Peacock Bass are particularly well-suited for targeting with lures, especially topwater lures. But at their core, this shockingly-beautiful imported (in the eighties) Florida sports fish is an ambush predator. As such, they sit quietly (we imagine) in the water column and watch for living and nearly-living forage to flow by them in the water. While they live in our lakes and ponds, you're most likely to catch them in the incredible water management canals of south Florida, which offers the flow that allows these creatures a place to sit alongside the other predator – the Florida Black (Largemouth) Bass. Both are more likely to eat a fresh and natural bait than something made of plastic, no matter how remarkable an angler you happen to be. Peacocks are not picky; they will eat any live baitfish, including small Bluegills and other Panfish, which is legal to use as bait in Florida as long as you catch it yourself with a hook and line method. Here are some other of their favorites.
Like the Largemouth, the bait a Peacock is most likely to hit regardless of when or where in their region you might be fishing, is a Golden Shiner. The Golden Shiner – expensive if you buy them but cheap if you use a Sabiki lure (like we use in saltwater to catch Sardines and Pinfish) with a little piece of bread dough stuck on their little tiny golden hooks, can grab you plenty of these native fish. You are totally within your rights to catch the bait in the water and use it to catch the bigger fish. You can also attract them to shallow water with chum and catch them with a castnet.
Shad live well in fresh water, and the canals of south Florida – hundreds and hundreds of miles of them – are perfectly suited to sport the incredible and oily bait fish. The Largemouth Bass and especially the Peacocks love these very shiny and smelly baits. Put them under a bobber exactly like you would a Golden Shiner and they will get struck (sometimes) more often than the pure Sweetwater Shiners. They will also strike a Sabiki lure and you should have them in your pack.
We have heard of Peacock Bass picking up worms from the bottom, but you are far more likely to catch a Largemouth or something else from either natural or artificial worms. Worms should be your last choice of live bait. Granted, they will eat a natural worm before they will eat a plastic one, but these fish are more fish-eaters than almost any other fish we know, even Largemouth Bass that share the waterways where the Peacock Bass live.
Other Exotic (and Not So Exotic) Natural Baits for Peacock
These are aggressive fish always on the hunt for food. They will eat a cricket if you put it under a bobber, float it past one of them, and it sees or smells it. But crickets are even better for our theory that the best bait for big fish are the small fish that live around them. The canals of southeast Florida are ripe with all kinds of things you may never have considered as bait. A perfect example are Oscars. Or spotted Tilapia. Or other creatures as yet to be registered as Invasive Species. But use a small golden hook – or as we said use them five at a time with a Sabiki rig – and you will be surprised at how fast you could get that Peacock Bass to stop looking at plastic lures or the one cricket you have left and eat the real thing. You can easily load your bait bucket with live bait five or six or eight at a time, use them, and reload it on any of those miles of fishery.