or female peacock bass can grow to large portions. Actively breeding larger male peacock bass possess a prominent hump on their head, its purpose the source of much speculation, including: a natural weapon used as a battering ram when engaged in battle with other males and to protect fry and territory, a fat deposit that the male uses to nourish himself when guarding fry and not actively feeding or a hormonal induced structure that might make him more appealing to the females of the species.

Subspecies Identification:
The Peacock Pavon

peacock pavon
The peacock pavon has three vertical bars and black cheek blotches.

The peacock pavon or tucunare (cichla temensis), often called "grande," "acu" or "black barred" peacock, is dusky green on the dorsal surface, blending to a golden or greenish yellow on its sides. It is characterized by three black vertical bars along each side, and black irregular patches situated behind the eye 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.

The Speckled Pavon

The speckled pavon
Note the white or pale yellow speckles in addition to the three dark vertical bars of the speckled pavon.

The speckled pavon or tucunare (cichla temensis), often called the "tiger,"
" el tigre" or "paca," is typically the darkest of the peacock bass. This subspecies possesses three dark vertical bars, as well as a series of white or pale yellow spots or broken lines, running in horizontal rows along the length to their bodies. The world record peacock bass - a 27 pound monster - was a speckled variety. Many experienced peacock anglers believe that this is the most powerful of the subspecies.
The Butterfly Pavon

Butterfly peacock bass
The butterfly pavon might be one of the most colorful subspecies in the peacock bass family.

The butterfly pavon or tucunare (chichla ocellaris), also called mariposa, is the most colorful and plentiful member of the peacock bass family. It can be distinguished from other pavon subspecies by three black circular blotches (called rosettes) along each side of the body. Butterfly peacocks typically average 2-4 pounds.
The Butterfly Variant

Butterfly pavon peacock bass variant
This is a record-class butterfly pavon. Note the lack of clearly-defined rosettes.

Keep in mind however, that in some regions of South America and Florida, the rosettes are not as obvious as in some clearer water fisheries, making them quite difficult to distinguish from the temensis. In some cases, the markings will be a cross between a bar and a rosette. I believe the most common way to distinguish them is that the butterfly will not have the black, irregular cheek blotches of the temensis species. During my early years fishing for this gamefish, I know I lost out on registering possible IGFA record class butterfly peacocks because I failed to correctly identify them as the butterfly variety. Note how this butterfly peacock bass does not have the Classic appearance often described Found in Venezuela and Colombia.

The Royal Pavon

The Royal peacock bass pavon
Note the irregular 7 to 9 bars along the side of the royal pavon.

The royal pavon (chichla intermedia), also referred to as the black-striped peacock, is comparable in size to the butterfly. It possesses an irregular, dark line running laterally along the length of its golden or olive green body. It has seven to 10 faint black vertical bars along each side.