Janna Clinton was enjoying a quiet afternoon on her back porch, watching her 11-year-old son Charlie fish in a serene pond behind their Oklahoma home last weekend. Little did she know that their peaceful day would take an unexpected turn.
“He was screaming, ‘Oh my God, mom! Oh my God!'” Clinton recounted to NPR, recalling the moment when Charlie’s excitement echoed through the air.
“At first, I thought he was just being dramatic, to be honest,” she admitted.
However, when Clinton got a closer look at her son’s catch, she understood the reason for his exuberance.
“Obviously being in a neighborhood pond, we’re used to just catching a few bass or catfish,” she explained. “I mean, nothing with human-like teeth.”
Charlie had unwittingly reeled in a pacu, a fish closely related to the notorious piranha, known for its unusually large and human-like teeth. While pacus are native to South America, this particular one had found its way into a small pond in the Clinton family’s suburban neighborhood just north of Oklahoma City.
Janna Clinton shared, “He said it put up a heck of a fight,” referring to her son’s accomplishment of reeling in the intriguing catch all by himself. “He was the only one down there fishing, and he did a great job.”
The Clinton family posted a photo of their extraordinary find on their neighborhood’s Facebook page and reached out to a game warden for guidance. However, unaware of the fish’s origin, they decided to return the pacu to the water since it was a catch-and-release pond.
“It’s a catch and release pond,” Janna explained, “so we unfortunately did release it back because we didn’t know any better at the time.”
Subsequently, people who recognized the fish informed the Clintons that it was an invasive species that should not have been returned to the water. Janna Clinton admitted, “We made a mistake there.”
Following this incident, young Charlie has become determined to catch the elusive pacu again. His mother noted, “He did stay at the ponds pretty late that night trying to catch it again.” Charlie has been waking up early and staying late at the pond, hoping for another encounter with the pacu.
In case Charlie succeeds in reeling in the fish again, a neighbor has offered to prepare and consume the pacu. However, Janna Clinton has different plans.
“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,” she declared. “I told him we’d make it look like the fish was smiling so you could see its teeth.”
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation believes that the pacu was initially kept as a pet but was released into the wild when it outgrew its tank.
On Twitter, the department admonished the previous owner with a playful rebuke, saying, “How dare you,” sparking a lively exchange with surprised members of the public. In response to one bewildered commenter asking, “WHY DOES IT HAVE HUMAN TEETH,” the wildlife agency humorously replied, “IDK WE DIDN’T MAKE THEM.”
Charlie’s use of bait to attract the pacu is a simple yet amusing detail in this story. His mother revealed, “You’re going to laugh. It was just a piece of bread.”
Remarkably, this incident is not the first time a pacu has been caught in Oklahoma, nor is it the first time an 11-year-old has accomplished this feat in the state. Charlie follows in the footsteps of Kennedy Smith of Lindsay, Oklahoma, who caught a pacu five years ago.
While pacus are generally harmless to humans, the practice of releasing unwanted pets into waterways can be detrimental to native wildlife, as highlighted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. These fish have the potential to grow to sizes of up to 3.5 feet and 88 pounds, underscoring the importance of responsible pet ownership and wildlife preservation.