A Tale Of Triumph, With A Catch

Lakota Kornfeld strikes perhaps too long a pose with the grass carp he hooked from his Loudoun County community's pond.
Lakota Kornfeld strikes perhaps too long a pose with the grass carp he hooked from his Loudoun County community's pond. (By Brian D'amato)
By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 19, 2007

The lake behind Lakota Kornfeld's home is like so many in Northern Virginia's vast suburban landscape: small, man-made and hemmed in by townhouses. Tall grasses rise from the banks and bend over the walking trail that surrounds it. A fountain in the center sprays a perpetual fan of mist.

But in a single transformative moment, the quiet neighborhood pond in eastern Loudoun County turned into the ocean for Kornfeld, 27, a suburban Ahab who for two years has been stalking what he calls "the monster of Ashburn."

The great white whale revealed itself to Kornfeld as he strolled by the lake with his family one day two years ago, a glint on the surface of the water followed by the rise of a silvery, sharklike dorsal fin. Beneath it was a colossus, an impossibly large fish in a very small pond.

"From that day on, I was compelled. Consumed," said Kornfeld, 27, a garrulous and barrel-shaped man who works as a server at the nearby Clyde's Willow Creek Farm restaurant. "If fishing were your thing and you saw something that big, you would be consumed, too."

Though terrible in size, the 30- to 40-pound grass carp that captivated him was hardly monstrous from an ecological standpoint. Sterile and vegetarian, it spent its days feasting on algae and other weeds that can muck up a pleasant neighborhood lake.

Pavilion Lake is one of seven man-made lakes in Ashburn Village, a dense community of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes. About a mile in circumference, it was built to catch runoff, but it doubles as a recreational centerpiece, giving suburban dwellers a taste of lakeside living. It is strictly catch-and-release and is open only to residents of the community.

John Odenkirk, a state fish biologist, did an informal study of Ashburn's lakes about a month ago for the homeowners association.

"I actually saw some of the huge grass carp out there. Some of the biggest I've seen," he said. Carp are sterilized and stocked in neighborhood ponds to control "nuisance vegetation" without becoming a nuisance themselves, he said. They are hard to catch, and most anglers prefer the bluegill and bass that are stocked alongside them.

But Kornfeld was mesmerized by the carp since the day in 2005 when he caught sight of that fin.

"He came running over and said there were sharks living in the lakes of Ashburn," said Brian D'Amato, 27, Kornfeld's cousin and a resident of the nearby Broadlands community.

On a recent morning, Kornfeld gazed out over the lake as he described his single-mindedness over the fish. No one, he said -- not his friends, not even the guys at the fishing shop -- believed him when he told them the size of his prey. He took his pole out to the lake three, maybe four times a weeks in hopes of hooking it and proving them all wrong.

He interrupted his story occasionally to study the flicker of a tail or to admire a slender body drifting through the ripples.

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