Fletcher’s Cove, Washington, DC, March 30, 2013
My eyes were watering. My nose was running. I was coughing and hacking. It was Spring and the trees were having bodacious sex and filling the air with pollen. But the shad were making their annual run up the Potomac River so to hell with hay fever and allergies.

It was still dark when I finished storing my gear aboard a small rowboat at Fletcher’s Cove and joined a small knot of anglers waiting for an employee to arrive at the dock and unlock the life preserver and oar lockers. Time ticked by slowly. Five minutes seemed like five days when you’re waiting to go fishing and you could tell everyone, while being polite and trading around some interesting fishing stories, really wanted to be sitting in one of those Fletcher boats hauling in shad.

However I did learn some interesting things. I mentioned that the tide was unusually low and one of the anglers said it was because all the dirt from building the Metro subway is washing into the Potomac. Fletcher’s Cove is slowly filling in with silt and in a few years, unless there is some major dredging, the cove will be useless except during a very high tide. A shad old-timer said years ago, even at low tide, there would be enough water in the cove to float all the boats. As we looked at the dock, only the boats moored at the far end were floating. The rest had their keels stuck in the mud. And there were fewer boats than the previous year. A couple of old boats were taken out of service, leaving about 29 boats for rent. The old-timer piped up and said there used to be 52 boats for rent.
By this time the Fletcher’s employee arrived and after signing out for a boat I was soon sitting just outside the main current, rigging up a 6 weight rod with a full sink line as the sky began to color up. It was chilly--somewhere in the mid to high 30’s and the water flow was about what you’d expect at this time of the year. Slowly, other boats made their way out of the cove and soon there was a line of red rowboats strung out from Gordon’s Point to Walker’s Rock.

The bite was slow but I expected this. The beginning of the season always starts off a bit slow for me but I wanted to evaluate the fishery and the best way to do that is to fish! I started off with the hot color from last year but after slinging and stripping it for half an hour I began to switch flies, both in size and color, to see what the shad wanted. After the third fly change I caught three shad in as many casts on the standard size 6 red cone head, white body shad fly. The fish were healthy and very thick, a uniform 10 inches in length. However, after that brief action, the bite just died. The sun burned over the tree line and suddenly nobody was catching anything. I watched the other boats closely and every once in awhile someone would bring something to the boat, but it wasn’t great fishing.

Another fly angler passed my boat a little past noon. He asked and I told. He didn’t have any luck today and was heading home to do some chores that he had kept putting off. I wasn’t getting any shad love either, so I decided that I should tackle some of that yard work that was waiting for me so I yanked the rock off the bottom and motored back to the cove.

EQUIPMENT: I used a 7-weight rod and a Type VII density-compensated (sinks faster at the front to prevent line sag) full sink line.

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.

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 7am. Boat rental fee is $22 (plus tax) 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 ON WEEKDAYS: Both lanes of Canal Road become ONE WAY into and out of the District 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 this window you must wait until 10:20am. Once it's one way you must come down Canal Road via Chain Bridge in the morning and trying to make the 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 have to hang a sharp U-turn when you leave.