Potomac River, Washington, DC, May 13, 2011
The weather was cool and overcast as a light mist fell on a small line of boats anchored along the current seam outside Fletcher’s Cove. Whether they were slinging bait or dredging flies everyone was staring intently at their rods and watching the water waiting, and hoping, for a bite.

A series of heavy rain storms shut down shad season just as the major run of fish was beginning to peak on the Potomac River in Washington, DC. You can fish for and catch shad from shore, but your best bet for a really outstanding day is to rent one of the wooden rowboats from the folks at Fletcher’s Boat House. However they cannot rent boats to the public if the water height climbs above five feet, and those April showers pushed the Potomac’s height and flow way above the safe level for almost a month. It was a tough time for shad anglers and an even tougher time for the good people at Fletcher’s Cove, who depend on that rental money. But the waters receded and the skies cleared. April was gone and May had arrived. It was time to see if the Hickory and Americans were sill around.

There weren’t very many anglers on the water when I arrived at Fletcher’s Cove. A couple of boats were coming in off the water and those anglers told me the action was slow. Some were there for striped bass and others for catfish, perch or whatever else was biting at the moment but it seems no matter what species you were after the action was very slow.

I was using a full sink Type VII density-compensated line on a medium-fast action 8 weight rod my brother built for me a few years ago. I usually use a 6 or 7 weight rod but I was being optimistic, hoping to catch a few
American shad which usually put a pretty good bend on the stick. I started fishing with the same fly I used on my previous shad outing on the Potomac and on my second cast I had a strike, followed by a short fight and a long distance release. I saw the flash of a shad, so does that count as a catch? I continued to fish and, like the people told me before I got in the boat, the action was slow. So what do you do? The fish always knew when to keep things interesting--just as I was getting bored and frustrated, changing flies for the tenth time, thinking about moving on, I would get a solid hit which then made me think it was a better idea to stay where I was.

Cast and retrieve. Cast and retrieve. Over and over. Again and again. Forty minutes later a strike. A perch. Cast and retrieve. Cast and retrieve. Over and over. Again and again. Twenty minutes later another strike. Another perch. Change out the fly, again, and try another color. This was tough fishing. I was getting a lot of short strikes and would temporarily have a mystery fish on the line, which I would fight for a few seconds then it would be gone.
I felt that I wasn’t getting deep enough so I lengthened the leader, tied on a heavier fly and to really make sure it got to the bottom I gave an extra long count on the full-sink line. Three strips into the retrieve I had a solid strike. Whatever I hooked was big and it wasn’t a shad, perch, bass or herring. I fought it for awhile but lost it close to the boat. I never saw what it was but it was probably a large foul-hooked striped bass because there was a large scale imbedded on the tip of the hook that looked awfully striped bass-ish.

I pulled the anchor and motored up the Potomac towards Chain Bridge and tried a couple of spots to see if I had any better luck there. Nothing. I pulled the anchor and motored back down river towards the point and fished a couple of places but all I caught was the bottom, a stick and an old ball of monofilament. I watched the other boats, there were only three on the water besides me at this point, and I didn’t see anyone boating fish with any regularity. It was slow. The shad are still there, but it’s probably the tail-end of the season.Other fish like striped bass and perch are appearing in force but most of the shad have probably come, done their fishy thing and spawned during the high water, and have either left or are on their way out of the Potomac. I fished a bit more but It was getting late so around 5:30pm I called it a day and headed home.
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.