4. Black Piranha
“They are the most ferocious fish in the world,” Theodore Roosevelt once wrote of piranhas. “They will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast.” Mean doesn’t begin to describe them. Most of the 17 species in South American waters are beautiful creatures, but not the black piranha. The biggest of its clan and weighing as much as 13 pounds, this purplish flesh-eater looks like the embodiment of pure evil with its blood-red eyes and jutting jaw lined with razor-edged eeth. A fearsome 5-pound specimen in Brazil exploded on a big prop bait I cast, sending a spray of water high into the air. When I lifted the fish over the gunwale, it bit cleanly through the 3/0 treble hook impaled in its jaw. They’ve been known to take off fingers and toes with equal ease.
They don’t call it the “Dracula fish” for nothing. This South American favorite has the countenance of a vampire, with two fangs as long as your little fingers erupting from its lower jaw, plus dozens of other sharp teeth. With needle-sharp tips and knifelike edges, these dentures are perfect for impaling the payara’s favorite dinner: live piranhas. And you know any fish that eats piranhas must be one tough customer. While fishing for payara on the Rio Paragua in Venezuela, we often reeled in piranha baits so full of holes they looked like hamburger meat—the result of payara attacks. The fish’s long lower fangs fit nicely into sheaths in the upper jaw, but the payara’s strike is as swift as a cobra. It can open wide and impale you before you know what happened. The result is guaranteed to be extremely bloody and painful.