Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 8, 2012
Dawn was breaking on a chilly Easter Sunday as we slowly motored out of Fletcher's Cove. There was a thin coating of ice on the rowboat seats--the temperature had been close to freezing overnight--but I was layered up under my waders so it wasn't that bad. Jin was in town and we were getting ready to fly fish for Hickory and American shad as they made their annual run on the Potomac River.

We pulled away from the dock as I throttled the trolling motor up to full speed. Jin and I could hear a steady beat of hollow thumps and clanks as anglers threw their gear into the wood rowboats tied up at the dock. They were anxious. They wanted to be out on the river as quick as possible so they could drop a rock anchor at their favorite spot before someone else beat them to it. I was feeling a little anxiety too. Several boats had pulled out into the darkness as I was loading our boat at 5am and I was afraid they were already anchored in 'our' spot.
Our boat pushed through the calm morning water. The only sound was a low electric hum from the Minn-Kota trolling motor and the burbling of water rushing past the wooden hull of the rowboat. As we approached the main current of the Potomac River outside Fletcher’s Cove we strained to see in the pre-dawn darkness if anyone was anchored at our favorite fishing spot. We were lucky. Most of the boats that left early had either gone down river to fish the point or had pulled up river and anchored below Catfish Beach. We dropped our rock and began fishing for shad.

Jin was a guest, so he got the stern position. He had tied up a killer shad pattern the night before and after adjusting for current speed and sink rate he began pulling in fish. Jin had them dialed in and after getting myself set up in the back of the boat I began pulling in a few too. For the next hour the action was very hot. One of us always had a Hickory on the line or we were both hooked up at the same time. The key to getting a consistent bite was getting the line and fly into the same spot at the same depth while using the same retrieve as you pull everything back to the boat. Do that right every time and your chances are pretty good that you’ll get a fish. Your chances will also improve a lot if you use a sinking line or one with a sinking tip. You have to get the fly close to or on the bottom if you want to catch shad.
The hooking was consistent until the sun began climbing into the sky then the fishing began to slow down. We were still catching shad, but there was usually an 8 to 10 cast gap before we had a fish on the line.

We played around with patterns a bit to see if a change in color would make a difference and began adjusting our line sink rate--allowing more seconds to pass to make sure the fly was close to or on the bottom before making a retrieve. Fishing picked up a bit and we also began catching other species like perch and herring that were mixed in with the Hickories and Americans.

After a short break at Fletcher's Cove, we motored back out to the lineup and picked a spot further down stream towards the point of rocks. We fished this area a few shad seasons ago and it did not disappoint. We began catching Hickories and Americans at a consistent rate although there were a few times when we began to think the bite in this spot was over and it was time to lift the rock to move on, only to immediately hook several fish which ends all talk of shifting the boat.

We fished for another hour but after six hours on the water, and lots of shad brought to hand, it was time to go.

EQUIPMENT: We used 7 weight rods with full sink, density-compensated lines and shad-type conehead or lead eye flies from size 4 to size 12 in a variety of colors like pink, chartreuse, white, yellow and orange. And DO NOT forget to pick up your driver’s license at the bait shack BEFORE you leave Fletcher’s Cove.

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 6am 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.