Florida fishing: 4 freshwater exotic species to catch

Visiting the southernmost state has several Florida fishing opportunities that are particularly interesting. These options include targeted control of alien or exotic freshwater fish species that did not historically occur in Florida. These species can be ideal targets for anglers looking for the fun and excitement of Florida fishing while using either natural or artificial lures.

Exotic freshwater fish found in Florida

Many exotic species lack natural predators, so they can outperform native fish species. This can be a problem when they reproduce uncontrollably and consume valuable food resources that could cause native species to suffer. The only exception to this rule is the butterfly peacock perch. This species was intentionally introduced into the canal systems of South Florida by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in the 1980s to increase the number of predators on illegally imported exotic fish while improving recreational fishing opportunities.

While there are dozens of exotic freshwater fish species in Florida to keep track of, it may be worth learning more about these four non-native favorites as they continue to grow in popularity and sport.

Clown knife fish

Originally native to tropical Asia, the clown knife fish can now be found in lakes and canal systems in southeast Florida. This bizarre-looking species is flat and silvery with a long anal fin that has a row of five to ten black spots with white rings. Living golden glimmers or shadows are some of the best baits for tracking this species. Focus your efforts near docks, bridges, and canal edges with a 2/0 hook attached to a 30 pound test fluorocarbon leader.

Butterfly peacock bass

The colorful peacock bass is a lively fighter who can be an absolute blast, especially in light duels. Butterfly peacock bass have bright red eyes, and spawning-age males are fairly easy to spot by the hump on the neck that sits on top of their heads. Live shiners are the ideal live baits when targeting the butterfly peacock bass. However, topwater lures and crank lures will also work if found quickly. Try a 6 to 7 foot medium weight action rod with an 8 to 10 pound test line.

Mayan cichlid

The Mayan cichlid, which many Florida fish fans refer to as the “atomic sunfish” due to its energetic nature, originally comes from Central and South America. Today, however, this species is found throughout South Florida in freshwater canals, rivers, lakes, and swamps with varying levels of salinity. Mayan cichlids are an easy target that can be tracked with natural baits such as grass shrimp, shiners or crickets on light spinning equipment. Fly anglers can also have tons of fun stocking Mayan cichlids with popping beetles or wool buggers.

Jaguar guapote

The jaguar guapote, native to Central and South America, can be recognized by its broken sideline and purple to black spots. In Florida, this species occurs primarily in the coastal canal systems near the southeastern part of the state. Small spinner baits fished with light tackle are usually effective, but the jaguar guapote will also pick up a wide variety of flies that mimic baitfish.

After learning more about Florida fishing for exotic freshwater fish, read the state fishing regulations and purchase your fishing license online.

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Debbie Hanson

Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, advocate of sport fishing for women, IGFA world record holder and freshwater guide in southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has been featured 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.

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