August 7, 2008

Toothy Ascarate Fish Rivals ‘Old Whiskers’ Tale

EL PASO -- Ruben Rodriguez caught a fish so ugly and with such a nasty personality that it may go down as one of the best fish stories out of Ascarate Lake -- maybe as good as the one about "Old Whiskers."

The fish, caught Tuesday, had humanlike teeth, growled, was 15 inches long, bit a hook in half and stunned a man who weighs about 200 pounds.

"I believe it's a piranha," Rodriguez said. "When I caught it, it scared me. ... It was very aggressive; it snapped his jaw and snorted at me when I tried to get it. It cut the hook in half leaving part of it in its mouth."

Rodriguez, 33, said he has caught different types of fish at Ascarate Lake since he was a child, but "I've never caught a fish like that in my life."

Dustin Barrett with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department identified the exotic fish as a red-bellied pacu, a fish closely related to dreaded piranha.

According to Barrett, the red-bellied pacu is a fresh- water fish people can buy at pet stores. It is native to South America.

"Probably it got too big and somebody just dumped in the lake," Barrett said.

The pacu eats both meat and vegetation, and a pacu can reach 3.5 feet in length.

Harold Stearns, a member of the Fishing Club at Ascarate, said somebody hooked a pacu in the lake a few years ago.

He said the fish species people can catch at the lake include catfish, black and white bass, trout, crappie, carp, bluegill and fathead.

Salvador Quintanilla, vice president of the Ascarate Fishing Club, said he was not surprised Rodriguez caught the pacu.

"You would not believe what has come out of that lake," Quintanilla said. "This does not surprise me at all, not at all."

Quintanilla said the best fish story out of Ascarate Lake involved a 30-pound catfish named "Old Whiskers."

Old Whiskers, he said, was caught once and released back into the lake.

"He is still out there," said Quintanilla, who wanted to talk about all kinds of stories out of Ascarate Lake.

He said Rodriguez's catch simply continues the mystery about what's in the 40-acre lake.

"God knows what's in there," he said. "You never know what you are going to catch ... and that's a fact."

Aileen B. Flores may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6362.