Holley Luft displays the South American fish called a pacu that she caught in Lake St. Clair. (Family photo)
Holley Luft’s story may sound fishy, but it’s not: The one she reeled in from Lake St. Clair had teeth.
“I’ve been fishing most of my life, but never caught anything like this before,” she said.
It was a South American pacu — cousin to the fierce piranha — caught at Waterfront Park in Harrison Township.
Luft, 52, of Clinton Township was fishing with her husband Wednesday, which they frequently do at the park, using a catfish rig and a night crawler when she reeled in the 14-inch specimen.
“The teeth made it look like a piranha,” Luft said.
“My husband used a net to bring it out of the water and it was going crazy.”
Perplexed, the couple brought the fish to a township worker at the park, who was just as puzzled, especially when they all got a better look inside the fish’s mouth.
The township worker called Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials and sent them photos with his cellphone.
The DNR experts told them Luft snagged a pacu, an omnivorous freshwater fish. While piranha have pointed, razor-sharp teeth, a pacu’s teeth are more human-like, square and straight. They tend to eat seeds and nuts that fall into the rivers where they live.
Mike Thomas, a DNR biologist based at the agency’s Harrison Township station, said Luft brought the fish to him the day after she caught it. He took some pictures and sent them to a University of Michigan museum to get confirmation it was a pacu.
He also said the fish doesn’t pose much of a threat to other animals in the lake, and usually end up dying when the temperatures drop in winter.
Thomas said this isn’t the first time someone has netted a pacu in Lake St. Clair. Someone brought one to him in 2007.
“Someone buys one as a pet and then it gets too big for the aquarium,” Thomas said. “Then, instead of dispatching the fish, they toss it into the lake.
Anyone who finds a fish not native to Michigan’s waterways should not throw it back into the water, he added, but preserve it and call a DNR fisheries station.
“I’ve got it in my freezer at home,” Luft said.