Washington, DC, March 29, 2014
Old Man Winter has pounded the region over the past few months and as a parting gift he gave us a cold, wet backhand to the face for the opening day of shad season at Fletcher’s Cove.

As I crossed Key Bridge around 6am I was wondering if I would even be able to get to the cove. The District was dealing with what appeared to be
a sinkhole on Canal Road and of all the places for it to appear, it was right at the entrance to Fletcher’s Boathouse. Luckily the road was open and a steel plate was covering the hole. But how big and deep is the sinkhole and what is causing the road to collapse? Will it be a simple fix or will it take months of work? Nobody knows.

I unloaded the car at the dock and began the boat selection process. Most people just grab the nearest boat and go, figuring a boat is a boat--they float and so what’s the difference, there are fish that need catching right NOW. Even though the Fletcher’s boats look the same, they really aren’t. There are a small handful of the original Fletcher’s rowboats still in service and some believe these boats row and track better than the newer models. I can’t tell the difference because I throw an electric trolling motor on the transom but others say the differences are noticeable. But the most important factor in picking a new boat has nothing to do with the boat itself. It’s the anchor. Do you have a good rock or a bad rock? The rock makes the difference. Will it hold you in position when you drop it or be too light and drag the bottom? Is it too heavy? Pulling a heavy rock up 10-20 times could shred your wet, cold hands.
I dropped anchor at my favorite starting off point and began fishing with the fly that was the top producer last year. After an hour, not even a nibble. And the rain began to pick up as a fog bank rolled in. I could hear people talking around me but I could not see them.

I hooked but lost my first fish then hooked and landed another but that was the end of the shad bite for the next three hours. I followed the current seam downstream, stopping to fish at a couple of locations but with no luck. I swapped out flies--ran everything from size 2 to 10 in every color combination and conehead colors. There were so many flies drying, and in the rain this was futile, my fly holder looked like a strange Christmas decoration. I fished high in the water column and dredged the bottom, losing flies in the process. I finally got another fish later in the day but that was all I got because the rain picked up in the afternoon and everyone began leaving the river to dry off. That seemed like a good idea to me so I cut off the fly, reeled up and headed for home.

NOTE: With all the rain, Fletcher’s might stop renting boats for a few days. Call 202-244-0461 or visit the
Fletcher’s Boathouse website for up to date information on boat rentals and the status of the shad bite.
EQUIPMENT: I usually use a 6 or 7 weight rod and a Type VII density-compensated full sink line. Shad flies in size 2 to 8 in various colors.

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, and will appear on your left if you approach the area from Key Bridge or on your right from Chain Bridge.

WARNING: The entrance to Fletcher’s Cove is a very narrow ramp that can accommodate only ONE car at a time so be very careful. It is also very easy to drive past the Abner Cloud House, so be alert. And it is REALLY difficult to negotiate this ramp if you approach Fletcher’s Cove via Chain Bridge because the entry ramp faces Key Bridge. There is NO RAMP facing Chain Bridge. Park in the upper lot on your left or go through the tiny tunnel (if you have anything on roof racks, I suggest checking the tunnel height BEFORE entering) to the lower parking lot and dock access. During shad season the boat rental office opens at 7am, but when the season is hot and heavy they do open earlier. Boat rental fee, plus tax, is $26 for the day. You need a D.C. fishing license ($10 DC resident and $13 non-resident) to fish and you can get them at the Fletcher's 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 because all traffic on Canal Road is one way into the city. You must use Canal Road via Chain Bridge in the morning and trying to make the u-turn into Fletcher's during rush hour traffic can really get the blood pounding! Canal Road becomes one way going towards Chain Bridge from 2:30 to 7pm, so you have to hang a sharp U-turn, in rush hour traffic, when you leave.