January 1st, 2020
A Session That Changed Lives Forever
It was New Years Eve, I had returned from work early at around 1030PM to ring in the new year with mine and my girlfriends kids. It was a joyous time staying up late, adult beverages, confetti cannons and games. As the night waned into the early morning hours I prepared the kids for bed and focused my attention to fishing in the FFF for the Carp anglers group.
As I tiredly packed my car up knowing it to be a long session in the cold, with the kids, my attitude was very much "Oh boy I hope things go smooth and the kids are not cold after an hour" I was contemplating rigs,baits, and the usual "fishing mode" thoughts on bagging as many carp as I could in January. I had not been out fishing for about a full month prior as my motivation to get out had crashed after a long regular season of fishing had passed.
At 4:00 AM my alarm sounded and I rolled over to turn off my phone and take just five more minutes of sleep. That turned into waking at 7:00 AM and almost deciding to stay home and deal with the foot deep confetti pile in my living room. After sloshing through our midnight mess I begrudgingly Dressed my son and stumbled to my car to drive to the Anacostia River, a branch of the Potomac in a not-so-nice area of town in Washington DC.
After a pit stop for coffee and donuts I arrived to see the crew already fishing and before I could unpack my car I could see a rod doubled over in action, I got excited to see fish already biting and quickly unloaded the car and parked across the street. After erecting my bivvy and setting up my heater for the cold little hands of my son (2 years old) I setup my rods and finally was able to begin fishing. I decided to fish simple, ronnie rigs with popups and a rod with the standard fake corn wafter type presentation. after stringing some fancy pantsy PVA mesh with crafty catcher particles and mainline ground-bait I was finally fishing, "PHEW" I said to myself "time to relax now".
Not soon after the rods were cast I had a run. My Delkim was warbling as music to my ears, "dang" I said after setting the hook. "CATFISH" I yelled to the others as I was reeling in my rolling ball of slime not more than 15 inches long. "oh well" at least I didn't blank I said to myself before hearing "MINUS 1!" from 50 yards away jokingly.
The Crew was compiled of Four gentleman and myself, a newcomer to the swim that we fished on a regular basis Brandon, was directly to my right and had a couple carp under his belt by the time I showed up. Tom a veteran to fishing the area for the past couple years now, an older gentleman wearing a full winter suit to stay warm from the elements reminded me of my grandfather who used to take me outside to play in the snow as a kid, loved life and always had excitement on his face, always happy to catch regardless of how big that carp was, I could learn from him to appreciate even the smaller fish more and not think so hard on fish under 20 pounds.
To his right was Frank another retiree who had a build like my Dad, stocky and just slightly shorter than myself, Frank was another seasoned angler to the area and had a half dozen fish under his belt as I greeted him after setting up. He was already busy getting the grill ready to cook up some breakfast sandwiches as was custom for him to do. The smell of thick cut bacon filled the swim and my tummy was doing flips waiting.
Finally furthest from me was Blayne, another recent retiree who has been fishing in the DC area for a very long time, had a handful of golden carp as well, he was no stranger to what the area held for fish and the sizes we could see.
As I would return to my bivvy to warm my sons icy red hands in between conversations with the guys I had yet another larger catfish on my rods. As soon as I unhooked and released that fish, all hell had broken loose and fish were being had on everybody's rods, multiple carp averaging about 10 pounds were being caught, albeit more fish came from Tom and Franks Pegs, I had also contributed one small 6 pound carp that my son was so excited to see, He couldn't stop yelling FISH FISH! At the slightest bleep from alarms yards away.
The action persisted for another hour or so and everybody was having great time for January winter carping. After the rush of fish we all were quietly hoping for the lunker to make an appearance, as the swim regularly produces fish in the 20-25 pound range with the possibility of 30+ being real. Unfortunately that didn't play out and the larger fish didn't want to play that day but we were all in high spirits with the mantra "ANY fish in January is a Good Fish!"
The day had been a success as my girlfriend showed up around 1PM with the rest of the kids to join us for the last 30 minutes or so of the session, we were all huddled in my Trakker V2 bivvy staying warm thanks to my buddy heater that has gotten me through the toughest of conditions ice fishing back home in Vermont. Having somebody to watch and play babysitter for a few minutes I walked over to the guys and conversed about the usual fish stories, and tactics, Frank who I knew from previous sessions throughout has a special connection with me as he also visited Vermont regularly and knew the area along with some of the quirky-ness of the state, Its always a relief in a big city to have the relate-ability to back home that very few know about being such a small underpopulated state.
It was now about 2 PM and it was time to start packing I walked out of the bivvy to the rods with my girlfriend to discuss lunch options with the kids, my eyes heavy from my lack of sleep and a whole day of playing "chase the toddler" in essentially downtown D.C.
When I turned and looked over at the other guys to see if they had also been picking up "As 2PM was usually our time to all pack", I noticed everybody huddled around Franks peg and thought to myself "oh frank got a nice fish maybe?"
After peering over for a minute i noticed something was off and I saw Tom, Franks lifelong friend doing what looked like chest compression's, on Frank, I said to my girlfriend "Oh my God what is happening" and dropped my rod and ran the 30 yards or so to the guys. When I got close I saw Blayne on the phone with 911 and Frank laying motionless and turning a color I wish I never saw. My heart dropped into my stomach and I panicked for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and staying focused on the situation calmly, "OK" I said to myself as I prepared to help.
My Background is far from medical however I was CPR certified and knew how to do a few lifesaving measures so I knew I could be of assistance, Tom who was tiring from the compression's switched off between Brandon and Myself to continue until the EMS arrived en masse. After the paramedics arrived and took Frank to the hospital we took a breath from the traumatic experience to comfort each other as best we could given the shock we all were experiencing. I prayed he was going to be okay, but knew things were serious, seeing EMS defibrillator our fishing partner multiple times just inches from his rod-pod was mind numb-ingly hard to process.
I finished packing and told Blayne to keep me updated on the news from the hospital as he and Tom were waiting for a relative to come retrieve Franks truck to head to the Hospital. Tom was busy on the phone with Franks wife and I made a slight sorrowing hand gesture goodbye as I walked to my car. My intention was to stay but the kids were very shook up by the whole ordeal and I knew it was best at that point to get them home.
After taking a much needed shower and short nap, I awoke at 6:30PM to a text from Blayne "Josh I'm sorry, the police came shortly after you left and informed us he didn't make it" I sat up, paused, closed my eyes and took a deep slow breath, and with that had let out all the emotion I had put aside on the bank to keep everybody calm and composed. We had just lost our friend, our partner, fishing........... it still today hasn't fully processed as I wipe off my keyboard recollecting what happened that day. We never wake up expecting those events to happen. I feel a stronger bond with those fine gentleman after that day knowing we all tried as hard as we could to keep him with us.
And He Will Never Be Forgotten.
Rest In Piece Frank Aiello
May you land that 50 in the big lake above.
~This Story is not meant to be used to enter into any contests but to simply honor the life of a friend who passed away doing what he loved. Thank you all for reading this and the support received via social media ~