Washington, DC, April 12, 2014
The weather people said it was going to be a beautiful weekend. Which translates to--get to Fletcher’s Boathouse EARLY or you will be left standing on shore without a boat.

I arrived at the cove at 4:35am and there were already three people there ahead of me. I quickly selected a boat and loaded my gear then went to stand in line at the concession stand. Alex arrived a few minutes later and after filling out the proper paperwork and getting a pair of oars, I was securely anchored and fishing for shad.

The action started off slow. I had a few taps but nothing stuck. The guy behind me, using a heavy spin rod, picked up a beautiful striped bass. An angler in another boat snapped a few photos and they exchanged emails. It was a great catch. I could hear a person in another boat tell his friend that the fish was definitely “a keeper” and in a few minutes expressed shock that the happy angler released the fish back into the Potomac. I hope they read the
regulations regarding striped bass fishing on the Potomac River or they may have some problems with the fish and game people if they get caught with one in their cooler.

The bite began to pick up as the tide turned. The shad would come in spurts--pods of fish making their way up river. If you looked at the boats anchored near Walkers Point, you could tell the shad were coming by the number of hookups that progressed your way. I caught a number of fish by just watching what the other anglers were doing. And it was also a matter of depth. Earlier in the morning the fish were holding about mid-water but as they sun burned away the morning haze they settled into the deeper sections of the river and you had to get the fly on the bottom. I lost a few flies doing this but also managed to haul up a couple of bonus snags that consisted of balls of monofilament with brand new shad darts on them.
Fishing wasn’t on fire and there were some long periods where nobody was catching anything but overall I was steadily catching shad and some folks who weren’t doing so well pulled their anchor, came in close to my boat, and started fishing in my lane or very close alongside. I didn’t make a big deal about it and continued to catch fish under their boats while they hardly got a nibble. They stuck around for a while before hauling anchor and moving elsewhere. Their trouble was not paying attention to their lines or the depth of their lures. There is no real magic or luck to it--just pay attention to what you’re doing. When you get a strike, note the location and what you were doing when the shad hit. Was your fly on the bottom? Was it moving through the water or on the dangle? Estimated depth? Size of fly? Color? How much line was out? Was the retrieve slow or fast? If you pay attention and repeat your action, you will hook fish. Just tossing the line in the water and hoping for the best might work too, but being able to repeat your actions will put the shad stink on your hands.

The weather was beautiful. After that long, brutal winter (by D.C. standards), peeling off the jacket and letting the sun warm you up was an incredible feeling. There was a fair amount of helicopter activity along the river and I got bombed by a formation of cormorants. I saw a series of splashes, like someone tossing marbles into the water, approaching me from the stern and resisted the urge to look up at where it was coming from. I heard the “splat, splat, splat” of poo hitting wood and was lucky they unloaded most of their cargo before they flew over the boat. Later a bunch of doofuses on a hovercraft came buzzing up the river and into Fletcher’s Cove, motoring around on the mud flats before taking off to wherever they came from.

Over the course of the day I caught a fair number of Hickories and a couple of very nice Americans. One gave me a nasty line burn on the finger I use to trap line against the fly rod handle. But by mid-afternoon I was burned out so I called it a day and motored back to the dock.

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.