Janna Clinton was enjoying a July weekend on her back porch, watching her 11-year-old son fish in the pond behind their Oklahoma home.
When Charlie started screaming for her, she leapt from her seat and ran to her son, who was shocked over the creature that dangled from the end of his fishing line.
The neighborhood pond that backs the Clinton’s home is a fun catch and release hotspot for bass and catfish. But on the weekend of July 14, using only a piece of bread as lure, Charlie fished out an odd-looking creature and called his mom, Janna for help.
“He was screaming, ‘Oh my God, mom! Oh my God!’” the mother said. “I thought he was just being dramatic, to be honest.”
Taking a closer look, she discovered the catch had human-like teeth.
“Obviously being in a neighborhood pond, we’re used to just catching a few bass or catfish…I mean, nothing with human-like teeth,” she said, adding that the fish was quite feisty. “(Charlie) said it put up a heck of a fight. He was the only one down there fishing and he did a great job.”
The Clintons posted a photo of the bizarre fish on their neighborhood Facebook page and locals who saw the post and pictures, shared their thoughts: “THOSE ARE HUMAN TEETH,” said one while another writes, “What in the world!?! That’s creepy!”
Some suggested the family reach out to wildlife. “That is most definitely not a catch and release! Thank you for taking it seriously,” said one resident while another shares, “You may need to report that to somebody in wildlife or something…”
Before reaching out to wildlife about their creepy catch of the day, the family released the fish back into the pond.“It’s a catch and release pond…so we unfortunately did release it back because we didn’t know any better at the time,” Janna said. “We made a mistake there.”
The family learned that the fish caught by Charlie was a pacu, a cousin to the piranha, that’s native to South America. Unlike its omnivorous relatives with razor-sharp teeth and an underbite, the pacu is mostly a vegetarian with square teeth and a slight overbite.
How it arrived in the pond in a suburb north of Oklahoma City, is still puzzling wildlife officials, that suspect it was a pet that outgrew its tank and released into the wild.
Addressing the previous owner of the fish, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) wrote on Twitter: “Dear, whoever released an entire Pacu (a South American fish closely related to Piranha) into a NEIGHBORHOOD pond; how dare you.”
The Tweet stimulated conversation in the cyber community, many surprised by its teeth.
“WHY DOES IT HAVE HUMAN TEETH,” one confused user asked.
“IDK WE DIDN’T MAKE THEM,” replied ODWC, that delivered another message: “Your fish was caught by Charlie Clinton. He is 11. DO NOT RELEASE YOUR PETS. THEY ARE AN EXOTIC, INVASIVE SPECIES THAT CAN CAUSE DAMAGE TO OUR LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS.” This could lead to such a horrific situation that could be very damaging to the environment.
This wasn’t the first pacu caught in Oklahoma. In July 2018, 11-year-old Kennedy Smith pulled a pacu from Marina Cove at Ft. Cobb Lake, less than two hours from the Clintons.
At the time, Oklahoma Game Wardens posted a warning on Facebook that said: “…Pacu have been caught in a few fisheries in Oklahoma before. The introduction of the non-native pacu into Oklahoma waters is most likely from individuals buying them as pets and releasing them when they outgrow the tank they were raised in. Pacu can reach sizes up to 3.5 feet and 88 pounds.”
Though these hideous fish are generally harmless to humans, the pacu have earned a disturbing nickname, “the ball cutters.”
In 2011, a warning was issued to skinny dipping Swedes when a pacu was found in the Oresund Sound.
“There have been incidents in other countries such as Papau New Guinea, where some men have had their testicles bitten off,” said fish expert Henrik Carl, who added fisherman have reportedly bled to death after having their testicles bitten off.
Carl continued: “They bite because they’re hungry, and testicles sit nicely in their mouth…” He added, “It normally eats nuts, fruit and small fish, but human testicles are just a natural target.”
Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma, Charlie has been stalking the pacu at the pond, hoping to bait it one last time.
“He did stay at the ponds pretty late that night trying to catch it again,” Janna said of her son who, hoping for a prized catch, is fishing from early morning until late at night. “If he catches it again, we’re going to get it mounted for him. I think that’s a heck of a prize and he deserves it…I told him we’d make it look like the fish was smiling so you could see its teeth.”