Potomac River, Washington, DC, March 23, 2012
“Did you go out fishing with your shirt on like that all day?” asked my dear wife. She informed me I was wearing my t-shirt, with a front pocket, backwards.

“Er, uh, it was so hot out on the boat that I put the shirt on backwards to prevent the front of my neck from getting sunburned,” I replied. She gave me a long, hard stare then walked off down the hall.

Never get dressed in the dark, especially if you’re still half asleep. I knew something was wrong with the shirt but I was in a rush and didn’t want to deal with it. When I left the house at 4:30am I was trying to put my cellphone in the shirt’s pocket but I kept fumbling around--I couldn’t locate the pocket. Rather than waste any more time I just jammed the phone into a pants pocket and took off for Fletchers’ Boat House on the Potomac River in Washington, DC, to catch some shad. I was in a rush. It never occurred to me that the shirt was on backwards. It felt fine. Now it sort of made sense why the guy standing in line behind me at the Fletcher’s rowboat rental gave me an odd look.
I loaded up the rowboat rental with gear and in five minutes dropped the rock off the main current bubble line outside Fletcher’s Cove. The sun was peeking over the horizon and the sky had taken on a bright orange-pink tinge. Other Fletcher’s boats began making their way up and down the Potomac as they searched for a spot that might hold shad. I strung up the rod--a 6 weight rigged with a density compensated full sink line. I tied on the color that was a hot producer last year and began fishing.
The toughest part of shad fishing is finding where they are holding in relation to the water column. Current speed, depth, water temperature and water clarity all play a part. The angler’s job is to find the sweet spot. I fished this area before and had scoped it out many times with a portable sonar unit so I began casting and counting the seconds as I watched the line swing downstream. At the end of each count I began stripping line back to the boat then cast again, adding a few more seconds to the sink and swing count before retrieving the fly back to the boat.

When you finally get a bite, you have to remember what the count was and where exactly the bite occurred. Keep your eyes on the line because using the same sink/swing count and stripping line through the same spot will consistently produce fish. Do not deviate. Do not improvise. You have to do it exactly the same each time. After 20 minutes, I had my first shad. It was an average Hickory shad that took the fly hard. I snapped a quick photo and slipped it back into the Potomac River.
For the next five hours I caught shad. Same place, same depth, same count. Cast, sink, swing, strip and fish on. I stopped counting how many I brought to the boat when I passed 50. I think I may have gone over 100 fish. I varied the colors and size and the best producer were the flies in size 6 that had a bit of flash on them. I changed leaders and tippet often since it would become severely abraded from rubbing on the fish and side of the boat. I lost one of the biggest American shad I have ever hooked right next to the boat when, after a five minute fight, the leader rubbed through. And my fingers weren’t faring any better. Wet hands and all the line stripping and fish fighting left my fingers with some painful cuts.
As the sun climbed I took a few breaks from fishing. My arms were tired and I wanted to observe the other boats to see how anglers were doing on other sections of the river. I could see activity downstream near the point where people fishing with fly rods and spinners were getting their share of fish. The folks fishing above us, where the river narrows, weren’t doing that great. A fish would occasionally come to hand but the action seemed slow.

I called it a day at 1pm. The fishing had slowed and I wanted to beat the traffic out of The District. On my way back to the dock I did my good deed for the day by retrieving a remote control speedboat that had a malfunction and was drifting downstream. The boat’s owner was extremely grateful to get his expensive toy back.

EQUIPMENT: Use any rod between 5 to 8 weight but always use a full-sink line. I like the density compensated (heavier out front with a gradual weight curve back to the reel) lines the best. Floating lines with sink tips are ok but might not get you deep enough. Carry an assortment of flies from size 2 to 8 in several different colors including white, pink, chartreuse and yellow.

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, a white stone building, 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 $22 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 Washington 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 then make that turn into Fletcher's. But it’s a killer turn because that ramp is the only road into and out of the Boathouse parking lot and it faces towards Key Bridge. Some will back down the ramp! 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.