Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 1, 2011
It was April 1, but it wasn't a joke. There were only two
boats on the water when I arrived at Fletcher's Boat House at 11:30am.
Only four people were fishing for shad.
During shad season I will always be at Fletcher's Cove
before Canal Road becomes a one-way commuter artery into
The District. So that means I'm up early and at Fletcher's
before 5:30am. However today I had a lot of things to
complete in the morning and knowing that the crowds will
probably be thick since reports said shad are begining to
appear, I almost didn't go shad fishing. Why bother driving
into The District when all the boats are probably gone and
every shoreline casting spot is taken. But I did. And after
a few hours I was really glad I did.
There was one boat out near the cove at the far end of the
park and another boat anchored in the soft water just 50
yards downstream from the dock. I quickly anchored just
outside a current seam and began fishing.
I started with a tandem rig--putting a shad fly with a red
head and white body as the lead and a hot orange with flash
shad fly as the dropper. I usually start off this way to
see what color, and size, the shad will eat. My strategy
was to start deep and gradually work up the water column.
You shouldn't just tie on a fly and toss it out there and
expect a hit. Maybe that will work later in the season, but
you have to figure out not only what fly they want but
where, and how deep, the fish are holding.
Start off with a measured amount of line, like 40 or 50
feet, then cast and let it sink but count the number of
seconds you let it sink (based on the type of sinking fly
line you are using) before begining a retrieve. The type of
retrieve you use is also important and must be consistent
once the fish begin to hit the fly. You can use a fast
retrieve, a slow retrieve, a slow/fast retrieve, a jerky
retrieve or a side-to-side retrieve. But this is the tough
part. When you get a tap or a hookup, you have to note
where the fish hit during your retrieve. Was it far from
the boat? Close to the boat? Was the fly on the bottom or
on the rise? Was it in the fast water or outside the
current seam? If you can put all of these pieces together,
you'll catch a few fish.
Since it was an overcast day, I thought the fish would be
hanging more in the mid-water than down deep. That turned
out to be correct. After several casts I brought a fish to
the boat and noted which fly on the tandem rig it hit,
reeled up excess fly line, then cast out to the general
area where I had the take and began to retrieve. The second
fish also took the same fly so I cut off the tandem rig and
fished the prefered fly. The shad fought well and quite a
few of them put a good bend on the rod. The looked healthy
and very fat. I stopped counting once I passed 20 fish.
What was even more amazing is that in the afternoon,
everyone pulled up their rocks and left. I had the whole
river to myself until about 5:30pm, when two other fly
fishers rowed out and anchored above me. By then I was
pretty fried and it was getting cold as the sun began to
sink below the trees. After a shad broke of the fly, I went
back to the dock.
It was great day to fish. No people and the fish were
biting. When I went back to the Fletcher's concession stand
the guy behind the counter said I couldn't have been out on
a better day. Lots of shad and no people around. He told me
to enjoy it, because the crowds will soon
EQUIPMENT: I used a 7 weight fly
rod with a full sink density-compensated line. Shad flies
were in sizes 4 to 10 in various colors but chartreuse and
orange with flash worked best.
DIRECTIONS: Fletcher's Boat House is located on the
Potomac River in Washington, DC, two miles north
of Key Bridge and one mile south of Chain Bridge, at
the intersection of Reservoir Road and Canal Road. You
will know you have reached the entrance to Fletcher's
when you see the Abner Cloud House, an old white stone
building, which is next to the canal on your left.
From 66 East, take the Rosslyn exit to Key Bridge. Stay in
the left lane. Take a left onto Canal Road after crossing
over Key Bridge. Stay in the left lane and turn left on
Canal Road, and continue until you see the Abner Cloud
House on your left. That narrow ramp is the entrance to
Fletcher's. Go down the ramp and either park in the upper
lot or go through the tunnel to the lower parking lot and
dock access. During shad season the boat rental office
opens at 6:30am. Boat rental fee is $20 for the day. You
need a DC fishing license ($10 DC residents. $13
non-resident) to fish and Fletcher's sells this at the
rental kiosk along with fishing equipment, bait, hot dogs,
drinks and ice cream.
WARNING: Both lanes of Canal Road become
ONE WAY into and out of DC during morning and evening rush
hour during the weekdays. If you're hitting Fletcher's in
the morning and following the route above you have until
5:30am to get there. If you miss it you must wait until
10:20am. Once it's one way you must come down Canal Road
via Chain Bridge way and trying to make that turn into
Fletcher's from that direction is a killer because that
ramp is the only road into and out of the Boathouse parking
lot and it faces towards Key Bridge. Canal Road becomes one
way going towards Chain Bridge from 2:30 to 7pm, so you
must hang a sharp U-turn when you leave.