Angler catches and is bitten by fish with … human teeth?

As fish stories go, Frank Yarborough’s is just plain creepy.

After reeling in what he assumed was a catfish or a carp during a recent night-fishing expedition on South Carolina’s Lake Wylie, the angler reached down to grab his prize and it chomped down on his thumb.

Yarborough realized then that it was no catfish or carp, but an odd-looking denizen that clearly did not belong anywhere near Lake Wylie.

But that’s not the creepy part. The fish brandished teeth resembling those of a human. They looked like an older man’s dentures, but were yellowish, as if from a person who never brushed.

“They looked as though the fish had chewed tobacco all its life,” said Robert Stroud, a fisheries biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Yarborough, presumably after washing his hands and disinfecting the molar-like imprint on his thumb, delivered the 5-pound, 19-inch specimen to the DNR and it was identified as a type of pacu, whose habitat is the Amazon River basin in South America.

[Photo: Giant goldfish caught in France]

Stroud said the teeth of a pacu sometimes grind down to where they resemble molars. According to lore, he added, some Amazonian tribesmen used to wear sets of pacu teeth around their necks, as if they were wearing human teeth, to intimidate enemies.

Pacus are popular among aquarium keepers and Stroud believes the fish Yarborough caught had been an aquarium pet that grew too large for its tank and was set free in Lake Wylie, which straddles the Carolinas.

The biologist stressed that dumping non-native fish from aquariums into lakes is illegal and ecologically harmful. Other exotic species caught in Lake Wylie have included a red oscar and a voracious snakefish.

Yarborough, 40, who lives in Clover, is proud of his pacu catch and said during an interview this week that the fish is in his freezer but will soon be delivered to the local taxidermist.

“Even before I knew what it was, I knew I was going to have it mounted,” he said.

— Pacu images courtesy of Wes Stewart / South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

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