FISHERMAN in search of catfish finds large sharp-toothed fish instead

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ O.A. Bearden had quite a fish tale to spin after a trip to the North Canadian River.

Bearden was fishing near the Lake Overholser dam Thursday morning when he saw his pole fall off a stand and head for the water. The pole was already underwater when Bearden grabbed his rod and tried to reel in his catch.

He thought he had caught a big catfish, but found a large sharp-toothed fish resembling a piranha instead. The fish had not been positively identified by an expert as of Friday.

Pat Brownian was sitting inside the Route 66 Cookie Jar Cafe and Bait Shop when Bearden walked in with the funny-looking fish.

``He said he'd never seen anything like this. I think he may have set the state record for the largest piranha,'' Brownen said.

Bill Early, who owns the bait shop, has been baby-sitting the 3-pound fish since Bearden came by about 10:30 a.m. Thursday

``He's stronger than a 50-pound catfish ever thought of being,'' Early said.

By Friday afternoon, the fish was swimming around in a minnow tank. Early showed off the fish with two fanlike teeth on the lower part of its mouth and rows of razor-sharp teeth going back toward its throat.

The fish had two other fish hooks in its lip when it was caught.

``People have been losing poles all around here, and I bet this is the guy who has been doing it,'' Early said as he put the fish back into the tank.

He said an Oklahoma City Parks Department fish biologist dropped by and compared the fish with pictures of piranhas. The fish has a reddish underside and sharp teeth like a piranha.

The fish ate about a dozen goldfish and two dozen minnows Friday.

Another South American fish, the pacu, resembles a piranha but eats plants, said Gene Gilliland, state Wildlife Department fish biologist.

``It seems like every year we hear about a piranha-like fish being caught,'' he said.

Gilliland said he had not seen the fish but thought it could be a pacu because it is so large.

Gilliland said piranhas are illegal exotic fish in Oklahoma, but people do own them. Some piranha owners get tired of feeding the ferocious eaters and dump them into lakes, ponds and creeks.

Most swimmers shouldn't worry, since piranhas don't survive Oklahoma winters, experts say.

Early wants to take the fish Monday to the Oklahoma City Zoo for positive identification, he said.