Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 15, 2010
Because of the weather or very important family commitments I was not able to fish at Fletcher's Boat House at the beginning of the shad season when it began a few weeks ago. But I finally had an open day and I took full advantage of it.

I arrived at The Cove at Fletcher's Boat House a little past 5am. The dock was bustling with other anglers who were carrying armloads of rods, coolers and bait buckets but nearly all of them were targeting big game--stripers and cafish and not shad. I hustled to get the trolling motor, battery and fly fishing equipment into one of the Fletcher's rowboats.

There are around 20 boats for rent and you really can't tell one from another but there is one important detail that can make or break your day on the water so it's important that you take some time to carefully inspect the craft you intend to use. Because the current strong, a standard anchor will only wedge itself tightly under one of the many boulders that litter the bottom of the Potomac and you'd be forced to cut the line in order to free your boat. Because loosing anchors is expensive, especially when you're dealing with 20 boats, Fletcher's uses a rock attached to a stout line as an anchor for their boats. It may seem crude, but it works. But before choosing a boat, always check the rock and line it's attached to. A rock that's too small won't hold the bottom well and a line that's too short, you want at least 30 feet, also won't hold the bottom well because the
scope of the line will be too short to enable the rock to properly grab the bottom of the river.
In minutes I had a boat geared up and was out on the water, anchored just outside the main current on the Potomac River. It was still very foggy and dark as I began to fish. I should have rigged up the rod the night before, but I was in a rush (never a good thing) and I had been in an even bigger rush as I quickly loaded the boat. I did put the rod together in the parking lot, but did not string it up and trying to do this in darkness, without a flashlight, was very difficult. It was even worse as I picked out a fly and attempted to tie it on the 10-pound fluorocarbon tippet. I eventually tied on a white conehead shad fly and pitched the
density compensated sinking fly line over the side as the sun and other shad anglers began to appear.

It was low tide but according to the chart it was scheduled to begin rising a little past 6am. I gave the line a long ten count before beginning the retrieve, which was neither too fast or too slow. After the fifth cast, the action began. There was that sudden, familiar tug on the line and my first shad of the season was on and after a short fight it was released back into the Potomac. The fishing really picked up after that first fish and it was somewhat automatic. I would feed about 35 feet of line into the water, give it a long 10 count then begin a medium paced 8-inch strip back to the boat. It would only take about six to eight strips of the line before another Hickory shad was on the fly. The catching was steady and others around me were also getting into fish as the sun began to rise, burning off the heavy fog that hung low on the water.

As the sun began to rise, the fishing began to taper off. The frantic action of the early morning bite gave way to a slower pace of fishing where you'd have to change up on flies, depth fished and retrieve rate. Hands down, the hot fly color was white, and some shad flies tied by
BobW, especially the white with heavy dumbell eyes, were great. Unfortunately I lost his fly and a fish when the leader broke as I brought the fish next to the boat. And I also lost bunch more to hangups on the bottom or if the fish were deep-hooked. The next color the fish liked a lot was hot pink followed by chartreuse and a silver over gold flash fly.
By noon the bite really tapered off but I noticed that the fish had moved into the very quiet water just outside Fletcher's Cove. Other fly fishers and spin anglers were slaying them. Most of the fleet was still strung out along the main current seam, but everyone was fishing towards shore and not downstream or into the current. After my third "last fish", I decided to call it a day and headed for the
Ba Le sandwich shop in Falls Church, Virginia, for a quick Vietnamese lunch (and a cup of iced coffee) before heading home.

EQUIPMENT: I used a fast action 5 weight rod with a full sink density compensated line. Shad flies were in sizes 4 to 10 in white, chartreuse and hot pink.

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