“It was so heavy, I thought it was a turtle, but it was swimming really fast,” she said. After a fight that left her sore, she landed the fish on the shore, where her grandfather, Robert Crabbe, was standing by.
“She thought she had a giant sunfish on the line,” he recalled on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Don’t touch it, honey.’ I got the pliers out and got the hook out. The kid’s finger could have been taken off.”
Kaitlyn, who had been using grubs for bait, said: “It was just flopping on the ground and everyone just stepped away from it. When it opened its mouth, you could see that it had a lot of sharp teeth, and could have easily bitten off a finger. I never saw a fish like that, so I had no clue what it was.”
Her catch, it turned out, was a 10-inch-long red-belly piranha, a species native to the Amazon and widely available in pet stores that Mr. Crabbe, 63, figured was dumped into the pond by a local pet owner. He kept Kaitlyn away from the fish as he removed the hook.
Mr. Crabbe, a retired systems analyst, told his granddaughter that even though they were catching and releasing other fish, hers was not a fish to return to the pond.
“My grandpa waited till it died and put it in a bag that we kept in the fridge and then took to the zoo,” Kaitlyn said. “You have dogs running into the pond and people canoeing in there, and if they put their hand in, they might take it out and not have a finger.”
Mr. Crabbe said he called 311 to try to reach a parks department official, but the operator forwarded the news to 911 and soon a police car pulled up.
The piranha weighed 2 pounds 3 ounces, said Mr. Crabbe, who suspected that piranhas might have something to do with a recent drop in the pond’s catfish population. The last time Kaitlyn fished the pond, she caught seven catfish in a row. Last week, she caught only one.
The Crabbes took the piranha to the Staten Island Zoo, where an official confirmed its identity and reported it to state conservation authorities.
“It was a big, fat, sassy fish,” Mr. Crabbe said. “My concern was that a lot of children go there to fish on their own without an adult and they wouldn’t recognize the species if they caught it, and when they were taking the hook out of its mouth, they’d get severely bitten.”