Potomac River, Washington, DC, May 7, 2010
I could hear that little voice in the back of my mind telling me that Big Hunting Creek might be a better choice. But I didn't want to listen.

I arrived at
Fletcher's Boat House around 5:30am and in the dim morning light I could make out two people on the dock loading their equipment into rowboats. I quickly dumped my gear out of the car and soon had everything stowed away and was ready to push off into the cove and out onto the Potomac River. During this time I noticed that we, the two other anglers and myself, were the only people leaving the dock to go fishing. And I was the only one with a fly rod and the only one with equipment light enough to fish for shad. The other two guys were obviously after bigger game. The voice in the back of my mind pushed itself forward and began screaming.

I quickly dropped anchor at the spot Jin and I fished
two weeks ago and began casting. On the second retrieve I drew a strike. The fish put a good bend on the rod and when I brought it alongside the boat it turned out to be a small striped bass, not a shad as I expected. But it was a good start. I released the fish and threw another cast into the river. Cast and retrieve. Cast and retrieve. The sun began to rise above the trees as the sound of rush hour traffic into the District began to build along Canal Road. Cast and retrieve. Cast and retrieve. The voice in my head was saying, "You idiot."

Despite reading on other blogs and bulletin boards that the shad season might be over, I still decided to come and fish at Fletcher's hoping for one last glorious fishing day on the Potomac River. I knew the day might be a bust, but after scoring a schoolie striper on the second cast my anticipation of having an exceptional day on the river was high. However after two hours of casting, fly changes, moving the boat to different locations and covering the water column from top to bottom I realized the best of the shad fishing was probably over for this year. And watching the few other boats that came out onto the water, at least those that seemed to be targeting shad, those anglers weren't having much luck either. I saw a few catfish landed, but nobody was tearing up the shad.

So I moved to 'Plan B'. I sort of knew, but didn't want to believe, that shad fishing might be a bust so I also brought along an 8 weight rod and some large bass flies to target snakeheads. According to other anglers the
Northern Snakehead has been seen and caught in the quieter water above Fletcher's Cove. This fish first appeared in Virginia around 2003 and has steadily spread up and down along the Potomac River.

I decided to fish some of the coves just below Chain Bridge so I pulled anchor and slowly motored upriver. As I sailed past the First Beach I noticed a huge pile of trash left by anglers and about half a dozen buzzards eating the leftovers. Very disgusting. I can't understand why folks insist on trashing the places they fish. I wouldn't like coming back to my favorite fishing spot if it was covered with piles of garbage, flies and buzzard poop.

As I neared Chain Bridge I saw that I was too late. All the good spots had
bass boats parked in them. I took a quick look around and after speaking with two fly fishers in a Fletcher's rowboat I headed back downstream to fish. Along the way I pulled close to shore and put the trolling motor into slow reverse and cast the 8 weight into quiet water trying to draw a strike with a purple and black rabbit fly tied on a 2/0 hook. I fished this way down to the point below Fletcher's Cove then worked my way back up to the dock, slowly fishing some drop offs and shore structure. I also tried throwing Deceivers and various Wooly Bugger patterns but all I drew was a strike from a small bass, which was almost the same size as the fly, and a follow by what looked like a small catfish. After a few hours of this, I decided to call it a day and went back to the dock.

Paula Smith, the all-powerful Mistress of the Dock, helped me unload the boat and we talked a bit about fishing. She told me the big run of shad was over.

"Take a look at all these boats sitting here at the dock, honey," she said. "If them big shad schools was in, you think they'd still be here all tied up? The problem is, if folks ain't catchin' 50-60 fish a day, they ain't interested. But there's still fish to catch, you're just not going to catch them in big numbers and you gotta work for 'em."
She pointed out several spots where the fish will hold later in the season. Most of the Hickory shad have spawned and left Fletcher's Cove but the larger American shad are still around but they hold deep, hugging the bottom.

“Most folks aren't fishing deep enough,” she explained as she straightened a rack of oars in the tiny equipment shed. “You've got to get that lure down to the bottom and keep it there.”

She showed me a
shad dart rig where the bottom dart was large and heavy, really heavy, and a lighter dart was tied about 14 inches above it on a short leader. It wasn’t for fly fishing, but it was interesting to see. Another variation she showed me sported a heavy sinker on the bottom with two roughly #10 shad darts tied 14 inches apart, the lower lure on a longer leader than the top one. No way to cast these rigs with a fly rod but it would be ideal on a spinning rig.

We also talked about Snakeheads and where to catch them. She pointed out several places that she knew about and added that three were caught recently in Fletcher's Cove. One 20 inch fish was caught at the mouth of the small stream that trickles into the cove, another was caught opposite the dock on a six inch white
Rapala lure and another by a guy fishing off the rock at the entrance to the cove. She said none of the anglers were specifically targeting Snakeheads. They just caught them by accident while fishing for bass.

Since I quit fishing by lunchtime I headed over to
El Pollo Rico for a Peruvian chicken lunch then headed over to the Urban Angler fly shop to kill some time before beating the Friday rush hour traffic home.

EQUIPMENT: I used a fast action 6 and 8 weight rods. Shad flies were in sizes 4 to 10. The bass-snakehead flies were size 1 to 2/0. 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.