Coleman Browning, 17, was eager for some nice-sized catfish when he arrived at the Number 3 Reservoir near Shelby, Ohio on Wednesday. Instead, he caught a fish most commonly found in South America’s Amazon River—and similar to the notorious piranha. According to the Mansfield News Journal, the angler initially thought it was some sort of carp before he saw the uncanny, human-like teeth.
“When the game warden came out and saw me catch it, he said, ‘What is that?’” Browning said. “I told him, ‘I think I just caught a piranha.’”
Browning was close. The game warden told him the fish was actually a pacu, a distant relative of the piranha that is popular as an aquarium fish. The pacu likely got into the reservoir after being released by its previous owner.
“It kept hitting my rod and it stripped the bait away,” Browning recalled. “I rebaited my hook and threw it right where I was getting the hits. It was fighting me hard.”
Not ready to give up, the pacu also broke Browning’s first hook as well. The angler eventually caught the fish, and since it is a non-native species, is now storing it in a bucket of water. Browning admitted that he does not know what to do with the catch other than to show it to curious neighbors. Wild pacu are noted to taste mildly sweet in flavor, similar to tilapia, but aquarium-raised fish may taste drastically different.
Browning’s catch was not the first pacu found in Ohio waters. The species have been spotted several times before by anglers and experts say the fish can survive in the state for a time, especially in areas with a large crayfish population. In 2011, another angler reeled in a pacu from Buckeye Lake in central Ohio. Wildlife officials are not overly concerned about the pacu as a threat to the state’s waterways because the fish generally die out during cold winters. That said, it is still illegal to release pacu into public waters.
Pacu are known for being a spirited game fish and are popular with South American fly fishermen. The species is also considered a valuable food fish and are marketed to aquarium owners as “vegetarian piranhas.” Unlike the sharp, pointed teeth of piranha, pacu sport straight block-shaped teeth better suited to crushing food like nuts or seeds. The species is not very dangerous or aggressive, yet it has garnered a strange—and to some, fearsome—reputation for biting male genitals. Experts mostly dismiss these claims as rumors.
You can watch an interview with Browning below: