Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 27, 2012
The Hickory shad had put up a great fight and as I removed the hook and watched it slowly disappear into the Potomac River near Fletcher’s Cove, I heard Jin say “You should have taken a photo of that fish. It might be the only decent fish we’ll catch all day.” At first I thought it was funny but then I shuddered as a cold, dark feeling of dread passed through me.
I had a great day of shad fishing the previous week so I thought the party would continue. Jin drove down the night before and we were anchored off the main current outside Fletcher’s Cove by 6am. The temperature was a balmy 76 degrees. It was overcast and there were frequent rain showers that passed through the area--everything from a soft mist to a steady drizzle to several minutes of heavy rain.
We set up the rods with the usual flies then began the search for shad. I started deep, hooking the bottom several times, then slowly worked my way up the water column. Jin drew a strike after several casts but it turned out to be a small white perch that was not much larger than the fly Jin was using. That fish had crammed nearly the whole fly into it’s mouth but since we fish barbless, it was easy to unhook the fish and return it to the river. Jin continued to hook and land lots of perch, but I was drawing blanks. Fishing was so bad that we moved the boat a couple times but could not locate shad. Jin, however, always found the perch.
At another location I finally hooked a very small Hickory shad then followed that with a herring. Jin hooked and landed more perch and several of them were very pan-fryable but all were tossed back. He caught so many that I crowned him The Perch King. I hooked and landed a nice Hickory. I thought we finally found the school so I quickly slipped it back into the Potomac but Jin thought I should have shot a photo of it because it might be our last shad of the day. There was a moment of dread and panic as I turned that thought over in my head. I knew the fishing wasn’t too hot today but I thought, after 2 hours, we finally found shad and we were going to catch fish. But Jin was right, it WAS our last shad. After another hour of more perch and no shad we finally gave up and went to eat breakfast at the Silver Diner in Clarendon.
EQUIPMENT: We used 7 weight rods with full sink, density-compensated line and shad-type conehead or lead eye flies from size 4 to size 12 in a variety of colors like pink, chartreuse, white, yellow and orange.
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, a white stone building, on your left. The Hobbit tunnel leading to the lower parking lot is 7 feet high!
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 $22 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 Washington 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 6am 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 then make that turn into Fletcher's. But it’s a killer turn because that ramp is the only road into and out of the Boathouse parking lot and it faces towards Key Bridge. Some will back down the ramp! Canal Road becomes one way going towards Chain Bridge from 2:30 to 7pm, so you have to hang a sharp U-turn when you leave.