Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 13, 2012
It was still pretty dark when I motored out of Fletcher's Cove before 6am but dawn was slowly beginning to color the sky. Birds were starting to chirp and there was the occasional flip and splash on the calm Potomac River--too dim to see whether it was a shad, herring or catfish. And then there was the sound of car horns blasting up and down Canal Road, which might have meant someone missed the sign that at 6am all lanes are now going one way into Washington, D.C. At least all the horns weren't followed by the sound of crumpling metal.

The darkness made it difficult to line the wooden rowboat up with Walker's Point. I could see the tree line as it gradually sloped downward, but due to darkness and old age, the rest of the point was swallowed up in the dark and it came down to my best guess when it came time to drop the rock.

And because I knew it would still be pretty dark, I rigged my rod the night before to save time and aggravation. I could have used a flashlight and rigged up in the Fletcher's parking lot or on the boat, but after doing both a few times I figured I'd save some time by getting everything ready so all I had to do was slip the fly off the rod guide and start fishing. On the first cast, the line didn't shoot that well. I thought it was because I didn't clean it well and it was a bit sticky. I hooked a Hickory shad on my second cast and while stripping the line in it didn't feel smooth.

After releasing the fish I turned on one of those small 3-LED lights that you clip onto the brim of a baseball cap. It was small, light and weighed a lot less than the big 2-AA battery skull-mounted light that I usually strap onto my head. It belonged to my wife.

I inspected the rod and saw that in my haste to assemble the stick, I had twisted the line over one of the sections. As I pulled the rod sections apart I bumped the LED light on the brim of my cap, sending it spiraling over the side of the rowboat into the Potomac River. It looked like a little spaceship or submersible, lights blazing, as it slowly drifted downstream and sank. I made a mental note to stop by Dick's on my way home to pick up another light.

With everything straightened out I began fishing. It was great. I was getting a fish on almost every cast and there were still no boats on the water. But I knew I would soon have company because I could faintly hear the clanking and bumping at the dock as people outfitted their boats and I could see a steady stream of headlights emerging from the Hobbit tunnel leading to the Fletcher's Cove parking lot.

I thought this was going to be an epic day of fishing, one where I would pile up the numbers, but the fishing gods were not smiling. As soon as the sun peeked over the trees and climbed a bit into the sky the hot bite turned ice cold. It was like someone turned off the shad spigot. It just ended.

Other boats joined the lineup and everyone was fishing but there was only a little catching going on. I tried changing color and size but as in past sessions the size 6 was still the favorite fly. I made small adjustments to the boat--moving left then right to get into the sweet spot of the outer seam. It helped a bit but the bite did not pick up. I went from getting a fish on every other cast to getting a fish after 20 or more casts. Tough, hard fishing.

I took a short break and thought about the water conditions--cool weather, a bright sky and clear water. I thought the fish might be finicky and hugging the bottom so I lengthened the leader and downsized the fly. It worked. I began catching a few fish. Not in the numbers as I did in the morning but at least I was catching something and not just putting in casting practice. But after awhile it was time to go. It was a tough day for fishing.
EQUIPMENT: I used a 7 weight rod with full sink, density-compensated line 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.

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. The Hobbit tunnel leading to the lower parking lot is 7 feet high!

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.