Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 1, 2011
It was April 1, but it wasn't a joke. There were only two boats on the water when I arrived at
Fletcher's Boat House at 11:30am. Only four people were fishing for shad.

During shad season I will always be at Fletcher's Cove before Canal Road becomes a one-way commuter artery into The District. So that means I'm up early and at Fletcher's before 5:30am. However today I had a lot of things to complete in the morning and knowing that the crowds will probably be thick since reports said shad are begining to appear, I almost didn't go shad fishing. Why bother driving into The District when all the boats are probably gone and every shoreline casting spot is taken. But I did. And after a few hours I was really glad I did.

There was one boat out near the cove at the far end of the park and another boat anchored in the soft water just 50 yards downstream from the dock. I quickly anchored just outside a current seam and began fishing.

I started with a tandem rig--putting a shad fly with a red head and white body as the lead and a hot orange with flash shad fly as the dropper. I usually start off this way to see what color, and size, the shad will eat. My strategy was to start deep and gradually work up the water column. You shouldn't just tie on a fly and toss it out there and expect a hit. Maybe that will work later in the season, but you have to figure out not only what fly they want but where, and how deep, the fish are holding.
Start off with a measured amount of line, like 40 or 50 feet, then cast and let it sink but count the number of seconds you let it sink (based on the type of sinking fly line you are using) before begining a retrieve. The type of retrieve you use is also important and must be consistent once the fish begin to hit the fly. You can use a fast retrieve, a slow retrieve, a slow/fast retrieve, a jerky retrieve or a side-to-side retrieve. But this is the tough part. When you get a tap or a hookup, you have to note where the fish hit during your retrieve. Was it far from the boat? Close to the boat? Was the fly on the bottom or on the rise? Was it in the fast water or outside the current seam? If you can put all of these pieces together, you'll catch a few fish.

Since it was an overcast day, I thought the fish would be hanging more in the mid-water than down deep. That turned out to be correct. After several casts I brought a fish to the boat and noted which fly on the tandem rig it hit, reeled up excess fly line, then cast out to the general area where I had the take and began to retrieve. The second fish also took the same fly so I cut off the tandem rig and fished the prefered fly. The shad fought well and quite a few of them put a good bend on the rod. The looked healthy and very fat. I stopped counting once I passed 20 fish. What was even more amazing is that in the afternoon, everyone pulled up their rocks and left. I had the whole river to myself until about 5:30pm, when two other fly fishers rowed out and anchored above me. By then I was pretty fried and it was getting cold as the sun began to sink below the trees. After a shad broke of the fly, I went back to the dock.

It was great day to fish. No people and the fish were biting. When I went back to the Fletcher's concession stand the guy behind the counter said I couldn't have been out on a better day. Lots of shad and no people around. He told me to enjoy it, because the crowds will soon arrive.

EQUIPMENT: I used a 7 weight fly rod with a full sink density-compensated line. Shad flies were in sizes 4 to 10 in various colors but chartreuse and orange with flash worked best.

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 must hang a sharp U-turn when you leave.