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Posted June 1, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

River beast

Local woman hooks toothed fish, believed from South America

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

Twenty-two-year-old Jessi Mossholder at first thought she'd caught a flesh-eating river monster in Woodstock during Memorial Day weekend.

The Winchester resident was camping along the Shenandoah River with her husband, Andrew, her parents, Brenda and Allen Pack, and other relatives when they decided to fish for catfish in the wee hours of May 27.

"We go catfishing a lot in the evenings when they bite at dark," Mossholder said Friday. "We were pulling in bass and some mudcats, and then all of a sudden I pulled that fish in."

At 2 pounds and around 11 inches long, the fish appeared to be an especially big perch to the recent Shenandoah University graduate.

Mossholder went to show her catch to her uncle, who was still awake.

"I hadn't seen the teeth on the fish yet," she said. "I was excited about it being a big perch. I told my husband, 'I have to go wake up Dad. He will be so proud.'"

Mossholder, who hopes to get a job as a teacher, grew up pursuing outdoor sports with her father.

"My daddy, he always wanted sons and he never got one, so I turned into the tomboy," she said. "I go hunting with Daddy. I go fishing with him."

After seeing the fish's teeth, Mossholder thought maybe she'd reeled in a piranha.

She wasn't alone in that idea.

"At first, we were thinking piranha," Mrs. Pack said. "I had never seen anything like it before. It was kind of funny because my dad last night on Animal Planet learned they were doing a [show] about this particular fish. It was that fish, you could tell."

According to Animal Planet's website, piranhas -- which have "sharp, pointed teeth and shark-like feeding frenzies" -- usually eat smaller animals, but have been known to eat large animals. And, while there are no proven examples of the fish killing people, they do feed on human corpses.

Mossholder said someone had mentioned another fish, the red-bellied pacu, to her, and after doing online research, that's what she believes she caught.

"The red-bellied pacu is related to the flesh-eating piranha, but unlike its notorious cousin it feeds mainly on insects and vegetation," the Animal Planet's website states. "It uses its large, human-like choppers as a tool for cracking open rubber tree nuts, crushing seeds and chopping up sea herbs and various other food sources."

However, when its food supply started to dwindle, the pacu started eating other fish and reportedly killed two fishermen in 2001, according to the site.

"The piranhas have serrated teeth, and the pacu, it looks almost like a human's teeth," Mossholder said. "I had never seen a fish with teeth like that."

She put her catch on ice, and has taken it to a taxidermist.

According to the Fish Explorer website, the pacu is related to the piranha and is native to the Orinoco and Amazon river basins in South America.

"[They] have been reported in 19 states, most likely due to aquarium releases, but some southern states may have experienced escapes from aquaculture operations," the site states.

Temperatures below 50 degrees can kill the fish, which can grow to more than 40 inches and 50 pounds, according to the site.

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