Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes

Tennessee Man Says He Caught A Piranha
August 25, 2006

Release from: Associated Press

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - A Clarksville college student's story of catching a possible piranha in the Cumberland River is no big fish tale.

He has the teeth to prove it.

Jon McMahan, an aquatic biology graduate student at Austin Peay State University, caught what he believes to be a piranha, or a similar exotic fish with a bright red belly and a mouthful of sharp teeth.

McMahan and his friend hooked it while fishing Tuesday night at the Cumberland City Steam Plant, about 15 miles southwest of Clarksville.

"We were fishing near the steam plant at the mouth of a stream that opens into the Cumberland River," he said. "It was kind of like a normal day of fishing. I hooked something, and all the sudden we saw a red belly flying through the air."

The fish even bit through the steel lure before McMahan was able to get it in the boat.

Now he wants the fish to be officially identified.

"Piranha or not, anything with teeth like that -- it's definitely tropical," he said. "It's obviously not from here."

Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officials say it's not unusual to hear of tropical fish caught in local streams or rivers, even piranhas.

"Apparently people let a lot of their pets loose," said TWRA fisheries biologist John Riddle. "It is illegal to do that. They are breaking the law, and they are running risks of doing damage to the environment."

Riddle said tropical fish released into the wild don't usually survive the winter weather, except near steam plants where the water is warmer.

Whether or not the fish is positively identified as a piranha, McMahan now has a pretty good story to tell.

"This is probably my biggest fish story -- I've hit my peak at 23," McMahan said. "I'm going to have to go to the ocean to top this one."