Florida Fishing: 4 Freshwater Exotics To Catch

By Debbie Hanson

Aug 26, 2016

Spice up your summer fishing trips with Florida's exotic freshwater fish. A local angler gives the inside scoop on the best fishing tackle and techniques, as well as where to find species like butterfly peacock bass, clown knife fish, and more!

If you pay a visit to the southernmost state, you can take advantage of several Florida fishing opportunities that are particularly intriguing. These opportunities involve targeting freshwater nonnative or exotic fish species that did not historically occur in Florida. These species can make ideal targets for anglers who are looking for Florida fishing fun and excitement while using either natural baits or artificial lures.

Exotic Freshwater Fish Found in Florida
Many exotic species lack natural predators, so they can outcompete native fish species. This can be an issue if they multiply unchecked, and use up valuable food resources that could cause native species to suffer. The one exception to this rule occurs in the case of the butterfly peacock bass -- this species was intentionally introduced to South Florida canal systems in the 1980's by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to help increase predation on illegally introduced exotic forage fishes while also enhancing recreational fishing opportunities at the same time.

While there are dozens of exotic freshwater fish species you can pursue in Florida, you may find it worthwhile to learn more about these four non-native favorites in particular, due to their increasing popularity and sporting qualities.

Clown Knife Fish 
Originally native to tropical Asia, the clown knife fish can now be found in southeast Florida lakes and canal systems. This bizarre-looking species is flat and silvery with a long anal fin that features a series of five to ten black spots ringed with white. Live golden shiners or shad are among the best baits to use when pursuing this species. Focus your efforts near docks, bridges, and canal edges using a 2/0 hook rigged to a 30-lb test fluorocarbon leader. 

Butterfly Peacock Bass 
The colorful peacock bass is a feisty fighter that can be an absolute blast to catch, particularly on light tackle. Butterfly peacock bass have bright red eyes, and males of spawning age can be rather easily identified by the nuchal hump located at the top of their heads. Live shiners are the ideal live baits to use when targeting the butterfly peacock bass; however, topwater lures and crankbaits will also work if they are retrieved at a quick pace. Try using a 6 to 7 foot medium-heavy action rod with 8 to 10 lb test line.

Mayan Cichlid 
Known by many Florida fishing fans as the "atomic sunfish" due to its energetic nature, the Mayan cichlid is originally native to Central and South America. However, this species can now be found throughout south Florida in freshwater canals, rivers, lakes and marshes of varying salinity levels. Mayan cichlids are an easy target to pursue using natural baits such as grass shrimp, shiners or crickets on light spinning tackle. Fly anglers can also have tons of fun casting to Mayan cichlids using popping bugs or woolly buggers. 

Jaguar Guapote
Native to Central and South America, the jaguar guapote can be identified by its broken lateral line and purple to black spots. In Florida this species can be found mostly in the coastal canal systems near the southeast part of the state. Small spinnerbaits fished on light tackle are usually effective, but the jaguar guapote will take a variety of baitfish-imitating flies as well.

Now that you know more about Florida fishing opportunities for exotic freshwater fish species, check the state fishing regulations and purchase your fishing license online. 
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit shefishes2.com or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.