Potomac River, Washington, DC, April 17, 2015
There are good shad fishing days, when you can do nothing wrong, the Hickories and Americans fighting to hook themselves on your fly. Then there are the days of a thousand casts--when you question the fly selection, its color and size, your presentation, your line, your rod, your reel or even if the boat’s rock is big enough. You earn every fish. Today was one of those days.

A major rainstorm passed through the region a few days ago and I knew that meant the Potomac River would be running high and probably very dirty. The folks at
Fletcher’s Boathouse won’t rent rowboats if the river is over five feet--too dangerous for most anglers to be out there fishing when it’s this high. Well, the water was high, but not high enough to keep the fleet tied to the dock. I loaded a boat and was soon anchored just outside the bubble trail of the main current.

After a half hour without a tug, I knew it was going to be a very long day. As the sun began to appear over the tree line I saw that the current was moving at a pretty good clip, carrying loads of trash, and the water had a light brownish green tinge to it.

I moved the boat a couple of times and fished different locations, pulling in only a few fish, before moving further away from the main current and into the calmer water closer to shore. I knew of a spot where there was a rock shelf that created a long seam that ran at an angle towards the deeper water but I wasn’t sure of the exact location because I had not fished it in quite awhile. I took my best guess and I dropped the rock.

This area was really shallow so I had to retool my presentation so the fly line and leader wouldn’t tangled on the bottom. The
Orvis Depth Charge line gets down quick, but in this spot I wanted the fly just ticking the bottom, not the line. I reeled in and began fishing with just the fast sinking tip hanging out the end of the rod.
When I retrieved the fly, I stripped line in slowly. I wanted to feel it drag along the bottom and if I felt it rise, I fed line back until I could touch bottom again. Using this procedure I began catching shad at a pretty steady pace. Not on fire, but better than the past few hours and enough to keep things interesting. The fish were literally right under the stern of the rowboat, so I really shortened up the line and changed the angle of the swing so everything would be lined up in the right spot when I began the retrieve.

And the fish seemed to be holding in one location, not moving around. I guess with the water being messed up from the rain the shad were clustered together on the bottom dodging debris in the poor visibility. I would catch five or six fish in a row then the action would stop. However changing the size and color of the fly would perk up their interest and I would catch a few more shad before the bite died again. I soon had a good number of flies lined up on the rowboat seat.

Fishing was good until the tide began to peak then everything shut down. I had to be in town for an appointment, so I called it a day and motored in.

EQUIPMENT: I used a 7 weight Sage XP rod and an Orvis Depth Charge density-compensated 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, 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, shad darts and flies, hot dogs, drinks, snacks and ice cream.