Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 24, 2010
I heard it, but I couldn't believe it. After landing another very large shad, Jin sat down in the stern of the Fletcher's rowboat and was preparing to snip the fly off the end of his tippet.

"I'm done," he said wearily. "I can't handle another fish. My arm and hands have had it." He turned up his palms and they were red and raw in spots from bearing down on lots of fish.
I sat there stunned. Jin was bowing out of the fly fishing game while the bite was still hot. If you look up the phrase "hardcore angler" there's probably a picture of Jin next to the definition. After hearing him utter those words, no wonder it was raining today. But after I pointed out that the Hickory and American shad were still biting like crazy, that they were only biting our flies, and that they might not stick around for very long after today. He put his nippers away and began fishing again.

I arrived at
Fletcher's Boat House on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., around 4:30am to secure a boat. Despite being cold and dark the dock was bustling with activity. Paula Smith, the Mistress of the Dock, was barking orders and outfitting anglers with lifejackets, oars and advice.

"Keep the f*%$*& lifejackets on out there because the cops came by yesterday and handed out a bunch of $50 tickets to a&&*$#@# who weren't wearing the f&^%$#* jackets!” she bellowed at anglers as they loaded their rowboats.

“And it was f@#*%$& worse because some old f&*%# fell out of his boat near the point without a jacket on and his wife didn't know how to start the f*&^%$# boat to pick up his sorry a**, but he was lucky 'cuz another guy managed to fish his f*&^%$# sorry a** out of the water and get him back to his boat. The dumb a**,” she sweetly said to everyone within 1/4 mile of the dock.

God bless Paula. She's rough around the edges but she looks after the regulars. She made sure I had a good boat and a good anchor attached to a long length of rope. I quickly finished outfitting the boat and sat back to wait for Jin. In the meantime I watched the parade of anglers march down the dock, load up and head out of Fletcher's Cove. It was an eclectic mix of people going after striped bass, catfish, perch, largemouth bass, snakehead or shad. Spinners, baitcasters, downriggers, big rods, small rods and fly rods. Live bait, dead bait, lures and flies. Every type of fishing implement made by man was loaded into Fletcher's rowboats by folks anxious to beat the next guy to that favorite fishing hole. Today was also the day that the
Family and Youth Casting Call was going to be held at Fletcher's Cove and a large turnout was expected so the hardcore anglers were hot to secure a boat and be far, far away from shore before the hoards of kids and parents showed up for the event later in the day.

The sun began to rise and there were only a few boats left at the dock but I wasn't too worried. I was watching where everyone was setting up to fish and nobody was in my prime spot. Jin showed up and in a few minutes we had dropped anchor and were casting for shad.

After 20 minutes there was a problem. We weren't getting any bites. Jin said he wasn't feeling any love here. This spot was very productive on my previous trip but today it was dead. Not even a tap. The only difference between today and last week was the tide cycle. Last week I fished this spot on an incoming tide and everything was good. Today the tide was heading out. I told Jin we were moving further downstream to another spot I fished before. After lining up the boat on the landmarks we began to fish.

Jin felt the love here. We drew taps on the first casts and shad on the subsequent casts. The action was on. One good thing about having two anglers in the boat is that you can quickly determine where the bite is coming from--deep, middle or shallow. Jin was slaying them from the stern. Six casts, six fish. The numbers kept piling up. I took the time to try different things while Jin continued to fish. I tried large flies, small flies, chartreuse, pink, yellow and gaudy flash flies. I fished heavily weighted flies and flies with no weight. I used long leaders, short leaders and leaders with shot on them. I didn't catch as many fish, but I did learn a lot about what works and what didn't and what will catch shad and what won't. When I was finally done with my experiments I went back to what was working and joined Jin in pounding fish.

The action was silly. I had a fish on, it spit the fly, then another fish immediately grabbed it. It was that kind of day. We had double hookups. We were catching fish deep, in middle water, and shallow. We were catching them 30 feet away and close to the boat. There would usually be a short lull when nothing was biting but it came down to us finding out where in the water column the fish were holding. Jin would do a long count and let his line sink deep. I would throw long but give it a very short count before beginning the retrieve. One of us would eventually get a hookup and when we pinpointed the proper depth and distance we would begin pounding shad again.

Most of the
Hickories we caught were fat and healthy, putting up a great fight. We also tied into a bunch of Americans and Jin landed several very nice specimens. We had to retie leaders and tippet often because they were becoming worn from all the fishing. Jin had his fly fall off the tippet after boating another large American shad, so despite the fact that fluorocarbon has a higher abrasion resistance than monofilament it was safer to put on a new section after a few fish rather than possibly loose a big one.
We motored back to shore for lunch and took a look at what was happening at the Casting Call. The weather, which was overcast with a bit of rain now and then, kept the crowds thin but there was still a pretty good turnout. They had stations where folks could try fly casting and a spin casting station for kids where they could try hitting a target for a prize. One kid almost hit me in the head with the bobber when he threw an errant cast beyond the targets.
There were tents set up for people to look at fishing equipment and kids could borrow fishing gear then go up to the C&O canal, where a short section was closed off by nets at either end and stocked with 1500 trout and sunfish. You could hear the crowd roar every time a kid caught a fish. Jin and I were wondering if they'd let us big kids fish there after the event was over but when we finished lunch we headed back out to catch more shad.
We tried fishing further up the Potomac River but there was no action. We returned to the water outside Fletcher's Cove and I was surprised that nobody had claimed our fishing spot after we motored in for lunch. So we went back to that spot and began pounding shad again.
Jin was in a groove and was hammering them. He caught so many that he was actually thinking of snipping off his fly and quitting for the day because his arm hurt and his rod hand was pretty raw from fighting so many fish. But the action was hot and my nagging probably made him change his mind because he stood up and went back to fishing. However after awhile even I was getting pretty tired from all the fishing so we both decided that the shad had enough punishment and it was time for us to stop by the Urban Angler, where Jin had some items to pick up and I had to replenish some shad fly tying materials.
EQUIPMENT: We used a fast action 5 and 7 weight rod with a full sink density compensated line. Shad flies were in sizes 4 to 10. You need a Washington, DC, fishing license. Boat rental is $23 a day.

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.