Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A rare fish story

Josh Carmean will tell you he's caught just about everything imaginable from the area's lakes, ponds and rivers.

But when the avid 22-year-old angler had no idea what he reeled in from the Schuylkill River late Monday night, well, it wasn't as fishy a story as most would think.

Soon after dropping his line in behind the Quoit Club just over Hanover Street in North Coventry Township, Carmean got a noticeable hit. And with chicken liver on the hook, he had every reason to think he caught what he normally does — a catfish.

And in this case, he thought he had a sizable catfish on the other end of the line.

What he had instead, though, was a pacu — one of several species of omnivorous South American freshwater fish that are related to the piranha.

"I'm always catching catfish," Carmean explained. "And the way this one was pulling (on the line) I thought I had at least a two-pound catfish.

"But when I got it in and first looked at it, all I could say was, 'What the heck is it? What did I just catch?' I've caught walleye and pike before, but at first glance I didn't know what I had. I never saw anything that had teeth like this thing had."

Forgive Carmean if he didn't have a library of Fish Illustrated.

"I kept looking at it, saw the bottom fin, those teeth and that mouth," Carmean said. "It sure looked like a piranha."

Although he once had a small piranha in the family fish tank as a youngster, Carmean still wasn't 100 percent sure. So Tuesday morning he called the Pennsylvania Game Commission. An officer came out to his Pottstown residence later in the day.

"He told me it was a pacu," Carmean said.

Pacu and piranha have similar teeth, but their jaw alignments are different. The piranha also have pointed, razor-sharp teeth with a pronounced underbite, while pacu have squarer and more straighter teeth with a less severe underbite.

Also, sources reveal, the pacu are much larger than piranha, some reaching up to 60 pounds or more in the wild.

Pacus are also known to "eat anything," according to Deep Sea World zoological manager Matthew Kane. Though not the aggressive carnivores like piranha, the pacu's crushing jaw system can be hazardous. They are often sold to home aquarium owners as "vegetarian piranhas."

The pacu may have gotten a bad name as a result of owners illegally releasing them into wild waterways. Once in those waterways, like the Schuylkill River, they can dominate other species vying for available food and other resources, even displace some by introducing exotic parasites or diseases.

Not all's bad with the pacu, though. Former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote of catching and eating pacu in his book, "Through the Brazilian Wilderness." "…delicious eating," Roosevelt wrote.

"I was told (pacu) go for vegetation," Carmean said. "I was surprised to hear that after knowing it went for (the chicken liver bait).

"But the game commission people told me someone must have had it and released it in the water. They told me it must have been in the water for a while, too. It had features that kind of showed it had been in the water for some time."

Not anymore.

"I love going fishing, and I fish all over the place," Carmean said. "I don't think I'll forget the other night, though."

Follow Don Seeley on Twitter @DonSeeley1



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