Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 27, 2012
After my disasterous shad fishing expedition last week I made sure everything was in order the night before I left the house. Going fishing, then realizing you left your fly rod in the closet and brought an empty tube, is something I don’t ever want to repeat.

I arrived at Fletcher’s Cove on the Potomac River around 5:30am and after finding a boat with a good rock I loaded my gear and parked the car. The tide was out and several boats tied up near the life jacket shack were sitting on mud. Two other anglers showed up and began outfitting their boat but I was surprised that there weren’t more people gearing up to fish for shad. It was only the two anglers, two shore fishermen, a Fletcher’s employee and myself. Was the shad run over? People on the fishing bulletin boards were speculating that the shad run was over for the year. I thought about that as I dropped the rock just off the main current of the Potomac River outside Fletcher’s Cove.

I drew a strike on the second cast but it pulled off as I brought it alongside the boat. It took several more casts until I brought in an average Hickory shad. At least it proved that the shad were still here. However for the next half hour the fishing was so-so. I would land several fish in a row followed by a long dry spell of no action. As the sun began to climb into the sky I could see only two boats on the water--myself and the two other anglers who were down near Walker’s Point.

The shad were biting but the action was slow. I was using the same tactics from the previous weeks but something was not quite right so I began to experiment with different presentations. I downsized and lengthened the leader, went to a smaller fly that had more flash then fiddled with the sink time before beginning the retrieve. That seemed to work and I began catching shad.

A couple other boats had pulled out of the cove and joined the lineup. One of those anglers did not drop a rock but was rowing his boat to the top of the cove then drifting down towards the point, fishing during his drift. He was covering lots of water and hooking lots of shad. He was an older gentleman but in great shape and he could really row that boat quickly upstream. I watched him fish as he drifted pass me a couple times and I noticed he didn’t let his rig sink very deep before he began reeling in so I cut back further on my sink rate and my catch rate began to improve.

I don’t know how many shad I caught because I stopped counting when I passed 50. It was a lot, but you had to work hard for them. The overall size of the fish were average but I caught a couple of beast Hickory shad and one smallish American shad that fought like it was a bigger fish. There was one particular sweet spot on the river where the shad were holding but you had to get the line and sink rate lined up perfectly before stripping through that spot or you’d get nothing. Too far downstream and you’re hung up. Retrieve line too soon and you pass over the top of the fish. Do it right, you get a fish on the line. You had to make the cast then watch the line and count off seconds as it swung downstream. At the same time you had to watch the marks on shore to line up with the fishy spot before beginning the retrieve. There is a shallow ledge--the fly drags on a smooth bottom before it drops into deeper water as you strip line back to the boat. However once it falls off the ledge it is almost always grabbed by a fish.
The wind picked up later in the day and it made fishing miserable. Fly line was blown all over the boat or overboard. The boat would swung wildly back and forth and I almost lost my favorite hat. Anything small, light or unsecured was always a strong gust away from being blown into the Potomac River. Boats with small rock anchors or were anchored on fairly smooth-bottomed areas were pushed downstream. I watched a boat with three anglers drift downstream four times before they finally found a spot where their rock caught the bottom.

The action slowed down around noon and I had to leave anyway so I left the lineup and motored back to Fletcher’s Cove. After a quick hot dog and drink, I hit 66 for the ride home. As I drove I remembered those folks who were wondering if the shad run is over. No, it’s not.

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.