Washington, DC, April 17, 2009
The weather finally gave us a break and after two miserable weeks of rain, cold and wind today was absolutely gorgeous. Of course that meant I had to be at Fletcher's Boat House as early as possible if I was going to beat the crowd to one of the 20 boats available for rent.

I arrived around 5:30am and already there were cars in the lot and anglers gearing up to head out. The tackle shop was not open but the Boat Lady was there handing out life jackets, oars and some colorful advice that was borderline PG-13 or R rated. I quickly secured a boat with a really good rock, which is the makeshift anchor for all Fletcher's Cove boats. The bottom of the Potomac River is strewn with boulders, dead trees and human-produced junk and a regular anchor will quickly get snagged when it drags in the fast moving current. I am very familiar with this problem because the first time I fished the Potomac I used my kayak and the first place I set anchor to fish is where the anchor remained and is probably still down there, wedged between some boulders.

I motored out to a spot just off the main current and began casting. The sky was clear and cool and herring jumping in the slow water while birds dove for baitfish. I landed my first fish about 20 minutes later and it was pretty steady action through most of the morning. I had a really good fight from a huge Hickory shad that lasted almost five minutes. I would get the fish close to the boat and just as I'm about to grab the leader the fish sees the boat and dives, peeling line off the reel. When I finally got him next to the boat I could barely get my hand around his head. A really good fish.

By 8am all boats from the fletcher's fleet were on the water off the cove and strung out in a rough line from the far point downstream to just a little ways past the entry to the cove. Spin fishers and fly anglers were well represented but there were a few going after bigger game--the migrating striped bass as they make their way upstream to spawn.
The bite was good but tapered off as the sun climbed. I moved around a bit and switched flies frequently but the best performers were the hot pink with flash and a silver and chartreuse flash fly. I tried tying both flies onto one line and caught a shad on each fly in consecutive casts. However in my opinion I think if you just get the fly down to the bottom, and I mean down ON the bottom, and slow-strip the line back to the boat you'll get a hookup. But fishing the fly on the bottom presents a whole set of problems, the major one being getting hung up and loosing your rig but if you want to catch fish that's where the fly must go.

Towards the afternoon I noticed that most of the action off the main current tapered off and the action moved to the really slow or still water closer to shore. I was watching another fly fisher working off the far point and he was in that soft water pulling in a fish on just about every other cast. I pulled anchor to move but as I was hauling the rope over the bow I felt a sudden tug and the weight of the rock was gone. I thought the rope broke but when I got the line back in the boat all I had on the other end was a loop. The stone anchor had been tied onto the rope by a couple of turns then an overhand knot secured the loose end to the main line. The rock had slipped out of the loops of rope. However I always carry a spare anchor (
mushroom anchor--won't get stuck) so I was quickly back in the game.

For the next hour I fished just off Fletcher's Cove in the quiet water. I hooked a few and lost a few but it was still pretty slow compared to the morning action. My entertainment for the afternoon was watching a boat load of anglers who did not know how to row. Four guys with four paddles stroking out of synch. They paddled out of the cove and right into the main current. I watched them paddle for 15 minutes against the current and they did not move a yard. They tried to get to the Virginia side of the Potomac but couldn't control the boat. I watched them slowly spin down the river as one by one they became pooped and gave up paddling. By now there were other anglers watching these antics and I was worried that there might be a disaster if the boat tipped. I signaled a passing bass boat heading to the dock but they said they saw what was happening and would let the Fletcher's people know what was going on. However the four anglers must have got their second wind or a massive shot of adrenaline because they managed to get back across the main current and into the quiet water where they quickly dropped anchor and collapsed over their oars.

EQUIPMENT: I used a fast action 5-weight rod with a Type VII full sink line.

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.

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 have to hang a sharp U-turn when you leave.