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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)

"See that?" he said. "Man, I wish I had my pole right now."

His biggest hurdle, he said, was bait. Because carp are herbivorous, traditional worm lures don't attract them. So he searched the Internet for an appropriate enticement, trying all the tricks: oatmeal, cookie dough, kernels of canned corn speared on the end of a fishing hook. Nothing worked.

Then, earlier this month, his father -- in town for a visit from Hanoi, Vietnam -- handed Kornfeld a small vial filled with an amber liquid spiked with vanilla. In Vietnam, his father explained, fishermen sprinkle the brew on balls of sticky rice to attract carp. The vanilla extract was his father's special touch.

"I was skeptical-slash-desperate," Kornfeld said. "So I gave it a shot."

Around midday May 5, a Saturday, Kornfeld took his place on the shore. His cousin and a friend were with him to witness what they were sure would be another failed attempt. He caked a ball of oatmeal dough on his hook, dabbed on some of the tincture and cast his line.

Within minutes, there was a strong yank on the other end. His stunned companions watched as he struggled with the catch of a lifetime, as enormous as Kornfeld had described. Kornfeld grabbed his pole with both hands and, heedless of the stench, climbed in the muck. The murky water rose to his chest as the creature thrashed at the end of his line.

"The thing was the size of a 3- or 4-year-old kid," D'Amato said. "He's a big guy, and I didn't even think he was going to be able to reel it in."

Mustering all his will and strength, Kornfeld hauled the fish onto the shore. He handed his cousin a camera, which he carried with him every time, to snap some photos. Euphoric, he hoisted the jerking creature over his head and grinned.

Then, following the rules of the lake, he tossed the beast back in. With a muscular shudder of the tail, it darted into the depths.

"It was the most satisfying, amazing, wonderful, triumphant thing," he said. "I got that sucker. I held it up. It was just awesome."

But on Thursday, Kornfeld -- still high from his victory -- received a disturbing call. A short time after he had released his fish in the lake, a maintenance crew was summoned to clean up a fish of about the same size that had died, letting off a noxious smell that disturbed the neighbors.

"I'm kind of sad," he said. "That was not my intention. It was a dinosaur. I wanted it to live."

Although no one's quite sure how the creature died, some speculated that Kornfeld kept it out of the water too long for the photos. Maybe it succumbed to the fatigue of the mortal struggle it endured. Or perhaps it was old, reaching the end of its 15- or 20-year life span.

Then again, maybe it was another of Ashburn's monsters washed up on the shore.

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