Washington, DC, April 19, 2014
The fisherman was shuffling along the dock in the early morning darkness when I arrived at Fletcher’s Cove. There was some color in the sky, but it wasn’t enough for me to see his face, but as I moved quickly from rowboat to rowboat checking the rock anchors he spoke to me and said, “I know what you’re doing--it’s the same thing I’m doing but you’re smarter than me because you brought a flashlight.”

I paid for the boat after Alex opened the tackle shack then sat at the stern and fiddled with my gear while I waited for Jin to show up for one of our annual shad fishing sessions on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. As I waited I spoke with a couple of anglers on either side of me who were busily getting their boats ready, anxious to pull away from the dock and join the growing lineup along the current seam that flowed between Fletcher’s Cove and Walker’s Point.

We saw a D.C. police boat appear around the point and the dock person warned everyone to make sure they had their life jackets on or it would be a $50 fine. I passed the word on to the anglers setting up on my left when one of them looked right at me and said, “Mike?”

So what are the chances of finding yourself sitting next to someone you know very well, on the Potomac River, in the dark, in one of 22 rowboats? It was Gary, hard core bass angler and owner of a fishing spread on Lake Rideau in Canada. He invited me to
fish at his place last November and I had a great time. He and his buddy were trying shad for the first time so I gave them a quick rundown on where to go and what to do, handed out a few of my go-to flies, then they headed out the cove.

Jin showed up a few minutes later and we were soon anchored at one of the spots
I had scouted the day before. Jin rigged up and quickly hauled in a Hickory. The action was fairly decent for him and he was pretty happy about it. I was catching a few, but I could sense there was something wrong. And soon I found out what it was. Jin brought a bunch of bananas aboard the boat! You can bring sandwiches, sodas, bagels, coffee, doughnuts, pizza, fruit juice, power bars, nuts, jerky, a dog, your girlfriend, wife, kids apples, avocados or oranges. But NOT bananas. He smiled an evil smile as he peeled and devoured the forbidden fruit in front of me. I could feel my shad mojo evaporating. Jin laughed. I cried.
We continued to fish and Jin was pounding them so I decided to experiment with some non-traditional shad patterns I tied and to my surprise they all worked. Size did seem to matter--larger patterns drew strikes but not as many as the smaller offerings. And by far chartreuse was the color of choice this year with pink coming in as a strong second although Jin was killing them on white. The fish this year seemed to be a lot bigger than normal and they gave a good fight. However I did notice a few fish had open sores on their flanks and I wonder if this was caused by a disease similar to what I’ve seen on Striped Bass or if it was due to shad rubbing against shad as they competed against each other on their annual migration up the Potomac River.

When the tide peaked, we decided to take an early hot dog break since the shad action usually died down for 30 to 45 minutes. It was a good opportunity to hit the restroom, clean fish slime off your hands and swallow a hot dog, chips and soda before heading back to the lineup.

We fished at several locations just outside the main current and managed to hook fish at each spot. Towards the middle of the afternoon we were getting a bit beat, so we both decided to call it a day and head back to shore.
EQUIPMENT: I usually use a 6 and 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.

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.